The Church Always Had Monarchical Bishops:
A Response to James White
|"YES, VIRGINIA, THE CHURCH HAS ALWAYS HAD MONARCHICAL
BISHOPS" (A Merciful Response to James White's "Roman
Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics")
by Mark J. Bonocore
A few months ago, anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Mr. James White posted an article on his web site in which he criticizes several historical proofs I presented for the existence of the first century monarchical episcopate; and even goes so far as to claim that these proofs represent "an interesting example of the constant presence of anachronism in Roman Catholic apologetic treatments of both the Bible and patristic sources."
It's been over three years now since Mr. White repeatedly failed to address the "Scripture alone" challenge I posed to him. That is, to name one ancient Church Father who arrived at "orthodox Christianity" (i.e. Mr. White's Reformed Baptist faith) via their supposed "Scripture alone" reading of the Bible; and thereby proving that Mr. White's "fundamental truth" of "Scripture alone" leads to "reliable," consistent, and repeatable results over time (which it obviously and objectively does not). However, so far, Mr. White continues to ignore this enormous hole in his personal theology; and, instead, wishes to take pot shots at my understanding of the Church Fathers, in an apparent attempt to depict my apologetic arguments as baseless.
Since I've received numerous requests to respond to Mr. White (both from Catholic-friendly circles and from Mr. White's own associates), I will now address his essay in detail.
To begin, let me take a moment to re-present my position on the monarchical episcopate, which is the position of orthodox Catholic Christianity itself. Simply stated, it is a historical fact that the three-fold office of the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) ministerial priesthood (i.e. bishop, presbyter [priest], and deacon) has existed in the Church since earliest times and was established by the Apostles themselves. Now, in opposition to this historical fact (and as Mr. White himself points out), numerous Protestant and liberal Catholic historians have tried to suggest that the earliest Apostolic city-churches were not governed by monarchical bishops (in which one man served as the chief shepherd of the city-church), but were rather governed by colleges of supposedly-equal ("democratic" ?) presbyters. And, indeed given a first-glance, pedestrian, and modernist reading of the earliest patristic evidence, it is not surprising that some might come to such a conclusion. Case in point, as seen in the New Testament literature itself, it is an indisputable fact that the earliest Christians used the terms "bishop" ("overseer") and "presbyter" ("elder" / "senior") interchangeably:
What's more, in the earliest patristic literature (especially when it applies to the Western city-churches, such as the church of Rome), we see several references to "the presbyters" (plural), and not to a monarchical bishop per se. Indeed, it is not until the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch (c. 107 A.D. about 10 years after the death of the last Apostle) that we see someone clearly distinguishing between "the bishop" (which, for Ignatius, is always the one-man leader of a city-church) and "the presbyters" who assist him in governing the city-church. However, even here, Ignatius only speaks of monarchical bishops when writing to several city-churches in the province of Asia (in the East); yet when he writes to Rome, Ignatius does not mention a "bishop" for that city-church at all. "Therefore," conclude the Protestant and liberal-modernist historians, "this must mean that the office of monarchical bishop was an Eastern novelty that developed in the days of Ignatius, and that Rome and the West were still governed by colleges of (equal?) presbyters at this time." Yet, is this a reasonable conclusion? Not at all, as we will see in a moment.
As for Protestant historians who wish to deny the existence of monarchical bishops in Apostolic times, this desire certainly shouldn't surprise us, since discrediting the monarchical episcopate was both a key and essential objective of the Protestant Reformation, without which the Reformation could not possibly have succeeded. And why not? Because, unlike previously-successful schisms in Church history, Protestantism was not a movement initiated by legitimate bishops. Rather, all the Protestant leaders were either mere Catholic priests (like Martin Luther) or Catholic deacons (like John Calvin), with no bishops among them to lend an air of "episcopal authority" to their heretical doctrines.
True, at the tail end of the Reformation, there were some Catholic bishops who "jumped ship" (as in the creation of the Elizabethan "Church of England"); but, by that time, the denial of a special episcopal charism was already a universally-established tenet of the Protestant heresy; so much so that, at the "ordination" of Matthew Parker (Queen Elizabeth's first truly-Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury), an ordained priest (now-Protestant) and two Low Church ministers (a/k/a laymen) participated in the "ordination" as equal partners with legitimately-ordained Bishop Barlow (who had also gone over to the Protestant heresy). So, the idea of a "college of presbyters" was very clear in their minds, and any notion of actual episcopal authority was something to be totally rejected.
Thus, if anyone wonders why anti-Catholic Protestants like James White are so keen on disputing the existence of early monarchical bishops, that's the REAL reason. It is because his Protestant theology NEEDS THIS to be the case. So, this isn't some cold and academic disagreement about Church history; but an extremely important part of Mr. White's theology, without which one of the founding principals of the Protestant heresy is called into question. In other words, before the sixteenth-century Protestant rebellion against legitimate Church authority, no one of any importance seriously questioned the Apostolic nature of the episcopal teaching office. However, for the Reformation to succeed as a "valid" Christian movement, episcopal authority had to be discredited, because no bishop in the Church subscribed to Protestant corruption.
