Answer to James White on the Early Papacy

by Mark Bonocore

Dear James,

Now that Jason Engwer has posed his final question to me in our debate, I'm finally free to answer yours. 

JW> I was looking over your opening remarks in your papacy debate with Jason, and wished to make a few comments and ask a few questions: 1) Do you call yourself an anti-Protestant? If you do not, why do you call me an anti-Catholic? >>

:-) Why do we call shoes "shoes"? We call a thing by what it is.

As for myself, I suppose you could say I'm an "anti-Protestant" insofar that I believe Protestantism is an error and I oppose it. However, that does not mean I deny that Protestants are Christians. They are. That is to say, a Protestant who honestly seeks to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ possesses the bare essentials for salvation. Yet, unfortunately, Protestantism also possess a number of obstacles (e.g. sola Fide) which may, and often do, undermine a Protestant's true faith in Jesus (1 Corinth 13:2, James 2:17), transforming Christianity from a Covenant of holiness into a utilitarian religion, in which the importance of holiness is swept into a corner. For example, where's the Protestant Mother Teresa? Where's the Protestant Francis of Assisi? In 400 years, Protestantism has produced no one like this. It has produced good, virtuous, and moral people, yes. But, then again, so have the Mormons and the Muslims. However, Protestantism has not produced what we can only call saints. And, if you disagree, please name a Protestant who reflects the selflessness and love of the Lord to the degree of a Francis of Assisi or a Mother Teresa of Calcutta. "A tree is known by its fruit."

Yet, do you believe that I'm a Christian, James? Or do you lump me in the same category as the JW's and the Mormons?? :-)

JW> I use the term "Roman Catholic apologist" of individuals such as yourself. Is there a logical and consistent reason why you refuse the courtesy of doing the same? >>

Absolutely. For the same reason that I don't call a pro-abortion advocate "pro-choice."

Indeed, how can you call yourself a "Protestant apologist" when Protestants do not agree on doctrine? I know Protestants who believe in sola Fide, and Protestants who reject it. I know Protestants who believe in Baptismal regeneration, and Protestants who call Baptismal regeneration a "heresy." So, what exactly are you an "apologist" for? To quote my good friend, Dr. Art Sippo, you seem to be "an apologist for your own ego," not for any objective standard of Christian Faith.

JW> 2) Why did you focus on me in your presentation? Jason is his own person, and as his tremendous opening statement indicates, he is his own researcher and thinker. >>

:-) Jason is anything but "tremendous." He's a parrot, James. I've debated with him over the last year or so, and he doesn't have an original thought in his head...Just a lot of free time on his hands. He should devote it to prayer.

JW> 3) I've asked Gerry Matatics and others this question, and never gotten an answer: can you name anyone in the first 1000 years of church history who presented the argument you do from Isaiah 22? >>

Sure. What about St. John Cassian (c. 362-435), who writes:

"O Peter, Prince of Apostles, it is just that you should teach us, since you were yourself taught by the Lord; and also that you should open to us the gate of which you have received the Key (singular). Keep out all those who are undermining the heavenly House; turn away those who are trying to enter through false caverns and unlawful gates since it is certain that no one can enter in at the gate of the Kingdom except the one unto whom the Key (singular), placed by you in the churches, shall open it." (John Cassian, Book III, Chap 12, Against the Nestorians on the Incarnation)

Compare this to Isaiah 22, which reads:

"On that day I shall summon my servant Eliakim, son of Hilkiah. ...I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open."

Cassian is clearly drawing from Isaiah 22, and applying it to Matt 16.

I believe the reason we don't see Isaiah 22 used more extensively is that it's rooted in a sense of Jewish national identity. And, since most of the fathers were Gentiles, it's not surprising that they see the Keys of Matt 16 referring to authority in a more generic sense (which is equally valid). However, we do see the Kingly, Davidic aspect of the Keys alluded to more often in the Semetic-speaking branches of the Church. For example, Aphraates the Sage (c. 330 A.D.), one of the oldest fathers of the Syrian Church, says:

"David handed over the Kingdom to Solomon and was gathered to his people; and Jesus handed over the Keys to Simon and ascended and returned to Him Who sent Him." (Aphraates, xxi, 13).

