Robert Gundry on ‘Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism’

Hat Tip to Steve Hays over at Triablogue. Robert Gundry’s review is really helpful. The conclusion is phenomenal:

Though Smith has justifiably brought to the fore a problem in pervasive interpretive pluralism, then, this problem plagues all literature, not just the Bible as perceived by biblicists. In regard to the latter, I find his arguments incoherent and his solutions inadequate. He cites Don Carson to the effect that solving the problem requires “better scriptural exegesis.” Indeed. So maybe someone should write a book arguing that pervasive pluralism in biblical interpretation is due to the lingering deleterious effects, even on biblicists, of nonbiblicism in the past. But what do I know? I’m neither a sociologist nor a theologian. Just a biblicist.


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Conclusion


IX. Concluding Thoughts

I originally wrote a review of Peter Lampe’s book measuring roughly 20 pages. I then wrote 40 more pages. BOH is the length of a book at 180+ pages in a PDF reader. I’ve added nearly 80 more pages to the conversation. That’s over 300 pages exchanged in the period of less than 24 months. It’s so much data that it can be difficult to make heads or tails out of it. As a matter of fact, it can cause people that want answers to throw their hands up in despair. BOH seems to acknowledge this in addressing its first objection. The objection is stated that given the length of the argument, it would seem that both options are plausible (BOH’s position and mine) so we ultimately need to use our private judgment. Consequently, the Catholic is in the same epistemic position as the Protestant.

By way of response BOH reasserts the Tu Quoque argument is not appropriate because the Catholic places their faith in an infallible Magisterium while the Protestant only finds his own opinion. This leaves the Protestant with uncertainty regarding his interpretation of Divine revelation, but places the Catholic in a position of certainty regarding the content of Divine revelation. BOH then claims,

Nevertheless, if true, any tu quoque objection simply proves that we Christians are the most miserable of men. For we claim to have a sure faith in what God has revealed, and yet we have no means by which we can distinguish our own opinions about faith from what faith itself holds with definitive and irrevocable strength. Such a despairing situation does not fit with what we know concerning God’s existence and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, a despairing situation should seem absurd to us, and the insouciance of the tu quoque objection toward discovering a divinely-established and divinely-protected teaching office should also strike us as absurd.

This statement is loaded with highly contestable assumptions. For BOH, if God has not provided us with an infallible Magisterium this would make us “the most miserable of men” because we would not be able to know doctrine without “definitive and irrevocable strength.” This assumes Scripture cannot provide us with definitive doctrinal statements—or at least that those doctrinal statements are insufficient.  Yet, it assumes the very point in question—did Jesus establish such a Church? Given OT structures and the role of the Torah in the life of Israel, the position that encounters more prima facie problems is the one advocated by BOH. God can and does work through written texts to communicate who he is and how we are to live—even though BOH’s appropriation of OT structures would render the OT saints as “the most miserable of men.”[1]

This tact, of allowing assumptions to bear the burden of an argument, is evident throughout BOH. In fact, BOH makes a curious methodological assumption in its concluding remarks,

Earlier ambiguous or underdetermined data does not undermine these witnesses, given the historiographical principle that all other things being equal, one should interpret earlier data in continuity with later testimony. Therefore, the ILD principle does not make the Catholic view only equally plausible in comparison with a “presbyterial” view. In fact, following a sound historical method and a complete data set makes it clear that the Catholic position is morally certain.

The principle offered is itself far from a historiographical principle, but even conceding it, BOH simply assumes that the interpretation of the data is equivalent when interpreted in continuity or in discontinuity. If that is not the case then everything that follows is uncertain—far from being morally certain. Assertions take the place of arguments.

At multiple points BOH says that the data is “inscrutable,” meaning that the data I’ve selected is no better than the Catholic alternative. This accusation is leveled at *every* section of my article. Sometimes this is combined with other arguments regarding the proper conditions for silence to carry evidential weight, but the claim of BOH is that in every single piece of evidence I have violated the ILD principle. In other words, at every single point episcopal argument is *at least* equal with the presbyterian thesis. At *no point* does the presbyterian thesis have *any* evidence in its favor. At its best, the evidence is equal to the Catholic paradigm.

For example, Bryan states,

And in our article we showed both that your argument is unsound, and that none of the data to which you appealed is evidence for the truth of your thesis. [Source]

The prima facie problem with this is the existence of different interpretations. Why do people believe that the evidence points in another direction? They could be committing a logical fallacy or deriving false conclusions—at least one group in this conversation is deriving false conclusions—but how do we know the ILD principle is being violated? What standards are there? The truth of the matter is, that it is a subjective assessment of the evidence. When BOH argues that I’ve violated the ILD principle, they are arguing that based on their subjective evaluation of the evidence the ILD principle has been violated. Yet, the very thing under dispute is the meaning of the evidence and here we clearly disagree.

Since Bryan does not believe that BOH has presented *any* evidence, it is unremarkable that he accuses my article of violating the ILD. Such an accusation, however, demonstrates remarkable hubris wherein the majority opinion of academia is held where “none of the data is evidence.” Even though most agree OJ committed the crime, the reason Johnny Cochran could argue, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” is because the fact that the glove did not fit was a favorable piece of evidence for the defense. It doesn’t mean that the defense was ultimately right or that it explained every piece of evidence, but it *was* a piece of evidence. Likewise, one may disagree with my conclusions, but denying that anything presented was evidence is to deny the obvious.

This is why good historical scholarship allows the totality of evidence to shape and form conclusions about the evidence. Thus, Peter Lampe’s study commences with the following approach to evidence,

We face a tour through a variety of material: literary materials, above all, but also epigraphical and archaeological ones are at hand, which often only become illuminating in combination

Historical scholarship is predicated upon this type of practice: examining evidence, reaching conclusions, moving along to more evidence, allowing that evidence to chasten previous conclusions and inform additional research.  A myopic approach (“This violates ILD. This violates ILD. This violates ILD.”)  isolates evidence, insulating interpretations from legitimate challenges and missing the larger picture. As the methodology section highlights, constructing a narrative requires an attention to detail as well as the broader story being told in the organization of that data. BOH’s approach stalls this sharpening discussion by asserting superiority in every single section without providing substantive engagement.

In conclusion, I do thank CtC for providing an outlet for my initial article and for taking the time to write such a lengthy response. I must admit that at times frustration has crept in and I have been truly dismayed about what I perceive to be very mischaracterization of my position. At times, that frustration may have clouded my judgment or prevented me from responding with the charity that God requires of me. I pray that the Spirit of God continues to teach me humility as I mature and grow in the Lord and I appreciate the grace of those whom I may have dealt with in anything short of a spirit of love.

I do believe that much of my article has been left unexplored, however. My hope for the contributors to BOH is that they revise and strengthen their arguments and my hope for readers and followers would be that they carefully examine what each side has actually presented. I have taken great care to read BOH thoroughly and respond to the arguments accordingly. If there is anything I have misrepresented, however, I sincerely hope that someone will point that out to me. Thus brings the conclusion for my interaction on this topic with CtC. May God open our hearts to see clearly and love him and one another.

[1] Another prima facie problem with this argument is that billions of people do not see the tension that BOH claims is necessarily true.  Muslims, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists, etc., all have sacred texts that govern their communities, not a sole infallible “successor.”


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Apostolic Succession

'Whoa... sorry, I thought the sign said, 'Karate Night'.'

C. Apostolic Succession

This section is vitally important because it is a crucial step in undermining CtC’s claim that Apostolic Succession provides Catholics with a principled means that Scripture does not. For the sake of space, I won’t reiterate my argument and citation of the CtC argument here, but one quote from Bryan (in my article) explains how CtC perceives the organization of the Church,

The Church Christ founded is visible because, as His Mystical Body, it necessarily has an essentially united visible hierarchy; this is the hierarchy of bishops and priests united under the episcopal successor of St. Peter, the visible head appointed by Christ.

Such a statement provides the context for my understanding of CtC’s concept of Apostolic Succession, and I believe that my argument has falsified this conception. Benedict echoes this sentiment,

Likewise, the unity of the episcopate, of which “the Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation”, continues down the centuries through the apostolic succession and is the foundation of the identity of the Church in every age with the Church built by Christ on Peter and on the other Apostles.[1]

Benedict, echoing Lumen Gentium argues that the Pope is the visible source of the unity of the episcopate. Lumen Gentium says much the same thing,

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.[2]

The reason I highlight these things is to point out an important principle for Roman Catholics: Succession of a Petrine office is of the essence of Apostolic Succession to the Roman Catholic Church. Without this Petrine succession, the Church functions without the head of the body. Rome’s identity is inextricably linked to an historical Petrine successor (CCC 880-887). Without this connection, Rome may well have men in its churches that can trace their ordination back to the Apostles, but this would be insufficient to constitute the Church. As Ott explains, “…the apostolic Church and the unfalsified teaching are where Peter or his successor is” (pg. 308).

There is a lingering problem of definitions regarding Apostolic Succession as well. In my original article I joined them because the consistent presentation of Apostolic Succession is that the monarchical episcopate was the mechanism for the Apostles to transfer their “office” to those who succeeded them. BOH seems to argue similarly, but exerts much effort in arguing that even if there were not a single bishop in Rome, that still would not undermine Catholic dogma. Yet, the only way they could argue that a plurality of leaders without the monarchical episcopate is compatible with Roman teaching is if they likewise rejected the reliability of Irenaeus and Tertullian on the existence of the monarchical episcopate. I think this is a reasonable position, but then it severely blunts BOH’s argument. If they accept Irenaeus’s testimony, then they believe the monarchical episcopacy originated with Linus when it was committed to him by Paul and Peter. The monarchical episcopate could possibly be distinct from Apostolic Succession in Rome, but that’s not BOH’s argument nor is it the argument of later Fathers. BOH therefore faces a dilemma: keep the union of the monarchical episcopate and “apostolic succession” or divide them, acknowledging Irenaeus is unreliable regarding ecclesial structure. There is no middle ground.[3]

Yet, even the notion of Apostolic Succession itself needs to be disambiguated because simply because Irenaeus uses the word “Apostolic succession” does not mean that he means the same thing as Rome does. I assumed, as BOH implies, succession and the monarchical episcopate are distinct but inseparably tethered concepts. Yet, as a closer examination will make clear, Irenaeus is not a knock-down case for Rome’s version of sacramental apostolic succession.

  1. Irenaeus

It is important to understand the context of Irenaeus’s writing and his beliefs regarding Apostolic Succession. Irenaeus primary focus in Against Heresies is to refute the supposed apostolic tradition maintained by various gnostic groups. The first two books are largely concerned with addressing the cosmology of Gnosticism. Irenaeus rightly demonstrates the Gnostics (Valentinus is often in his sights) allow their philosophical speculation to wildly contort and misinterpret Scripture. Irenaeus often responds that the Apostles taught and preached publicly, and none of the churches affirm the dualism and divine emanation of the Gnostics. Instead, Irenaeus explains the faith expressed by the apostolic churches in Book I.X.1-3. This is one of the summaries Irenaeus gives of the Apostolic faith:

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send spiritual wickednesses, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

Irenaeus goes on to explain this faith is quite distinct from one that claims there is a Pleroma that contains thirty emanations and innumerable aeons. The Apostolic teaching proclaims one God, one Lord and Savior, and one Holy Spirit speaking through the prophets. Irenaeus emphasizes this throughout his treatise. He even states in I.XXII.1,

The rule of truth, which we hold, is that there one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist.

The rule of “truth” in the churches is: one God and one Lord & Savior

After describing and providing a largely philosophical and theological critique of Gnosticism in Books 1&2, Irenaeus proceeds by evaluating the plausibility that the Gnostics are the legitimate heirs of apostolic preaching.  In looking at the Gospels their apostolic authors,

have declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God (3.1.2).

Yet, there some of the Gnostics claimed the Scriptures were insufficient because the truth was delivered “viva voce,” or in the living voice. Irenaeus points out, however, that each Gnostic sect differs from one another regarding this living voice in distinction from both the Scriptures and the testimony of the universal church. Yet, when the succession of presbyters who preach the “rule of truth” is expounded, they claim a greater wisdom than they and even the Apostles themselves (who were teaching without “fullness of knowledge” in Scripture; III.II.2). These Gnostic teachers are slippery and seek to evade the truth, but Irenaeus illustrates his point by showing the succession of teaching exists throughout the world where none of the apostolic successors has ever heard of anything other than One God and one Lord.

Irenaeus reasons, if the Apostles had in fact taught something in secret and not publicly, that they would have at least told the men they were entrusting the church to. Certainly these men would have known something of these secret doctrines. The Apostles would have surely known if these men did not know true doctrine the church would fall into “calamity” and therefore it is safe to assume they would have made sure to entrust the important aspects of the faith to them, otherwise the teaching of the Lord would be forever lost.