Yet, what of the historical evidence itself? After all, if we don't see any direct reference to a monarchical bishop in the earliest patristic evidence, isn't it the simplest and most likely conclusion that no monarchical bishops existed? No, not at all. Rather, the simplest and most likely conclusion is that we're dealing with a change in Christian semantics, and that the term "bishop" began to be used for the leading presbyter of a city-church, as his importance became more and more apparent during the heresy battles at the end of the first century. In other words, the Apostolic city-churches always possessed leading presbyters who presided over their fellow-presbyters (e.g. James at Jerusalem; Timothy at Ephesus; Titus at Crete, etc); yet these leading / presiding presbyters were not singled out or referred to exclusively as "bishops" until the later half of the first century.
As we've already seen, in New Testament times, the terms "bishop" ("overseer") and "presbyter" ("elder") were still being used interchangeably (e.g. Titus 1:5-7). Thus, in the original Christian usage, all "elders" were "overseers," and all "overseers" were "elders." And, as we've also seen, it was only in the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch (writing about ten years after the death of the last Apostle) that the term "overseer" ("bishop") is assigned exclusively to the leading presbyter of a city-church, as opposed to being applied to all the other presbyters as well. So, here we see a change in semantics between the terminology of St. Ignatius and the terminology of St. Paul (author of Titus) or St. Luke (author of Acts), who wrote a generation earlier. So, a change in semantics DID occur. Yet, did a change in office accompany that change in semantics? Well, consider the evidence:
Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch
Ignatius of Antioch was a man who both knew and was ordained by the Apostles. No modern scholar, Protestant or Catholic, seriously questions this fact. What's more, as I said earlier, whenever Ignatius uses the term "bishop," it always applies to the leading, one-man shepherd of a city-church. Ignatius does not use the term "bishop" as the New Testament does, where the word is interchangeable with the term "presbyter." Rather, for Ignatius, "bishop" and "presbyter" are clearly separate offices; and again and again, we see Ignatius referring to the traditional Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon," in which the term "bishop" ("overseer") is used for the monarchical leading presbyter alone:
From these selected quotes alone, we can clearly see that one of Mr. White's assertions is false. Mr. White claims:
This claim is clearly a mischaracterization of historical fact.
Furthermore, despite what some other so-called "scholars" have directly stated in their books, St. Ignatius of Antioch did not "create" the office of "bishop"; nor did he, as some others have maintained, "suggest that each church have a bishop." Rather, if one bothers to read Ignatius' writings, he speaks of these bishops as already-existing in each of the Asian city-churches he writes to; and he even addresses all but one of these bishops by name. For example,
What's more, Ignatius repeatedly refers to himself as either the "bishop of Antioch" or the "bishop of Syria," meaning that he himself was the monarchical shepherd of the enormous first century church of Antioch (capital of Syria). For example, he says:
So, at the time of Ignatius, about a decade after the death of the last Apostle, we find a pre-existing situation, in which the following persons are already ruling as bishops over the following (corresponding) city-churches:
So, here, at the very end of the Apostolic age, we have six separate city-churches -- three of which the Apostle John himself had recently addressed in the Book of Revelation (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia), and one which was an unquestionable Apostolic "headquarters" (Antioch) being governed by monarchical bishops. What's more, Ignatius of Antioch, the supposed "inventor" of the monarchical bishop's office, had never visited any of these other churches before. Yet, they all possess monarchical bishops before he gets there.
So, with this being the case, one cannot help but ask the question: Who appointed all these monarchical bishops? Especially in places such as Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia, over which the Apostle John himself had so recently wielded authority (and over the very same still-living Christians who Ignatius addresses in his epistles). Isn't the most likely and sensible conclusion that St. John himself appointed these bishops to be the leading shepherds of the Asian city-churches in his absence? And, if this is the case, then who appointed Ignatius as monarchical Bishop of far-off Antioch? Given that Antioch was also clearly an Apostolic city-church, it serves to reason that some other Apostle (or the successor of an Apostle) appointed him to the office of monarchical bishop as well (just as Eusebius of Caesarea, St. John Chrysostom, and several other Fathers claim about Ignatius). And, if this is the case (as we will see from Scripture itself below), then the office of monarchical bishop was established by the Apostles themselves, and was not some "later development" as Protestants and some modernists wish us to believe.
Ah! But, while all this may be fine for Eastern city-churches like Antioch and Asia, what about Western churches, such as the church of Rome? After all, Ignatius doesn't address a "bishop of Rome" or speak to the Romans as he does to the other (Asian) churches he writes to, telling them to remain faithful to their bishops, etc. So, shouldn't we therefore conclude that the situation was different in Rome, and that Rome was ruled by a "college of equal presbyters" instead? No, we should not. :-) And, for several reasons.
First of all, it is very true to say that Ignatius speaks of Rome differently than the other city-churches. To all the others, he gives authoritative teaching and instruction. Yet, his Epistle to Rome is written to a superior authority, to which he does not offer teaching or instruction, but merely begs them not to interfere with his impeding martyrdom in the Roman arena (i.e. many Roman Christians had influential friends in the imperial courts who could have possibly saved St. Ignatius' life, or at least postponed his execution on appeal).
