Mark Bonocore: Closing Statement

Well, Mr. Engwer has given it his best shot. Yet, whether he realizes it or not, he’s fallen miserably short. He had the opportunity to ask me three questions; two of which he wasted in order to launch irrelevant, ad hominem attacks against the later history of the Catholic Church. Yet, this was a debate about whether or not Christ established the Papacy; and Mr. Engwer has presented nothing which threatens my position. In my opening statement, I said how I only needed to achieve two things to win this debate: 1) Show that Jesus commissioned Peter with a ministry to preserve the Church’s unity and orthodoxy; and 2) Show that this ministry was succeeded to by the Bishop of Rome. Engwer has not overturned either of these truths. For example, in regard to # 1, ...

Engwer says it’s unprovable that the “Key to the House of David” in Isaiah 22:20-25 is the same concept as the “Keys of the Kingdom” in Matt 16. Not so. In Matt 16:13, Jesus asks “Who do the people say that I am?” These are the people of Israel, who do not know that He is their King. Yet, in v.16, Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah: the promised successor to King David. Thus, Jesus makes Peter the prime minister of the remnant of Israel which will believe in Him: the Church. Here, we must note that the Greek word for “Church” (“Ekklesia”) means “those who are called out.” Thus, the Church will comprise those members of Israel who will accept Jesus as their Messiah/King. This will be Jesus’ House of David. And, within that House, Peter holds the prime minister’s Keys.

Engwer asks why it’s only one “Key” in Isaiah 22 yet “Keys” (plural) in Matt 16. Well, first, it is well known that Matthew (unlike Mark or Luke) has a preference for the plural (e.g. Matt 4:3; 8:26; 12:46; 15:36). Also, in Matt 16, we are dealing with a Heaven-earth relationship, rather than a mere earthly kingdom (as in Isaiah 22). Thus, Peter holds two Keys: one Heavenly and one earthly, since his Master is a two-fold King: both the earthly successor to David and the eternal King of Heaven.

Engwer also says that Jesus Himself holds the Key of David in Rev 3:7. Well, of course. Just as Jesus remains the true Shepherd (in Heaven) while Peter is merely the vicarious shepherd (on earth), Jesus never relinquishes total authority. Rather, He merely delegates it to Peter, His servant. This is exactly the situation in Isaiah 22, where Eliachim holds the Key for King Hezekiah. Yet, Hezekiah still ultimately holds the Key. Thus, we’re not dealing with an “either-or” situation, but a “both-and” situation. And, if you interpret Rev 3:7 any other way, then you are demoting Jesus from King to prime minister.

Engwer again illustrates his problem with context by asserting that Isaiah 22:25 shows that the Key is “temporary.” Nonsense. Rather, this verse shows that there is succession to the ministry of Key-holder, since Eliachim succeeds to Shebna. It is only Shebna (a corrupt prime minister) who has personally ‘broken off’ and ‘fallen’ (v.17). Yet, the ministry itself remains.

Engwer says that the word used for “strengthen” in Luke 22:31-32 is also used elsewhere (e.g. Acts 14:22, 15:32, Romans 16:25) So what? In Luke 22, Peter is told that he must strengthen the other Apostles! That’s what makes his commission unique. Thus, my interpretation stands. In both Luke 22 and John 21:15-19, Jesus commissioned Peter as the vicarious shepherd over the flock in His physical absence.

Regarding the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, I pointed out in my opener how Peter gives the definitive teachings and how, after he speaks, all debate comes to an end. However, Engwer rejects this, citing the amendments given by James, and says how James is the only one to render “judgment.” Well, first of all, it must be noted that James bases his remarks on Peter’s teaching:

“Brothers, listen to me. Symeon (i.e., Peter) has described how ...” --Acts 15:13-14

Secondly, look at what James actually says in relation to his “judgment”:

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles” --Acts 15:19.

