Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Original Challenge and Authority

Respect Scholar’s Authority

B. The Original Challenge and Authority

BOH claims that I was attempting to answer a previous challenge posted at CtC.  This is partially true, but I noted that the “challenge” had faulty assumptions loaded into it. It is simply not possible for a historian to prove a negative. Historians can only work on the level of the probable. If the first item allows this elasticity, then I believe my initial argument succeeds. Furthermore, I was seeking to contextualize the list of Irenaeus and explain it in its historical context.  What I concluded was Irenaeus’s list was pre-existing and composed c. 180 AD. Irenaeus used this list in explaining the public ministry of the Gospel that agreed in Rome (the immigrant capital of the empire) and throughout the empire. Thus the earlier evidence shows that the church was led by multiple presbyter-bishops into the second century (with no evidence any of them possessed “supreme jurisdictional authority”).

BOH claims, “all the appeals he makes to scholars turn out to reduce to an argument from authority.” BOH alleges that my utilization of scholarship is “ad hoc special pleading.” My choice not to interact with scholars that were unaware of developments in the social history of Rome, like Dix and Cirlot, is an example of this “special pleading” and that I am engaged in “counting contemporary academic noses.”

By way of response, I did attempt to retract my manner of expression because I did not want to merely dismiss Dix or Cirlot. They are capable scholars and ought to be respected as such, even though they were unable to draw conclusions based on some of the evidence from fractionation that is now in the academic literature. I state as much in Comment #169. Dix and Cirlot simply lived before all relevant data had been formed into the type of social history explored.  It is also worth noting, as I do in Comment #91, that Dix argues,

within the embryo ministry one *group* only was customarily charged with the ‘episcopal’ office at the eucharist which the others (viz. the deacons) did not fulfill…[Clement] assumes that a corporate presbytery exercising “episkope” was the original form of local church government…[1]

While Paul Owen provides some context to these quotes, they seem to only reinforce that even scholars such as Dix agree with substantial components of my thesis, namely, early governance was presbyterial.

Yet, evens if Dix agrees with important components of my thesis, it does not remove the substance of BOH’s argument. Appeals to academic consensus are the weakest form of human argument, but are even weaker considering the animus of the academy. A hermeneutic of discontinuity is preferred over against a theory of continuity. If evenly applied, according to BOH, it is acidic to the examination of the historical Jesus or the witness of the NT documents.

Personally, one of the things I am committed to as a Christian is the pursuit of truth, and therefore when similar standards are applied to NT documents, I evaluate those claims and respond based upon the quality of evidence. If there is a paradigmatic difference, I attempt to explain how the methodology I use leads to the truth in a superior way to a competing paradigm.

Moreover, one of the reasons the presence of scholarship was brought to bear is that claims were made at CtC about the scholarship related of Roman Christianity. Bernard Green, for example, supported the narrative of CtC. Upon examination, this turned out to be false. The further I investigated sources, the more they undermined the narrative propounded at CtC. I read and conversed with Mainline, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, and atheist scholars and continued to find resounding agreement about Roman ecclesiology. I wanted to share this information and also demonstrate that while the scholars I research disagreed on many things, they all agreed here. In an attempt to refocus upon the evidence itself, I will not mention scholarly consensus again.

BOH then claims that earlier data is given a priority in historical reconstruction. This is a generally sound principle, but then one must evaluate the reliability of particular historical periods. BOH assumes that “if all things are equal” you prefer the evidence from an earlier source—and this is generally agreeable—but *assume* that the testimony of Irenaeus is at least equal to the scholars assessing the data. That case needs to be made, not assumed. The opinion of the scholars is similar to that of a judge. The judge weighs to reliability of each witness, hears the evidence, compares competing claims, and makes a decision. The judge himself was not an eyewitness, but access to all of the data allows the judge to draw conclusions, some of which may entail that a witness was lying, mistaken, partially correct, or completely truthful. Responding that the judge was not an eyewitness is true, but it is immaterial to whether or not the judge is able to make a rational decision, a decision that perhaps even an eyewitness may not agree with.

[1] Paul Owen provides context to Dix’s statements in Comment #102 found here:

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Evaluative Summary

'There's so little understanding. Why can't we all just get along?' 'Get a long what?'

VIII. Responding to the “Evaluative Summary”

A. Evaluation section

In this section, BOH seeks to tie everything together.  In beginning the section it continues to assert that *all* of the data is equally possible in the Catholic paradigm. Therefore, absolutely nothing in my article is evidence for my position. As I’ve noted earlier, this is not an appropriate methodological approach to historical data. Perhaps my analysis of the data is not persuasive, but that does not mean that I have not presented any evidence for my position. To claim otherwise is to deny the obvious.

BOH makes the claim that my initial article makes 5 “repeated mistakes.” The first mistake is

failing to recognize ways in which the data fits an alternative paradigm, and thus treating such data as evidence for his own position, in violation of the ILD principle.

To be clear, my claim has never been that competing narratives could not integrate the data I cite. I have argued that my narrative presents the most probable reconstruction of the evidence, but I am also willing to recognize where my narrative is wanting, incorrect, or unpersuasive. Claiming that because I find my view the best paradigm for interpreting the data does not mean that I do not recognize ways in which the data fits alternate paradigms or that I have violated the ILD principle. Just because each paradigm may agree to one degree or another “Rome was led by a plurality of presbyters” does not mean that each paradigm means the same thing or that each paradigm is equally likely. Assumptions to the contrary are simply that, assumptions.

Second, BOH claims I repeatedly make arguments from silence that do not satisfy all the conditions necessary for silence to carry evidential weight.  As I’ve demonstrated, this claim is often associated with misunderstanding of what the four conditions (i.e. contained to one author and/or time period) and BOH also often misidentifies arguments from silence. What is *actually* doing the work in each section is not silence, but what the evidence says.  In a historical case, if the evidence does not say or does not indicate “X” then it is not illegitimate to say that the likelihood of that paradigm is decreased with each absence. Such an approach is not an argument from silence, it is assessing the data to examine what it says. I’ve shown in each section what the data says and I have then attempted to integrate the facts into a narrative that makes the best sense of those facts. Just because BOH believes that the absence of evidence for its position does not falsify it (which is technically true) does not mean that the paradigm is likely, probable, or equally as viable as an alternative.

This misunderstanding, persists in BOH’s third criticism where I allegedly,

Restrict the scope of relevant data to create silence then using an argument from that constructed silence to infer discontinuity with proximate data, in violation of the fourth principle we laid out above… He does this as well by arbitrarily limiting the relevant data regarding the polity of the early Church in Rome only to five patristic texts composed prior to AD 165, and then using arguments from non-evidential silence in those texts to discredit and reject positive data from both the second half of the second century, and from the early third century, that fills in the silence of those earlier works concerning the succession of bishops from St. Peter

A few factual errors of note. First, cited evidence from as late as the third century. Perhaps I was not clear enough in the summary of Allen Brent’s article, but I hope that I have clarified it in my response. The data from Hegesippus and Irenaeus is from c. 180, after 165 AD, as well. Moreover, in dealing with the comments from Irenaeus, a proposal was made for why the identification of this line had come to be seen as the episcopal bearer of Apostolic tradition—the pre-existing office of the minister of external affairs had begun to coalesce power. With Irenaeus we begin to see this process completing, and this explains the subsequent centuries (mainly Eusebius’s) assumptions about the earliest ecclesial structure.