Also, St. Ephraem the Syrian (c. 350) writes:

"Then Peter deservedly received the Vicariate of Christ over His people." (Ephraem, Sermon de Martyrio. SS. App. Petri et Pauli).

JW> 4) Can you explain why Jesus says "keys" while Isaiah says "key"? >>

Sure. :-) Firstly, 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.

Another possibility is that the "keys" (plural) in Matt 16 refer to Christ's juxtaposition of the "Kingdom of Heaven" vs. the "gates of hell." We also see this in St. Ephraem the Syrian, who writes:

"Thee, O Simon Peter, will I proclaim the blessed, who holds the Keys which the Spirit made. A great and ineffable word that he binds and loosens those in Heaven and those under the earth..." (Ephraem, Asseman. Bibl. Orient. t. i. p. 95) in Colin Lindsay, Evidence for the Papacy, (London: Longmans, 1870), 31.

JW> Can you cite any biblical evidence that the key of the house of David is, in fact, identical with the keys of the kingdom of heaven? Can you cite any patristic interpretation in support of your position? >>

With pleasure, James. :-)

I recall that, in your Boston College debate against Sungenis and Butler, you claimed that Matt 16 is merely about the identity of Jesus. You said that any references to the Church or to a Pope, etc. were distractions from the intended purpose of the passage. Well, that's a pretty two-dimensional exegesis, if you ask me.

Matt 16 is not merely about the identity of Jesus. Rather, it is about who the people say that Jesus is.

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.

Jesus then asks His disciples (His "royal entourage," if you will): "Who do you say that I am?" And, in reply, Peter speaks up and confesses that Jesus is the Messiah: the promised successor to David -- the King of Israel !

Thus, Jesus makes Peter the prime minister of that 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 (e.g. Isaiah 22).

As for patristic support, look again to Cassian & Aphraates above. Yet, can you provide any patristic evidence saying that Matt 16:19 does not refer to Isaiah 22?

Interestingly enough, the Messianic Jew, David H. Stein --who actually attended classes at Fuller Theological Seminary (as opposed to taking their correspondance course, like some others we know ;-) provides abundant evidence that King Hezekiah (the King of Isaiah 22) was seen as a prefigurement of the Messiah by 1st Century Jews [David Stein, The Jewish New Testament Commentary, 1992].

See what you miss when you skip class? ;-)

JW> 5) RE: John 21: In commenting on this passage Cyril of Alexandria said, "If anyone asks for what cause he asked Simon only, though the other disciples were present, and what he means by "Feed my lambs," and the like, we answer that St. Peter, with the other disciples, had been already chosen to the Apostleship, but because meanwhile Peter had fallen (for under great fear he had thrice denied the Lord), he now heals him that was sick, and exacts a threefold confession in place of his triple denial, contrasting the former with the latter, and compensating the fault with the correction." Can you cite an earlier patristic interpretation of the passage that supports the Roman contention, or is this not the earliest interpretation? >>

:-) Earliest? I think not. St. Cyril of Alexandria was active between 412 & 444. Yet, in 387, St. John Chrysostom writes:

"And why, then, passing by the others, does He converse with Peter on these things? (John 21:15). He was the chosen one of the Apostles, and the mouth of the disciples, and the leader of the choir. On this account, Paul also went up on a time to see him rather than the others (Galatians 1:18). And withal, to show him that he must thenceforward have confidence, as the denial was done away with, He puts into his hands the presidency over the brethren. And He brings not forward the denial, nor reproches him with what had past, but says, 'If you love me, preside over the brethren,' ...and the third time He gives him the same injunction, showing at what a price He sets the presidency over His own sheep. And if one should say, 'How then did James receive the throne of Jerusalem?,' this I would answer that He appointed this man (Peter) teacher, not of that throne, but of the whole world." (Chrysostom, In Joan. Hom. lxxxviii. n. 1, tom. viii)

This is the same John Chrysostom who writes:

"But though we (of Antioch) received him (Peter) as our teacher, we did not retain him until the end, but gave him up to Rome."

As for your quote from St. Cyril, he also wrote of Peter:

"They (the Apostles) strove to learn through one, that preeminent one, Peter." (Cyril, Ib. ix.)