Well, who is this “we”? Who was “troubling the Gentiles”? Certainly not Peter (Acts 10:44-49, 11:1-18, 15:7-10). Certainly not Paul or Barnabas. So, who? Acts 15:1 tells us:

“Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers, ‘Unless you are circumcised ..., you cannot be saved.”

It was the Jewish faction under James (bishop of Jerusalem) that was troubling the Gentiles (Acts 15:5, Gal 2:12). Thus, James is speaking for them, not for the whole council. Indeed, that’s why his remarks are recorded at all --to show that the leader of the Jewish faction subscribed to the decisions of the council, and so silence the Judaizers who Paul will encounter later (Titus 1:10-11).

Yet, to argue for the “primacy of James,” Engwer is forced to turn to the spurious Pseudo-Clementina, from which Cullmann draws some very “selective” quotes to show how Clement of Rome supposedly ‘answered to James.’ Yet, this is not the testimony of orthodox Christians. If Cullmann wished to see how orthodox Christians from the Antiochian tradition viewed the primacy of Peter and his successor Clement, he should have consulted the Syrian Liturgy for the Feast of St. Clement, which reads:

“He it is that sits upon the throne of Peter, the Head of the Apostles, in the capital Roman city and he became like unto Peter even in power, the common father of the whole flock of Christ.” (courtesy of Scott Butler’s upcoming book, The Keys to Christian Unity).

This is the ancient Aramaic Liturgy of the Syrian Catholics, as well as the Syrian Monophysites, who have been separated from Rome since 450 A.D.!

So, Engwer has produced nothing to dispute the fact that Jesus commissioned Peter with a ministry to preserve the Church’s unity and orthodoxy. Indeed, I asked him in my opener to produce one Church father who denied that Peter presided over the flock. Yet, all Engwer could produce was the spurious Pseudo-Clementina. Thus, I rest my case in regard to Peter. He clearly possessed the Papal ministry as defined in our debate proposition.

As for claim # 2 (that the Bishop of Rome succeeded to the Petrine ministry), Mr. Engwer has produced nothing to challenge this either; but merely the same old smoke and mirrors.

I asked Engwer to supply one example of Rome receiving authoritative teaching and instruction rather than consistently giving it. This he was unable to do.

I asked Engwer to supply an ancient source which denies that there was an early bishop of Rome or which says that Rome was governed by a “body of presbyters.” Again, Mr. Engwer can produce nothing. Rather, he invokes the opinions of so-called “scholars” who came along 2,000 years after the fact. Well, there are other (better) scholars who disagree with the ones cited by Engwer. Thus, their opinions prove nothing. Indeed, Engwer and his “scholars” keep repeating how “the evidence suggests,” yet they never produce this evidence for us.

For example, Engwer says that Jerome speaks of a plurality of presbyters in his Epistle 146. But this is the same Jerome who names Clement as Rome’s monarchical bishop. Thus, once again, Engwer wrenches a father out of context. Similarly, Engwer cites Hermas’ reference to a plurality of “leaders” in the early church of Rome. So what? Rome has a “plurality of leaders” today, in the form of cardinals and numerous auxiliary bishops. Yet, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a final authority among them.

However, Engwer says that the NT speaks of a plurality of “bishops” in Ephesus and Philippi. That is very true. Yet, what Engwer and his “scholars” have stumbled on here is merely a problem of terminology, not of fact.

In the NT period, it is clear that the terms "bishop" (overseer) and "presbyter" (“elder”) were still fluent and used interchangeably (Titus 1:5-7, Acts 20:17-28) Yet, while the terms "bishop" and "presbyter" were still interchangeable, that doesn't mean that the NT-period churches did not have monarchical leaders who were the chief shepherds and final authorities in these individual city-churches.

For example, it is clear that James was the monarchical leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter's departure (Acts 21:17-19, Galatians 2:12) It’s also clear that Paul commissioned Timothy to be the monarchical authority in Ephesus (1 Tim 5:19-22).