Secondly, critics of the Catholic position are quite right that Ignatius never addresses a "bishop of Rome." However, he never addresses a "college of presbyters" either! In fact, Ignatius never addresses any presiding authority for the Roman church, but merely speaks of the Roman church itself as authoritative! For any student of ancient Christianity, this is far from unusual, because a church and the governors of a church were frequently spoken of as one and the same thing (just as the Jews of the Diaspora spoke of the authority of "Jerusalem," when, in actuality, they were referring to the authority of the Sanhedrin presided over by the High Priest). So, those who wish to argue for a phantom "college of equal presbyters" presiding as some "democratic body" over the Roman church in Ignatius' day need to explain why the Bishop of Antioch never bothers to address them, as he does the other bishops, presbyters, and deacons of the Asian city-churches. And they also need to explain why Ignatius refers to himself as a monarchical bishop when addressing the Romans (as if it was an acceptable and understandable idea), when the Romans were supposedly ignorant of such a concept in their own ecclesiology. Once again, he writes:
Furthermore, if one appreciates the historical context involved, it is quite understandable why Ignatius fails to address a Bishop of Rome in his epistle. In addressing the Roman bishop by name, Ignatius would have been signing this man's death warrant. One needs to appreciate who and what Ignatius himself was. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius was the leading Christian of all Asia. According to Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) oral tradition, the Apostle Peter set up three primary city-churches (later called "patriarchates"): Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch (in that order of primacy); and these were responsible for maintaining unity throughout the visible universal Church. As a matter of geographic practicality, the church of Rome was responsible for directly governing Europe and the West; Alexandria was responsible for Egypt, Libya, and East Africa (Ethiopia); and Antioch held immediate primacy in Syria, Anatolia (including the city-churches of Asia) and the Far East (including the spice roads to India and China).
In this way, Church unity could be maintained throughout the entire known world. And so, by arresting Ignatius of Antioch, the pagan imperial government had captured one of the most important "ring leaders" of the "Christian cult." All the other Christian bishops (such as Polycarp in Smyrna) would have been regarded as "small potatos," with the exception of the Bishop of Alexandria or, even better, the Bishop of Rome. Indeed, as one reads Ignatius' epistles, one will notice that the captured saint is being transported from Antioch in Syria to Rome in Italy by overland route (through Asia Minor, Macedonia, and Illyria) at a time of year when sailing would be far easier and quicker. (This is in stark contrast to St. Paul's oversea journey to Rome in Acts, where he is shipwrecked precisely because it was a bad time of year to sail). So, the question arises: Why are these imperial officials transporting St. Ignatius by land?
Answer: It is because they wished to parade their very important captive before the Christians along the way as a sobering example of what was in-store for them if they did not submit to imperial paganism, etc. This is also why Ignatius was permitted to stay with Christian communities along the way and interact with fellow-bishops like St. Polycarp. So, for this reason alone, it is clear why Ignatius (primate of the Church in Asia) would not identify the Bishop of Rome in writing. This was merely a sign of the times. And so, Ignatius uses very couched language when speaking to the Romans; but still makes reference to Roman primacy (something the imperial government was already aware of).
Lastly, I will address later in my responses Mr. White's direct criticisms. In Chapter III of his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius clearly says:
Here, once again, we must remember that, for Ignatius, "bishop" was a term that exclusively referred to the leading presbyter of a city-church. Thus, if "bishops" were "settled everywhere, to the utmost bounds of the earth" in Ignatius' day, then there was clearly a Bishop of Rome as well. And, anyone who wishes to deny that, or maintain that Ignatius only recognized some "college of equal presbyters" governing the city-church of Rome, must explain away this direct statement by Ignatius.
Furthermore, aside from the contextual reasons why Ignatius does not mention a "bishop" for Rome, there were also, as I said, probable semantic ones. Given the fact (as the New Testament illustrates) that the earliest Christians used the terms "bishop" and "presbyter" interchangeably; and assuming that the Ignatian semantic (in which "bishop" is used exclusively for the monarchical leader of a city-church) probably developed first in the East, it would therefore serve to reason that, at the time of Ignatius, the West was still using the original (interchangeable) New Testament terminology, as opposed to the newer (Ignatian) terminology.
And very hard evidence for this presents itself in the case of Ignatius' associate St. Polycarp of Smyrna -- one of the monarchical bishops who Ignatius meets (and later writes to) during his overland journey to Rome.
Indeed, as we've already seen, Polycarp is unquestionably the monarchical bishop of the city-church of Smyrna:
And Ignatius speaks of Polycarp as a monarchical bishop again and again in the two separate epistles he sends to him (i.e., "Ignatius to the Smyrneans" and "Ignatius to Polycarp"). Yet, in the months that follow, as Polycarp corresponds with the Western (European) city-church of Philippi (in Macedonia), first to check on Ignatius' welfare and then to give them encouragement and advice, we notice a very significant change in semantics. In an Asian context Polycarp is directly called "the bishop" of Smyrna, while addressing the Western (European) Philippians, Polycarp instead identifies himself as
This formula strongly implies a different semantic for the Philippian city-church, as well as the other city-churches of the European West. In other words, the Europeans were not yet using the term "bishop" to mean the leading presbyter of a city-church (e.g. Polycarp), but were still apparently utilizing the original, New Testament semantic, in which "bishop" and "presbyter" were interchangeable terms. And, this being the case, it is no wonder that Ignatius, Polycarp, and other contemporary (or earlier) patristic sources do not impose the Asian terminology on Rome or the other early Western city-churches.