While Irenaeus does not have space to draw up a list of the succession in each church, he focuses upon the church founded by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul give the episcopate to Linus. After Linus Anacletus was installed (whether the installation comes at the hands of Linus or not is not explicitly stated, however, , and then third, was Clement. Irenaeus goes on to emphasize the writing we possess from Clement, where he “proclaims the one God” Maker of all and God of the OT saints. After listing the rest of the successors to the contemporary time Irenaeus claims this chain of belief confirms the preaching of truth

has come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”

Moreover, Irenaeus had even seen Polycarp as a young man (perhaps child), who also condemned Gnostics as do the churches in Philippi, and Ephesus (where Paul and John had been). This leads Irenaeus to conclude that these proofs demonstrate the Gnostics do not have the Apostolic teaching. They have neither the Scriptures nor the tradition of the church. The Gnostics have no connection to Apostolic teaching, but the succession of presbyters and bishops preserves the true Apostolic preaching (One Creator of all things, One Lord and Savior) as it exists in Scripture.

Book 4 is then primarily concerned with a biblical theological defense of the one God, One Lord and Savior rule of truth. Irenaeus notes things like Jesus claiming one Father and that Moses and Abraham testify to Christ in the OT. In IV.XXV, Irenaeus emphasizes that Christ’s coming fulfilled the prophecies in the OT Scripture and that Abraham prefigures both the Mosaic and New Covenants. Irenaeus then opens Chapter 26.1 by saying,

If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling.

He then clarifies that the mysteries of this fulfillment were not realized before the Cross, but after,

For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition.

Yet, Irenaeus admits that the Jews do not perceive Christ in the OT, (even if they do not see the plain fulfillment). But then he explains something important about understanding the fulfillment of Scripture. It is Jesus, after his resurrection, that explained the interpretation of prophecies.

For thus it was that the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, proving to them from the Scriptures themselves that Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout all the world. And the disciple will be perfected, and [rendered] like the householder, who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.

In other words, who would know the teaching of Jesus regarding how to interpret the OT other than those whom he taught? Consequently,

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.

Thus, it is the presbyters and bishops who received the succession from the Apostles the One God/One Lord and Savior paradigm the Gnostics challenge. Thus, Irenaeus councils against gathering with those who have not descended from apostolic churches, teaching strange doctrines. Yet, he also recognizes that it is possible for presbyters who do not fear God and crave “the chief seat” and work evil in secret (4.26.3). These, who are believed to be presbyters by many, along with the Gnostics, ought to raise caution. Irenaeus states (4.25.4),

From all such persons, therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of presbyters (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others.

Instead, the church ought to be nourished by appropriate presbyters (4.25.5),

Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.

After continuing to affirm the singular story of redemption running through OT and NT in appeals to Scripture and reason, Irenaeus confirms that not only does the NT teach the unity of the testaments, but this is also affirmed by an unnamed presbyter and disciple of the Apostles who taught (4.32.1),

For [he maintained] that there was no other God besides Him who made and fashioned us, and that the discourse of those men has no foundation who affirm that this world of ours was made either by angels, or by any other power whatsoever, or by another God.

Irenaeus then sandwiches a biblical argument between another appeal to read Scripture in continuity with the presbyters in the Church in order to buttress his point (4.32.1).

In the next chapter, (4.33) he compares explains who the spiritual man is. He judges Marcion (4.33.2), Valentinus (4.33.3), Ebionites (4.33.4), Docetists (4.33.5), False prophets (44.33.6), those who give rise to schism (4.33.7)). He also has true knowledge which consists in,

the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy;

This true knowledge is also strengthened by the persecution of true Christians (4.33.9-13) and the true interpretation of the prophetic Scripture (4.33.14-15). Book V will go on to adduce more arguments against Gnosticism, but many of them are focused upon the gnostic debasement of matter. Irenaeus takes particular pains to emphasize the reality of a bodily resurrection. Irenaeus contests with them with Scripture and reasons to refute their claims.

With this brief analysis of Against Heresies, we can know draw some conclusions and evaluate arguments from BOH. The first important takeaway is that for Irenaeus the succession is not confined to bishops—he extends apostolic succession to presbyters as well.  Scholars generally recognize Irenaeus uses the terms “bishop” and “presbyter” interchangeably (if true, this decisively rules out a translation of “priest’), though there does appear to be some sort of distinction in 4.26.1. Regardless, while Irenaeus *does* point out an episcopal succession, there is no evidence that Irenaeus believed succession was the bishops prerogative alone or that monarchical bishop possessed an Apostolic charism, succeeding the Apostolic office. The presbyters and the bishops, whatever distinction resides between them, both possess Apostolic Succession.

Second, Irenaeus is making a point about the public proclamation of the Gospel, particularly as it related to Gnostic claims to apostolicity. Irenaeus never makes a sacramental argument (the Gnostic do not possess the proper consecrated successor), he makes an historical argument about the public transmission of the Gospel. The Gnostics cannot trace their teaching to any public figure who was involved in the public proclamation of the Gospel. Moreover, they are contradicted by the public teaching of the leaders of the faith throughout the world (Rome, Ephesus, Smyrna). The only apostolic connection Irenaeus is willing to grant Gnostics is association with Simon Magus—the sorcerer who attempted to use the Gospel for his own selfish advantage—whom the Apostles denounced. Irenaeus is almost certainly incorrect about this historical detail, but his larger point is historically persuasive, Gnosticism is wholly distinct from the Apostolic message. Similarly, Irenaeus is not entirely accurate regarding the ancient nature of the episcopate, however, he accurately points to public presbyter-bishops who have contiguously taught the same catholic faith as witnessed in Scripture and the Apostolically founded churches.

Third, at no point does Irenaeus assume the bishops are endowed with infallibility, whether corporately or in communion with the bishop of Rome. He even assumes there are presbyters who ought not be trusted because they do not reverence the Apostolic faith and are self-interested. The bishops and presbyters in succession from the Apostles have received a fixed deposit, which Irenaeus defines in numerous ways, but all of which effectively communicate the Apostles Creed. This is the faith Irenaeus believes has been received and continues to testifies. As the Apostles received their message from Christ, so the Apostles delivered the same message to their disciples who then delivered it to their disciples. This faith has remained unified in its teaching, one God and One Lord and Savior and this is historically demonstrable in history; not in sacramental succession, but in being publicly entrusted with the Apostolic Teaching.

Fourth, there is nothing uniquely Petrine about the episcopal line in Rome. Paul and Peter are represented as jointly bestowing the office upon Linus. It is only 70-80 years later that the claim of Petrine authority would be made.

BOH concludes regarding Irenaeus and Tertullian,

According to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, the Apostles did not merely preach truths of the divine revelation of Christ to the first Christians, and then go to their martyrdom. That would have left the Church susceptible to the Gnostic challenge, with many clamoring voices claiming to speak for the Apostles, and claiming to have texts written by the Apostles. It would have left the sheep without divinely-designated shepherds, entirely at a loss regarding what is the truth concerning Christ and His Gospel. Rather, according to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, by publicly appointed successors, and giving to them the authority to appoint further successors in perpetuam, the Apostles cut off the Gnostic challenge at the knees, by, in a sense, perpetuating themselves, and so ensuring that no Gnostic challenger could ever have an equal claim to speak for the Apostles. In this way, it is not just an “historical argument.” It is an argument that reaches back into history in order to show why the normative way of determining the truth concerning the apostolic deposit is to unroll the lines of bishops, and see whose go back to the Apostles. Only those bishops have the divine authority from the Apostles to say what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith received from the Apostles.

In summarizing Irenaeus, BOH goes well beyond what Irenaeus claims for Apostolic succession. Irenaeus does not claim the Gnostics lack a charism of apostolic succession, he rather points out their doctrines and origin do not subside with the Apostles. According to Irenaeus, the Apostles instructed their “successors” (bishops and presbyters) in the faith and entrusted them with the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. The fact the Gnostics cannot point to one of these men whom the apostles entrusted the care of the church shows the unapostolic origin of their claims. It is true that Irenaeus and Tertullian identify the episcopate as a unique mechanism for the passing down the apostolic succession, but even if this point is not historically accurate, their argument retains its strength. While Linus would not have recognized himself as a monarchical bishop, he very probably taught the One God/One Lord and Savior that Irenaeus defends.

BOH goes on to claim,

By having the succession from the Apostles, they possessed what St. Irenaeus calls “the certain gift of truth.” The priests and bishops are promised (by Christ) the gift of preserving the truth that was entrusted to them by Christ through the Apostles, upon condition of remaining in communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This statement by Irenaeus does not concern a gift of preserving the truth entrusted to the bishops upon remaining in communion with “Peter.” Instead, Irenaeus is saying that these men, have received the certain gift of truth as taught from Jesus to the Apostles and from the Apostles to their “successors.” A contextual reading of this portion of Against Heresies (as done above) demonstrates my option is preferable. When one begins examining the sources, BOH’s proposals are tendentious over-extension of the evidence. Upon examination, BOH’s reading of these texts is an imposition of later theological categories into the historical circumstances of the late second century. Irenaeus does not support the manner of Apostolic Succession BOH claims.

  1. Tertullian.

Tertullian, also speaks about the role of the monarchical episcopate in apostolic succession. His Prescription Against Heresies is often adduced to demonstrate his affinity for the necessity of the episcopate. In Chapters 1 & 2 he notes the heresies must exist and that the weak are seduced by them. In Chapter 3, he explains that human frailty extends to everyone except Christ. He then explains,

But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith…Did not certain of the disciples turn back from the Lord Himself, when they were offended? Yet the rest did not therefore think that they must turn away from following Him, but because they knew that He was the Word of Life, and had come from God, they continued in His company to the very last, after He had gently inquired of them whether they also would go away. It is a comparatively small thing, that certain men, like Phygellus, and Hermogenes, and Philetus, and Hymenæus, deserted His apostle: the betrayer of Christ was himself one of the apostles.

In other words, Tertullian acknowledges the possibility for a bishop to fall from the faith. As a matter of fact, Apostles often fail, but their personal failures do not negate the truth of the Gospel. In subsequent sections Tertullian goes on to explain the speculations of Gnostics are not consistent with finding the true faith. After believing the truth, there is not a deeper knowledge to pursue, the fullness of truth is found in Christ.

In Chapter 12, Tertullian explains that truth should be sought among “our own” by appealing to the rule of faith. In Chapter 13, Tertullian explains what this rule of faith is,

there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.

This is the rule of faith that has been passed down from Christ to the Apostles and the Apostles to churches. Chapters 14-19 explain Gnostics twist the Scriptures and have no right to them because (19),

For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.

In this Chapter 19 of the Prescriptions the rule refers to the proclamation of the Apostolic preaching. In Chapter 21, however, Tertullian redefines this rule to refer to communion with Apostolic churches (at this point, not explicitly bishops). The Lord taught the Apostles and the Apostles established churches at Jesus’ command. These Apostles faithfully transmitted the Gospel in their fullness to the churches (Ch. 22-26). Thus, if the Apostles publicly and thoroughly proclaimed the Gospel, it is inconceivable that the churches would immediately lose their teaching. It is true that the Galatians and the Corinthians did corrupt the faith early, however, they were corrected by the Apostles (Ch. 27). Tertullian grants for the sake of argument that the Apostles teaching was corrupted (also ignoring the promise of Christ to protect the Church), but then how can it explain the universal teaching of the Church (Ch. 28)?  Continuing the thought experiment that the orthodox churches corrupted the Gospel, Tertullian then facetiously agrees that truth had to wait for Marcion and Valentinus in the second century to be rescued from corruption. Yet, how then can error precede corruption (29; 31)? It cannot be so because error always perverts the original. This is why Paul instructs people not to believe another Gospel other than the one he taught in the churches—even if an angel of heaven presented it. Marcion and Valentinus, however, are not angels but morally corrupt men from recent times (Ch. 30).

In Chapter 32, Tertullian taunts the Gnostics to make a claim to apostolic teaching. Gnostics cannot show their churches were apostolically assigned, however, as churches like Rome can. Rome has the provenance of three apostles, Peter, Paul, & John.

Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind.

None of the Gnostics can claim any connection to the apostles or “apostolic men.” Some churches without having a formal ecclesial connection to the Apostles, however, do possess apostolicity via their agreement in teaching.  Moreover, even if churches do not have connection to these apostolic men, they at least share the same faith and retain their apostolicity in this way, as he says,

To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine.

The Gnostics, however, are condemned by Scripture in multiple places. Paul, for example, contends against those who deny the resurrection (Ch. 33). There is nothing in the Scriptures about the existence of two competing gods (Ch. 34). If the Gnostics want to claim apostolicity, they should be able to prove some sort of connection to the apostles, but they cannot do it. Conversely, the orthodox can trace their doctrine throughout the churches and in Scripture (Ch. 35).

This apostolic connection is widespread. Apostolic churches exist in Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome—all of these locations retain the authentic apostolic writings and read them. All of these churches with the “very thrones of the Apostles” all confess the same faith (Ch. 36),

One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus (born) of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith. This she seals with the water (of baptism), arrays with the Holy Ghost, feeds with the Eucharist, cheers with martyrdom, and against such a discipline thus (maintained) she admits no gainsayer.