"Besides all these, let there come forward that leader of the holy disciples, Peter, ..." (Cyril, T. v. P.2, Hom. viii. De Fest. Pasch.)


"'If I wash thee not, thou shall have no part of me.' When the Coryphaeus (the Head) had heard these words he began to change." (Cyril, Ib. Hom. in Myst. Coen.)


"This bold man (Julian), besides all this, cavils at Peter, the chosen one of the Apostles." (Cyril, T. vi. l. ix. Contra Julian)

Cyril also calls Peter "the Prince of the Apostles" in various places (e.g. Ib. 1. xii & T.v. Par. 1, Thesaur.) . Thus, you are quoting someone who clearly believed that Peter held primacy among the Apostles.

As for early references to Peter's primacy in John 21, did you also forget St. Cyprian, who writes:

"....Again He (Christ) says to him (Peter) after His Resurrection: "Feed my sheep." On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet He founded a single Chair, and He established by His own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were what Peter also was; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair."

Now, before you accuse me of the "Peter syndrome"... :-) Yes. Cyprian is merely speaking of Peter here (as opposed to Peter's successor at Rome). Yet, Cyprian also speaks of Rome, saying:

"With false bishops appointed for themselves, they (the Novatian heretics) dare even set sail and carry their letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the Chair of Peter and to the principal church, in which sacerdotal unity (i.e., priestly unity) has its source; nor do they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the Apostle ..." (Cyprian ad Cornelius Pap.)

So, if "priestly unity" has its "source" in the church of Rome; and if Peter was the "source" and the "intrinsic reason" for the Church's "unity,"... What does that say about the church of Rome and its relationship to Peter in a universal context? :-)

Yet, I've strayed from the point. :-) The point is that Cyril's exegesis is not the earliest interpretation of John 21; nor does it illustrate the totality of Cyril's view of Peter.

Sts. Cyprian, Chrysostom, and Cyril all recognized Peter's primacy (aka, "presidency") over the sheep; and that's what Peter is receiving in John 21. Thus, as I said, your interpretation cannot stand. If Peter is restored to anything in John 21, it is his ministry to strengthen and unify the brethren which he received before his 3-fold denial in Luke 22.

JW> 6) RE: Luke 22: Dr. Salmon noted with reference to the patristic aspect of the interpretation of this passage: "This prayer to Peter is so clearly personal that some Roman Catholic controversialists do not rely on this passage at all. Neither can they produce any early writers who deduce from it anything in favor of the Roman See. Bellarmine can quote nothing earlier than the eleventh century, except the suspicious evidence of some Popes in their own cause, of whom the earliest to speak distinctly is Pope Agatho in his address to the sixth general council, A.D. 680 " (pp. 343-344). Can you disprove Dr. Salmon's statements? Can you provide a patristic foundation for your interpretation, or, again, are we forced to see the modern Roman use as a theological novum, historically speaking? >>

"Modern usage" ? :-) "Theological novum" ? I don't think so, James. :-)

First of all, need I point out that the 680 Council of Constantinople hailed Pope Agatho as "Head of the Church" ? Therefore, if you wish to say that Agatho's use of Luke 22 is "suspicious," then you must explain why all the Eastern bishops readily agreed with it. ;-)

Furthermore, if Salmon thinks that Pope Agatho is the earliest Pope to use Luke 22, then he is woefully mistaken. For example, 230 years earlier, Pope Leo the Great writes:

"Since then, beloved, we see such a protection Divinely granted to us (the Pope), reasonably and justly do we rejoice in the merits and dignity of our founder, rendering thanks to the eternal King, our Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, for having given so great a power to him (Peter) whom He made Chief of the whole Church, that if anything, even in our time, be rightly done and rightly ordered by us (the Pope), it is to be ascribed to his working, to his guidance, unto who it was said, 'And thou, when thou art converted, confirm thy brethren'' ....To him, therefore, let us ascribe this anniversary day of us his servant, and this festival, by whose patronage we have been thought worthy to share his Seat itself, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ sustaining us in all things, Who liveth and reigneth with God the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen." (Leo, Sermon 4 Gaudeo, dilectissimi)

As with Agatho, if you also consider Pope Leo's use of Luke 22 "suspicious", then you must explain why the fathers at Chalcedon ascribed to the same theology presented above, proclaiming things like:

"Peter has spoken thus through Leo!" (Acts of Chalcedon, Session 2 [A.D. 451])


"You are set as the interpreter to all of the voice of blessed Peter, and to all you impart the blessings of that Faith." (Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Ep. 98)


"Besides all this, he (Dioscorus) extended his fury even against him who had been charged with the custody of the vine by the Savior. We refer to Your Holiness." (Chalcedon to Pope Leo, Ep. 98)

Salmon's assertion about Agatho being the earliest is also refuted by the writings of Pope St. Gelasius (c.492), who writes to the Eastern bishops, saying:

"For the government of the Apostolic See (Rome), engaged without ceasing in the care of the whole flock of the Lord, which care was delegated to the blessed Peter by the voice of our Savior Himself, 'And thou, converted, confirm thy brethren,' we (the Pope) neither can nor ought to dissemble such things as constrain our solicitude." (Gelasius, Epist. v. ad. Honorium Dalmat. Episc.)

And also, in 579, we have Pope Pelagius II citing Luke 22 in relation to his own authority (Pelagius II, Quod Ad Dilectionem). As for the East's attitude toward the Popes' so-called "suspicious" use of Luke 22, -- In 710, we have Patriarch John VI of Constantinople calling Pope Constantine:

"...the Head of the Christian priesthood whom, in Peter, the Lord commanded to confirm his brethren." (John VI, Epist. ad Constantin. Pap. ap Combefis, Auctuar. Bibl. P.P. Graec. tom ii.)

We also have St. Theodore the Studite of Constantinople (759-826), who, along with the other monastic leaders of the Byzantine see, writes to Pope Paschal, saying...

"Hear, O Apostolic Head, divinely-appointed Shepherd of Christ’s sheep, keybearer of the Kingdom of Heaven, Rock of the Faith upon whom the Catholic Church is built. For Peter art thou, who adornest and governest the Chair of Peter. Hither, then, from the West, imitator of Christ, arise and repel not for ever (Ps. xliii. 23). To thee spake Christ our Lord: ‘And thou being one day converted, shalt strengthen thy brethren.’ Behold the hour and the place. Help us, thou that art set by God for this. Stretch forth thy hand so far as thou canst. Thou hast strength with God, through being the first of all." (Letter of St. Theodore and four other Abbots to Pope Paschal, Bk. ii Ep. 12, Patr. Graec. 99, 1152-3)

Now, with that established, let's turn the tables, James. :-) Can you produce any contemporary examples of someone objecting to these Popes' use of Luke 22? If you cannot, then how do you justify calling it "suspicious"??

JW> 7) You wrote: Now, while it is true that, in Matt 18:18, Jesus bestows a similar authority to "bind and loosen" upon all of the Apostles collectively, it is to Peter alone that Christ entrusts "the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." So, what are these Keys? What are they suppose to signify?" When, specifically, did Christ bestow the keys ALONE to Peter? The Greek verb in Matthew 16 is future in tense. Hence, if this does not take place in Matthew 18:18, when does it? And, can you cite patristic foundation for saying the keys differ in authority and meaning from the power of binding and loosing? >>

:-) First of all, the way you pose the question is shamefully deceptive, and based on an incorrect understanding of the Greek. In comparing Matt 16:19 and 18:18, the "bind/loose" statements are each arranged in two couplets. The first verb in the couplet is an active aorist and the second is a perfect passive participle which is best translated into English as a passive future perfect. Thus, the verses literally say "Whatever you bind on earth will have been bound in Heaven." The obvious meaning of the Matt 16:19 &18:18 statements is that whatever the Apostles (and their successors) bind upon the faithful (i.e., faith or morals) will not be their own teaching but what has already been bound upon the Church by God in eternity. So, I am overwhelmed by your misuse of the Greek.

Yet, to entertain your challenge....Peter officially received the "Keys" of the Kingdom upon Jesus' Ascension into Heaven. For example, in Acts 1:15-23, immediately after Jesus' Ascension, yet before the coming of the Holy Spirit, Peter takes charge of the infant Church and initiates the election for Judas' successor. Here, one cannot deny that Peter is acting as an organizer and unifier for the Church; and that he gives "spiritual nourishment" to the assembly by authoritatively interpreting the Psalms (Acts 1:20) --Psalms which say nothing about Judas or about their Apostolic mission. Thus, Peter is exhibiting a teaching authority which is independent of the OT Scriptures; and he does this before the Holy Spirit has supplied the Church with the charism to teach (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor 12:7-11).