Furthermore, the data is not been “restricted” but it has been sifted and evaluated. As I’ve noted in other sections, one of the fatal flaws of BOH’s approach is the poor assessment of sources. If I have incorrectly weighed the evidence, then that is a matter I am willing to consider. But that requires an evaluation of sources and evidence that is a critical lacuna throughout BOH. In other words, BOH may hold the correct position, but their critique badly misses the mark. Instead of arguing substance, they have argued about supposed methodological problems and about how I have been “arbitrarily” sifting the evidence.

To be clear, I adopt a methodological position that the earliest evidence is clear enough to provide an indication of the ecclesial structure of the church and also show the precursors to development that is eventually full blown in the third century. For me, I am not dismissing the third century evidence, instead; I claim to have explained its existence a path of development from earlier evidence. I may be incorrect about this, but I am not being “arbitrary” nor am I “adopting positivist methodology” that “treats anything outside the stipulated temporary scope as untrustworthy.” Whatever the reason for BOH’s accusations (misunderstanding, my poor communication, etc), they do not address the argument I made nor do they demonstrate that I have adopted a positivist methodology. They have only made broad-brush assertions that are unsubstantiated (such as uncharitably abstracting the summary of my argument [cf. fn 259] as an example of “positivist” methodology).

Fourth, BOH also accuses me of selectively using data.  For example, I cite Jerome’s comments that “all presbyters were bishops” to highlight a fact about the earliest polity according to Jerome. It is a fascinating comment about the earliest ecclesiology because Jerome knows of development in the earliest ecclesial structure—corroborating evidence for my theory. They claim it is selective to highlight this piece of evidence but not rely upon Ignatius’s testimony in the early first century. In response, I admit that Ignatius *does* provide evidence for a threefold office very early in the church—a concession BOH, for some reason, found objectionable. I attempted to explain why Ignatius’s comments, however, can be explained through analysis of the historical situation and other texts in the same region within the same general time frame. The evidential value of Jerome is that he corroborates the exegetical argument I had made earlier in the canonical section about presbyters being coextensive with bishops. Jerome’s point is that at first there was no distinction between a presbyter and a bishop and this is a testimony to the very argument I made. It is not accurate to claim I pitted Jerome or Ignatius *against* one another. I simply evaluated what each source said and attempted to incorporate each author into my narrative.

BOH also finds it inconsistent for me to cite Hermas’s comments on the ecclesial structure of the Roman church while not sharing his belief regarding “communion of the saints.” Perhaps there is something missing in this section to account for this, but no standard of fairness requires someone to adopt another’s beliefs to understand their historical situation. I would think BOH does not agree with Hermas on post-baptismal repentance, but they can still claim there is legitimate historical information about the faith that can be understood from the Shepherd.

Additionally, BOH reiterates an argument made by Paul Owen. If I applied the standard I do to Ignatius to the book of Revelation, then we may conclude that there were no church leaders in any of the churches.  I attempted to explain at the time that this was a very odd example, because we have earlier testimony confirming that the pattern was to established elders in every city. My argument was never that there were no leaders in documents that did not reference church leadership, like Ignatius’s letter the Romans, but rather that it does not appear there was a monarchical bishop with supreme jurisdictional authority. The same sort of logic applies to Romans 16.

Fifth, BOH claims I presupposed something uniquely Protestant: that lexicons are important tools in defining words. I do *not* believe this is distinctively Protestant, because there are far too many skilled and capable Catholic linguists. In my estimation, nothing about consulting a lexicon necessitates rejecting the tradition of the Church or that the tradition of the church has nothing to teach us. The point under dispute was whether or not Matthais possessed a particular episcopal office. Thankfully Dr. Owen engaged the issue and he even properly noted that the issue itself was not resolvable by a lexicon, which is true.

BOH also makes the persistent claim that my article is largely an argument from silence. For example, BOH states,

The silence on which Brandon seeks to build a case against monepiscopacy in Rome is a “slim” silence due to the small pool of data. In sum, once the terminological issues are addressed and the monepiscopate is considered in relation to the three-fold office of Apostle, bishop-presbyter, and deacon (as preserving this three-fold structure), Brandon’s case is reducible to an argument from silence during a roughly one hundred year period for which we have very little documentary evidence of any kind, let alone documentary evidence intended to address polity in Rome during this period.

Consider the following “paucity” of evidence I considered in my article: Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, [James could be noted even though it is not noted in the article], Clement of Rome, Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius of Antioch, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Hippolytus among other sources. All of these sources help to established various components of my argument and shed important light on ecclesial structure from varying vantage points. Nontheless, BOH concludes,

Unfortunately for his argument and his own ecclesiology, the strength of this point as an argument against an early Roman episcopacy is equivalent to its strength as an argument against an early Roman presbyterate.

This is quite a curious claim, considering that all of the sources listed above note leadership by multiple presbyter-bishops in Rome. The difference, as far as I can tell, between the case for a Roman episcopacy and the case for a Roman presbyterate is that one relies upon innuendo and “suggestive” possibilities to “eliminate the gap,” where the other can appeal to a contiguous narrative and explain development into a new form of government.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History-Final note on Fractionation


'We still have a few minor issues to work out: I want a huge wedding and he wants to be single.'
Truly compatible?

d. Conclusions

BOH concludes that it has successful proposed a model of fractionation that is amenable to its narrative of history. Yet, BOH makes what is, in my opinion, a schizophrenic statement,

According to this account, the apostles first ordained bishops and deacons, just as St. Clement describes, and then as the apostles died off, these bishops ordained mere presbyters to assist them, and preserve the threefold order that had existed under the apostles. Conceptually, even the development of jurisdictional monepiscopacy would not be contrary to Catholic orthodoxy.

If the notion of jurisdictional monepiscopacy could develop, then I do not know how BOH can retain it’s argument.  The point being argued by every scholar I cited is that the original model of government was the presbyter-bishops were equals and that the notion of one of them possessing “jurisdictional authority” over another was the development of the monarchical episcopate. My argument has been that the title “presbyter” and “bishop” were interchangeable and only later came to distinguish one office from another. There was no such thing in the earliest polity of a “mere” presbyter. And if BOH concedes that among these presbyter-bishops none of them had “jurisdictional authority” over another, then this serves to negate the idea that a Petrine office had been handed on to successors, for none of them, in themselves, would have been the “principle of unity” of the Church. Perhaps BOH means something much more restricted than I do when I speak of development.

BOH is citing an article by Tim Troutman about Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood where the article concludes,

We argued that presbyterial ordinations were unheard of in the early Church, and explained that the titles of archbishop and cardinal do not constitute additions to the apostolic three-tier hierarchy of the clergy. Historical evidence confirms that the Catholic hierarchy, as it has developed, is compatible with the early Church.

Christian communities that lack the monepiscopal hierarchy cannot support their divergence from ancient tradition either by the authority of the Church Fathers or even by the Scriptures. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been under the authority of particular Churches that preserve this apostolic foundation of Church hierarchy. Common to Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans, this hierarchy alone represents a coherent interpretation of the New Testament and early Church evidence.

Much of the material from BOH is borrowed from this post (much of it almost verbatim). It is clear that Tim is arguing here strongly for monepiscopcal authority, but he does leave open the possibility for a form of plurality. He says,

If original presbyterial government means simply that presbyters were sometimes referred to as bishops (and vice versa), it might be a matter of semantics. But if one means that the episcopacy is an innovation by a generation subsequent to the apostolic age and that it rose from a system of collegial leadership, this opinion is not supported by the evidence. It is also possible that St. Jerome did, in fact, believe that the distinction between bishop and presbyter was of ecclesial and not divine origin. In this case, he would simply have been mistaken, although there are good reasons to believe that he understood, as the Catholic Church does, the distinction of orders to be of divine origin.