So, the solution is a semantic one; and there was no "later development" of the office of bishop itself. Indeed if we only possessed Polycarp's "Epistle to the Philippians," and not Ignatius' two epistles "To Smyrna" and "To Polycarp" (in which he repeatedly identifies Polycarp as the monarchical bishop of Smyrna) James White and others like him would, no doubt, try to argue that Polycarp was merely an "equal member" of the Smyrnean college of presbyters, as opposed to its presiding head. However, the naked truth is that no early city-church was ever governed by a "college of equal presbyters"; but rather, like the synagogue system that preceded the city-church, there was always a leading figure who presided as its head. And this fact becomes even more apparent when we turn to the Scriptural evidence.
When exploring the Scriptural evidence for the truth of the Catholic position, one cannot help but immediately focus on the figure of St. James the Just who, without question, functioned as the one-man monarchical leader of the Jerusalem city-church after the Apostles ceased to permanently reside there. Indeed, both Scripture and the universal witness of the Fathers illustrate this fact most clearly. For example, Eusebius of Caesarea, drawing from much earlier sources, directly states that the Apostles Peter, James [bar-Zebedee], and John appointed James the Just as the monarchical head ("bishop") of the Jerusalem city-church.
Similarly, in Galatians 2:12, as St. Paul complains about some Judaizing Christians from the church of Jerusalem, he does not say that these Jewish brethren came "from Jerusalem" or from "the presbyters of Jerusalem," but rather "from James" -- thus equating James with the church of Jerusalem itself. Also, in Acts 12:17, as Peter flees Jerusalem after his miraculous escape from prison, he does not command the local flock to "report this to the presbyters"; but instead directly says, "Report this to James," thereby revealing that James was the leading authority.
However, as with St. Polycarp himself, one could easily try to "camouflage" St. James within a college of supposedly-equal presbyters (if one wasn't aware of the truth of his primacy). For example, in Acts 21:18, it says
This is clearly shades of "Polycarp and the presbyters with him." Yet, while James is not called the "bishop" here, we know from both the context of this passage (and from the overall witness of Scripture itself) that James was the presiding leader of these presbyters (a/k/a their "bishop").
Also, in Acts 15:2, when a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas and some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, it does not say that they decided to appeal to James (the Jerusalem bishop) about the matter. Rather, it says that they decided to appeal to "the apostles and presbyters" (plural) in Jerusalem; and at the Jerusalem council that follows, we hear again and again about these "presbyters" (plural) -- Acts 15:2, 15:4, 15:6, 15:22, 15:23 -- with no direct mention made of a presiding "bishop" or "leading presbyter" in the person of James. Indeed, it is only in Acts 15:19, when James elaborates on the teaching of Simon Peter, that we see him manifest his leadership (i.e. "It is my judgment, therefore"). However, before that time, he is merely presented as an organic element within the Jerusalem college of presbyters, with Acts seeing no need to identify him as its presiding head. Thus was the mentality of the earliest Christian communities; and this is what we are seeing in the earliest (Western) patristic sources, when we hear about the "presbyters" (plural) of the church of Rome, with no direct mention of a "bishop."
Indeed if, as both Scripture and the patristic sources show us, the Apostles appointed one man (James) to act as the monarchical governor of Jerusalem, which was without question the most important city-church of New Testament times, and the model for all subsequent city-churches founded by the Apostles, why would they set up entirely different systems of church government elsewhere? That makes absolutely no sense. However, the truth is that the Apostles did not create other systems of government for the other city-churches; but that each "college of presbyters" in a particular city-church always included a leading figure (an "arch-presbyter," if you will), who was later designated as its "bishop" in the Ignatian terminology. And this can be seen most clearly in Scripture itself. For example, we already presented the witness of Titus 1:5, which reads:
Here, St. Paul speaks to St. Titus in the "you-singular" in Greek, thereby showing that Titus possesses the exclusive episcopal authority to ordain presbyters throughout the entire island nation of Crete -- which is why both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy counts St. Titus as the first Bishop of Crete; the authority to ordain is a bishop's authority. Titus was, without question, the presiding presbyter (a/k/a "bishop") over all the presbyters he ordained on the island. Thus, like James in Jerusalem, we see a monarchical system of authority manifested in New Testament-period Crete.
Yet, Crete was, by no means, the only place where this monarchical system existed at the time. Consider also the witness of 1 Timothy 5:17-22 where, as with Titus, Paul speaks to Timothy in the same Greek "you-singular," instructing him how to govern the other presbyters (of Ephesus) under his authority. St. Paul tells him:
Here, it is more than clear that St. Timothy possesses exclusive and personal authority over the other Ephesian presbyters. It is Timothy himself who is to "accept (or reject) an accusation against a presbyter" (just like modern Catholic bishops). It is Timothy himself who is to "publicly reprimand" a sinful presbyter (just like modern Catholic bishops), so as to inspire pious "fear" in all the other presbyters. It is Timothy himself who must personally "keep these rules" and not show "prejudice" (one can only "pre-judge" if one has the authority to "judge") or "favoritism" (another reference to authority or the possible exploitation of authority). And, it is for Timothy himself (just like modern Catholic bishops) to "lay hands" upon a man so as to ordain him to the presbytery. Yet, as he does with Titus, Paul tells Timothy to act prudently when granting such ordination.