It is not entirely clear what Tertullian means by the “thrones of the Apostles,” but he is undoubtedly referring to their apostolic authority residing in those cities that proclaims the apostolic faith.

Rejection of this apostolic faith (see definition above) disqualifies Marcion and Valentnius from possessing the Scriptures (Ch. 37). They belong to the church, not to men who reject the unanimous teaching of the apostolic churches and Scripture. Thus, the Gnostics continually corrupt Scripture and alter it, but the orthodox churches have received and retained the Scriptures in their entirety. Marcion perverts the text of Scripture “by hand” (removing Scripture) whereas Valentinus corrupts Scripture “by his exposition” (Ch. 38). This same pattern of textual corruption and misappropriation is found in Hosidius’s stories. The Gnostics do to Scripture what Hosidius does to Homer (Ch. 39).   In his final considerations, Tertullian concludes heretics are morally corrupt (Ch. 40-44) and are not concerned with the body of Christ.

S.L. Greenslade summarizes Irenaeus’s and Tertullian’s doctrine of Apostolic Succession thusly:

Above all, their [Irenaeus and Tertullian] concern is always for the preservation of true doctrine, the faith. They are only secondarily concerned with the means by which the institutional Church is maintained in being, though they are concerned with that, as a means to the main object. Secondly, the apostolic succession in question consists in the line of bishops in each local church, not a chain of consecrator and consecrated, which would give quite a different list. Apostolic succession always means the former in the early Church. Thirdly, there is no particular stress on their being bishops. The argument does not stand or fall by episcopacy, though certainly Tertullian takes it for granted. Irenaeus sometimes calls the successions ‘successions of presbyters.’ The essential point is that there should be an orderly succession of responsible ministers in each local church.

This understanding of the Church of the apostolic succession lent itself to something which was not, it seems, predominantly in the mind of Tertullian, and certainly not of Irenaeus, namely an institutionalism in which the notes of authority, fixity, and good churchmanship are emphasized at the expense of other, and perhaps more important, features of the Christian life..

Tertullian certainly believed it was the manner in which the Apostolic teaching was passed down in particular apostolic churches. However, the emphasis is always upon the apostolic teaching and continuity of this teaching, particularly as it relates to Gnosticism. This is why Tertullian even allows for an exception to tracing ordination to an apostle or an apostolic man—if they agree in doctrine. Bishops themselves may in fact fall into error, but that would not invalidate the apostolic teaching which is clearly taught in Scripture and widely maintained by churches established by the Apostles.

A contextual reading of Tertullian provides a far more nuanced reading than BOH offers. For example, after Tertullian proves the Gnostics do not have Apostolic origin because there founders are in the mid second century, Tertullian then takes the argument a step further, taunting the Gnostics to provide their connection to an apostolic church by way of a succession. BOH mistakenly summarizes Tertullian’s argument,

Tertullian is here saying that the way to distinguish heretics from the orthodox is to get out the records and see whose bishops can trace their succession back to the Apostles.

It is certainly not *the* way to distinguish the orthodox, because Tertullian has provided an extensive argument of which this argument is only a further supplement, and for which he even provides an exception when “non-aposotlic” churches agree with the orthodox churches in doctrine. In other words, this is an important way to distinguish heretics from the orthodox, but it is not the only or even the primary way.

BOH claims, however,

…if Tertullian believed that the Apostolic Churches of his time only happened to contain the Apostles’ doctrine, but were not necessarily the divinely authorized and divinely protected guardians and stewards of the deposit of faith, there would be no reason to point to the Apostolic Churches as the standard by which to locate the Apostles doctrine. Tertullian’s requirement that apostolic doctrine be determined by conformity to the doctrine taught in the Churches founded by the Apostles presupposes not only that the Apostles did not withhold any revealed doctrine from the bishops they ordained, but also that there is a divine promise of preservation of the faith among those having the succession from the Apostles. In other words, we see here implicitly in Tertullian the same notion in St. Irenaeus of a “charism of truth” that accompanies possessing the succession from the Apostles, in full communion with the successor of St. Peter.

This is an unnecessary step beyond what Tertullian actually says. For Tertullian, he is building an historical argument showing the orthodox churches in fact retain the Apostolic teaching.  He never appeals to a charism passed on to each bishop. Instead, he points out to the universal agreement of the churches founded by the Apostles (an important historical point) in addition to the written teaching of the Apostles (also an important historical point). He brilliantly draws the two arguments together by pointing out the churches that received apostolic writings have all retained the apostolic rule of faith. Of course, Tertullian believes the apostolic churches have been authorized to protect and guard the tradition, but he does not assume anything about a ‘charism of truth’ in the succession from the Apostles and he does not know anything of a successor of St. Peter. Such categories are being imposed on the text rather than being derived from it.

BOH goes on to claim,

If it does not come from the Apostles and those ordained by the Apostles, then it is ipso facto not to be received. This applies not only to teaching, but also to teachers and preachers.

This is, once again, an over-extension of Tertullian’s argument. Tertullian says nothing about successors of the Apostles or rejecting teachers “not sent and ordained by the Apostles.” The argument is rather that since the Apostles received their teaching from God, the teaching of the Apostles ought to be believed.  And since the Apostles publicly founded churches, and all those churches agree to the rule of faith, this testifies to the unified apostolic teaching retained in the churches. The universal agreement is “our witness of truth,” instead of ordination in the lines of the Apostles. That is not to say that this process of episcopal consecration is inconsequential to Tertullian, but it is *not* the substance of his argument.

Continuing, BOH claims,

Tertullian here shows that those who are not in communion with the Apostolic Churches have no right to appeal to Scripture to defend their positions, because the Scriptures belong to the bishops to whom the apostolic writings were entrusted by the Apostles. Since the Scriptures belong to the bishops, those not in communion with those bishops in the universal Church have no right to challenge what the bishops say that the Scriptures teach.

Tertullian’s argument is more precise than this. As he concludes his entire historical argument, he claims the apostolic churches, since they universally testify to the rule of faith (which he has just again summarized in Chapter 36), are the true heirs of apostolic teaching. The fact that the Gnostics reject this historical apostolic confession demonstrates they have no claim to handle the Scriptures because “they are not Christians.” The reason they are not Christians is not directly related to their “communion with those bishops,” but first and foremost because they reject the faith received by the apostolic churches.

BOH concludes its section on Irenaeus and Tertullian by summarizing their teaching on apostolic succesion,

It is an argument that reaches back into history in order to show why the normative way of determining the truth concerning the apostolic deposit is to unroll the lines of bishops, and see whose go back to the Apostles. Only those bishops have the divine authority from the Apostles to say what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith received from the Apostles.

As has been shown, this is simply not what Irenaeus or Tertullian actually say. They do assume the mechanism through which the apostolic tradition has been passed down is in the monarchical episcopate, however, as Greenslade notes, the argument is not dependent upon episcopacy or Roman notions of apostolic succession. In addition, while BOH has an entire section on Petrine Succession, none of it provides an argument of substance. Innuendo and vague allusions are used to claim that an author may possibly be referring to a distinctively Petrine succession in Rome.

iii. Brandon’s alleged bind

Rejection of the sacramental notion of Apostolic Succession places me in a bind, according to BOH, because it is inconsistent to hold my position and believe in a visible church. If there is no visible head, then it cannot be a Church, which, as I have argued, is a constituent component of Apostolic Succession for Rome. Of course, if there is no visible head in the Church and yet Jesus founded a church, then this would undercut BOH’s argument. It’s true that this affirmation introduces potential problems about identifying *where* the Church is, but if this is an issue in the institution of the Church it is better to deal with the limitations before us than then to invent solutions we believe to be better—all the while claiming they are divinely instituted.  Yet, even the dilemma that BOH proposes is once more not an accurate representation of my argument,

Brandon’s thesis is that the universal emergence of monarchical bishops in communion with the monarchical bishop of Rome was not a continuation of the apostolic hierarchy, but a corruption of an original parity of mere presbyters.

The language of “mere presbyters” is imprecise since in the Catholic paradigm my proposal is more akin to the church being governed by a plurality of bishops without jurisdictional authority. Moreover, the development of the monarchical episcopate may be judged to be a corruption by some (and it is by some in the PCA), but that is not what I have argued. I argued the monarchical episcopate developed organically from a presbyterial structure in the city of Rome (I even allowed caveats for more monarchical structures in places like Jerusalem). No value judgment is provided about whether or not this was a “corruption,” but it was simply argued as a point of history. BOH has imported theological categories into this historical observation which has distorted their understanding of my argument.

Another point here is that if Jesus did not have successors of the Apostles with the successor of Peter, then the church is visible, but not in the way BOH believes. Since I believe the church founded by Jesus is one governed by elders and deacons, I have no problem saying that the Church in the third and fourth centuries was the Church. In other words, this is only a problem if one assumes BOH’s definition of the Church necessarily existing with a visible head in succession from Peter. BOH may well believe that civil societies ought to be structured a certain way, but if Christ instituted something different, then it means either that BOH is using a faulty philosophical category or this philosophical category is being applied in a faulty manner to the institution established by Jesus.

BOH attempted to argue though, that my approach to the Fathers presented a methodological problem—either rejection of the Patristic witness or grand apostasy. BOH presents one paradigm while my position represents another. I do agree with this general assessment, but my assessment of the situation is much different. BOH represents one way to appropriate historical documents, to interpolate later conditions into earlier writings, or, the historical approach, of attempting to synthesize data and come up with the best possible reconstruction of how things came to be. One paradigm is certainly better than the other.

In addition, BOH’s criticism assumes that the earliest Fathers mean the same thing BOH does when writing about the monarchical episcopate and Apostolic Succession, and also assumes that my argument necessitate these later notions were, “founded upon a single primordial error.” I affirm there were historical inaccuracies that were enshrined, but I have not used such strong rhetoric to express this historical process. It may be apologetically advantageous for BOH to categorize my thesis in this way, but it does not present my argument in strength. This is why BOH’s next charge, that the church could “undergo a radical metamorphosis without any indication of struggle against such novelty seems incredible on its face,” is attacking a straw-man.

[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070527_china.html

[2]Paragraph 22. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

[3] For more information on this and even seeing Bryan and Michael Liccione admitting the non-existence of the papacy would undermine Catholic claims to succession here and here.


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Irenaeus

Danger of Uncritical Acceptance

b. Irenaeus

In this section I will address each section in kind.  In summary, BOH does not interact with the substance of my argument. Often, a straw-man is constructed.

  1. Brandon’s two Mistakes

BOH begins by noting that I make two mistakes.  The first regards the significance of Sixtus’s name and the second is that the intentional accidents of the list is not evidence that the list is “false.” I’ll deal with the first with substance and explain my position again to address the second.

In dealing with the first accusation, there is a bit of a misunderstanding. Lampe does not say anything about the name of Sixtus in particular, he only notes that the fact that Irenaeus indicates that he was the “sixth” from the Apostles in the present tense. The way it is written may provide an indication that I was asserting that because “Sixtus” was the name of the sixth bishop, this means that the list was fabricated. Eamon Duffy does seem to intimate this notion in Sinners and Saints (p. 14), but BOH is correct to point out that the name itself does not mean anything necessarily. Instead, and related to the second claim, the most important point about Sixtus is that he is marked as the sixth in a list of 12—indicating the half-way point. As Lampe notes, the fact that this note “as sixth, Sixtus was appointed” is in the present tense is evidence that the editorial comment is a constituent part of the list, indicating that this comment is part of the source Irenaeus uses. If Sixtus is listed as the half-way point, this means that the list of Irenaeus was created with Eleutherius as the 12th bishop, dating the list no earlier than his time as a bishop. Thus, we know the dating of the list based upon the internal evidence in the list itself. BOH wants to claim, however, that a similar such list had only been added to,

In other words, the relation between six and twelve may have been essential to the emphasis intended by the person compiling the list in the time of St. Eleutherius, but it was not essential to the order between all the members of the list. And this is why St. Irenaeus’s list could have been compiled from a previously existing list of the eleven bishops from St. Linus to St. Soter, and the emphasis on the sixth and twelfth bishops is not evidence that the list is false or a “fictive construction.”

In this paragraph, BOH concedes the thrust of Lampe’s argument, but then asserts that the list could have come from earlier lists of which the numbers 6 and 12 were not constituent components. To re-state Lampe’s position (and my own):

Irenaeus is using an existing bishop list that is written in the present tense while Irenaeus’s comments are written in the imperfect. According to Lampe, Theodor Klauser, and Herbert Kemler this verbal information provides insight into the distinction between the pre-existing list and Irenaeus’s comments. The note about Sextus is in the present, indicating it is not one of Irenaeus’s comments but a part of the pre-existing list and marks the midway point of the list. The comments on Eleutherus, “now, 12th from the Apostles, holds the inheritance of the episcopate.” is likewise in the present. Lampe also points out the Apostolic number “12” is not a matter of coincidence and serves to emphasize the apostolic nature of the succession. Thus, for Lampe, the number 12 is a constituent part of the list meaning the list is not composed before the episcopate of Eleutherus.