In other words, what Tim is proposing is that it is possible that the original polity may have been such where presbyter=bishop (and there seems to be a tactic admission Jerome may in fact be saying this, contra BOH’s comments in the Clement section). According to Tim, however, the time frame for this possibility is constricted until the death the last Apostole because monepiscopal government must be of divine and not “eccleisal” origin. Roman Catholic historians would probably object to the distinction between divine and ecclesial origin, but this reinforces that for CtC, development is not an acceptable option for jurisdictional authority and monarchical episcopacy.

Thus, my judgment is that BOH is ambiguous when it claims that plurality of leadership is consistent with a monarchical episcopate and that the “development of jurisdictional authority is not contrary to Catholic orthodoxy.” In point of fact, BOH believes that this development cannot have occurred after the death of Peter (c. 65). In order for the development to be “divine” it needs to come from the Apostles, but the evidence in this fractionation section provides substantial evidence that supreme jurisdictional authority is an “ecclesial development.”

I must once again *emphatically* deny the suggestion that this was a “primordial” “catastrophic” error and that it means there must have been a “grand conspiracy comparable to getting all the employees of NASA to fake the Moon landing, and no one coming forward to reveal it, and no outsider finding out.” This development was organic, slow-moving, and took decades and decades to coalesce. Some may see this development as God forsaking the church, but a significant number see it as God’s providential hand guiding the Church through his Spirit. BOH may protest that it’s either it’s narrative or we are “to be pitied above all men,” but while the evidence may undermine BOH’s expression of Catholicism, it does not undermine Catholicism en toto or Christianity.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradimatic Bishops of History-Fractionation & House Churches


C. Fractionation and House Churches

One of the things that I willingly concede is that fractionation does not necessarily preclude a monarchical bishop existing in some capacity. This is used against me in BOH,

Brandon thus grants that “the existence of house churches does not rule out the possibility of oversight of a bishop.” His argument, however, is that the data points to there being a plurality of leaders. Of course, Catholics too grant that there were a plurality of leaders. So again this is not evidence for the presbyterial thesis and against there being an episcopal polity in the Church at Rome.

BOH is equivocating on my use of the word “plurality of leadership,” to show that we would expect the same sort of thing according to the CtC argument. My argument has been there were multiple presbyter-bishops in Rome, each overseeing a house community.  These presbyter-bishops were in communion with one another and they may have even elected a president, but this individual does not appear to have “jurisdictional authority” let alone “supreme” jurisdictional authority. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there is any reason to believe that the earliest Roman Christians would have known what such a term even meant.

BOH is arguing, however, that there was a bishop with supreme jurisdictional authority over everyone else in the city. The type of plurality I am advocating rejects that there was one of the many bishops retaining “supreme jurisdictional authority.”  BOH argues that its position could also account for plurality with either multiple presbyters & a bishop *or* multiple presbyter-bishops. An essential element of the argument, though, is that in this plurality there is one ruler with supreme jurisdictional authority. If no leader possessed supreme-jurisdictional authority, however, then there was a process of development where this authority was procured. It may have been with the consent of the church, but the plurality I am referring to is not consonant with the plurality BOH is proposing.

BOH then argues,

So if the presence of active house churches in Rome were actually evidence of there being no monarchical bishop in Rome, then the presence of house churches from AD 150 to 312 would be evidence that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome from AD 150 to 312. But we know (and Brandon agrees) that there was a monarchical bishop in Rome from AD 150 to 312. Therefore, the existence of house churches in Rome in the late first and early second centuries is not evidence that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome during that time.

Such a statement misappropriates my argument of the existence of house churches, and the rather important differences in church property from 150 to 312. Into the third century corporate property rights did not exist in Rome. Even if there were a monarchical bishop, he would not have had any control over the property because it belonged to the property owner. Lampe adduces multiple pieces of evidence to demonstrate this: the titular churches of Tigrida, Byzas, & Equitis were not Roman saints or martyrs (later their names were exchanged for the name of saints), at the 499 Roman synod Roman presbyters still signed their names with the “tituli of person X,” in the 4th and 5th centuries churches retained the tradition of naming title churches after founders (pg. 363). Interestingly, in the city of Rome, Jewish property and synagogue meetings fell under the same structure; private individuals provided the worshiping space (pg. 364).

In the third century, the church was able to hold corporate property and thus powerful bishops were able to exert considerable influence over the churches in the city. Concurrent social, political, and theological events made corporate property particularly advantageous for the flourishing of the monarchical episcopate. As the house-churches became property of the church, the bishop was able to exert control of those communities because he was the administrator of the property (According to Lampe this political reality was a function of the monarchical episcopate, and therefore the monarchical episcopate probably existed before this legal change).  Before the advent of corporate property, however, it was impossible for a monarchical bishop to control the worship space because he was not the property owner. This marks a significant difference in the two time periods.

BOH nontheless tries to draw a comparison between the two different time periods,

Moreover, in AD 336 there were at least twenty eight house churches under Pope St. Julius I, again confirming that the presence of house churches in a city is fully compatible with the existence of a jurisdictional monepiscopacy in that city, and that the existence of house churches in Rome in the late first and early second centuries is not evidence for the non-existence of a monarchical bishop during that time period.

There is no argument that I am aware of that states that because there were multiple worshiping assemblies, therefore there was no monarchical bishop. The argument is that the separate worshiping communities met in the private homes of patrons and that there was a “presider” (proestos) of the worship service that conducted worship services, as Justin Martyr reports. This is what Justin reports and comports with the fractionation of Roman Jewry and Romans 16. These separate communities seemed to operate with a sense of catholicity but also operated with significant autonomy—something that was reinforced by the social realities of first and second century Rome.

At this point, BOH turns its focus to its own positive reconstruction of the data of fractionation and argues that it is an example of diocesan parishes. To do so, BOH seeks to appeal to the legendary material (which Lampe calls weak when considered on its own) which refers to an episcopal chair (the Petrine nature of this chair is a later interpolation). BOH also references the division of the parishes in Rome detailed in the Liber Pontificalis in the fifth or sixth century. The fact that there are multiple parishes under a bishop in this later time shows that it is possible that plurality could exist with a monarchical bishop in the first and second century, according to BOH.

By way of response, I would simply encourage interested parties to consult Lampe’s utilization of this data. No one has argued that the existence of multiple locations of worship made it impossible for a monarchical bishop to be present. The lack of understanding from BOH is highlighted in their citation of St. Caius, bishop from 283-296. Caius “lived at least some of his pontificate in his own house.” After noting that there was no central cathedral for worship, BOH concludes,

For this reason, from AD 150 to the time of Constantine, a period of 161 years during which Brandon acknowledges there was a monepiscopacy in Rome, each bishop of Rome lived either in a house or a house-church that had been dedicated secretly by the Christians as a church, and carried out his episcopal function from that ‘fractionated’ condition.

No one ever disputed that bishops lived in houses or operated out of a house church. The point BOH misses is that property was granted to the bishop for his oversight, whereas before the third century in Rome, there would have been no way for a bishop to exercise any oversight of such land, because it would have been the private dwelling of an individual. BOH’s failure to distinguish the social realities renders the comparison moot.

BOH claims additional evidence can be found in the “Apostolic Tradition,” dating the document to 215 AD, but this is highly problematic. Regarding the dating of the document, Catholic scholar J.F. Baldovin explains,

When I was a student, the commonly accepted opinion on the Apostolic Tradition ran something like this: Here we have a church order that gives us data on important ecclesiastical practices from the early-third century. The writer was a presbyter/theologian, named Hippolytus, who opposed Bishop Callistus of Rome over the latter’s laxity in readmitting sinners to church fellowship. He thus became a schismatic anti-pope, but was reconciled before his death as a martyr. A conservative, he advocated ancient usages of the Church. A crusty old parish priest unwilling to abide by his bishop’s liturgical innovations, he set down in a single document these rather antiquarian rules for liturgy and church conduct.