Thus, in at least three New Testament city-churches (Jerusalem, Ephesus, and Crete) we see the office of what would later be termed the monarchical "bishop" in action. So, if Mr. White and his modernist colleagues wish to assert that the other city-churches had different systems of government, then the burden of proof lies with them.
Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, it is important to appreciate the fact that the first Christian city-churches were based upon the old Jewish synagogue system that preceded them (e.g. Acts 18:7-8). And, while these synagogues clearly possessed "colleges of presbyters" who acted as a governing body for a particular Jewish community, they ALSO always possessed a "leading presbyter" (e.g. a "chief rabbi"), who was the president and spiritual father of the Jewish community. And it was no different for the earliest city-churches, in which this leading Christian presbyter would eventually be called "the bishop." However, as we've also seen, it was not a common first century semantic to separate this leading presbyter (the "bishop") from his associate presbyters in the city-church, but to speak of them as one body ("the presbyters") instead. This semantic comes directly from the Jewish practice that preceded the city-churches; and it can be most clearly illustrated in the case of Jerusalem itself.
For example, shortly after Paul arrives in Rome, he meets with the local Jewish leaders in Acts 28:17-22. One of the reasons for this meeting is that Paul wishes to discover whether or not the Sanhedrin (the Jerusalem authority that condemned him) has sent an accusation to the local Jewish community (or the imperial court) denouncing Paul. Yet, in response, the Jews of Rome tell him:
Notice here how these Jews merely say "from Judea," when they really mean the Sanhedrin presided over by the High Priest. For example, in the Sanhedrin trial that preceded all this (Acts 23:1-5), Paul curses the High Priest without knowing it, and then is forced to apologize because, as he says, "It is written, 'You shall not curse the ruler of your people.'" What's more, in Acts 28:21, the Roman Jews speak of "letters" from "Judea." Yet, these are clearly the same kind of "letters" issued directly by the High Priest (as is clearly stated in Acts 9:1-2) for the authoritative condemnation of heretics. So, if the Jews of Rome can merely say "Judea," when what they really mean is the Jerusalem Sanhedrin presided over by the High Priest, why can't Ignatius of Antioch or some other early patristic document merely refer to the "church of Rome" or to its "presbyters," with the Roman bishop being understood to be an organic part of this? It is this historical context and early Christian semantic that needs to be appreciated.
Lastly, as Mr. White well knows, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (a disciple of St. Polycarp), along with several other second century Fathers, spoke extensively on the necessity of monarchical bishops. Irenaeus himself holds up the monarchical bishop as a safeguard against the countless (Gnostic) heresies threatening the Church at this time, and even presents us with lists tracing one-man succession from the Apostles to the reigning monarchical bishops of his own day. The reason he bothered to do this was to demolish the Gnostic claim that the Apostles imparted "secret knowledge" to some of their followers; and that the Gnostic heresies were part of this "secret knowledge." In this, Irenaeus brilliantly argues that, if the Apostles were to entrust such "secrets" to any of their disciples, it would most certainly have included those to whom they entrusted the care of the city-churches. Yet, as he goes on to point out, none of the succeeding monarchical bishops ever taught anything remotely similar to the Gnostic doctrines; and the succession lists of these bishops (available in all of the second century city-churches) proves this to be an indisputable fact.
Now let's assume for a moment that Mr. White is correct. Let's assume that the Apostles themselves did not appoint monarchical bishops, but that they were a later, second century development; and that they were still unknown in Rome and the West at the time when St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp were writing (c. 107 A.D.). This being the case, one can only conclude that good Christian bishops and theologians like St. Irenaeus (and several of his associates, like his senior predecessor St. Hegesippus) were fabricating history in order to craft their anti-Gnostic arguments.
Okay. Even if we were to accept Mr. White's apparent premise, and assume that Irenaeus and his associates were liars and fabricators of history (or at least ignorant and grossly mistaken), this still fails to explain the effectiveness of their anti-Gnostic argument! For goodness sake, if the succession of one-man monarchical bishops presented by Irenaeus (and others) was not something that could be verified historically, then his entire argument would have blown up in his face, and he certainly would have known this! Indeed, Irenaeus was not merely arguing history for history's sake, but was basing the very integrity of orthodox Christian doctrine on the fact that there were always monarchical bishops (in all the city-churches) from Apostolic times! If this were not true, then Irenaeus was not only dishonest, but also stupid; and his Gnostic opponents were even more stupid since they never questioned the monarchical episcopate's Apostolic origins or unbroken successions, but were totally silenced by Irenaeus' argument! Mr. White needs to explain how this could be. If Irenaeus fabricated history, passing off a very recent "development" as something stretching back to the lifetimes of the Apostles, why didn't any of his Gnostic opponents expose this obvious "crack in his armor" ? Unless, of course, they weren't able to, because Irenaeus was presenting true and verifiable historical information.