That does not mean that Irenaeus could not be using information from other sources other than his list.  The point is that working from what we know, this is the first list of monarchical bearers of tradition all the way back to the Apostles and it is dated in the late second century. Of course, I believe that an admission of this fact tilts things in favor of my thesis. Yet, if we can acknowledge that the first extant list we possess comes no earlier than the episcopate of Eleutherus, we can then begin determining which narrative provides a better answer as to why. Simply stipulating that just because we do not have a record does not mean that it could not exist, however, is not a compelling argument–at least not with a sustained argument.

2. Selective Arguments from silence

I noted that BOH responds to the accusation that their position relies on an illegitimate argument from silence by saying,

But proposing some explanation or event behind what is stated is not an argument from silence. An argument from silence uses silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of something. Of course a proposed explanation or event behind what is stated can be false or unjustified, but it is not an argument from silence. Proposing what lies behind an historical silence is not the same as arguing to the non-existence of x on the basis of silence. For this reason, because speculating about what St. Irenaeus may have depended on is not using silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of anything, it is not an argument from silence

Just a few sentences before this claim, however, BOH charged me with “repeatedly ma[king] use of arguments from silence.” I have made multiple arguments proposing what lies behind an historical silence, but nowhere is my conclusion that because no mention is made of a monarchical episcopate that it does not exist. My claims are more tempered, noting that silence favors one potential interpretation over another. And at this point, it’s worth noting my initial article was intended to argue for the presbyterian thesis; the church in Rome was organized with multiple presbyters ruling in the church. Arguments against a monarchical bishop provide a sub-text, but my arguments are primarily positive. My utilization of silence is no different than what BOH claims for itself. BOH wants to claim that because I don’t believe a monarchical bishop existed, therefore utilization of silence is different, but that is special pleading.

When Ignatius appeared to claim that the monarchical episcopate spread over the whole world, I did not argue that the silence for 70+ years showed that the argument was specious.  Instead, I appealed to multiple documents and internal evidence in Ignatius. I’ve conceded that the argument may not be successful, but it is certainly not an argument from silence. My argument was specific, the church was governed by presbyter-bishops throughout the city. This was based on the biblical and Patristic data directly.  Silence in some instances provided area for “proposing some explanation or event behind what is stated,” but as BOH correctly states, this is not an argument from silence.

In a qualified sense, BOH is correct that its argument is not an argument from silence, because arguments from silence rely on the absence of information in a document to assume that it did not exist. BOH is not interpreting Irenaeus in that manner. Instead, BOH is arguing that while no evidence is extant, it is possible that the list of Irenaeus is dependent on earlier, complete bishop lists of monarchical bishops. As I’ve emphasized over and over, that is possible, but BOH does not argue why this proposal is probable or more likely than other alternatives.

Nevertheless, without substantiating the possibility that Irenaeus could have used other exhaustive lists that predated his own, BOH accuses me of ignoring data because it “does not fit Brandon’s theology.”

In essence, what Brandon is doing here is simply stipulating that St. Irenaeus and St. Hegesippus are untrustworthy sources regarding the succession of bishops in Rome, because what they say does not fit Brandon’s theology. And that is both ad hoc special pleading, and unjustified.

Considering the argument that BOH has presented, it is understandable that they would reach this conclusion. The remedy, however, is for BOH to revisit what has actually been argued to see that while I may be mistaken, I’m not “stipulating Irenaeus and Hegesippus are untrustworthy.”

Moreover, it is true that we don’t know exactly how the Gnostics responded to these particular bishop lists, but Eric Jay notes,

Hegesippus was chiefly concerned to satisfy himself that sound doctrine has been taught in the churches from the apostles’ time.  But since Gnostics produced lists of teacher who had, they claimed, received the secret tracing from the apostles, Hegesippus conceived the idea of countering this by compiling lists of “bishops” in the local churches which showed a succession from the apostles.[1]

In other words, there were other bishop lists circulating from the Gnostics about secret teaching from the Apostles. The counter-argument was that there were public church officials who repudiated Gnostic doctrine in a sustained line of public ministry in every place in the world. Rome is the ultimate example because it is founded by two apostles and is the center of the empire. The truth is, however, that the “bishop lists” could actually originate with the Gnostics and

3. St. Irenaeus’s two ‘mistakes’

There does not need to be much time given to this particular issue. I simply noted that in appropriating the Patristic writers we need to acknowledge they occasionally make mistakes in matters of fact. Irenaeus clearly taught that Jesus was 50 years old (see here for a good treatment of the issue). Likewise, if read in an anachronistic sense, Irenaeus would be mistaken about Peter and Paul founding the Roman Church. Church tradition held that Peter was a bishop in Rome for 25 years and founded the church there, but this is legendary and goes beyond what Irenaeus is actually arguing. My point was that we must be careful not to go behind what we read in Irenaeus, like some of the Father’s in the Church have done.

4. Differences in succession lists

Once more BOH does not accurately represent my argument. I had argued,

At this point it will be helpful to revisit what this ambiguity tells us and what it does not. It does not mean that there were no bishops in Rome nor does it necessitate that Peter did not actually ordain Linus or Clement…The competing traditions show us that we need to interact with the Fathers knowing that there are mistakes and discrepancies

Somehow, BOH takes this statement regarding discrepancies in succession lists as “reason to doubt the truth of St. Irenaeus’s list.” The only thing I attempted to highlight, however, was that these bishop lists are subject to error and there are differences (as even noted in the case of Polyarp above). My point is that the Fathers are not immune from mistakes and we need to be aware of this fact without impugning everything the Fathers have said.

5. Testimony of St. Irenaeus’s arguments

BOH argues that Irenaeus refers to the bishops of Rome as presbyters therefore, because bishops are presbyters, mention of only presbyters does not mean a monarchical bishop is not also involved. This argument, supposedly supports the argument of BOH that there was always a monarchical bishop in Rome, but it is also possible to view this as evidence of the development of the office of the episcopate.

For example, Irenaeus states in Book III.2.2,

But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches

In Book IV.26.2 Irenaeus also comments,

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory.

One may assume that this clinches the point for a monarchical episcopate. Bishop ad presbyter are distinguished! Irenaeus’s argues, however, that presbyters and bishops together hold their succession from the apostles. This leads Eric Jay to conclude,

The need for a president of the college of presbyters have been recognized before Irenaeus’s day, certainly at Antioch and in Asia Minor, and doubtless in Rome. Ignatius saw him as the center of the church’s unity and guardian of the purity of its worship. In Rome, he was seen as the local church’s representative in relations with other churches…The title episkopos is now attached exclusively to this official guardian of true doctrine; but he is still a presbyter. Hence Irenaeus can speak both of a succession of the episcopate and of a succession of presbyters.

This eminently plausible reconstruction not only places Irenaeus in broader context, but it also integrates the best conclusions from other sections into this new development of the importance of the episcopate.

Moreover, Denis Minns explains,

Although bishops in succession from the apostles guarantee the church’s claim to authentic teaching, it does not follow that hierarchical structure looms large in Irenaeus’ definition of Christianity. He is sometimes credited with assigning an important, or even exclusive, role to bishops in the life of the church, but in fact, he has relatively little to say about bishops, and when he does use the term it is by no means unambiguously clear clear that he always thinks of a bishop as a person having sole government in a particular church…If they do their work properly, they will simply hand down what had been handed down to them. The ‘certain charism of truth’ which presbyters receive along with episcopal succession is simply the unchanging truth handed down to them. Denis Minns “Irenaeus” in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine Vol 1. Eds Margaret Mitchell and Frances Young. Cambridge University Press: (2006), 269.

In fairness, BOH points out that there is no need to bifurcate established church structure with truth. This is correct. Minns is pointing out that the hierarchy is assumed to have publicly transmitted the deposit they have received.  It has been publicly taught and the teachings of the Apostles is identifiable in the public teaching in churches founded by the apostles (and Rome is founded by *two,* which is one important reason Ireaneus chooses the Roman church to enumerate apostolic teaching). Minns does not want to bifurcate church structure from apostolic doctrine, but he wants to show the priority resides not in episcopal succession, but rather the widespread teaching of the apostles throughout the Roman empire.

Second, BOH argues that Irenaeus is claiming to know the practice of the Lenten fast of Roman bishops. The implication is that if Irenaeus can appeal to the practice of a bishop in Rome stretching back to c. 120, this indicates that the episcopate was at least in place at this time. If it were not the case, then Irenaeus’s argument to Victor would carry no weight because Victor would not have had a predecessor. Thus, BOH concludes,

Brandon’s claim that St. Irenaeus’s succession list is false and made up, makes no sense of the narrative between St. Irenaeus and St. Victor, because it would require the Christians in the Church at Rome to be massively deceived about their own history, so deceived that the deception could be used in an argument by an outsider to oppose what St. Victor was doing.

Once more, at no point did I claim that Irenaeus’s list was false, or even made up (I actually argued that he used a pre-existing list). The substance of the argument, however, assumes that if there were powerful leaders in the church that exerted large influence over the house churches of Rome that this means he was a monarchical bishop.  As will be discussed below (Section V), however, the issue at Rome was an intramural dispute among Roman Christians (as numerous scholars have noted, the Church in Rome would have been sending molded bread/food to other congregations if they were sending the Eucharist). The fact that there were different churches operating differently and in harmony with one another in the city of Rome is the result of the fractionation of the city and is evidence that Rome was not under the jurisdiction of a monarchical bishop.  Instead, the growing ecclesial community governed by the minister of external affairs had exerted latitude in extending fellowship to other Roman Christians. Irenaeus was aware of this practice and cited it.

6. False dilemmas

BOH claims that I have proposed a false dilemma. According to BOH,

The false dilemma is that either the person cares for the truth of the doctrine, or cares for the truth concerning the succession, but cannot at the same time be concerned about both. This false dilemma is a way of attacking a person’s character, but it hides the personal attack under the dilemma, by affirming that the person is truly concerned about some good thing, i.e., the truth of the doctrine.

This is a misrepresentation of my position. I never argued that because Irenaeus was focused upon the succession of apostolic doctrine that he was unconcerned for the mode of succession. I concede that Irenaeus believed that there was an official teacher at Rome who maintained that tradition of the Apostles. I had explicitly stated,

While the Protestant may not believe that the particulars of Irenaeus’s argument (that this occurred in episcopal succession) are correct, that does not mean that they reject the substance of what Irenaeus is saying.

In other words, it is disputable that the earlier members of this list would have conceived of themselves in the way that Irenaeus does, but that does not completely undermine Irenaeus’s argument. It was true that the men in question were presbyter-bishops.  All of them may have been the “president” of the presbytery, though this is impossible to conclude. I am certainly willing to concede that they taught Apostolic teaching, particularly against the innovations of Marcionite and Valentian Gnostics. The only thing I’ve claimed is that in Irenaeus we witness a development in the importance of role of the “bishop.”

According to BOH the second false dilemma is that “either a list of twelve bishops that emphasizes the sixth and twelfth bishop is false, or it would not exist.” This is a further example of BOH’s creative imagination when describing my position. Just for clarification, the only thing that the analysis of the list does is substantiate that the list itself was composed in the time of Eleutherus. The number twelve does not speak to the “truthfulness” of the list, but to its age of composition. As a result of this misunderstanding BOH claims,

What is doing the work in ‘weakening’ their accounts is not any evidence or good argumentation, but only slightly veiled and entirely unjustified personal attacks on the moral character of these two saints.

This statement is the fruit of misunderstanding. Whether or not the arguments are strong is a subjective issue and I’m more than willing to consider their lack. The arguments, however, are an attempt to understand the history available to us and are *not* personal or moral attacks on anyone.

7. Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s account of the Gnostics

BOH claims that Irenaeus’s testimony regarding the Gnostics shows that the monarchical episcopate must have existed much earlier. For example, according to Tertullian, Valentinus tried to become pope at the church of Rome but was unsuccessful. BOH then states,

If there had been a plurality of presbyter-bishops with equal authority, this other man’s becoming bishop would not be cause for Valentinus to become indignant, because there would not be reason that another presbyter-bishop could not be added to their number.

Unfortunately, for BOH, the validity of Tertullian’s story is called into question by Epiphanius (Pan 42:1-2), who states that Valentinus willingly cut ties with the presbyters of Rome. Tertullian even admits that the reports about Valentinus might be a general customary revengeful reaction (“ut solent animi pro prioratu excite praseumptione ultionis accendi.”)  Lampe and Einar Thomassen provide more detail on why this data from Tertullian is dubious for those interested.[2]

Similar skepticism regarding the account of Marcion is warranted. It is possible that Marcion committed a sin with a virgin, but the historical reliability of this is very difficult to confirm. The reason to doubt this account is that contrary to what Epiphanius claims, Marcion was initially accepted in the church at Rome. Tertullian states in De Carne 2 & Contra Marcion 1.1; 4.4 that Marcion claimed that he had fellowship with the other Roman Christians.  Tertullian also states that Marcion “in catholicam primo doctrinam credidisse apud ecclesiam Romanensem.” Lampe explains the best possible reconstruction based on information from Tertullian and Epiphanius,

Epiphanius (Haer 42.1 ff) preserves an old tradition. On Marcion’s own initiative he met with the ‘presbyters and teachers’ of the city in order to dispute with them concerning Luke 5:36ff. These discussions led to the separation; from then on there was no fellowship between the Marcionites and the rest of the Christians in the city. Who finally drew the line of division is not completely clear. Statements such as ‘eiectus’ and ‘relegatus’ (Tertullian, Praescr. 30) attribute the initiative for this final step to the ‘presbyters and teachers.’ Having been put under pressure by Marcion’s attempt at reform, they would not have been able to do anything else than to distance themselves from Marcion’s Christianity, which was devoid of the Old Testament.[3]

One can even note the tenuous position of BOH when they claim that Marcion was never received into the church on the one hand and that his donation was returned to him later. To assume that Marcion was content leaving such an incredible amount of money to those disbarring him from fellowship strains credulity.