Yet, were these monarchical leaders (these "arch-presbyters," if you will) exclusively called "bishops" at this time? No. That would come later, via the terminology of Ignatius of Antioch.

For example, we know that Ignatius called Polycarp the monarchical "bishop of Smyrna," and that Polycarp did not deny this. Yet, when writing to the Philippians, Polycarp does not call himself "the bishop of Smyrna," since that terminology was not yet widely used. Rather, he begins his Epistle:

"Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi”

So, Polycarp is a presbyter among other presbyters. Yet, that doesn't mean he's not the bishop. It doesn't mean he didn't hold primacy in the church of Smyrna at this time, since two separate epistles from Ignatius tell us that he did.

Indeed, Ignatius consistently cites the three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon." He writes:

"You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbyters as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the church without the bishop." (To the Smyrnaeans)


"Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ - they are with the bishop. ...For there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one Cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbyters and my fellow servants, the deacons." (To the Philadelphians)

So, despite what Engwer says, Ignatius always used the term “bishop” to refer to the monarchical leader of a church; and Ignatius never “urges their development,” but instead speaks of the monarchical episcopate as an established institution throughout the universal Church. Indeed, Engwer’s whole position crumbles when we invoke Chapter III of Ignatius’ Epistle to the Ephesians, which speaks of “bishops settled everywhere, to the utmost bounds of the earth.” This means that all cities had monarchical bishops presiding over the presbyters and deacons; including the church of Rome. And, over a decade before Ignatius, Clement of Rome himself testifies to this fact, when he writes:

"He (Jesus) has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons whom He desires for these celebrations ....For to the high priest (i.e., the bishop) his proper ministrations are allotted, and to the priests (i.e., the presbyters) the proper place has been appointed, and on the Levites (i.e., the deacons) their proper services have been imposed. The layman is bound by the ordinances for the laity. ...Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices." (1 Clement 44:4)

So, the three-fold ministry was always there; including the office of bishop.

Yet, Engwer ignores this, even accusing Hegesippus and Irenaeus of fabricating their lists of Roman episcopal succession; calling their lists “anachronistic.” Yet, need I point out that Irenaeus and Hegesippus had ties of discipleship with the generation before them (e.g. Polycarp)? Need I also point out that Irenaeus (in the very same book) is also our earliest source for the legitimacy of the 4 Gospels! Yet, Engwer is calling this father a liar! And what of the Gnostic heretics who Irenaeus and Hegesippus were trying to refute? If the succession lists were fabrications, then the Gnostics could easily have verified this, completely undermining the orthodox argument. Indeed, Irenaeus directly challenges these heretics to check the succession for themselves! So, Mr. Engwer insults our intelligence.

Engwer also makes much ado about supposed ‘inconsistencies’ in the Roman succession. Yet, he himself illustrates how this is solely in regard to the first three bishops of Rome (i.e., Linus, Cletus, Clement). Indeed, this one difficulty with the succession comes from a Latin tradition that Peter personally ordained Clement (e.g. Tertullian’s De Praescrip. Haer. xxxii); and thus some Latin fathers insist that Clement was Peter’s immediate successor, rather than the third to succeed him. Yet, Clement himself gives us the solution, writing:

"Our Apostles (Peter and Paul) knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." (1 Clement 44)

So, Clement was one of these “other approved men.” Thus, he was both personally ordained by Peter (along with Linus and Cletus), while being the third to actually hold the monarchical office. So, there is no problem with the succession lists at all.

Engwer says that I fail to distinguish between the church of Rome and the bishop of Rome when speaking of Rome’s authority. Well, that would be an artificial distinction, and alien to the view of early Christianity. Indeed, Engwer illustrates a profound ignorance of Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) Sacramental ecclesiology, in which the bishop of a church only possesses authority in his ability to act “In Persona Christi Capitas” (“In the Person of Christ the Head”). Thus, vicarious Head (the bishop) and mystical Body (the church) act as one. There is no distinction.

