"Let unity, the greatest good of all goods, be your preoccupation." - St. Ignatius of Antioch (Letter to St. Polycarp)

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Ecclesiological Trilemma

I recently discussed the notion of the "visible Church" with Jeff Cagle, a ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church of America, on his blog Butterfly House. (See the discussion here.) His position is that the Church is the set of all elect persons. As I argue in that discussion, his position entails that the Church is an abstract object, and his position faces a deep hermeneutical tension with respect to Matthew 16 and Matthew 18.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider the various ecclesiological possibilities, and their implications, in a stepwise fashion.

Either Christ founded an institution, or He did not.

If Christ did not found an institution, then there is not and never was such a thing as a "visible Church". There are only visible Christians. All existing Christian institutions were founded and formed by mere men. Each Christian may simply pick the institution that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught, according to the selection of writings that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught. Or, he may start his own institution. Or he may dispense with institutions altogether. There is no such thing as schism; all Christians are already one in Christ, invisibly. There is and never was any authoritative interpreter of Scripture or authoritative determination of heresy. The determination of what is heresy is relative to the individual interpreter, as is the determination of what is and is not part of the canon of Scripture. The goal of ecumenicism is agreement on some bare essentials (where what counts as bare essentials is determined by each individual), and social collaboration. There is no justification for seeking institutional unity (see here).

If Christ did found an institution, then either that institution has continued to the present day, or it has not.

If the institution that Christ founded has ceased to exist, then there is now no such thing as a "visible Church"; there are only visible Christians. All existing Christian institutions were founded and formed by mere men. Each Christian may simply pick the institution that he thinks best reflects what Christ taught, or start his own institution, or disregard Christian institutions altogether. Whatever canon of Scripture the institution Christ founded was using before it ceased to exist may or may not be reliable, since if the Holy Spirit didn't preserve the institution Christ founded, then there is no reason to assume that the Holy Spirit guided and preserved the formation of the canon. Again, there is no such thing as schism, only branches. Anyone can start his own branch. There is no minimum number of persons necessary to count as a branch; there can even be a "branch of one person". All Christians are already one in Christ, invisibly, regardless of their visible unity or degree of visible disunity. There is now no authoritative interpreter of Scripture or authoritative determination of heresy. Since the cessation of the Church that Christ founded, the determination of what is heresy is relative to the individual interpreter according to his personalized canon of Scripture. The goal of ecumenicism is agreement on some bare essentials (as determined by each individual), and social collaboration. Again, there is no justification for seeking to restore institutional unity (see here).

If Christ did found an institution, and that institution remains to this day, then there is such a thing as a "visible Church", and all Christians should be in full communion with this institution. There is such a thing as schism; to be in schism is not to be in full communion with this institution. There is an authoritative interpreter of Scripture; it is the Magisterium of this institution. There are authoritative determinations of what is heresy; they are the rulings of this Magisterium. The goal of ecumenicism is to bring all Christians into full communion with this institution.

Objection 1: Why isn't there a fourth possibility: Christ founded an institution and it still exists but is apostate? First, because that would entail that Christ put us in a position wherein we are forced to choose between the sin of heresy and the sin of schism. But Christ would never do that. Second, because the gates of hell will not prevail over what Christ Himself founded. And if the institution Christ founded fell into apostasy, the gates of hell would have prevailed over what Christ Himself founded. Third, because the cornerstone of the Church is Christ Himself, and so the Church cannot totter unless Christ totters. But Christ cannot totter. Therefore, this is not a fourth possibility.