So, Peter's primal authority (symbolized by the Keys) is manifested from the time of Jesus' Ascension onward. Just like the OT prime minister of the Kingdom, Peter can only act with the King's authority in the King's physical absence.

And the same is true for Matt 18:18, which is about the Church's authority to excommunicate. Do you think that Jesus intended the Church to use this authority while He was still on earth? If so, please produce an example of the Apostles excommunicating someone while Jesus was still among them. Would that not, rather, be Jesus' decision?

As for your problem with Peter alone receiving the Keys, in relation to Matt 18:18....I pointed out the following in my debate with Mr. Engwer:

"Mr. Engwer attacks the idea that Peter alone was given the Keys of the Kingdom by asserting that the Apostles' collective authority to "bind and loosen" (Matt 18:18) is part of the same imagery as "the Keys." Indeed, Engwer asks, 'How can they bind and loosen unless they hold the keys'? He then goes on to speak of the collective authority to "bind and loosen" exercised by the "key-holding" Jewish authorities in Luke 11:52 & Matt 23:1-3; and claims that Peter's possession of the Keys does not make him the Pope. Well, here Engwer is blinded by his anti-Papal prejudices, which lead him to see the Pope as some dictatorial force set over the Church, rather than being an organic part of the Church itself. Yes. Like the Jewish authorities, the Church collectively holds the Keys, in that Peter is part of this Church and acts along with it. Yet, the Church does not possess the Keys independently of Peter. It cannot "bind and loosen" to the exclusion of him --just as the Jewish authorities could not "bind and loosen" to the exclusion of the High Priest, who was the final arbiter of their authority (John 11:49-51 & Acts 23:3-5)."

Furthermore, look again at Isaiah 22's reference to the prime minister's authority:

"...I will place the Key of the House of David on his shoulder; when he opens, no one shall shut, and when he shuts, no one shall open."

This assumes that there are others who can "open and shut" (i.e., other royal ministers with authority). Yet, when the prime minister "opens and shuts," that's it. None of the other ministers can oppose his decision. Why? Because the prime minister holds the Key of the King's authority.

And so it is with the Apostles. In Matt 18:18, the Apostles (i.e., Christ's "royal ministers") are each given the authority to bind and loosen. Yet, Peter alone (the prime minister) holds the Key. Thus, he is the final authority among the ministers; and they cannot "bind & loosen" to the exclusion of him.

JW> 8) Why is there no citation of the only place in the NT where Isaiah 22 is actually cited (Revelation 3:7) in your presentation? I have found this a regular omission by RC apologists in presenting this unique argument. >>

Oh? :-) Well, as I also pointed out in my debate with Engwer,

"Mr. 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."

So, do you subscribe to an "either-or" interpretation, James? :-) Well, if so, then how do you reconcile Rev 3:7's unmistakable use of Isaiah 22 with the Kingship of Christ? The person who possesses the Key in Isaiah 22 is not the King, but the prime minister. Thus, is St. John saying that Jesus is merely the prime minister???? :-)

Furthermore, you do realize that we're not taking about physical keys here, right? :-)

Rather, this "Key" is merely a metaphor for "authority." Thus, when Jesus gives the Key (or Keys) to Peter, it does not mean that Christ Himself no longer possesses them. For example, if I hold the title of ownership to my car, yet allow you to drive it as my chauffeur, it's still my car. I still possess it. You are just driving it for me. Thus, Jesus' possession of the Key in Rev 3:7 does not mean that He is without a prime minister on earth. Such an interpretation would assume that, in giving the Keys to Peter, Jesus no longer possessed them Himself for a time; yet now somehow has them back in Rev 3:7.

Well, if that's what you think, please show me where the Scriptures depict Peter relinquishing the Keys of Matt 16 or returning them to Jesus.

And, indeed, James, I'm a bit puzzled about your own position on this issue, since you attack our interpretation without seeming to have an established interpretation of your own. For example,

You imply that:

A) The "Key" of Isaiah 22 is not the same thing as the "Keys" of Matt 16, whereas Jesus Himself possesses the Key of Isaiah 22 in Rev 3:7.