Engwer also attacks my position on Pope Victor’s excommunication of the Asia churches in 190 A.D., quoting more “scholars” who assert how ‘no one thought it possible to excommunicate another church at this time,’ and how Victor’s action ‘does not suggest universal Roman authority.’ Well, if that’s what Engwer thinks, I suggest he read Matt 18:17, where Christ gave the Church the authority to excommunicate. I also suggest that he go back and read what Irenaeus and Eusebius actually say about this incident. Yet, since Mr. Engwer so loves modern scholars, perhaps an account from the famous Protestant Church historian, J.N.D. Kelly, will do:

"At his [Victor's] instigation, synods were held both at Rome and at other centers, from Gaul to Mesopotamia, and majority opinion sided with him. The churches of Asia Minor, however, refused to abandon the age-old Quartodeciman custom of observing Eastern on the 14th of Nisan, whatever the day of the week on which it fell. Victor thereupon proclaimed their exclusion from communion, not simply with Rome but with the Church generally" (The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, 12).

So, Victor acted with universal authority. And, even the Asian bishops who opposed his decision never deny Victor’s authority to issue it. In this, Engwer quoted Polycrates of Ephesus who, in response to Victor, echoes the words of the Apostles in Acts 5:29: “We must obey God rather than man.” These words were spoken to the High Priest Caiaphas: the one in authority at the time (Matt 23:1-3). Thus, what Polycrates was saying is that the Liturgical Tradition of the Apostle John was even greater than the Pope’s legitimate authority. ...Which it was. Thus Victor withdrew the excommunication.

Mr. Engwer also invoked the African church’s condemnation (not “excommunication,” as asserted) of Pope Vigilius during the Three Chapters controversy in 550 A.D. Yet, like the spurious Donation of Constantine and the Isidorian Decretals, this was motivated by Byzantine imperial politics; and has nothing to do with Christ’s establishment of the Papacy itself.

Indeed, Mr. Engwer’s endless irrelevancies, out-of-context quotes, and ad hominem attacks should be enough to show anyone that he is not interested in historical fact, but is merely an anti-Catholic propagandist, committed to presenting a Papal “boogie man” to cast suspicions on a hated Catholic Church. I predicted this in my opening statement.

However, in deference to Mr. Engwer, it must be admitted that we can never arrive at 100% proof for the Papacy’s legitimacy by citing the historical evidence alone. Yet, the same can be said for the Resurrection of Christ and the Divine inspiration of the Bible. These things are matters of faith; and must be explored as such.

In my opening statement, I showed how Christ desires His Church to be one (John 17:20-21), and how this Church was united in orthodoxy from earliest times (1 Corinth 1:10, 1 Peter 3:8). Also, it is clear that, before the coming of Christ, the Jewish people lacked both unity and orthodoxy (e.g. Acts 23:6-9). Indeed, in Matt 9:36-38 Jesus took pity on them because they were “like sheep without a shepherd.”

So, is it reasonable to believe that Jesus would leave His Church in exactly the same state as the Jewish people before His coming? Is it reasonable to believe that He would leave no one with the ministry to preserve unity and orthodoxy after His Ascension? Is it reasonable that we Catholics are “apostate,” given the fact that we are a Church of 1 billion souls united under a solid and consistent teaching authority, whereas “true Christians” (i.e., Evangelicals and other Protestants) are scattered and heterodox, following innumerable, contradicting interpretations of Scripture? Remember, in John 17:20-21, Christ prayed for His Church’s unity “so that the world may believe that You (the Father) sent me.”

Yet, Mr. Engwer has no regard for such unity. ...Unless, of course, it is founded upon his own interpretation of the Scriptures. Yet, Christ founded His Church upon Peter, not upon Jason Engwer. Thus, who are we to believe? ...The unbroken, 2,000-year-old testimony of the Catholic Church, or someone who displays difficulty reading the Scriptures in their proper context?! The Lord Himself said it: “A tree is known by its fruit.”

May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you always!

Mark J. Bonocore

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