Nothing about this synthesis is correct. The title of the document in question is not the Apostolic Tradition. It cannot be attributed to Hippolytus, an author whose corpus of biblical commentaries and anti-heretical treatises is somewhat well known. As a matter of fact it is even doubtful whether the corpus of that writer can actually be attributed to a single writer. Finally, the document does not give us certain information about the liturgical practice of the early-third-century Roman Church.[1]

Baldovin goes on to explain skepticism is attributable to the dating and reliability of the statute of “Hippolytus” and the internal evidence of multiple  redactors. Marcel Metzger, Allen Brent, Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Paul Bradshaw, Maxwell Johnson, and L. Edward Phillips (the latter three wrote the Hermenia commentary together) all provide the extensive detail of the dating in their writings and cite additional scholarship on dating issues. Conservative estimates, like Brent’s, postulate an early composition, potentially by Hippolytus, that has seen updating and redaction and located in Rome (this reading though is largely predicated on his thesis of fractionation and the development of the episcopate in the third century). Aside from the serious textual problems and clear redaction in the document, others, argue the Tradition is not uniquely Roman and a composition from several centuries.

Bradshaw et al. explain,

we judge the work to be an aggregation of material from different sources quite possibly arising from different geographical regions and probably from different historical periods, from perhaps as early as the mid-second century to as late as the mid-fourth since none of the textual witnesses to it can be dated with any certainty before the last quarter of that century[2]

The dating in this regard is important because BOH presupposes an earlier date for its argument. Even if we grant the early date, this still does not mean that third century fractionation is equivalent to first and second century fractionation.  The equivalence is merely asserted even though numerous developments (social, theological, & political) have occurred in the time frame which provide reason to avoid lumping them together.

BOH also appeals to the catacombs, but I don’t wish to rehash that section here. I covered it in my review of Lampe and Lampe’s 12th chapter provides sound historical judgments on the catacombs and what can be drawn from them. The fact is that we can know with certainty that the tombs at the Vatican were not used until the very end of the first century, and quite possibly the beginning of the second century. As a matter of fact, Lampe notes,

For Christians a grave was inviolable and worth of honor. But we only find real veneration for martyrs from the middle of the third century onwards (p. 115).

If this is the case, what about the Martyrdom of Ignatius, that is cited? We have numerous textual issues with this issue and even the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes,

It is generally admitted, even by those who regarded it as authentic, that this work has been greatly interpolated.

Paul Hartog skillfully argues that the Martyrdom may be dated in the later portion of the second century, but he admits two important things. First, the current text does have redaction and second, the purported remains of Peter only surface in the second century (p. 181).In other words, the veneration of the dead is *also* a development.

Such an observation is important to consider when BOH claims,

Another piece of evidence is found in relation to the tombs of the leaders of the Church at Rome. What we do not find in the tombs is evidence that at any time in the history of the Church at Rome, including prior to AD 150, there were at the same time multiple leaders of equal supreme authority and honor. There is no burial record of two or more presbyter-bishops that had served simultaneously with equal supreme authority, and whose tombs were subsequently honored and memorialized equally by the Church at Rome…The Liber Pontificalis records not only that St. Peter was buried in the Vatican necropolis, but also that eleven of the thirteen popes of the first two centuries were buried there as well:

BOH is correct to note there is no veneration of multiple-presbyter bishops in Rome. BOH is incorrect, however, that we know much of anything about the burial of first century “bishops.” To put it bluntly, archaeology has proven the Liber Pontificalis is wrong. We know for certain that Zephyrinus and Callistus were not buried by “Peter” at the Vatican site, as Lampe demonstrates. Furthermore, even if the Liber Pontificalis were not inaccurate, the existence of the graves near the alleged gravesite of Peter says nothing about these men, “carrying on the office of St. Peter.”

The truth of the matter is Christians in Rome accepted legends as history. There are perhaps kernels of truth in the narrative, but the site labelled as Peter’s gravesite is, with a high degree of certainty, not Peter’s.  Lampe provides a potential historical explanation for what happened based on the archaeology of the area which attempts to account for all the facts. In tying in the house churches with the burial grounds, BOH does not interact with Lampe’s detailed study showing that the Roman Christians maintained the graves of their own particular region of the city.

Finally, I’ve noted it in this section and elsewhere, but an additional methodological problem for BOH is that it is using dubious sources. In this section, much of the rebuttal is based upon testimony from Eusebius, The Apostolic Constitutions, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. BOH would improve its argument with a critical assessment of sources. As it stands, however, BOH has not offered a strong argument because it has relied upon questionable sources and consequently has provided a questionable narrative.

[1] J.F. Baldovin. “Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition: Recent research and commentary” Theological Studies Vol 64:3 (2003): 520-521.

[2] Paul Bradshaw et al., “The Apostolic Tradition” Hermeneia (2002) pg. 14.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Allen Brent


The altar belongs to us

b. Allen Brent

In this section I  utilize Allen Brent’s work on fractionation and provide a summary of his article on the dispute between Hippolytus and Callistus. In attempting to provide a definition of schism from Eusebius, Allen Brent explains that a functional definition of schism according to Cyprian and Eusebius is, “if we manage to get the altar and Church building and get you out, then you are the schismatics, but if you alternatively get our buildings and our altar, then it is we who are the schismatics.” Footnote #87 carries the citations for this information, but perhaps this was too limited. In response, BOH says

Brandon then offers some unsubstantiated speculative claims about the conception of schism in the third century, claiming both that it applied to whoever did not have the buildings and altar, and that schism was “quite impossible.

To provide a bit more context and show why the summary is not “unsubstantiated,” Brent notes that according to Cyprian schism is not simply one group breaking away from another on grounds of discipline or false doctrine. Instead, schism required a break-away group obtaining consecration for their bishop,  like Novatus (cf. Cyprian and Eusebius). Afterward, a provincial council must meet and determine the true bishop. If there is dissension, however, eventually the civil power intervenes (as in Paul of Samosata and Gallienus) awarding communal property to the winning party. Brent provides an operational definition of schism because he is not attempting to draw a theological definition of schism. Instead, he is trying to take the definition of schism as defined by Eusebius and apply it the early third century.

Based on what we know of Rome’s social situation, it is unlikely, since the church did not possess any corporate property into the third century but rather meet in house churches (Brent cites Lampe’s pages 15-17 & 310-313). Brent explains what this says of the social situation in Rome,

The presiding presbyter or presbyters would thus find it very difficult to cut off from access to a Eucharist or an agape meal those of whose theology or doctrine they disapproved when the right of invitation was that of the house owner. Schism in the later sense was under these conditions quite impossible.

Very precise social situations made “schism” functionally different at the beginning of the third century (and back into the first and second century) than the middle of the third century.

Brent’s second focuses on sanctions against aberrant teachers; what recourse would the church have? Eusebius reports that Victor in the Quartodeciman controversy threatened to excommunicate all the parishes of Asia along with the adjacent churches. More likely, according to Brent, is that Victor was dealing with Asiatic “parishes” within Rome, and not external “parishes” in Asia Minor. This proposal, however, disagrees with the statements of Eusebius.