Answers to Specific Criticisms
So, with all this said, let me address Mr. White's criticisms point-by-point. For starters, he writes
Is it, Mr. White? Says who? As I already presented above, in Chapter III of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius says that bishops are settled "EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth" and not merely by 'ecclesial development' or by accident, but rather "by the will of Jesus Christ." As I've also established, whenever Ignatius uses the term "bishop" he always means the one-man (monarchical) leader of a city-church; and here in Ephesians, Ignatius clearly says that this one-man (monarchical) office of church leadership is established "EVERYWHERE," even to the "UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth." Now, Rome would be considered a place within the "utmost bounds of the earth," would it not, Mr. White? Therefore, if you wish to say that Ignatius knew that Rome (and other Western city-churches) did not possess monarchical bishops, you must explain why he would make such an "outlandish" and "indefensible" statement, and even attribute his claim to the will of the Lord Jesus Himself! Wouldn't that amount to blasphemy on the part of Ignatius?
Okay, well I'll tell you now, Mr. White.
(1) Upon the fact Ignatius always uses the term "bishop" to mean the monarchical leader of a city-church.
(2) Upon the fact that Rome is certainly within the "utmost bounds of the earth." And
(3) Upon the fact that Ignatius clearly and unambiguously states:
Find a way out of this if you can, Mr. White.
No, that is untrue. As I also illustrated above, he also fails to name the Bishop of Philadelphia; although he certainly does address him (albeit indirectly). As for why he does not directly address the bishop of Rome, I explained this in great detail above. However, the question remains for Mr. White: if Rome was governed by a "plurality of presbyters" (as Mr. White claims) why, pray tell, doesn't Ignatius address them either? Why doesn't he address ANY presiding authority for the church of Rome? The naked truth is obvious, Mr. White -- Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans is simply a different kind of epistle than his other, earlier ones. Rather than being an instructive homily on orthodox Christian doctrine and ecclesiology, it is merely a general request for the Roman Christians not to interfere with his martyrdom and a heart-felt expression of his personal spiritual struggles. Indeed, if we are to make any assumptions about the presiding authority of the Roman city-church based on the Ignatian epistle itself, the most honest and simple conclusion is that the Roman city-church HAD NO presiding authority whatsoever, since Ignatius never addresses any. Yet, no sensible person would ever conclude that. Rather, in all honesty, the only authoritative information that we can gather from Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans is that the Roman church itself held a presiding primacy among the other churches and that it had a reputation for teaching other churches as far away as Ignatius' church of Antioch in Syria:
Aside from this, Ignatius tells us nothing about Roman authority or the structure of its local church government.
Letter of St. Clement of Rome to the Corinthians
Mr. White then moves on to my understanding of St. Clement of Rome's Epistle to the Corinthians (a/k/a First Clement to the Corinthians), which I also cited as evidence for the monarchical episcopate. In this, I asserted that St. Clement recognized the traditional three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon" (as reflected in Ignatius' contemporary ecclesiology), in that he draws a parallel between first-century Christian ministry and the three-fold ministry of "High Priest / priest / Levite" in the Jewish Temple. Here, we must keep in mind that First Clement to the Corinthians was written to correct a schism in the Corinthian city-church, in which the legitimate presbyters (including their leader / "bishop" -- whoever that may have been) were overthrown and cast out of the church. Clement writes to tell the Corinthians that such behavior is unacceptable, and that the Corinthian laity had no authority to overthrow its legitimate presbyters.
As for my use of First Clement itself, White basically criticizes my equating of the author's reference to the Jewish three-fold ministry of "High priest / priest / Levite" with the Christian three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon." In this, he argues that I have wrenched Clement's words out of their intended context; and that Clement himself had no understanding of the three-fold Christian ministry, but recognized only two Christian ministerial offices -- that of "presbyter/bishop" and that of "deacon."
Well, first of all, let me make it very clear to Mr. White that I agree wholeheartedly with his observation that 1 Clement is speaking of the literal High Priest, the literal priests, and the literal Levites of the Jewish temple in the passage in question. It was never my intention to formally argue that he is using the words "High Priest," "priest," and "Levite" to mean "bishop," "presbyter," and "deacon" respectively. Rather, my argument rests on the very fact that Clement cites this three-fold Jewish ministry as a parallel example, when he is arguing for the legitimacy, and Divinely-created character, of the Christian ministerial offices! In other words, why cite the three-fold Jewish ministry at all? Unless, of course, it held some significance for his audience when it came to their understanding of the Christian ministerial offices.
However, White rejects all of this, and quotes from J.B. Lightfoot in an attempt to refute my very valid observation. He says:
Well, first of all, let me express my boundless amusement when it comes to White's "sage blessing" of Lightfoot's position, as when he says, "Lightfoot rightly commented on this passage." I'm sure Dr. Lightfoot would take great comfort in knowing that Mr. White acknowledges his "rightness." However, this alone illustrates the nature of what we're dealing with here -- mere conjecture and opinion. White does not see a parallel in First Clement for the simple reason that he does not wish to see a parallel. Now, if Mr. White possessed the overly-fastidious scholarly integrity of a J.B. Lightfoot, perhaps that could be excused. However, this is far from the case; and, as even his quote from Lightfoot tells us, many other scholars agree with me, and DO see an analogy in Clement between the threefold Jewish ministry and the threefold Christian one.