Objection 2: Maybe those are the only three possibilities, but why couldn't it be that all the various Christian denominations are parts of the one institution Christ founded? First, because that would require either that there be no difference between many institutions existing within a single institution, and many institutions not existing within a single institution, or it would require that
if all the various Christian denominations were not part of the one institution Christ founded, there would be some institutional difference from what we see at present. But the former evacuates the meaning of institutional unity, and there is no conceivable institutional difference in the case of the latter. Second, I have already pointed out the problem with the notion of "mere Christianity" here. But without something like "mere Christianity", there is no principled difference between the 'branches' of the second half of the second millennium, and the schisms of the first millennium, as I have shown here. Third, because in many respects these various Christian denominations contradict each other. But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Therefore these various Christian denominations cannot be parts of the institution Christ founded.

For more on this subject, see the following three posts I wrote earlier this year:


Church and Jesus are Inseparable (January 8, 2008)

The Church: Catholic or Invisible? (March 28, 2008)

Christ Founded a Visible Church (May 10, 2008)

16 comments:

Devin Rose said...

Very clearly explained, Bryan.

I came to the same realization when deciding to convert to the Catholic Church: Either God did create and preserve a visible Church or He did not, and if not, then it's up to each person to make their best guess at to what is true and what is not in regards to faith and morals--a situation I believed God would never allow.

George Weis said...

Brian,

Would you also agree that their is an invisible elect also? Not everyone that is a member of a church can be actually a heaven bound individual can they?
My thought is certainly not. I know that isn't what the RCC teaches, give me some further words on that. If you already stated this, kindly ignore this comment!

-g-

Principium unitatis said...

Thanks Devin!

George,

You are right. We know that the wheat and the tares are together (Matt 13), until the Judgment, but we don't presume to know who is elect and who is not, except in the case of those saints whom the Church has canonized, whom we (Catholics) now know to be elect.

But in Catholic ecclesiology, the tares are presently in the Church. The Church will be purified, such that the tares are removed, and then after the Judgment, the Church will be constituted of the elect. But that time has not yet come.

So in Catholic ecclesiology there are not two Churches: one invisible, and one visible. There is one Church, at different stages: the present stage (during which the wheat and tares are together), and the future stage after the Judgment (after which no non-elect persons will be among its members).

Does that answer your question?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

J.M.W. said...

Re. your objection # 1 "but Christ would never do that." He did it once already with Old Covenant Israel. It fell into complete apostasy - read Ezekiel.

I'd love to see you interact with this issue of Credenda:

http://www.credenda.org/issues/12-1.php

Principium unitatis said...

JMW,

That was under the blood of bulls and goats. The Church was purchased by Christ's own blood, and founded on Him. The rains may come and the winds may blow, but this house will stand firm to the end, because it has Christ as its Cornerstone. He is its Head. This was the position of the Church Fathers.

As for the Credenda Agenga issue, any particular article?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

George Weis said...

Brian,
Yes that was a satisfactory answer to my question. I thank you for taking the time to tell me what Rome's position is on the subject!

May His peace be your peace!

-g-

Kim said...

Was this the article j.m.w. meant?

J.M.W. said...

The Thema and Non Est would probably be a good start.

God is the same yesterday, today and forever. Bulls and goats looked ahead to Christ as we look back to him. God allowed the Old Covenant church to apostatize. And yet there were faithful bands such as the Elijah/Elisa group who operated outside the Temple structure and maintained the truth.

Personally I think the Israel and Judah narratives present astounding parallels to church history.

Principium unitatis said...

JMW,

Of course God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But the New Covenant is not the same as the Old Covenant. Otherwise, nothing would distinguish them. The Church is a participation in the divine life of Christ the Son of God. That was not true of Israel of the Old Testament. It is precisely because the Church participates in the divine life of Christ that the gates of hell cannot prevail against it.

St. Augustine says, "The Church will totter when her foundation totters. But how shall Christ totter? ... as long as Christ does not totter, neither shall the Church totter in eternity." (Enarr. in Ps. 103, 2, 5) Elsewhere, writing about Psalm 48:9 (which is Psalm 48:8 in Protestant Bibles) St. Augustine says:

"Let not heretics insult, divided into parties, let them not exalt themselves who say, "Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there." (Matt 24:23) Whoso says, "Lo, here is Christ, or lo, there," invites to parties. Unity God promised. The kings are gathered together in one, not dissipated through schisms. But haply that city which has held the world, shall sometime be overthrown? Far be the thought! "God has founded it forever." If then God has founded it forever, why fearest thou lest the firmament should fall?"