As noted above, Eusebius’s reliability is suspect at variouspoints, and scholars generally agree that Eusebius is exagerating the scope of the conflict (Bernard Green concurs with this opinion as well). Eusebius is guilty in at least two occasions of similar embellishment when he cites the letter of Polycrates of Ephesus to Victor. Instead of presenting it as a personal letter, Eusebius characterizes it is a synodical encyclical (H.E. V. 24:8). Similar problems arise in Eusebius’s reporting of the Beryllus & Origen affair. Eusebius reports a synod of bishops and deacons oversaw the trial of Beryllus. The only source Eusebius uses, however, is a conversation between Origen and Beryllus. Origen was a lay catechist or presbyter, depending on the date, and not a bishop, deacon, or himself a synod of bishops and deacons. Moreover, the encounter was open-ended, with Beryllus, a bishop, eventually recanting. Instead of appealing to episcopal councils, Brent suggests that Hermas provides greater insight into resolution process of first and second century churches: the assembled presbyter-bishops. The assembly’s collective pressure might be brought to bear against a recalcitrant presbyter or even against a house-owner harboring heretics.

Thirdly, there was little beyond persuasion that the presbyter-bishops could actually do since the church did not own any property. Instead, as the case of Origen and Beryllus illustrates, formal disciplinary actions were open-ended and were more like a debate in a philosophical school than what would later occur at formal ecclesiastical trials. This fact accounts for most gnostic sects simply leaving the Church without formal trial or censure—they were unable to persuade the presbyters and decided to leave. Brent’s overarching point is that the definition of schism found in Cyprian and Eusebius cannot be extended back into the first and second century.

With these things in mind, Brent moves on to examine the dispute between Hippolytus and Callistus. In Hippolytus of Rome’s “Refutation of All Heresies,”[1] he describes the bishop of Rome, Callistus, as being a Sabellian and “a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned” (9.6). Hippolytus goes on to describe that Callistus established a “school of theology” and claimed that “all had their sins forgiven by [Callistus].” He then states,

For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of anyone else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus. And many persons were gratified with his regulation, as being stricken in conscience, and at the same time having been rejected by numerous sects; while also some of them, in accordance with our condemnatory sentence, had been by us forcibly ejected from the Church.

Brent notes that even two bishops after Victor, people in Rome are still in the habit of attending disparate congregations lead by different people. Hippolytus’s argument is not that his group alone formed the true Church and that anyone outside of his group was in schism. The reason for the dispute with Callistus is that he admitted those that Hippolytus had excommunicated, “some who had been expelled from the church by us at an examination attached themselves to [Callistus] and swelled into his school.” Hippolytus is thus *not* claiming that Callistus is a usurper of episcopal authority (as one would expect given the definition of schism provided by Eusebius and Cyprian), but rather that Callistus has abandoned orthodoxy and deference to communing congregations (lead by different “bishops”) in Rome.

Moreover, Brent notes that there is a differentiation between the heretics Callistus takes in. He describes a larger group “πολλοί” and a specific group that Hippolytus had excommunicated, “τίνες.” Brent explains the significance,

if there are also two groups in question, one in a schismatical relation to the other, where did the larger group of excommunicants (άποβληθέντες) come from? It would surely be unlikely that even that author of EL was being so egotistical here as to claim some special status for those (τίνες) condemned to excommunication by an ecclesiastical court (επί καταγνώσει) of which he simply happened that day to be a chairman? Clearly in the background to his words here there is more than one congregation with a πρεσβύτερος-επίσκοπος exercising jurisdiction over its members that other πρεσβύτεροι-επίσκοποι of other congregations are expected to respect and not to ignore as Callistus was now doing.

Brent goes on to enumerate other examples of clearly defined communities operating at this time—the clear separation and fellowship between Zephyrinus, Callistus, and Hippolytus, for example—but for the sake of space we won’t go into the further detail of his paper. The evidence adduced, however, is enough to show two important points and a conclusion:

  1. The Hippolytus affair indicates that the churches in Rome were still operating in separate communities (remaining in fellowship with one another) into the third century.
  2. Hippolytus opposed Callistus not because he was an usurper, but rather, because he admitted groups that had been excommunicated by the “presbyter-bishops” of Rome as well as the particular heretics excommunicated by Callistus.
  3. Therefore, schism as described in Eusebius and Cyprian is impossible in third century Rome—asking for an historical explanation.

Brent explains that Hippolytus was not a schismatic, at least not in the Cyprianic sense of the word. Instead, he was a presbyter-bishop, much like Callistus, and was actually an instrumental player in the final development “of the form of church order that made schism possible…hailing his work as an unmixed blessing.”.

Engaging Lampe’s work, Brent notes,

Lampe sought to use the emergence of the Roman episcopal succession list in Irenaeus as an index for the establishment of monarchial episcopacy not later than the episcopate of Victor (c. 190). But such an undated list is evidence for the quest for the establishment of continuity of teaching rather than of individual teachers, to which the author of Elenchos also subscribes at the same time as he provides evidence for the complete absence of an agreed figure of central authority.

One may dissent from Brent’s reconstruction (and many do), however, the disagreement between Lampe and Brent is focused on the extent of fractionation on third century Roman Christianity. Lampe, while not agreeing about the precise date of the monarchical episcopate, would agree with Brent that the remnants of fractionated Christianity remained into the 3rd century. Whether one identifies Hippolytus or Victor as the solidifier of the episcopate, Lampe and Brent agree that there were multiple ecclesial communities governed by various presbyter-bishops.

BOH responds that this is actually evidence against fractionation for multiple reasons,

[1]Hippolytus here speaks of “the episcopal throne,” singular, not plural, as something St. Callistus attained. But according to Hippolytus at the beginning of the story this throne belonged to “blessed Victor,” who was at that time a “bishop” of the Church…[2] If St. Victor had been bishop only of a house church, he could not have exiled St. Callistus out of the city of Rome, but only out of the parish in which that house church was located…[3] monepiscopacy that we see clearly in the second half of the second century could operate without the possession of Church property…[4] In other words, St. Hippolytus does not say that St. Callistus occupies some chair and Hippolytus occupies another chair. Rather, by saying “supposing that he had obtained,” Hippolytus indicates that he does not entirely accept that St. Callistus is the rightful occupant of the chair.

None of these four points is accurate. On the first point, Allen Brent notes in his article,

We do not have here so much a schismatic presbyter seeking power and pre-eminence by means of a puritanical ideology. Rather we have in Callistus one bishop of one of several communities seeking spiritual power and jurisdiction over excommunicate members of others by a policy of deliberate laxity. If the dispute had been between two contenders to a single episcopal chair, as in the case of later antipopes, it is curious that Hippolytus set out his account of the dispute in no such terms.

All that he says enigmatically is that Callistus νόμιζων τετυχηκέναι ου έθηράτο (“thought that he had achieved what he desired”), without further identifying this with Rome’s sole episcopal chair, although earlier Callistus is described as θηρώμενος τον της επισκοπής θρόνον (“yearning for the throne of oversight”) (IX, 11,1 cf. 12,15). Zephyrinus is not described as occupying that seat before him, nor indeed is anyone else. His words are perfectly consistent with a refusal to acknowledge the presbyter of any one group occupying such a position, even though the foreign secretary may have seemed potentially to occupy such a position.

What we know is that Callistus sought to make himself preeminent. Another subtle obfuscation is the claim that “this throne belong to Victor.” This is not in Hippolytus at all. Rather, BOH even quotes the text which reads that Victor was “*a* bishop” in the church. The absence of the article is unexpected if Victor were *the* bishop in Rome, but it is possible that Hippolytus was suggesting he was the singular bishop of Rome among the other universal bishops. The larger point, however, is that nowhere does the text indicate that Victor held an episcopal chair in Rome. That is an imposition on the text.  As a matter of fact, Hippolytus states of Zephryinus,

At that time, Zephyrinus imagines that he administers the affairs of the Church — an uninformed and shamefully corrupt man.