In an attempt to show the early date of monarchical episcopacy BOH argues that Marcionite churches had bishops, presbyters, and deacons.  To substantiate this they appeal to the Dialogues of Adamantius, written 150 years after Marcion’s excommunication and after the episcopate was firmly established. Such an argument is not a serious historical argument. Additionally, the claim that heretics came to Rome in order to become the Roman bishop is met with enumerable historical problems (again, reference Lampe and Thomasson for more detail).

8. Which: The Petrine pattern or massive rejection of the Patristics

This entire section is a red herring. Ironically, BOH talks about a Petrine pattern, but such a pattern is not mentioned until the mid-third century. One only need to note, however, as other scholars have argued, that many of these churches may have indeed had a presbyterian polity but elected a “president” or “moderator.” BOH does not even entertain this option or how such a position could impact the accusation that my position is a “massive rejection of the Patristics.” To claim that the evolution from presbyterian polity to episcopal polity necessitates “a departure from the true faith,” is to only underscore misunderstanding. The rise of the episcopate was not a great departure from the faith—as scores of Roman Catholic historians would heartily admit.

9. Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s own history.

A sampling of the distortions and misrepresentations of BOH in this section with my commentary after each:

Brandon might object that he is not claiming that St. Irenaeus “lied,” but merely that St. Irenaeus mistakenly read the monepiscopacy back into the history of the Church at Rome. But if Brandon is claiming that St. Irenaeus had before him a list of successive sets of simultaneously serving presbyter-bishops each having equal authority, and he arbitrarily picked a succession of names from that list, and designated them as monepiscopal bishops, then Brandon is claiming that St. Irenaeus lied, even if Brandon himself is not using that term

I affirm that Irenaeus used a preexistent list composed at the time of Eleutherus—so he didn’t make the list himself. This list also most certainly contained the name of previous bearers of apostolic tradition—there is no indication that before this time there was a single bearer of tradition. Apologetic purposes required that streamlined list be composed and none of this is deceptive. It may not be absolutely accurate in the historical record (i.e. that the passing down of tradition took place through a monarchical bishop), but that does not mean that Irenaeus’s main focus, that the apostolic tradition had been publicly passed on, is not true. The fact that Irenaeus mentions the apostolic succession of presbyters reinforces this notion.

By contrast, instead of claiming that there was some secret the Apostles did not tell, and to which only the later Gnostics were privy, Brandon’s thesis implies that what the Apostles said about the proper ecclesial polity became a secret to the universal Church by the second half of the second century, such that all the Church Fathers, and the whole entire Church forgot and abandoned in less than a century what the Apostles had taught concerning proper polity

My thesis only maintains that certain structures that were latent in the original foundation of the church developed until there was a monarchical leader of the church. In some geographic regions oversight included particular structures that other areas did not. The pattern of oversight was established by the Apostles, but the manner of oversight took time to develop and was not universal.

To accuse St. Irenaeus of lying, therefore, is to accuse all the Church Fathers who address this subject of lying or perpetuating lies.

In this regard, some of the Fathers of the Church did in fact read their historical situation backwards. We know that Eusebius does this regularly.[4] The Donation of Constantine was used by many saints to appeal to peace and unity. The writing of Psuedo-Dionysius was thought to be authentic for centuries. Was Thomas Aquinas a liar? Those are the options that BOH leaves us, but historical perspective allows for greater charity and perspective.

In short, given Brandon’s thesis we must choose between the inverse-Gnostic error, and an ad hoc thesis that at the very least makes monepiscopacy an apostolic option, and makes St. Peter and St. Paul (for he too was active in setting up the Church in Antioch) reject their previous pattern of Church of polity. That is the consequence that follows from Brandon’s treatment of St. Irenaeus.

Except that St. Paul followed the pattern of setting up presbyters in every city that exercised episkope.  And there is no testimony from Peter that he established a monarchical successor in Antioch, Rome, or Jerusalem (the assertion of Jerusalem as being established by Peter is absolutely ahistorical and flies in the face of the evidence). This is anachronism. Instead of reading the canonical material and working forward, BOH reads third and fourth century sources and works back to the canonical material to claim that Peter and Paul established monarchical episcopates.

Finally, BOH states,

In short, if we want to reject the testimony of St. Irenaeus, we have to be prepared to reject the testimony of the other Church Fathers as well, and thereby embrace the ecclesial deism that implicitly underlies such a large-scale rejection of the patristics.

Ecclesial Deism is the term coined by Bryan Cross. It is an attempt to interpret Divine Providence in line with our preconceived expectations of how history must unfold. In the case of the episcopacy, if the monarchical episcopate is not an apostolic institution then it implies that Christ did not prevent the gates of Hell from prevailing against the church. This prejudices the argument severely, however, and assumes that there would not be developments (even developments guided by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church). Various eras in the history of God’s people stretching across the Old and New Testaments have seen the people of God falter or misunderstand various teachings from God.

The development of episcopacy is an example of a development in the oversight of God’s people. Some see it as a providential development that is binding on the people of God moving forward, even if it was not Apostolic itself. Still others, like myself, believe that the monarchical episcopate is not a divinely proscribed entity but neither is it a violation of biblical principles of oversight for God’s people. Claiming that such a development undermines Jesus’s promise is an indictment not of the academy’s assessment of the data, but rather Bryan’s criterion for “eccleiasl Deism.”

It is also essential for those interested in this discussion to realize that the narrative purported by BOH may appear more persuasive than it actually is because BOH does not critically interact with sources. Truth be told, while Eusebius provides  What is the basis for BOH’s statements regarding St. Pothinus? Eusebius’s testimony, written in the fourth century. It is possible that Eusebius is reporting many facts about St. Pothinus, but given Eusebius’s documented anachronisms, sober-minded historians should approach this account with reservation. This does not mean dismissing the account as historical, but it means examining whether or not Pothinus was in fact the monarchical bishop of Lyon. This suspicion is not because of disregard for earlier writers, it is because Eusebius has proven unreliable on basic historical facts (See Timothy Barnes, The Date of Ignatius).

As I’ve demonstrated above, a real problem with BOH’s approach to history is that sources are being used without any concern to their veracity. This is one of the reasons that BOH believes that its narrative flows seamlessly. If BOH would allow important sources, such as Eusebius and Tertullian, to be subjected to analysis, then I believe this would allow for more fruitful discussion and comparison between competing narratives.

[1] Eric Jay, “From presbyter-bishops to bishops and presbyters: Christian ministry in the second century” Second Century 1 No. 3 1981, p. 151.

[2] Lampe, 391 fn. 17 and Einar Thomassen, “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Second-Century Rome” Harvard Theological Review Vol. 97, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp 241-256. Particular reference to Tertullian is given on pages 243-246.

[3] Lampe, 393.

[4] Timothy Barnes “The Date of Ignatius” Expository Times Volume 120 Number 3 (2008): Pages 119–130 argues concerning Eusebius’s reliability on dates, “It is no longer plausible to argue from the supposed inerrancy of Eusebius in chronological matters, as it was for a time fashionable to do in the middle of the twentieth century. For Eusebius makes so many serious and demonstrable chronological mistakes in his account of the second and third centuries that his dates cannot be regarded as reliable even where there is no contrary evidence. It will suffice to adduce his spectacular misdating of the martyrdom of Pionius in Smyrna, whose Passion reflects the enforcement of Decius’ order for universal sacrifice at the local level, refers back to the emperor Gordian (238–44)  and carries the consular date of 250 (3.1, 9.4, 23).50 Although Eusebius included this passion in his Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms, he nevertheless misdated Pionius to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (HE 4.15.46–47) – an error of fully 100 percent that was for a period preferred to the plain testimony of the original text.”


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Hegesippus


IV. Bishop Lists

This section is particularly important because understanding the utilization of bishop lists demonstrates how well my thesis can explain their origin and the development of the episcopate. In this section there are a few points at which BOH helpful corrects inaccuracies of my position, but there are many places where BOH badly misrepresents my argument, and I hope to further explain myself in this section.

a. Hegesippus

BOH begins this section noting another error of mine. The Greek word διαδοχην does in fact mean succession, not teaching. I had indeed conflated the meaning of διδαχη with διαδοχην. I thank the authors of BOH for pointing this out and regret the error. Like my other error, however, I don’t believe that it materially impacts my argument, though it does detract from clarity, so I shall set out to provide a clearer explanation.

In my article I cited Quasten and Lampe who argue that what Hegesippus “succession” is focused upon is not a monarchical episcopal or apostolic succession, but rather, a succession of, as Quasten, citing Casper and Turner, states it, “tradition or preservation of the true doctrine.”

In an attempt to address this particular argument BOH states,

St. Hegesippus’s broader project was comparing doctrine across the particular Churches to discover their agreement and thereby confirm their apostolicity, not making lists of doctrinal successions. A problem for Brandon’s claim is that we have no existing record of any such doctrinal succession lists, so if silence about prior bishop lists means there were no successions of bishops, then the present non-existence of first century “doctrinal succession”  lists means that they didn’t exist either. But Brandon proposes them anyway. This is another example of selective, ad hoc use of silence.

BOH affirms that Hegesippus’s concern was to “discover [Churches] agreement and confirm their apostolicity,” but then immediately claims that this list is not about “doctrinal successions.” That is simply not the case. I cited both Lampe and Quasten as noting that a succession of monarchical bishops is not in mind. Instead, both men agree that Hegesippus set out to prove that there were bearers of tradition (ἐπισκοπεύοντος) in each city. Quasten and Lampe note there is no reason to import the categories of a monarchical bishop into Hegesippus’ statement. I then cited T.C.G. Thornton who provides rationale for why Hegesippus is the first Christian witness to this custom of identifying a succession of true doctrine: he is mimicking a similar Jewish argument.

In my original article I simply note a convergence of a series of facts. First, Hegesippus was Jewish. Second, the Jews had frequently used succession lists to demonstrate that their beliefs had been passed down through centuries (I’ve subsequently discovered that these arguments are *also* used in Greek schools of philosophy). Third Hegesippus utilized similar arguments against the Gnostics.

As I emphasized in the comments section of the article, a list of a single line of the succession of true doctrine offers a streamlined apologetic instead of appealing to the multiple bearers of tradition that would have existed in Rome. To combat Gnosticism’s claims to Apostolic doctrine, Hegesippus uses the streamlined Jewish argument he was familiar with: identify a succession of teaching to prove legitimacy.

BOH however, sees this argument as an attack on Hegesippus’s character. First they argue,

If one claims that St. Hegesippus is simply making up a line of episcopal succession for the Church in Rome, where previously there had been only groups of presbyters all having equal authority, one has to claim that St. Hegesippus is fabricating such lines for all the cities through which he has traveled, not just for Rome.

The assumption at this point is that if there was a line of episcopal leaders that this line would necessarily be monarchical. However, if there are multiple bishops in any one particular city, then one must not assume that Hegesippus is “fabricating” a list. He is simply creating a list of bearers of the apostolic tradition that existed in Rome and he could have chosen from any number of overseers to do this.

Hegesippus only identifies three bearers of this tradition in the middle of the second century. In establishing apostolicity, Hegesippus is content to list only three bishops from the middle of the second century [If one wants to submit Eusebius omitted portions of the list  I believe this raises numerous issues of textual reliability]. And, as a matter of fact, history helps reinforce the important aspect of the theory: these men were the minister of external affairs. Soter is described by Eusebius (4.23.10) as the one who had the custom of, “sending support to many communities in all cities.” Anicetus meets with foreign dignitaries (Irenaeus and Hegesippus). Eleutherus receives letters from Gaul and asks him to take care of the bearer of the letter. What significance does this have for my argument? It appears that the succession that was drawn up comes from the minister of external affairs (already visible at the time of Clement and Hermas). This would have been a logical process for Hegesippus because he was received by the minister of external affairs and the minister of external affairs, while still a presbyter (as Hermas notes), would have been well known among Christian communities.