And in his Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed (1:6), St. Augustine writes:

"The same is the holy Church, the one Church, the true Church, the catholic Church, fighting against all heresies: fight, it can; be fought down, it cannot. As for heresies, they all went out of it, like unprofitable branches pruned from the vine: but itself abides in its root, in its Vine, in its charity."

The Fathers believed that the Church was not just another "dispensation" in the Old Covenant, but the very inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, which Daniel spoke of that "it would stand forever" (Dan 2:44-45). This is the "everlasting covenant" (Isaiah 55:3; 61:8; Jer. 32:40). This kingdom is indestructible:

"There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, On the throne of David and over his kingdom, To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness From then on and forevermore." (Isaiah 9:7)

"And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed." (Dan 7:14)

"His descendants shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful." (Psalm 88:36-7, which is 89:36-7 in the Protestant Bible.)

The angel Gabriel told Mary that God would give Jesus "the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:32-33)

In all these places, we see that the Church that Christ founded is everlasting, and indestructible. Christ, who reigns in and through His Church which is His very Body, cannot fail.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

JMW,

Let's start with the Thema article.

Wilson is mistaken when he says:

The magisterium is the doctrinal application of the depositum fidei, itself revealed in both Scripture and Tradition.

The Apostles *were* the Magisterium, before the NT was written. The Magisterium is not the application of the depositum fidei; the Magisterium is the [human] source of the Scripture, and the steward of the depositum fidei. The depositum fidei didn't pre-exist the Apostles, except in the mind of Christ.

Later Wilson says:

What we have here is a letter from Paul the apostle to the Church at Rome, telling her that she is not the root, but simply another branch on the tree.

First, this letter to the Romans preceded St. Peter's handing over of the keys to St. Linus. Second, the promise to the Holy See (in virtue of the promise to St. Peter) is fully compatible with genuine warnings to individuals in that see. St. Paul is not speaking there in Romans 12 of the Church of Rome as a whole being cut off, but of Gentile individuals in the Church of Rome being cut off.

I didn't see anything else in the article that argued against the Catholic Church. (He did ask many questions, but questions are not arguments.) If you think I'm not addressing some other important objection in that article, please let me know.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium unitatis said...

JMW,

Continuing with Non est.

Jones starts the article with a deconstructive ad hominem:

I've noticed that the 'Roman solution' has a particular draw for those with a bit of a perfectionistic streak.

Starting off with a fallacy is not a good sign.

Now, regarding Isaiah 22, Jones writes:

Second, the passage works strongly against Rome. God is angry with the unfaithfulness of the current bearer of the keys, Shebna, and is replacing him with faithful Eliakim. If God can judge the one with the keys, and Rome wants this context for understanding Peter, then we'd have to say that God can cast off papal authority too.

Jones doesn't tell us who he thinks now has the keys. The passage doesn't show that just anyone can claim to have the keys. The office (i.e. the keys) remains, but God can replace the one who holds that office. In other words, God can replace one pope with another pope. With that any Catholic can agree.

Jones makes two other mistakes. First, he evaluates the Catholic Church's claims while ignoring the Fathers, as though they didn't know what the Apostles had passed on to them, or can't be trusted not to have distorted it. The fathers agreed that the Church was infallible when it (in general council) pronounced teaching for all the faithful on faith or morals. They also agreed that the Holy See was divinely protected from error on account of the divine promise to St. Peter. Trying to evaluate ecclesial infallibility from Scripture begs the question, by assuming that the Scripture was written to be a complete ecclesiastical guidebook. In other words, Jones assumes "sola scriptura" in order to evaluate the Catholic Church. But sola scriptura was not on the scene for 1500 years. Either the Apostles forgot to hand that on to the first-century bishops, or they never did hand it on, because it was never part of the deposit of faith.