As Brent details, Hippolytus nowhere claims that he is the one who actually administers the affairs of the church. Hippolytus is content administering his congregation, but Zephryinus and Callistus are circumventing the catholicity of the church by admitting heretics that Hippolytus and others had placed under discipline in their individual churches. Hippolytus explains the case as follows,

During the episcopate of this one, second baptism was for the first time presumptuously attempted by them. These, then, (are the practices and opinions which) that most astonishing Callistus established, whose school continues, preserving its customs and tradition, not discerning with whom they ought to communicate, but indiscriminately offering communion to all.

We see that Callistus established second baptism, presumably not accepting the baptism from schools outside of his fellowship.  This practice is first instituted by Callistus—not by Victor or Zephryinus. This *school* perpetuates the problem Hippolytus has with it by indiscriminately communicating with and offering communion to all—even those that other presbyter-bishops have deemed aberrant.

BOH, however, seeks to argue that this language favors monarchical episcopacy. They say,

The story as described by Hippolytus thus indicates in multiple ways that there was a succession of monarchical bishops in Rome, from St. Victor, to St. Zephyrinus, to St. Callistus, and that this episcopal office gave its occupant the authority to exile an offending Christian from the city of Rome, and to excommunicate heretics.

After all, Hippolytus speaks of “the episcopate of this one” and also mentions the succession of Victor, Zephyrinus, and Callistus as a “succession of bishops.” To assume, however, that because Hippolytus grants these men the title of “bishop” and admits that these men succeeded one another, does not “indicate in multiple ways there was a succession of monarchical bishops.” Brent’s argument shows that such an interpretation cannot adequately explain the actual dispute between Callistus and Hippolytus.  That this *school* was dominant and had a succession of bishops is clear, that this school was *the* school was a notion the Hippolytus emphatically opposed. Thus, that there was a succession of bishops is agreed, that the existence of a bishop at this time meant that there were no other duly ordained presbyter-bishops is another question.

Second, Brent and Lampe argue that Victor was the minister of external affairs, so it would not be uncommon for Victor to act at the behest of the presbytery—or even in the place of the presbytery as the office developed. Moreover, if Callistus was part of the (growing) community that Victor oversaw, then Victor would certainly have the authority to remove Callistus from the fellowship or send him to various regions.

Thirdly, the Church did not own the Catacomb of Callistus in the early third century, as Lampe argues in detail in his chapters 36 & 37. Zephyrinus owned the property himself and opened it up for other Christians to be buried at his catacomb on the Via Appia. Callistus administered the graveyard, but it happened to be the private property of Zephyrinus. It was not unusual for a private individual to deputize another to administer affairs on their behalf.

Fourthly, while it has already been addressed under the first issue, it is not the case that Hippolytus believes he ought to occupy the chair of oversight. Brent’s whole article shows that the point of contention is *not* a dispute over Callistus’s episcopal governance, but his extension of that governance in ways that alienated other church’s bishops. Yet, BOH, midjudges the case and concludes,

Hippolytus was the first antipope in Church history,213 having set himself up as a rival to St. Callistus after St. Callistus received the episcopal throne in AD 217. Brandon’s mistake here is treating an historical condition in which there is an antipope, as described from the point of view of that antipope, as though it is evidence that at that time there was not yet a monepiscopacy in Rome.

Brent’s article suggests that Hippolytus was *not* an anti-pope, contrary to later characterizations of the event. One may disagree with that assessment, but BOH’s historical understanding of these events is lacking.  Again, it may be because I was too brief in this area that allowed for ambiguity. If BOH would have consulted Brent’s article, however, they would have recognized that their response to Brent does not actually interact with his arguments.

At this point it is worthwhile for me to comment on why I would include Brent, since I argued for the monarchical episcopate developing c. 150 AD in my article and Brent is arguing that it is not solidified as late as 220 AD. The reason I included it in the article is because it showed that there were those in the academy—even a recent Roman Catholic convert!—who thought Lampe did not go far enough. For Lampe, it was under Victor (c.190) that the monarchical episcopate was formed. The reason I dated c. 150 is because I was attempting to indicate a time after the first half of the second century.  I wasn’t sure exactly when and where I thought that time frame was, so I dated it c. 150 because I was still measuring where exactly in the second half of the century I came down on the date of the monarchical episcopate. I figured that because of my uncertainty it was better to give an earlier date than a later date. I was attempting to demonstrate that Lampe was being relatively conservative in dating the episcopate to Victor instead of into the third century.

Upon reflection, however, I believe that moving closer to the third century is probably the best option, and I find Brent’s argument persuasive for at least demonstrating that fractionation continued to exert pressure on the development of the monarchical episcopate into the third century. i generally favor Lampe’s timeline, but Brent demonstrates that the monarchical episcopate of Victor was not the only orthodox ecclesial body in Rome even if it was the largest and most influential.

[1] Brent identifies the writer of the Refutation of All Heresies as a composition of the “Hippolytian” community. Brent goes into detailed analysis of the author, but for the sake of simplicity I simply associate Hippolytus as the author.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Peter Lampe


VII. Fractionation

a. Peter Lampe

Fractionation (small cells without definitive centralized coordination) is one of the most important areas for those interested in the social-historical circumstances of first and second century Rome, and that is why I spent 20+ pages explaining the ground-breaking work of Peter Lampe. You can access that review from the way back machine here. My impression is that many did not realize that this article was meant as a supplement to the initial article on fractionation. If you have not read it, I would strongly encourage you to do so for a more robust understanding of the topic.

One of the things that I should have perhaps made clear is that scholars are uncertain about when the monarchical episcopate came about.  I conservatively estimated c. 150 (after the first half of the second century), but it is truly unclear. It does appear that there were powerful bishops by this time, but Catholic scholars such as Allen Brent postulate that the monarchical episcopate was not well established until the third century. What everyone acknowledges (at least of those who accept fractionation) is the formation of the episcopacy was fluid and was not even yet settled at the time of Irenaeus. Many additional developments would occur and were occurring.

BOH claims that I am in a predicament using Justin Martyr as evidence for fractionation because it comes from 165 AD—but Anicetus and Polycarp met with one another in AD 155, according to Irenaeus. Thus I’m arguing for fractionation at a time when we know bishops existed. Thus, BOH argues,

To avoid refutation of his argument here, Brandon would have to claim that St. Irenaeus contrived the meeting between St. Polycarp and St. Anicetus…St. Justin’s implication that there were multiple house churches in Rome, each having its own “presider,” “lector” and “deacons” is fully compatible with there being a head presbyter-bishop over the Church in Rome.

This is a false dilemma, however, because the episcopal office was still fluid, even in 155 AD. Given that the minister of external affairs operated in the late first century, it seems entirely plausible that these men operated as the minister of external affairs for their churches. Their importance grew as the Christian movement grew in stature, sophistication, and underwent intense struggles with Gnosticism. The meeting of these men is therefore unsurprising and not detrimental to the argument for fractionation.