Well, if that's the case, then Jesus is merely a prime minister, or His own prime minister, since Rev 3:7 is a direct reference to Isaiah 22, which speaks about the prime minister, and not the King. But, in any event, you are clearly saying that Jesus alone holds authority and does not delegate it to anyone else.

Yet, you also imply:.

B) The power to "bind & loosen" in Matt 18:18 is the same thing as the Keys in Matt 16, and thus the Keys are shared equally by all the Apostles.

Yet, if "A" is correct, then neither Peter nor the Apostles (nor the Church) hold authoritative Keys or the power to bind and loosen, since (1) these Keys do not refer to the delegation of Christ's authority (per Isaiah 22) and (2) Jesus Himself holds the exclusive authority to "bind and loosen" represented by the Key of Rev 3:7 (which is the Key of Isaiah 22). And so, if Jesus alone holds this authority, He doesn't have any earthly representative(s); and thus Matt 16 & Matt 18 are empty, ephemeral promises which have no significance for us today.

So, which is it? :-) You can only hold to one or the other. Either we Catholics are confusing the Apostles' collective authority and foolishly applying it to Peter alone, or there is no bestowed authority, since Christ Himself possesses it exclusively (i.e., Rev 3:7). So, which is our error, James? It cannot be both.

JW> 9) You wrote: "Sometime around A.D. 90, St. Clement of Rome, who was (let us not forget) the Bishop of Rome, issued an epistle to the Corinthian church." Where does this epistle name Clement as bishop of Rome? Where does it say that Rome had a monarchical episcopate at this time? >>

James, you know very well that the Epistle itself does not name Clement as the bishop of Rome. Yet, why does it have to? The ancients knew very well who Clement was.

For example, shortly after Clement's death, St. Ignatius of Antioch makes reference to him in Chapter IV of his Epistle to the Philadelphians, writing:

"Virgins, have Christ alone before your eyes, and His Father in your prayers, being enlightened by the Spirit. May I have pleasure in your purity, as that of Elijiah, or as of Joshua the son of Nun, as of Melchizedek, or as of Elisha, as of Jeremiah, or as of John the Baptist, as of the Beloved Disciple, as of Timothy, as of Titus, as of Evodius, as of Clement, who departed this life in perfect chastity."

Here, Ignatius lists Clement along with Evodius, who was Ignatius' own predecessor as the monarchical bishop of Antioch. In the same list, we find Timothy, who was the monarchical bishop of Ephesus (e.g. 1 Tim 5:19-22) and Titus, who was the monarchical bishop of Crete (Titus1:5). And, even if you wish to dispute this, what cannot be denied is that, like Timothy, Titus, and Evodius, Clement was clearly a renowned and universally-known figure....or else Ignatius could not have cited him as an example to be imitated.

Similarly, Ireneaus of Lyon (the disciple of Polycarp, a contemporary of Ignatius and Clement) and Dionysius of Corinth (a contemporary of Ireneaus) both independently cite Clement as the author of the epistle and make reference to his fame.

In this, Ireneaus directly names Clement as the bishop of Rome, and Dionysius compares Clement's instructions to his native Corinthian church to those given by Soter, Bishop of Rome. Indeed, it is clear from the context of Dionysius' letter to Soter that Clement's epistle to the Corinthians was a cherished book in the Corinthian canon; and that the Corinthians were still using it some 80 years after it was sent to them. Do you honestly think they did this without knowing who Clement was??? :-)

And Ireneaus is not the only one to list Clement as the bishop of Rome. Thirty years earlier, Clement is independently named by Hegesippus in his list of the Roman succession. Hegesippus was yet another contemporary of Polycarp, and on intimate terms with both the Roman and the Corinthian churches. He writes:

"And the church of the Corinthians remained in the true Word when Primus was bishop in Corinth; I made their acquaintance during my journey to Rome, and remained with the Corinthians many days, in which we were refreshed with the true Word. And when I was in Rome, I made a [list of] succession up to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And in each succession, and in each city, all is according to the ordinances of the Law and the Prophets and the Lord" (Hegesippus in Euseb., IV, 22).