Second, Jones thinks that the Church has authority, but then he feels free to reject what it says, particularly about infallibility. If he can pick and choice cafeteria -style from the teachings of the Magisterium, then in practice, it has no authority over him.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

The Dude said...

Hi Bryan,
A few questions related to your last 2 replies here.

I assume you agree we have sober warnings to NT churches (incl. the Roman) of the danger of being cut off and of the churches in Revelation being destroyed for their unfaithfulness. Is it your perspective that all these warnings in the NT only apply to Gentile individuals within those churches, and not the churches themselves? Also, regarding OT apostasy and NT indefectibility, if a qualitative difference exists between Israel and the Church, how do you explain Paul’s warnings to the church, that she not do precisely what the Israelites did, such as in 1 Cor 10?

Also, within your perspective on Christ's promise to Peter, how do you maintain that the OT saints were part of the church and Paul's warnings still hold today (I assume you affirm these propositions) without undercutting your own stance that the church Christ speaks of is somehow now indefectible; the "grafting in" language from Paul is directed not towards the OT saints being engrafted into the newly designed NT church, but rather the other way around. It just seems strange that one equates "the church" with the institution of the Roman communion whenever passages are in a positive light, but whenever threats/warnings/apostasy passages refer to "the church", it somehow doesn't apply to the institution (but maybe I'm incorrect in my view here since your reply might shed more light on what you've said so far in this thread).

Principium unitatis said...

"the dude",

Thanks for your comments. If you don't mind, I'll intersperse my comments.

I assume you agree we have sober warnings to NT churches (incl. the Roman) of the danger of being cut off and of the churches in Revelation being destroyed for their unfaithfulness.

I don't see such a warning to the Roman church as such in the NT.

Is it your perspective that all these warnings in the NT only apply to Gentile individuals within those churches, and not the churches themselves?

No. My comment about Gentile individuals had to do with understanding St. Paul's comments in his letter to the Romans.

Also, regarding OT apostasy and NT indefectibility, if a qualitative difference exists between Israel and the Church, how do you explain Paul’s warnings to the church, that she not do precisely what the Israelites did, such as in 1 Cor 10?

Your question seems to presume that St. Paul can legitimately use the OT examples as warnings *only if* there is no "qualitative difference" between OT Israel and Church. I don't see any justification for that presumption.

Also, within your perspective on Christ's promise to Peter, how do you maintain that the OT saints were part of the church and Paul's warnings still hold today (I assume you affirm these propositions) without undercutting your own stance that the church Christ speaks of is somehow now indefectible;

Individuals and even particular Churches can fall away, both into heresy or schism, and hence those warnings are real. But the gates of hell cannot prevail against the rock upon which Christ founded the Church. As I explained in a previous comment, the warnings even apply to the person sitting in the seat [cathedra] of St. Peter, but do not vitiate the promise to the office itself.

the "grafting in" language from Paul is directed not towards the OT saints being engrafted into the newly designed NT church, but rather the other way around.

True. But "among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matt 11:11; Luke 7:28) The OT saints were not in the Church, because it had not been founded. The Church is made out of the side of the Second Adam (see here), and Christ had not yet been sacrificed.

It just seems strange that one equates "the church" with the institution of the Roman communion whenever passages are in a positive light, but whenever threats/warnings/apostasy passages refer to "the church", it somehow doesn't apply to the institution

I think the difference in our methodology is that I'm including information from the fathers [see here] to help fill out the meaning of Christ's promise to Peter, and then using that to understand the nature and scope of the warning passages. That's why I don't see the warning passages as threatening the very papal chair (i.e. the office).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

The Dude said...

Hi Bryan,

"I don't see such a warning to the Roman church as such in the NT.
No. My comment about Gentile individuals had to do with understanding St. Paul's comments in his letter to the Romans."