This latter point becomes particularly relevant once we recall the semantic tendency (already discussed) in which the earliest Christians spoke of their leading presbyter (later termed their "bishop") as part of the body of presbyters itself. If we approach First Clement from this terminological perspective, then of course the ancient author only recognized two (nominal) church ministries: "presbyter/bishop" and "deacon." This is because he was still utilizing the New Testament-period semantic, in which "presbyter" and "bishop" were interchangeable terms; and so a city-church's bishop was presented as one of the presbyters (albeit the leading presbyter). However, from a practical, ministerial, and personal perspective, the author of First Clement would also have distinguished between the man serving as Corinth's leading presbyter (e.g. the "High Priest") and the other presbyters among him (e.g. "the priests"), because this individual leading presbyter would have had special duties within the college of Corinthian presbyters that made his ministry special and unique; and thus the fitting analogy to the Jewish "high priest," whose priestly ministry was ontologically identical to that of the other Jewish priests, save for special privileges and duties (per James in Jerusalem, Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus on Crete).
So, in the case of First Clement, we come full circle and return to the observation that the late first-century Church (especially in the West) was still using the terms "presbyter" and "bishop" interchangeably. Yet, there is nothing in First Clement, or in any other patristic source, which in any way suggests that these city-churches did not possess a leading presbyter who presided over the other presbyters, or that these presbyters operated according to some "democratic" system, in which "all presbyters were created equal." While the latter notion may be particularly attractive to the very-American Evangelical Protestant mind, it is also the height of anachronism and does not speak to the reality of the early Church itself, which based its form of government upon the Jewish synagogue system.
Mr. White thereafter attacks a quote I presented comparing the 1 Clement analogy to a much later comment from St. Athanasius, which reads:
In response to this quote, White writes:
Here, Mr. White both misses the significance of the quote I presented; and again puts his own rhetorical "spin" on the widespread ancient Christian custom of calling deacons "Levites." Here, Athanasius is by no means an isolated example, in that countless patristic sources (in particular those of the Eastern Church) speak of deacons as "Levites"; and this custom continues in Eastern Orthodox Greece and Russia to this very day. So, my point in presenting the quote from Athanasius was to illustrate the profound connection in traditional Christian ecclesiology, in which the sacrifices of the Jewish Temple were equated with the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Church, and in which the sacrificing ministerial offices of the Jewish Temple were equated with the sacrificing ministerial offices of the Church. For both Clement and Athanasius after him, this was something organic and second-nature to their ancient Christian faith.
Mr. White, however, wishes his audience to completely ignore the unanimous and consistent witness of the Church Fathers (from the first century on) in which the Christian Eucharistic celebration (a/k/a the Lord's Supper) is presented and understood as a Sacrifice, mirroring (and prefigured by) the Temple sacrifices under the Old Covenant. However, once one comes to appreciate the fact that the entire early Church viewed the Eucharistic service in this way, the connection between the mentality of St. Athanasius and that of St. Clement is obvious. In other words, given that Christian ministry centered around the Sacrificial celebration of the Eucharist, both Clement and Athanasius (along with untold numbers of other ancient Fathers) saw a clear parallel with the Jewish three-fold office of "High Priest / Priest / Levite." This is why Athanasius calls deacons "Levites" and this is why Clement presents his analogy to the Jewish temple ministry when arguing for the legitimacy of Christian ministers. In other words, the Christian cultural understanding was always there, just as when St. Paul (a generation before Clement) made reference to the same Sacrificial mystery of the Eucharist and compared it to the Jewish altar in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22, writing:
Here, we must not forget that both St. Paul and St. Clement are writing to the same Corinthian church (and within the living memories of Clement's audience). So, the sensitivity to the Eucharist as Sacrifice was there; and the ministerial parallel would have held profound meaning for Clement's readers.
Aside from this, Mr, White attempts to remind us again and again that First Clement to the Corinthians does not attribute its authorship to Clement of Rome (fourth Bishop of Rome) himself, but is written in the name of the church of Rome, and so therefore supposedly cannot be used to argue for a first century Roman bishop. For example, White writes:
Well, that's very true, Mr. White. Yet, neither does the Gospel of Matthew. So, are you saying that the Apostle Matthew didn't write it? Also, neither do the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. So, are you saying that we should doubt that Mark, Luke, and John wrote those Gospels? If not, Mr. White, then upon what basis do you dispute the authorship of First Clement?
Indeed, as with First Clement, the Apostolic authorship of the 4 Gospels rests totally upon very early and reliable oral tradition; and we find historical documentation of the traditional authorship for both First Clement and the four Gospels presented in the very same early sources. For example, the strongest early documentation we possess for the authorship of the four Gospels comes to us from the aforementioned St. Irenaeus of Lyons (writing in about 180 A.D.), in which he says:
And this same St. Irenaeus of Lyons, in the very same book (Against the Heresies), also speaks of First Clement to the Corinthians, writing
Here, please note a couple things: First of all, St. Irenaeus speaks of the authorship of First Clement while tracing the succession of monarchical Roman bishops from the Apostles (a historical reality that Mr. White does not acknowledge). Secondly, St. Irenaeus clearly says that the epistle in question was dispatched by the Roman church with Clement acting as its bishop.