BOH does not comprehend this argument and instead makes troubling accusations against myself and T.C.G. Thornton,

Nothing about St. Hegesippus’s proximity to Judaism entails that his commitment to truth is lacking, or that he is willing to lie about the succession of bishops of the Church at Rome or anywhere. The word “instead” in Brandon’s statement is a subtle and sophistical way of attacking St. Hegesippus’s moral character. It asserts without any substantiating evidence that although St. Hegesippus is concerned about the truth of apostolic teaching, he is not only not concerned about the truth regarding the succession of bishops, but is even willing to make up falsehoods regarding the succession of bishops, as if a person can be deeply committed to the  “Apostolic teaching” and yet be willing to lie about history.

At no point did I argue or imply that Hegesippus was lying nor did I imply that Jews were liars. The only reason that BOH would make this accusation is if they believed their interpretation of Hegesippus must be correct concerning monarchical bishops. If Hegesippus is describing a list of bearers of the apostolic tradition, however, then there is nothing wrong in attempting to explain the genesis of such a list.

BOH objects to my proposal however, saying,

Couching and juxtaposing this personal attack against St. Hegesippus directly beside a positive claim affirming his concern for and commitment to the apostolic tradition, sophistically hides the personal attack the way honey hides the bad taste of medicine. Brandon then uses his unsubstantiated attack on St. Hegesippus’s character to discredit his testimony concerning the succession of bishops, even though Brandon said above that St. Hegesippus was not talking about a succession of bishops, but only a succession of doctrine.

No personal attack against Hegesippus was made. No “sophistical” attempts were made to “hide the bad taste of medicine.” I do take partial responsibility for this miscommunication because of my mistake in defining διαδοχην, which I believe has led to the miscommunication.  I once again apologize for the confusion and hope my current statements can clarify any ambiguity.

For clarity: I don’t attempt to discredit Hegesippus at all.  I simply attempt to understand what he is saying in context, and that is that he drew up a list of succession from bearers of the Apostolic tradition. I made a comment in the comments section of my initial article which clearly lays out my position on the development of the succession list (I note that there I use the term “bishop” in quotes to talk about the list of succession, acknowledging that these men may be called bishops but not in a monarchical sense).[1]

BOH continues in assessing my argument by making four points. First, we don’t know that Hegesippus was the first apologist to use succession lists. Even if he did that does not mean that he lied. Second, Hegesippus is writing about a succession of bishops and doctrine, not one or the other. Third, the argument against Hegesippus’s reliability is based in anti-Semitism. Fourth, the use of the middle/passive (I made up myself) by Hegesippus to describe his creation of the list does not mean he could not have used other bishop lists as his sources.

By way of response:

  1. In response to the first point, there may have been others writing bishops lists around this time. The only extant example is Hegesippus. Even if Hegesippus is not the first, a similar source of bishop lists provides similar explanatory power. Moreover, at no point did I claim that Hegesippus lied.
  2. Second, my comment also conceded that Hegesippus was writing about a succession of “bishops” but I claimed that this does not mean a monarchical bishop. It is simply connected to one bearer of the tradition, even though there were any number of potential chains that may have been created. The list that made the most sense to a foreigner would have been the minister of external affairs, whom Hegesippus met.
  3. Third, this argument is as disappointing as it is absurd. Since I have not claimed Hegesippus lied, hopefully this point can be discarded.
  4. Fourth, BOH argues that there is nothing about the middle/passive that requires that Hegesippus did not use a pre-existing list. This is true—but my argument was not that the middle/passive requires that Hegesippus did not have a pre-existing list. No historian would ever suggest that the middle passive necessitated Hegesippus did not have another source. However, even Bryan conceded,

It surely suggests that he himself did not already have a list of the succession of bishops at Rome.

This would seem to be accurate.  Hegesippus does say that he is the one that composes the list, so he had not done a previous list himself. If there were other bishop lists, why did Hegesippus not use them? The answer to that question is impossible to apprehend with certainty, but to suggest that Hegesippus had access to other lists but decided to create his own is convenient since none of the other “lists” is extant. It’s possible, but other mitigating factors make scholars hesitant to accept this version of events.

To claim that Hegesippus had access to other lists but decided to make his own introduces numerous potential problems for BOH.  If there were pre-existent lists, why did Hegesippus draw up his own? It would be strange if there were in fact preexisting lists and Hegesippus created his own list. According to BOH the list would be very simple and standardized.  Did Hegesippus make his own list because there was more than one potential chain of bearers of apostolic tradition in Rome? These and other questions attend the claim that Hegesippus could have used other contemporary lists. Consequently, to suggest BOH’s narrative at least equal with mine (while, once again, entirely possible) is an imprecise criterion because it is subjective.

When I propose that Hegesippus is the “innovator” of succession lists and Irenaeus “develops” the idea of succession lists, BOH believes that I have argued that either man is “lying,” but that is not what I have argued. Under this faulty assumption, BOH proceeds to claim that either all the Christians of Rome were ignorant of the history of the church, Hegesippus’s sources lied about the list, or Hegesippus lied about the reports from those in the church in Rome. None of these options is entailed by my argument and does not require response. What I do argue is that all of the data considered shows that Hegesippus does not speak about a monarchical bishop in his writings.

I noted that two other indications of this are that the list of Hegesippus is not a complete list stretching back to the Apostolic period, but a list of current successors. I also note the important fact (and it is a fact) that Hegesippus does not mention a monarchical bishop. He is only speaking of a succession of apostolic teaching. BOH responds that none of this means that there was not a monarchical bishop. Just because the list was incomplete does not mean Hegesippus did not compose a full list.  BOH thus concludes,

But the data does not support avoiding or denying that conclusion, just as my listing only the U. S. Presidents who served since I was born does not support avoiding or denying the conclusion that the line of U. S. Presidents extends back to George Washington. In short, nothing here in any way discredits the veracity of St. Hegesippus’s list.

The problem with this analogy is that is begs the question, assuming the Hegesippus was writing about a list of monarchical bishops. If Hegesippus is writing about a list of bearers of tradition, among whom there were multiple chains, then Hegesippus is not writing about a list of monarchical bishops. If this were true, it could also explain why Hegesippus does not list all of the various bearers of apostolic tradition and picks the most prominent bishops (the minister of external affairs) that were publicly known and growing in power and exposure. It is possible, as Lightfoot claims, that the list of Hegesippus could be extant in St. Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 310 – 403), but this claim has been met with large-scale skepticism because of the lacuna in explaining Eusebius’s omission in addition to the general flow of the text.

In conclusion, BOH mischaracterizes the argument as an attempt to “discredit the veracity of St. Hegesippus’s list,” but it is simply an attempt to interpret the list. Hegesippus writes about bearers of apostolic tradition, of which there were multiple strands in the city of Rome. Lampe explains,

A chain of monarchical guardians of tradition…[2] did not occur to him in those days of his visit to Rome.  The reason is simple. In those days there did not as yet exist a chain of monarchical bearers of tradition.  Before the middle of the second century in Rome, at no time did one single prominent person pass on the tradition; this was done by a plurality of presbyters [more on this below with Irenaeus and his mention of Apostolic tradition passed on by the presbyters]…one would have had to present a ‘bundle’ of chains before the middle of the second century in order correctly to portray the historical plurality of presbyters as Roman bearers of tradition. But this type of unpopular complex representation was badly suited for a handy model of history…The names that were woven into the construction were certainly not freely invented but were borrowed from the tradition of the city of Rome.

Thus, the argument, for apologetic argument was “streamlined” in a historicizing way. It was true that these men were part of the history of Rome as receiving the apostolic tradition—they simply were not monarchical bearers of that tradition. Hegesippus did not conceive of them in this way either, but the apologetic argument in conjunction with broader social concerns provided fertile soil for the emergence of the monarchical episcopate. BOH left this thesis completely unexplored.

[1] http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2014/03/the-quest-for-the-historical-church-a-protestant-assessment/#comment-79596

[2]In this appositional phrase, Lampe says, “…as Hegesippus happily presents them for the time after his visit to Rome in the succession of Anicetus–Soter–Eluetherus…” This is ambiguous to Lampe’s meaning because it seems to be inconsistent with what he has claimed earlier on page 404, “it by no means concerned [Hegesippus] to prove a succession of monarchical bishops from the apostles until the present. What he pictured in his mind were chains of bearers of correct belief, and he was of the opinion that he could recognize such a chain also in Rome. More than this is not in the text.” In various reviews of Lampe’s book I’ve come across reviewers noting a few corrections on the translation from German and typical typographical errors. I am uncertain if the phrase on page 405 ought to read “as *Irenaeus* happily presents them…” If Lampe is advocating that Hegesippus did not originally believe they were monarchical bearers of tradition but came to see them as such at the time of composition, I demur from his opinion and join C.H. Turner and Erich Caspar I’ve articulated here.

UPDATE to [2]: After corresponding with Lampe, he has explained that perhaps the distinction is lost in translation. For Lampe, he does not believe that Hegesippus saw his succession list as monarchical bishops in the later sense of the term, but he does believe that they are presented as monarchical (or, Lampe proposed an alternative”one dominant teacher”) bearers of tradition. As Lampe indicates in his book, he is skeptical this is historically accurate, but it is not quite the monarchical episcopate. Instead, it is a seminal movement in that direction with these teachers being the representatives of the apostolic teaching.


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Polycarp

C. Polycarp

In this section I’ll provide a bit more detail

Polycarp is a very important person to analyze in conjunction with the polity of Ignatius. Allen Brent explains,

Polycarp does not write as a bishop, like Ignatius, with his own exclusive authority but as ‘Polycarp and his fellow presbyters.’ He never uses the word ‘bishop’ of himself or of anyone else, including Ignatius…In other respects we appear to be living in the world of the Pastoral Epistles (which he quotes), where there are bishops but not single bishops, as we saw was the case with Clement of Rome…’bishop is used interchangeably with ‘presbyter’ and refers to a plurality of ministers.[1]

Paul Hartog and other Patristic scholars argue similarly. The churches that Ignatius wrote to may not have viewed a “bishop” in the same way. Instead, “the bishop” may very well have been the one providing oversight over their particular house community.

At the time I wrote the original article, I had not read Paul Hartog’s work on Polycarp (here) but, I’ve had the ability to read portions of it and his analysis helps to fill in gaps here and in other portions of this paper.

The first insight from Hartog is that numerous historical details concerning Polycarp’s history develop considerably. For example, the relationship between Polycarp and the Apostle John develops from Irenaeus to Jerome. Hartog does not necessarily believe that later reflections are necessarily wrong, but he does note that Tertullian, Eusebius, and Jerome appear to go beyond Irenaeus’s account.

Tertullian refers to John “the Apostle” as installing Polycarp (de praescriptione haereticorum 32.2), as does Jerome (De viris illustribus 17). Yet Irenaeus refers to John “the disciple of the Lord.” Irenaeus elsewhere refers to Papias as “the scholar of John and companion to Polycarp” (Historia ecclesiastica III.39.1). Eusebius criticizes Irenaeus on this point and accuses him of confusion. Based upon the language of Papias himself, Eusebius argues that Papias’ master was not John the Apostle, but the “Elder” of the same name. On the other hand, Eusebius’s conclusions may have been affected by his anti-chiliastic bent. In the end, we cannot rule out a priori that Polycarp was acquainted with the apostle John, although it may remain impossible to disprove that Polycarp is referring to a different “John the Elder” or some other “disciple of the Lord” by that name.

Hartog emphasizes that it is very probable that Polycarp had at least met eyewitnesses of Jesus’s ministry (even potentially the Apostle John). This acquaintance, however is not the same thing as later formal notions of “apostolic succession” in which the apostles places the younger individual in office. Hartog notes changes about Polycarp and “Johns” relationship from Tertullian to Jerome,

When these sources are chronologically arranged, one notices a development toward a closer connection between John and Polycarp which stresses episcopal ordination and apostolic succession (including the role of more than one apostle). Polycarp may have had a few stories of a (brief?) childhood connection with John, and Irenaeus, for his part, may have remembered only little of the material [because he admits he was a “paidia,” or “child” during interaction with Polycarp]. Over a period of time, the retelling of the association may have grown into apostolic ordination… One must remember the looseness of the terms ‘bishop’ and ‘elder’ at this stage of ecclesiastical development. One could be installed a ‘bishop’ in the sense of elder without being installed as a monarchical bishop.[2]

Hartog shows that the Fathers are even critical of one another about their historical detail. Eusebius criticizes Irenaeus for not properly identifying Papias’s teacher, even though Irenaeus would be closer to the events than Eusebius. Eusebius does not appear to have a problem correcting Irenaeus in some details and accepting his testimony in others—even important details that Irenaeus would presumably know since he met Polycarp.  Similarly, Hartog notes that the relationship between Polycarp and John developed through each retelling of the story to the point that by the time of Jerome the ordination of Polycarp is assumed to be in the form of apostolic succession.

This brings Hartog to his ecclesiastical point: one may trace the development of a story from Polycarp’s association with John, to a potential ordination by John as an episkopos, to an ordination of Polycarp as episcopal successor of Smyrna. The progression is small, subtle, and does not require malice, ill-will, or a grand conspiracy. One may argue that it is all a legitimate further elaboration of something that actually happened—and this is a possibility—but just because it is possible does not mean it is likely or equally likely to Hartog’s proposal of development. In fact, Hartog notes an interesting point connected both to the ecclesiastical and methodological points I am drawing out.