Right, so the NT has warnings/threats to churches throughout. Is it then your belief that the ones issued in Romans only apply to Gentile individuals, but then the rest actually do apply to the churches themselves (as you say, particular churches can fall away, and particular individuals of course) which could indeed fall into error (the differing factor being they are not in Rome)?

"Your question seems to presume that St. Paul can legitimately use the OT examples as warnings *only if* there is no "qualitative difference" between OT Israel and Church. I don't see any justification for that presumption."

You're right - sloppy on my part - but *one* of the qualitative differences in the RC view is indefectibility, which the warnings (which are based on OT apostasy) naturally affect and must be addressed then. It just seems that would be a perfect opportunity for Paul to simply indicate the new ecclesiology at work now that the OT lacked which led to such apostasy. Just as an aside, given the lack of OT/intertestamental precedent where there was no equivalent of the RC magisterium, would you have to re-evaluate some of your arguments/philosophical objections to sola scriptura if you were operating only within that framework? If the *only* workable/logical rule of faith is a magisterium and office of infalliblity, then what of the rest of biblical history before Christ? Yes, the OT occasionally had inspired prophets, but that was sporadic, and it lacked any absolute/formal teaching authority and the intertestamental period had no office infallibly guiding people.

"Individuals and even particular Churches can fall away, both into heresy or schism, and hence those warnings are real. But the gates of hell cannot prevail against the rock upon which Christ founded the Church.As I explained in a previous comment, the warnings even apply to the person sitting in the seat [cathedra] of St. Peter, but do not vitiate the promise to the office itself."

Right, but once again the church here is equated with Rome on Christ's promise, whereas elsewhere when the church is referred to, it's just a particular church. For example, a common passage used in RC support is 1 Tim 3:15 - do you use this verse in supporting your view, or do you believe it applies to the church at Ephesus (in which case we should be looking for that church)? And, as Steve Hays has pointed out, actually there are quite a few links in the assumption that Christ's promise leads directly to the Roman Church:
1) The promise has reference to Peter.
2) The promise has exclusive reference to Peter.
3) The promise has reference to a Petrine office.
4) This office is perpetual
5) Peter resided in Rome
6) Peter was the bishop of Rome
7) Peter was the first bishop of Rome
8) There was only one bishop at a time
9) Peter was not a bishop anywhere else.
10) Peter ordained a successor
11) This ceremony transferred his official prerogatives to a successor.
12) The succession has remained unbroken up to the present day.

One broken link destroys the argument. You could appeal to the fathers as you rightly say later on, but of course the patristic testimony is far from overwhelming for the RC view as any EO or 19th century Anglican can tell you. I'm not saying you're wrong, but that is a long chain of what seems to be at best a lot of *possible* inferences upon which to base an entire foundation for a rule of faith. 12) in particular is difficult to verify - something I recently came across was that no documented record of episcopal lineage for popes/priests/bishops extends past the 16th century - http://mysite.verizon.net/res7gdmc/aposccs/ (also confirmed at www.catholic-hierarchy.org) which seems very odd given the weight the RCC puts on this issue (you would think they would have put all their resources on this during the Reformation and guilded the results).

Principium unitatis said...

"the dude",

Thanks for your comments. You write:

Is it then your belief that the ones issued in Romans only apply to Gentile individuals, but then the rest actually do apply to the churches themselves

It would be helpful for me if I knew exactly what warnings in Romans you are referring to, and also the warnings in the other NT books, so that we are not talking in vague generalities.

It just seems that would be a perfect opportunity for Paul to simply indicate the new ecclesiology at work now that the OT lacked which led to such apostasy.