Now Mr. White will no doubt call all this "anachronism" or perhaps, as his very thesis suggests, accuse St. Irenaeus and his fellow second-century defenders of the monarchical episcopate of "fabricating history." Yet, Mr. White cannot do this without also calling into question the authorship of the Gospels themselves!
Indeed, when it comes to the authorship of First Clement, there is not one ancient source which disputes that St. Clement of Rome is the epistle's author or that speaks of the epistle apart from St. Clement's office as monarchical bishop of Rome. For example, even the ancient Corinthians themselves who, if anyone should know who to thank for restoring their threatened unity, always spoke of St. Clement as both the epistle's author and primate of the Roman city-church. For example, in about 170 AD, ten years before Irenaeus wrote his Against the Heresies, we have St. Dionysius of Corinth writing to St. Soter, Bishop of Rome, to thank him for issuing a letter of instruction. And, of this letter, he says:
Here again we see First Clement attributed to St. Clement of Rome himself, who is equated with St. Soter as the monarchical bishop of Rome. And so, if Mr. White wishes to dispute the authorship of First Clement or St. Clement's role as a monarchical leader of the First Century church of Rome, I challenge him to produce one shred of ancient evidence which in any way denies these things. This is something he will never do, because he cannot. The unanimous witness of the ancient Church is clear.
Mr. White then moves on to dispute the existence of monarchical presbyters (a/k/a "bishops") in Scripture itself. In this, he begins by undermining his own anti-Catholic thesis, admitting that James the Just was the monarchical leader of the Jerusalem city-church. He writes:
Oh? And why is that, Mr. White? As I discussed above, in earliest times Jerusalem was clearly the most important Christian city-church, and one that served as the model for all subsequent city-churches established by the Apostles. And if the Apostles appointed a leading presbyter for Jerusalem (St. James), why would they deviate from this custom and set up different (democratic?) systems of church government elsewhere? That simply makes no sense. Yet, White goes on to ask:
Where do we not? Truth be told, the Scriptures themselves are relatively silent when it comes to describing the "practical mechanics" of first-century church government and how it was exercised among the presbyters. This is why we go with the oral witness of the ancient city-churches, which describes this for us in detail (e.g. St. Irenaeus), and presents us with consistent systems of leadership from one city-church to the next (i.e. the monarchical episcopate). It is only a "modernist mentality" which assumes (without warrant) that the presbyters ever operated according to some "proto-democratic" system. However, this was not the way the ancient synagogues operated; nor would the early churches have functioned this way. So unless Mr. White wishes to present us with evidence for an ancient Christian "Thomas Jefferson," who brought "political equality" and "democracy" to the city-churches, we are forced to retain our organic view.
Mr. White also says:
Oh? And how do you justify this assertion that James' position at Jerusalem was "unique," Mr. White? As we've already seen above, this was far from the case, since Scripture presents Titus (in Crete) and Timothy (in Ephesus) holding the same kind of positions of monarchical leadership in their respective local churches. However, (surprise!) Mr. White disputes this as well, writing:
Does it really, Mr. White? Well, as long as we're making "leaps of logic" here, let me ask you why Paul would bother to write a letter to a single elder (presbyter) at all? Unless of course that elder (presbyter) was someone in charge of the city-church itself. White has already "addressed" this problem, giving his solution as follows:
I see. So, Paul gave authoritative instruction to Timothy alone, and Timothy was responsible for passing this authoritative instruction along to the other presbyters of Ephesus. And how does this make Timothy anything other than an authority himself? Clearly, Paul is not treating all the presbyters of Ephesus as "equals" when it comes to issuing these instructions. What's more, in the passage I presented from his Epistle to Timothy (1 Tim 5:17-22), Paul does not tell his disciple to pass any instruction along at all. On the contrary, speaking in the "you-singular" and thus addressing Timothy personally (as opposed to telling him what all the presbyters should do), he invests Timothy with singular authority over the other presbyters of Ephesus.
As I said before, it is Timothy himself who is to "accept (or reject) an accusation against a presbyter" (just like a modern Catholic bishop). It is Timothy himself who is to "publicly reprimand" a sinful presbyter (just like a modern Catholic bishop), so as to inspire pious "fear" in all the other presbyters. It is Timothy himself who must personally "keep these rules" and not show "prejudice" or "favoritism." And, it is for Timothy himself (just like a modern Catholic bishop) to "lay hands" upon a man so as to ordain him to the presbytery. And we see Paul investing his other disciple Titus with the very same power and authority (for the Church on Crete) in Titus 1:5ff.
Thus, the position of James at Jerusalem was far from unique. As both the Scriptural witness and the patristic testimony illustrate quite clearly, whenever the Apostles moved on, or were unable to govern a city-church personally or directly, they always created a monarchical leader to preside in their stead over the other presbyters. This man would later come to be exclusively called the "bishop." And anyone who disputes this historical fact is the one guilty of anachronism.
As the celebrated Catholic scholar Henri de Lubac so eloquently put it:
Ubi est episcopus, ibi est ecclesia.
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