Therefore, since 1) Hegesippus, 2) Ireneaus, 3) Hippolytus, 4) Tertullian, 5) Jerome, 6) the Africanus ap. Eusebium, 7) Augustine, 8) the ap. Epiphanium, 9) Optatus, and 10) the Roman canon ALL identify Clement as the bishop of Rome, who are you to deny this? Can you cite any ancient source which disputes that Clement was bishop of Rome or identifies him as something else? If not, then you haven't a leg to stand on.

Indeed, James, this mythical "body of presbyters" which you and folks like Jason Engwer so love to cite is just that: mythical. It is a modernist, liberal "theory" (worthy of that ridiculous thing called "The Jesus Seminar"); and it is rooted in anti-Catholic prejudices and a poor reading of the Fathers. In fact, what you and the modernists have stumbled on is merely a problem of terminology, not of fact.

For example, in the NT period, it is clear that the terms "bishop" (overseer) and "presbyter" (elder/senior) were still fluent and used interchangably:

Titus 1:5-7: "For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you, on condition that a man be blameless, married only once, with believing children who are not accused of licentiousness or rebellious. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless, not arrogant, ....etc." (compare to 1 Tim 3:1-7 & 5:17-22)

Acts 20:17-28: "From Miletus he (Paul) had the presbyters of the church of Ephesus summoned. When they came to him, he addressed them, ' ...Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers (i.e., "bishops"), in which you tend the Church of God..."

Yet, while the terms "bishop" and "presbyter" were still interchangable, that doesn't mean that the NT-period churches did not have monarchial leaders who were the chief shepherds and final authorities in these individual city-churches.

For example, it is clear that James was the monarchial leader of the Jerusalem church after Peter's departure:

Acts 21:17-19: "When we reached Jerusalem the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day, Paul accompanied us on a visit to James, and all the presbyters were present. He greeted them and proceeded to tell them in detail what God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry."

Galatians 2:12: "For until some people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles..."

In the same way, it is clear that Timothy was the monarchial authority in Ephesus after Paul's departure from that city:

1 Tim 5:19-22: "Do not accept an accusation against a presbyter unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Reprimand publically those who do sin...Do not lay hands too readily on anyone..."

Yet, were these monarchial leaders (these "arch-presbyters," if you will) called "bishops" at this time? No. That would come later, via the terminology of Ignatius of Antioch. Yet, 'a rose by any other name doth smell as Catholic,' James. ;-)

For example, we know that Ignatius called Polycarp the "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: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied."

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

JW> 10) The *Church* of Rome was addressed by Ignatius. May I ask why you think Ignatius never mentioned the *bishop* of Rome? Could it be due to the fact that there was no monarchical episcopate in Rome at the time? >>

No, it could not. :-) I addressed this also in my debate with Engwer:

"This argument for this 'body of presbyters' rests chiefly on the fact that, in 107 A.D., St. Ignatius of Antioch does not address a bishop when he writes to the Roman church. Yet, there is a very good reason for this: He was protecting the Roman bishop from undo exposure. Remember, at this time, Ignatius himself, as the leading bishop of Asia, was an imperial prisoner being publicly exhibited as an example to the "dissident Christians." (This is why the imperial authorities transported him to Rome via overland route in the month of August, rather than by sea, as in the case of St. Paul). An exposed Bishop of Rome would have shared the same fate as Ignatius."

Yet, if you doubt that there was a singular bishop of Rome at this time, James, please explain Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians, Chapter III, where he writes:

" also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ." (Ignatius to the Ephesians Chap III).

I'd say that Rome was part of the "utmost bounds of the earth," wouldn't you? Indeed, for Ignatius, the term "bishop" always refers to the monarchical shepherd of a church. Thus, how do you explain this comment in Ignatius' Epistle to the Ephesians? :-)

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 presbytery 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. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans)


"Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ -- they are with the bishop...Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God...Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: 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 presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons." (St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1)

And, only about a decade earlier, this is the same three-fold ministry cited by Clement of Rome himself in 1 Clement 44:4, where he writes:

"He has Himself fixed by His supreme will the places and persons (the appointed presbyters) whom He desires for these celebrations, in order that all things may be done piously according to His good pleasure, and be acceptable to His will. So then those who offer their oblations at the appointed times are acceptable and blessed, but they follow the laws of the Master and do not sin. 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."