BOH then goes on to attempt to describe fractionation and why it is compatible with episcopacy. At this point, I must admit that my paragraph, while intended to be very brief, was probably insufficient to communicate effectively. BOH lodges two initial criticisms of fractionation,

Just because there was great diversity in Rome, and Christians in Rome mostly met in house churches, it does not follow that there was no bishop sitting on the seat of St. Peter… his argument is that he provides no principled difference between the fractionation conditions sufficient to demonstrate the non-existence of a monepiscopacy, and the fractionation conditions sufficient to demonstrate the non-existence of a presbytery

The first criticism would require substantial engagement with Lampe to show why the type of diversity and decentralization he describes are compatible with a monarchical episcopate. Lame is not arguing that diversity shows that an episcopate was impossible. Lampe’s argument, however, is that the fractionation of the city is evidence that it was led by a group of loosely confederated presbyters that met in house churches.

The second criticism is simply wrong. Lampe clearly notes that the Church had a concept of catholicity and that the various presbyters viewed one another as brothers in the faith. We know that they did meet (per Hermas), but we don’t know the frequency of those meetings. A cursory reading of my review or Lampe would have unearthed Lampe’s argument from Romans 16, 1 Clement, Hermas, Justin Martyr, and Eusebius (particularly his report of the Eucharist being shared among churches) for showing the “presbyterial” shape of Roman ecclesiology.

In attempting to deal with Lampe, BOH resorts to using a list of evidence fabricated entirely by Bryan’s misreading of Lampe. I attempted to clarify Bryan’s fabrications in Comment #104. Eventually, after being unable to effectively communicate about the problems with Bryan’s list, I encouraged him that if he wanted to make an effort to actually engage Lampe, the best course would be to actually interact with the disparate sections in Lampe’s argument. Bryan responded with “Ok” in Comment #115, but he has continued to use his fabricated list instead of actually engaging Lampe.

Bryan’s approach in this regard is to identify various pieces of data scattered throughout the book and conclude that those pieces of evidence can still fit into a Catholic framework. Such is the fruit of the myopic approach to history and a haphazard approach to literature. Lampe is building a narrative with each piece of evidence in each section that provides a sketch of what likely happened and what likely did not happen.

That would be akin to an artist and an art critic discussing a painting of a sequoia. The critic, focusing upon each individual stroke, would tell the artist, “That stroke is consistent with a bush. This stroke is also consistent with a bush. There are leaves, branches, a trunk, and roots. Each of those things is compatible with the painting being a bush, therefore it is a bush.” Of course, the artist would look on in wonderment as he had drawn a sequoia tree, which has a much larger base than a bush, much wider branches, much longer roots, and bigger leaves. The drawing may have some ambiguity between the two in certain areas, but if the entire picture were taken into account, the differences between the two things would be quite apparent. The critics myopic approach, however, limits him to only seeing a bush—but if he took a step back and noted how each brushstroke worked in concert, he would see the sequoia.

Since BOH does not actually engage with Lampe, there is unfortunately not much interaction in this section. I will highlight a few important points for consideration, however.

Roman Chrisitanity came out of synagogues in Rome  (cf. Acts and Cassius Dio). When a dispute arose of “Chrestus” Prisca and Aquilla were banished to Corinth (explaining an ecclesial connection between Corinth and Rome cf. 1 Clement) and Christians stopped worshiping in Jewish synagogues. These synagogues in the city of Rome met in private residences and were not centrally coordinated. The churches continued to worship in separate house communities as Paul notes in Romans 16 *yet* they still maintained a sense of broader communion in the city of Rome and among other Christian communities.

Immigration, geography, and socio-economic factors all converged to perpetuate fractionation of Roman Christianity.  Immigrants flowed in and out of Rome and they retained the customs of their home churches while they typically lived in areas with other immigrants. This helps explain things like the Quartodeciman controversy in Rome, where various house communities functioned on unique ecclesial calendars. Poverty of early Roman Christians is easily discernible in the literary record (1 Clement, Hermas) and in the geographic locales of ancient titular churches.

The fractionation of Roman Christianity allowed not only for tolerance of different theological opinions, but it also created an atmosphere where groups like the Valentinians coexisted with orthodox Christian groups. Even Marcion was originally received by the orthodox communion until he sought to convene the presbyters and convince them of his theological opinions. All of this was the product of fractionation.  Lampe does not indicate (as some may want to suggest) that this means there were Christianities instead of Christianity. Lampe, rather, merely argues this theological pluralism is explained by the fractionation of Roman Christianity.

Once more, however, BOH claims to incorporate all of the data by claiming that it is “fully compatible” with BOH’s narrative. In fact, *any* historical hypothesis can claim the evidence is fully compatible with its narrative, so this is not a defeater to a competing narrative. The question at hand is which narrative best accounts for all the data and BOH has not accurately outlined the data in this portion of the argument nor has BOH provided anything remotely close to a comprehensive narrative. In the Allen Brent section, I will elaborate on the material I initially cited and explain how BOH has problems integrate this data.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History-Methodology


II. Methodology & Critique

A. Methodology

Before addressing the preliminary principles BOH enumerates, a few words on methodology. In the New Testament and the People of God, N.T. Wright explains,

There is an important sense in which historical method is just like all other methods of enquiry. It proceeds by means of ‘hypotheses’ which stand in need of ‘verification…’ pg. 98

Wright goes on to explain the power of stories (see his story on the police car on page 99) and then provides three requirements for a good hypothesis. First, it must include the data—all the data. Second, it must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture. Of course, Wright acknowledges these first two principles hold a tension and also acknowledges,

in any given field, it is quite likely that there will be several possible hypotheses which will include more or less all the data, and do so with reasonabl[e] simplicity

Consequently, the third mark of a good hypothesis is that a good hypothesis must prove fruitful in other related areas. Hypotheses that are able to integrate and explain other proximate events and data bolster and distinguish a hypothesis.

As Wright notes, however, verifying competing hypotheses is problematic. How much relative weight should be attached to criteria and by what measure is the criteria satisfactorily fulfilled?

It is clear that the sort of balance required between inclusion of data on the one hand and simplicity on the other will vary according to the subject-matter. The paleontologist has a skeleton to fit together. If she creates a beautifully simple structure which omits a few large bones, her colleagues may accuse her of satisfying the second criterion at the expense of the first, and will take with a pinch of salt her theory that the other bones belong to the animal who was eating—or perhaps being eaten by—the one now constructed. Simplicity has been achieved at the cost of getting in the data. If, however, a second paleontologist produces a skeleton which cunningly uses up all the bones but has seven toes on one foot and eighteen on the other, the opposite conclusion will be drawn: the data have been included but simplicity abandoned, and distrust will this time be leveled at any bizarre evolutionary explanation of the new story. But which of the two theories will be preferred? On balance, I think the former: it is harder to imagine a peculiar mutation ever really existing that it is to suspect that a few extra bones may have intruded into the pile (pg. 104-105).

Wright illustrates that the historical process is at the same time art and science. Some options are more likely than others, but the discipline of history seeks to develop the most probable reconstruction of events. Solutions that incorporate the data in the most simple structure are to be preferred—but caution must be exercised to codify any particular approach.  Each discipline and each case are unique and may require different scales.

Eamon Duffy notes,

Reading historical evidence is not a purely subjective exercise, but it is a skill, for which some people have more aptitude than others, just as some people are better at recognising a tune

Thus, there is an element of subjectivity to every historical conclusion.  Varying scales may be used in examining data and different stories may be used to organize and discard data. Consequently, John Meier, in his magnum opus A Marginal Jew Vol. I notes that any study of ancient history,

will usually produce judgments that are only more or less probable; certainty is rarely to be had. Indeed, since in the quest for the historical Jesus almost anything is possible, the function of the criteria is to pass from the merely possible to the really probable, to inspect various probabilities to decide which candidate is most probable. Ordinarily, the criteria cannot hope to do more (pg. 165-166).