In a footnote Hartog explains The Life of Polycarp, Suidas, and the Apostolic Constitutions do not refer to his apostolic ordination at all and the Apostolic Constitutions do not mention him at all. The text of the Apostolic Constitutions reads,

Of Antioch, Euodius, ordained by me Peter; and Ignatius by Paul. Of Alexandria, Annianus was the first, ordained by Mark the evangelist; the second Avilius by Luke, who was also an evangelist. Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus’ death, the second, ordained by me Peter. Of Ephesus, Timotheus, ordained by Paul; and John, by me John. *Of Smyrna, Ariston the first; after whom Strataeas the son of Lois; and the third Ariston.*[3]

The reasons for Polycarp’s omission are difficult to ascertain.  Hartog suggests that disputes regarding the Quartodeciman controversy may have motivated the Constitutions to omit Polycarp. Others suggest that Polycarp was not a bishop until later—bringing into question his ordination by John. The precise reason for Polycarp’s omission are obscure, but for BOH this introduces either a methodological concern—is diverging from the Constitutions treating them as “evidential trash”?—or an ecclesiastical concern if Polycarp is not ordained by an Apostle. There is no clear solution on why Polycarp is not listed, but it is certainly something that ought to give us pause in assuming that Polycarp’s position as bishop was precisely the same thing that Ignatius had conceived.

Since it seems probable that Polycarp was a bishop in at least some sense (whether the president of a presbytery or a monarchical bishop), this makes it even more interesting that he does not mention a bishop when writing to the Philippians, and does not identify himself as such either. I thus concluded in my initial article,

The fact that Polycarp does not mention the bishop provides in the bare minimum an indication that Polycarp was not as adamant about the importance of the bishop as was Ignatius.

Subsequent study could turn up other pieces of evidence to show the emergence of presbyterian governance, but these two examples ought to show that the universality of Ignatius’s claims is doubtful.

One may notice in this quote that I have attempted to be measured. What we do know is that Polycarp does not mention a bishop in Smyrna or in Philippi and only mentions presbyters. This at least provides an indication that shares a different focus than Ignatius on church unity—since he writes to the Philippians about threats to unity with a presbyter. Some, like Schoedel, argue that “Polycarp does not mention that he was a bishop, though he surely was.” And others, like Kenneth Berding, argue that Polycarp clearly viewed himself as “one of the elders of Smyrna.”

Hartog proposes a third option and that is that the church in Philippi did not share the same governance as Smyrna. Johannes Quasten agrees and states,

Polycarp makes no mention of a bishop of Philippi but he does speak of the obedience due to presbyters and deacons. One might be justified in concluding that the Christian community of Philippi was governed by a committee of presbyters.[4]

The use of conditional language should give initial cause for concern from Quasten, but he leaves no further comment on the topic. Presbyterian governance is thus a good option—given it is the only option listed, it may in fact be the best option, according to Quasten. Such a determination only serves to highlight that there were churches without monarchical episcopacy at this time.

BOH argues, however, that Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians actually supports its case,

            Moreover, when St. Polycarp’s letter is viewed as a whole, not only is it not evidence against the Catholic position, but it supports the existence and normativity of the episcopacy because St. Polycarp’s communication to the Philippians included St. Ignatius’ teaching on the monarchical bishop, passed along with commendation by St. Polycarp.

Supposedly, because the Philippians wanted the letters of Ignatius from Polycarp, therefore the monarchical episcopacy would have been normative, but this is merely an assertion. In order to make an actual historical argument the response would have to explain why it is not possible that the church did not want to cherish the writings of a fellow Christian willing to die for Christ? BOH’s explanation makes little sense of the fact that Polycarp’s letter nowhere mentions a bishop—particularly considering the issues of unity in the church after a presbyters sin. As Hartog (2013) notes, Polycarp indicates submission to deacons and presbyters but does not mention submission to a bishop at all, in distinction from Ignatius (pg. 96).

Without making an argument for such a position BOH then argues,

If St. Polycarp believed the episcopate to be an innovation departing from the apostolic teaching, wouldn’t he have made sure to add that qualification to his letter? Brandon has simply selected the internal silence he wants to count as evidence, and ignored the internal silence he does not want to count as evidence. And again, that selective use of data is special pleading.

This does not address my thesis or my argument concerning Polycarp. The thesis of my article was focused upon the episcopate in Rome. I even acknowledge that other geographic areas, like Antioch, witnessed the rise of the episcopate earlier.  Thus, if Polycarp were in fact a monarchical bishop in Smyrna, that does not undermine my thesis, because I acknowledge that the monarchical episcopate existed earlier in other areas. The case of Polycarp is certainly not an easy case for a monarchical episcopate, but even if it is conceded, that does not materially impact the fact that Polycarp’s view of the monarchical episcopate is different than Ignatius’s—as Quasten, Hartog, and Andrew Selby demonstrate.

Furthermore, BOH claims that if Polycarp did not share an identical view of episcopal ministry with Ignatius he would have said something about it in his letter. There is no reason given for why this must be the case, however. As Selby illustrates in his article, Polycarp’s commendation of the Philippian church without ever mentioning a bishop seems to be qualification enough that they do not require a bishop. Selby (2012) explains,

…from Ignatius’ perspective, the Philippian community would have failed to meet the criterion for being a church since they lacked a bishop. Still, Polycarp gives no exhortation to appoint a bishop. Neither does he offer an example of another church with a bishop as a subtle hint. Nor does he even refer to himself as a bishop, leading some to suspect he was not actually a bishop but only one of the leading elders at Smyrna. Far from condemning them for their faulty ecclesial structure or even offering a mild rebuke, Polycarp lauds the Philippians with lofty words: “I also rejoice because your firmly rooted faith, renowned from the earliest times, still perseveres and bears fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ” (1.2). Silence in this case speaks volumes in the matter of monarchical episcopacy in Philippi, namely that Polycarp was untroubled by Philippian plurality of leadership just as Paul appears to have been, too (pg. 92).

At this point Selby highlights the crux of my argument concerning Polycarp: Ignatius’s view of the monarchical episcopate is not shared by everyone—even those who may themselves be monarchical bishops. This serves to blunt a reading of Ignatius that all monarchical episcopate had extended throughout the world. It may well have existed in some portions of the world, but it does not seem to extend everywhere, including Rome.

BOH clearly misses the force of the argument when it states,

 But when the eighty-six year old St. Polycarp came to Rome to visit Pope Anicetus in AD 155 to defend the tradition he had received from the Apostle John concerning the date on which to celebrate Easter, why did he entirely overlook what Brandon claims to be a novel and non-apostolic monepiscopacy in Rome?

Since Polycarp did not mention anything to the Philippians about a bishop, there is no reason to believe he would have said something to the church in Rome. Additionally, considering that my position explicitly argues that Anicetus was the minster of external affairs and dealt regularly with foreign delegates, this fact fits into my argument seamlessly.  Moreover, if this was an issue of a dispute on differences between churches in Rome (as argued below), then this interaction is not in any way beneficial for a Roman monarchical leader.

BOH then goes on to explain the Polycarp had encountered Gnostics and convinced them that he had heard the Apostles and claimed that the Gnostic teaching was not Apostolic. BOH then claims,

St. Polycarp’s argument against the Gnostics in Rome would have been vitiated had any of the following been the case: (a) there had been some widespread debate within the Church about whether monepiscopacy was apostolic, or (b) there was a Presbyterian polity in the Church in Rome while all the Churches of Asia had a monepiscopacy, or (c) there was a newly formed monepiscopacy in the Church in Rome, departing thereby from a prior Presbyterian polity.

All of these options are red herrings. Nothing about Polycarp confronting the Gnostic doctrine and proving it was non-apostolic proves anything at all about monepiscopacy. BOH claims if there had not been a monarchical episcopate then Polycarp would have identified it as a non-apostolic practice, but Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians falsifies this.

BOH concludes this section on Polycarp arguing,

So none of the data Brandon points to in relation to St. Polycarp is evidence that St. Polycarp was not a bishop. On the contrary, not only the internal data indicating an unqualified endorsement of St. Ignatius’s teaching, but the external data as well indicates clearly that St. Polycarp was in fact a bishop, even the bishop of Smyrna. Moreover, the very attempt to try to make it seem that St. Polycarp was not a bishop, in light of the magnitude of positive evidence showing that he was a bishop, suggests an ideologically- or theologically-driven agenda.

None of the data I appealed to in my initial article was about Polycarp not being a bishop. The only thing I derive from Polycarp’s letter to the Philippians is,

The fact that Polycarp does not mention the bishop provides in the bare minimum an indication that Polycarp was not as adamant about the importance of the bishop as was Ignatius.

Somehow, BOH takes from this that I am arguing that Polycarp was not a bishop. Even though there is a scholarly debate about what precisely it means that Polycarp was a bishop, BOH claims the case is “clear.” Then BOH claims that disagreement with BOH is the result of “an ideologically or theologically driven agenda.” Since I’ve not taking a position on the topic, I’m sure that Andrew Selby and Kenneth Berding would be interested to find out that their conclusions derive from “an ideological agenda.” As for me, I’ve not taken a position on Polycarp’s standing as a bishop or as a presbyter, so BOH misapplies criticism of that position to me.

To summarize my argument, Polycarp serves to demonstrate that the monarchical episcopate is not as widespread as Ignatius claims.  Even those who may have in fact been monarchical bishops of a kind did not share Ignatius’s vigor for monarchical episcopacy. BOH seems to have completely missed the trajectory of the argument. As a result, my article is not addressed in this section and the complex issues surrounding Polycarp of Smyrna remain unexplored.

[1] Allen Brent Ignatius of Antioch: A Martyr Bishop and the origin of Episcopacy pg. 149. See also  Allen Brent, “The Ignatian Epistles and the Threefold Ecclesiastical Order” The Journal of Religious History Vol. 17, No. 1, (June 1992):18-32.

[2] Quotes taken from Polycarp and the New Testament: The occasion, Rhetoric, Theme and Unity of the Epistle to the Philippians pg. 32-41.

[3] http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.ix.viii.iv.html

[4] Quasten, 60.


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Ignatius

Can you prove Jesus didn’t have a rap crew named the Disciples?

B. Ignatius

BOH begins this section by strangely taking issue with the fact that I’ve conceded that Ignatius is strong support for the episcopal position. I state, “If we are to believe Ignatius, the threefold view of ministry is one that was divinely instituted *and* which had spread throughout the world.”

To that BOH states responds that Ignatius does *not* necessarily believe in a threefold view of the ministry.  This is a rather curious tact, because I was attempting to grant that Ignatius is the clearest statement of a threefold ministry.  In Ignatius we see a distinction between bishops, presbyters, and deacons in a way that we do not see in any other literature of this time. BOH continues to a comment that I made under my initial article wherein I was referring to the New Testament time period and I stated, “There is nothing from the canonical or extra-canonical data that shows any evidence of a single presbyter-bishop presiding over a city.”

To be fair, my comment was not as clear as it should have be—I was thinking of archeological or literary data from the first century in this comment and stating “extra-canonical” was very unclear. I do apologize for that confusion. Just to be clear, I was only attempting to be fair and acknowledge that Ignatius appears to be a piece of evidence in favor of the CtC position. This good-will attempt seems to have been completely misunderstood.

In my argument, I attempted to address the prima facie problem of Ignatius by arguing that the three-fold division of ministry is not as widespread as Ignatius appears to indicate. I noted Ignatius reports that some are meeting without the sanction of the bishop; something Ignatius finds corrosive to the unity of the church.

In response BOH states,

Brandon thus treats the existence of baptized persons who subsequently disregarded or rebelled against the authority of their bishop as evidence against St. Ignatius’s statement about bishops being settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the earth by the will of Jesus Christ. Or, at least Brandon’s use of this passage as evidence against the truth of St. Ignatius’s statement about the ubiquity of bishops presupposes that the Christians doing all things apart from their bishop were not persons who were rebelling against the authority of their bishop.

At no point do I argue congregations were acting properly or that they were not rebelling against their bishop.  The only thing I claimed was Christians in Asia Minor were meeting but not interacting with their bishop in a way that Ignatius believed appropriate. I was not arguing that these dissenters were Presbyterians (as BOH insinuates I’m claiming) or that the dissidents were the true followers of Christ.

Here is how I described this piece of information:

This internal discord does not necessarily mean that Ignatius is not maintaining an Apostolic practice, but it is worth noting that even those in Ignatius’s general geographic area disagreed with him about the importance of the bishop.

The only thing that I am doing is noting that in Ignatius’s own words, there are those who take a different perspective.  No matter the claim of BOH, it is not selective use of sources to acknowledge Ignatius’s own admissions regarding certain groups. It is also not “using loaded language” to say the Ignatius was fixated on the episcopate, since he mentions the bishop and his role in 6 of his 7 epistles. Such language is a descriptive—it is something that Ignatius fixes his sights on in important ways in 6 of 7 epistles. I certainly did not intend this language to pre-determine interaction with the data or to unfairly characterize Ignatius. To conclude that I had used such a word because, “Brandon does not agree with St. Ignatius,” is not accurate. If the word prejudiced the case, then I would like to know how so that I can remedy that mistake, but BOH has not shown how such language unfairly characterizes Ignatius.