So, why does Clement of Rome speak of church ministers in terms of the Jewish "high priest," "priests," and "Levites" (in contrast to the laity) if there was merely a "body of presbyters" all equally governing the church of Rome? Your modernist "theory" has serious problems, James. ;-)

And, now that I've answered all your questions, James, would you do me the honor of letting me pose one in return?

You are obviously someone who is vastly familiar with the writings of the Church Fathers. Indeed, you have claimed that some of these Fathers (e.g. St. Athanasius) subscribed to Sola Scriptura and considered it to be their rule of faith. Therefore, can you please name a Church Father who is "orthodox" in your eyes. That is to say, can you please name a Church Father (or any ancient Christian) who shares the same faith as you (i.e., Reformed Baptist / Evangelical Christianity). After all, if there were Fathers who drew their faith from Scripture alone, and if you interpret the Scriptures correctly, then it serves to reason that they would arrive at the same faith as you (i.e., Reformed Baptist / Evangelical Christianity).

Your associate Mr. Engwer has already admitted that there were no ancient Evangelicals. Rather, he claims, "The Church Fathers taught a mixture of truth and error." Yet, if some of these Fathers held to Sola Scriptura (as you do), and if the Bible is indeed a source of objective truth, then at least one of them must mirror the faith which you hold today...If you are interpreting the Bible correctly, that is. :-) Therefore, can you name such a Father, James? :-) Thank you.


Mark J. Bonocore

P.S. Along with your signature, you posted the following from St. Gregory of Nyssa:

JW> Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-95): "...we make the Holy Scriptures the rule and the measure of every tenet; we necessarily fix our eyes upon that, and approve that alone which may be made to harmonize with the intention of those writings." ----On the Soul And the Resurrection >>

You evidently believe that this teaches Sola Scriptura. :-) How cute. Yet, against the heretic Eunomius, who tried to employ the Scriptures in order to "prove" that the Holy Spirit is not God, St. Gregory of Nyssa also says:

"For it is enough for proof of our statement, that the Tradition has come down to us from our fathers, handled on, like some inheritance, by succession from the apostles and the saints who came after them. They, on the other hand, who change their doctrines to this novelty, would need the support of arguments in abundance, if they were about to bring over to their views, not men light as dust, and unstable, but men of weight and steadiness: but so long as their statement is advanced without being established, and without being proved, who is so foolish and so brutish as to account the teaching of the evangelists and apostles, AND of those who have successively shone like lights in the churches, of less force than this undemonstrated nonsense?" (Gregory of Nyssa, Against Eunomius, 4:6)

and also

"Seeing, I say, that the Church teaches this in plain language, that the Only-begotten is essentially God, very God of the essence of the very God, how ought one who opposes Her decisions to overthrow the preconceived opinion?" (Against Eunomius 4:6)

Similarly, Gregory of Nyssa's own brother, St. Basil the Great, writes:

"Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the Tradition of the Apostles, handed on to us in Mystery (i.e., Sacramental Liturgy). In respect to piety both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten Traditions as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the Gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce the [Christian] message to a mere term" (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).

Do you seriously think that the Cappadocian fathers disagreed with each other? :-) Or isn't it more likely that you are wrenching St. Gregory Nyssa out of his intended context? For example, do the Scriptures teach Purgatory, James? :-) Well, St. Gregory of Nyssa did:

"...he [the departed soul] is not able to partake of divinity until he has been purged of the filthy contagion in his soul by purifying fire." (St. Gregory of Nyssa, Sermon on the Dead, 385 A.D.)

:-) How do you reconcile this with your quote from St. Gregory of Nyssa above?

JW> Sola Scriptura: A Fundamental Truth >>

"Fundamental truth" ? :-) Says who?

Maria num quad sadis

Mark Bonocore

See also Studies on the Early Papacy by Dom John Chapman
And The Primitive Church and the See of Peter by Luke Rivington

Also Answering James White on the Papacy, Sola Scriptura, Eucharist, and more....

Back to Apologetics Articles

Back to Home Page

About | Apologetics | Philosophy | Spirituality | Books | Audio | Links