My hope here is to illustrate not that history is useless—it is certainly not—but rather that the making an historical argument requires interacting with all the evidence in an interconnected manner. In constructing an historical argument, probability plays a large role and all of the pieces of evidence intersect and interact reinforcing the probability or improbability of a historical narrative.

B. Critique

While BOH and I agree on their preliminary principles, I believe they misapply those principles in ways that do not respect the method of history explained above.

On the first principle, BOH rightly notes that if each position can equally integrate the data into their story, it is not evidence against or for either position. This criteria is a helpful reminder and boundary marker, but it cannot demonstrate that competing narratives are in fact equal. In order to demonstrate that the ILD principle has been violated one would have to show that the narratives were each able to equally integrate the data into their narrative.

As a mental exercise, let’s revisit Wright’s paleontologist example above. One narrative weighs the simplicity of the story above incorporating what it believes is the most reliable interpretation of the data.  Some of the big bones do not belong to this animal, but come from somewhere else. The other paleontologist is able to use the same data and come to a radically different conclusion, incorporating all of the bones to construct a creature with seven toes on one foot and eighteen on the other. With integrity both paleontologists can look to the data and claim it fits into their narrative. Is the data therefore inscrutable because it fits into both narratives? One’s answer is a judgment call based on the available evidence. Wright explains that in this hypothetical situation he would be inclined to the more simplistic explanation.

In BOH, the claim is repeatedly made that the evidence is inscrutable and therefore not evidence that the church in Rome was originally presbyterial. Examples are enumerated in detail below, but BOH merely lists possible interpretations without evaluating probabilities. In almost every place BOH proposes possible scenarios in which their theory of a monepiscopate with supreme jurisdictional authority could potentially fit. They then move from invoking a possibility to asserting they have incorporated the data and therefore the data is inscrutable between competing paradigms.

This is inadequate historical methodology and limits the historical process from challenging pre-existing narratives. This is perhaps one of the most important reasons BOH, in my estimation, has very limited utility in addressing the substance of my initial article. Rather than provide substantive argument for why their interpretation is superior, they merely claim to offer a possible alternative.

Additional problems persist regarding requirements for silence to carry evidential weight. In the four conditions for silence to carry evidential weight there is a very important caveat that BOH often over extends:  points a, b, c, & d apply to a singular “author.” Thus, in an instance where multiple authors omit something, that silence *may* begin to impact the probability of one historical “story” against another.

For example, just because Tacitus does not mention the Ascension of Jesus does not mean that it did not happen. Tacitus has no reason for mentioning it and so we should not be surprised to see it is absent in his annals. There are other examples though, where contextual clues make silence significant for the historian.

The pagan Celsus claims that the Jews denied Jesus’s virgin birth and instead had taught from the beginning that a Ben Pendera or Ben Pantere, was the biological father of Jesus. He even claims that this story was widely spread in Jesus’s lifetime. With no other information, this may seem to be a reliable account that stretches back to the first centuries—clearly Celsus is making a claim that has been made for years and is part of Jewish tradition. Yet, there are reasons for doubting Celsus’s account.

We have an early dispute between Trypho the Jew and Justin Martyr where they discussed the Virgin Birth. At no point does Trypho mention anything about Ben Pendera or Ben Pantere. If Celsus was correct, it would seem very odd that Trypho ignores this fact when raising objections to the Virgin Birth. In terms of history, one may choose to date Celsus’s story back to the time of Jesus, but the silence from Trypho makes Celsus’s argument less probable. Even though Trypho never explicitly denies this story, his silence also strongly indicates he is unaware of the tradition. Thus, historians believe that it is improbable that the Ben Pendera claim goes back to the time of Jesus, though “rejection” of the claim is merely “improbable” based on the silence from Trypho.

Arguments from silence are an important tool in the historian’s tool belt. You do not use the same tool on every project, and some tools are more powerful than others, but each can serve their part in constructing a narrative. Arguments from silence can reinforce or weaken a proposed historical narrative. Moreover, as the example from Celsus and Trypho illustrates, just because something is mentioned in one text (at a later date) does not mean that the argument from silence is therefore illegitimate. When engaging multiple authors the validity of the argument from silence is not constrained by the four criteria enumerated by BOH. That is not to say any argument from silence is legitimate when encountering multiple sources, it merely makes the criteria BOH lists insufficient for determining the legitimacy of the argument from silence.

The third criteria would seem to fulfill its place, because this criteria says a positive overturns any number of negatives. Yet, as the example above shows, when one narrative claims “X” and an early narrative omits “X” when it is conspicuous or expected, then further historical investigation is required. In this case, it is not accurate to claim that any sound overturns silence. The positive claim ought to be explained, but it does not immediately negate the earlier silence. Further historical investigation is necessary. Thus, when dealing with later documents, we may say that any sound requires historical explanation, but it does not necessarily refute the argument from silence.

To borrow again from Wright, arguments from silence are another piece of data in the paleontologists (historians) reconstruction. They can be explained in multiple ways.  One narrative may afford weight to the silence, another may dismiss it. Both may maintain their narrative, but the more successful historian will be the way to situate the argument from silence or lack thereof into her narrative.

The fourth and final preliminary principle focuses upon how to interpret underdetermined data (whether an argument from silence or ambiguity in interpretation). This is the most problematic of the four preliminary principles, but abstractly I can agree that it is best to allow data to interact with other data without being confined or constricted. Yet, in the application of this principle, BOH seeks to leverage this principle as a way to prioritize its own historical narrative or “paradigm.”

Proximity is not itself a sufficient reason to trust a source. For example, the Jews were more proximate to the resurrection than any believer today and they claimed that the body was stolen from the tomb. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is proximate data, per Bryan’s comment #65, yet it is not considered reliable evidence of Jesus’s childhood. Proximity of evidence to an event is important to consider when evaluating the use of evidence, but it is only one consideration among countless others. With no rationale or guard rails to define what qualifies as “proximate data” (What type of data? What is the time period considered for proximate data?), BOH is able to claim Eusebius is “proximate” to the events of the NT, even though he lived c. AD 260-339. No rationale is provided for why Eusebius is proximate or reliable (and as the body of this paper demonstrates, there are numerous reasons to believe that Eusebius needs to be read with scrutiny), it is simply asserted. BOH accuses me of “artificially restricting the data,” (which is not true) but BOH has artificially expanded the data set without justification.

BOH rightly includes the caveat that proximate data is to inform underdetermined data “unless there is independent positive evidence of discontinuity.” From the outset my thesis is that there *is* independent positive evidence of discontinuity while BOH argues that there is *not* independent positive evidence of discontinuity. The way forward is to allow each side to explain their narrative and include the relevant data points to form a holistic picture.

For my own part I approached my initial study more or less neutral (in fact, I wanted to be finally persuaded the RCC was founded by Jesus). I was sincerely attempting to ascertain if Jesus founded the RCC, so I came to my thesis through the evaluation of the evidence.  I did not begin with the assumption that there were signs of discontinuity, but my analysis of the evidence (subjective and colored by presuppositions, of course) has led me to believe this is the most probable narrative. Of course, this is a subjective assessment, but so is BOH’s that the early evidence ought to be interpreted in continuity with evidence nearly 300 years after the fact. Attempting to use a principle of proximate evidence to allow this is objectionable as a principle, even if BOH is right about continuity offering the preferable narrative.

In an attempt to provide clarity of my narrative, the next post will be an attempt to broadly lay out the narrative I’m proposing. Following this narrative, I will attempt to provide detailed justification for why my narrative best accounts for the facts. I’ll allow a few days for people to digest the Agreement & Methodology sections and then I will post the narrative summary.