My intention in demonstrating Ignatius’s significant writing on the bishop was to demonstrate that its absence in the letter to the Romans is conspicuous.  One could come up with any number of scenarios for why the bishop wasn’t addressed. Perhaps the recent bishop had died, perhaps the bishop was under intense persecution, perhaps Ignatius did not know the bishops name, perhaps he simply forgot, perhaps a Martian instructed Ignatius to omit it, or perhaps Ignatius was unaware of a bishop because there was not one. Some of these possibilities are more likely than others and all of them are speculative to one degree or another. In the very least, I note in my original article,

Even if we concede, for the sake of argument, that Ignatius’s silence is not in favor of a Presbyterian form of government, it is at best not in favor of the episcopal argument in the city of Rome.

There is the possibility that there was a bishop and I would not fault someone for remaining agnostic based upon the information in Ignatius. BOH, however, argues that Ignatius *proves* that the threefold office existed in Rome,

The very act of referring to himself as the bishop of Syria, in view of his other statements about the authority of bishops in relation to mere presbyters, and his humble approach to the Church at Rome, implies that he believed that the Church in Rome had a bishop.

This is one possible interpretation of the evidence, but definitions would need to be deeply parsed at this point in order for the statement to be helpful.  If by “bishop” BOH means a monarchical leader then this would require a sustained argument. . William Schoedel, for example argues,

We conclude that the threefold ministry (bishop, elders, deacons) was surely in place in the communities known to Ignatius and that the authority of one bishops was recognized (see on Tr. 3.1.) But there are signs that the situation was still somewhat in flux (see on Ephe. 2.1-2) and it seems likely that Ignatius gave greater weight to episcopal authority than did most of those with whom he came in contact. In any event, episcopacy does not yet seem to have been reinforced by the idea of succession (see on Eph. 3.2; Trallians inscr). And the ministry is still genuinely collegial. Thus a requirement to obey the elders along with the bishop is taken for granted.[1]

Schoedel even goes on to note that upon examination, the threefold division of the ministry is not quite as apparent as it may seem to be on an initial reading.

Additional considerations have attempted to situate Ignatius’s letters in their second century context. Ignatius’s concept may have been a precursor to the threefold office, but many believe that discord in the Antiochene church caused him to project his idealized church order in his letters. Internal discord in Antioch became so pronounced, that Ignatius sacrificed himself to bring peace to the church (See Lotz, Schoedel, Trevett, Brent, and P.N. Harrison). If Ignatius has failed to bring unity to the Anitochene church and he acknowledges that this partially attributable to himself (Schoedel notes unusually high instances of self-effacement in Eph 2:2; 8:1; 12:1; 21:2; Mag. 12.1; 14.1; Tr 4.2; 13.1; Sm 11.1; Rom 9.2 which suggest such a possibility) then this can show forces surrounding Ignatius’s letters and martyrdom.

Along these lines, Allen Brent argues that Ignatius’s letters were strongly shaped by the “imperial cult.” Brent’s highly technical argument is difficult to succinctly summarize, but Brent argues that Ignatius viewed himself as rivaling the pagan mystery religions. Brent draws out the parallels between the officiant of those services and the structures of their worship to show that Ignatius is drawing connections between the competing Roman religions. The point is not so much that Ignatius is “making up” the threefold office, but that Ignatius’s experience of discord and apologetic against the imperial cult caused him to interpret church structures in an unprecedented manner.[2]

All of these considerations seek to highlight one trend in academic research on the Ignatian letters: Ignatius’s views of ministry present one possible position on church polity in the early church.

Those interested in the full picture ought to consult the works and read through the more detailed argument, however, even if you find such an explanation unpersuasive or too technical, consider something noted by Peter Lampe. Since Christianity was a Jewish movement, Christians first met in synagogues. In Antioch (Ignatius’s residence) the synagogue was ruled by an “atnach” or single leader presiding over the entire Jewish worshipping community.  In Rome, however, there was no “atnach” only loosely federated (i.e. fractionated) synagogues with their own structures. Since the church grew out of the synagogue (at least in Rome) is it any surprise that we see a monarchical episcopate in Antioch before it arises in Rome? The simple fact that one may assume that the monarchical episcopate existed in Antioch therefore it also existed in Rome is a non sequitur. It is far more likely that the fluidity in language and function of bishop and presbyter in the various communities allowed them to communicate with one another even if not everyone conceived of the episcopate the way Ignatius did.

At this point I ought to admit that none of this *compels* anyone adopt my position on Ignatius. Yet, in my initial article I simply set out to prove that one must dig deeper into Ignatius to verify he was a “slam-dunk” case for the episcopal position. After casting some level of doubt upon the breadth of Ignatius’s church order, I then went on to discuss other possible diverse perspectives on polity, beginning with texts believed to be from Egypt.

BOH questions the utilization of these sources for numerous reasons, the first of which is that some of them are “gnostic,”

But if Burke means the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, one wonders why this should be admitted as evidence against the Catholic tradition, for that work is Gnostic and teaches a heretical Docetic Christology! In that work the true “Savior” does not die on the Cross, but only the physical Jesus.

The fact that something is a Gnostic text does not mean that nothing of historical value can be gleaned from the document. Learning and reading from documents provides insight into the world of the writer and sheds some light into the concerns and issues facing the author and his intended audience. This misses the entire point however, and that is that this monarchical figure is not portrayed at all in these documents. Such silence is not itself, abstracted from the entire case, *proof* that there was no bishop, instead, the silence of the document is merely cited as a fact.  It may not refute the episcopal position, but it does not support it either. And I certainly do not claim that this is necessarily the strongest argument against the episcopate. I merely mention it as a source to consider.

BOH objects to this historical process, saying,

We have no reason to believe that the authors of the documents in question intended to describe exhaustively the existing polity or leaders of the Church in Egypt, because they do not even address the general subject. Moreover, because the difference between the likelihoods of the available explanations of the direct data (i.e., silence in these three texts) is inscrutable without presupposing what is in question, this data is not evidence for one of these explanations over the other available explanations, all other things being equal.

First, it is worth noting that if one attempts to argue that every historical record *must* attempt to exhaustively describe itself, then there would be virtually no way to dispute the possibility of anything. We could postulate that while partaking in the Supper the Apostles did a handstand while Thomas beat-boxed and Peter rapped the Ten Commandments.  Because none of the historical records exhaustively describe the events, the argument from silence, per this wooden criteria, is ruled out. Second, the argument from silence is often a cumulative argument where the silence in one piece of data is corroborated by the silence in another piece of evidence. If one myopically approaches one piece of evidence as if it must satisfy all of the criteria at the same time this is setting delimiting restrictions on the data set. Under such an approach a cumulative case is impossible. In isolation the “Egyptian” texts are inscrutable, but this evidence is not being cited in a vacuum, it is being cited in a cumulative case. When evidence is allowed to reinforce and correct other pieces of evidence a proper historical method has been utilized.  I want to emphasize again that the Egyptian texts are not a strong piece of evidence, they are merely an ancillary piece of literary data that do not mention a monarchical bishop.

BOH goes on to claim that we do in fact have evidence that there were bishops in Asia Minor and Egypt. Bishop Lists exists for Alexandria, Anitoch, etc. etc., Therefore, all of this third and fourth century material attesting to these bishops is proximate data and therefore explains the silence more effectively. BOH says,

Hence by that fourth principle, instead of treating the late second and early third century data as evidence of a corruption of earlier polity on the arbitrary presupposition of discontinuity, that data is rightly treated as informing and contextualizing the earlier underdetermined data.

Nowhere in my article do I use the word “corruption” outside of Chrys Caragounis’s claim that Clement is corrupting early church governance—something I explicitly disagree with in the article. I consistently use the word “development,” and for good reason.  I’ve nowhere claimed the development of episcopacy was a corruption. As a matter of fact, I have stated that when operating collegially, episcopacy has much to offer Christianity and was instrumental in retaining orthodoxy in the Patristic period. To claim that because I believe the episcopacy developed because of “an arbitrary presupposition of discontinuity” is incorrect. My entire case has been an attempt to show why the third and fourth century bishop lists show signs of development in church order and not undisturbed continuity. Instead of engaging that argument, BOH authoritatively asserts that one holds to a notion of development because of “arbitrary presuppositions.”

BOH continues by arguing that the silence about any major development in ecclesiology is evidence that no change occurred. In explaining why I do not agree BOH speculates,

 He creates his argument by drawing a stipulated, question-begging, and methodologically loaded circle around only the silence he can use to tell a just-so story about how the Church went wrong, while ignoring or dismissing the silence that would falsify that story. Again, that is an example of the selective use of data.

I never tell a story about how the Church went wrong. As a matter of fact, I stated that those who believe the episcopate historically developed are not in my “cross-hairs.” This misunderstanding has caused BOH to construct a caricature of my position and the position of the academics I’ve cited. This caricature is seen even in the description of the issue,

No one in the third and fourth centuries claims that the Apostles instituted only [mere] presbyters and deacons,

Not only do none of third or fourth century centuries claim the apostles instituted only [mere] presbyters and deacons, neither did I—or anyone else I cited. The use of the word “mere” indicates that I believe there were not people with the authority of bishops, but that is not true.

I simply do not believe there was a monarchical episcopate—because I don’t see any indication of its existence in the first and second century. I find references to a monarchical episcopate more reliably explained by a development in church office. BOH, however argues that the third and fourth century categories are identical to the first and second centuries because,

“we cannot justifiably assume we are in a better position to know the early history of each particular church.”

The methodological problem with this is that there are discernible errors in third and fourth century histories and BOH’s methodology provides us with the option of either full-scale acceptance or denial.  Thankfully, Christian historians are not forced into such a bifurcation.

BOH then turns to my use of the Didache and claims,

Yet the portrait of the Didache does not count as evidence for the “presbyterial” thesis over and above the episcopal thesis, because the text is equally compatible with either thesis.

So why is the Didache equally compatible with either thesis? Because, there is the possibility that the travelling prophet/apostle and/or teacher described in the Didache could function like a bishop.  The Didache also reports he can celebrate the Eucharist (10.7) and the Didache may be written during a transitional period with Apostles still alive.

While the exegetical conclusions are strained, BOH misses the broader contextual point, which is that the Didache provides a different picture of polity than Ignatius. Simply because it is possible for a Prophet to reside in one city does not mean that it such was a regular occurrence. As a matter of fact, the Didache explains about the prophet/apostle (11.4-6),

Let every Apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord, but let him not stay more than one day, or if need be a second as well; but if he stay three days, he is a false prophet.

It’s true that 13.1 allows the stipulation that a prophet may stay among a particular locale, but there is no indication to this frequency.  Given Chapter 11, it appears that prophet/apostles traveled regularly and did not ordinarily stay in one locale.  Ignatius, on the other hand, indicates that a bishop resides over a particular community, as he is the bishop of Antioch.

BOH throws out a number of possible options (without a sustained argument for any of them). Maybe there are three orders referenced in the Didache within the “apostles and prophets,” or “bishops and deacons…with mere presbyters latent in the episcopal order; or in the ‘bishops’ and ‘deacons’ with one bishop being over the college of other bishops.” I want to take great pains to admit: this is all possible—but that doesn’t mean that it is likely. If they *are* likely that would require some demonstration that each possibility was equally likely in order for the ILD principle to be violated. Since no argument has been presented, BOH merely makes an assertion about the ILD principle being violated. This charge is not sustained by argumentation.

Finally, my citation of the Didache was simply to demonstrate that early Christian ecclesiology is not monolithic with Ignatius’s view.  As BOH cites me,

we should be careful to press the Didache too hard, but, it is simply another piece of evidence to show in the area of Asia Minor that the threefold office was not as widespread as Ignatius indicates at the end of the 1st century/beginning of the second century

The Didache illustrates that Igantius’s ecclesiology is not identical to other polities in the region in the late first and early second century. If the Didache is written in the 70s or 80s it still presents a problem for BOH if the Apostolic church governance instituted by Paul to Timothy and Titus was to institute bishops “city by city.” Clearly there were multiple churches operating without this ecclesial polity—to the point where they could write to others (whether catechumens or churches) about normative ecclesial structure. This diversity of ecclesial structure is also witnessed in Polycarp.


[1] William Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch Hermenia 22.

[2] For further reading on this consult Allen Brent “Ignatius of Antioch and the Imperial Cult” Vigilae Christianae 52, (1998): 30-58. Brent also published a book exploring this concept in further detail: “The Imperial Cult and the Development of Church Order: Concepts and Images of Authority in Paganism and Early Christianity Before the Age of Cyprian.” For more information see the Amazon link: http://www.amazon.com/Imperial-Cult-Development-Church-Order/dp/9004114203