Technically, that's an argument from silence. Moreover, it presumes that indefectibility and apostasy are incompatible, when, as I have explained above, they are compatible because they apply at different levels. All individuals are capable of apostasy. All particular Churches (save that one governed by the bishop having the "keys of the kingdom") are capable of apostasy. (And that is supported by the first millennium of Church history, wherein we see bishops of all the other apostolic sees falling into heresy at one point or another.) The particular Church led by the episcopal successor of St. Peter is indefectible, and in that way the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church (consisting of all those in communion with this bishop) is indefectible. Otherwise (if every particular Church were defectible), the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church would
be defectible, for the entirety of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church would be defectible. But, the gates of hell cannot prevail against the Church that Christ founded. And therefore the gates of hell cannot prevail against the office of its visible head. If any of the doctrine taught by her visible head (either by the pope ex cathedra or by all the bishops in communion with the pope) were heretical, then the gates of hell would have prevailed over her.

Just as an aside, given the lack of OT/intertestamental precedent where there was no equivalent of the RC magisterium, would you have to re-evaluate some of your arguments/philosophical objections to sola scriptura if you were operating only within that framework?

No. The soundness of my arguments, as best as I can tell, is compatible with the history of the OT/intertestamental period. If you think any of my arguments are unsound, I would like to see how and why.

If the *only* workable/logical rule of faith is a magisterium and office of infalliblity, then what of the rest of biblical history before Christ?

I never claimed that an infallible magisterium is the only workable/logical rule of faith. But it is clear that there was an Old Testament magisterium, which Jesus refers to as the "seat of Moses" (Matt 23:2-3).

Right, but once again the church here is equated with Rome on Christ's promise, whereas elsewhere when the church is referred to, it's just a particular church.

I'm not equating the referent of the word "Church" (in Matt 16:18) to the particular Church at Rome, but to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. We agree, I hope, that Christ founded only one Church. He has only one bride. The gates of hell will not prevail over the Church that Christ founded. And the Church that Christ founded is built on the office of Peter the Rock, the holder of the "keys of the kingdom" which Christ gave to Peter and which have been passed down since. So the gates of hell will not prevail against the universal Church, because they will not prevail against this Rock, and it is with this Rock that all Christians should be in communion.

For example, a common passage used in RC support is 1 Tim 3:15 - do you use this verse in supporting your view, or do you believe it applies to the church at Ephesus (in which case we should be looking for that church)?

The reference in that passage is to the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, not the particular Church in Ephesus.

And, as Steve Hays has pointed out, actually there are quite a few links in the assumption that Christ's promise leads directly to the Roman Church:
1) The promise has reference to Peter.


Since Jesus is speaking directly to Peter, there is no reason to think Jesus' is not making this promise to Peter, and giving the keys to Peter.

2) The promise has exclusive reference to Peter.

The pronouns in the Greek are singular. But the promise doesn't die with Peter; it also applies to Peter's successors.

3) The promise has reference to a Petrine office.

If Judas had an office (Acts 1:20), a fortiori so would Peter.

4) This office is perpetual

This has been the teaching of the Church from the beginning, that the bishops were the successors and heirs of the Apostles.

5) Peter resided in Rome
6) Peter was the bishop of Rome
7) Peter was the first bishop of Rome


This comes to us from the Tradition of the Church.

8) There was only one bishop at a time

The simultaneous presence of multiple bishops is fully compatible with one bishop having a primacy of authority.

9) Peter was not a bishop anywhere else.

Peter's being a bishop elsewhere [at an earlier time] is fully compatible with the Catholic teaching that he deposited the keys in the Church at Rome.

10) Peter ordained a successor
11) This ceremony transferred his official prerogatives to a successor.


This too is from the Church's tradition.

12) The succession has remained unbroken up to the present day.

This too is from the Church's Tradition.

One broken link destroys the argument. You could appeal to the fathers as you rightly say later on, but of course the patristic testimony is far from overwhelming for the RC view as any EO or 19th century Anglican can tell you.

What we're striving for is the *truth*; we're not striving only for truth that is supported by "overwhelming" evidence. I think the early Church evidence for the universal acceptance of papal primacy is quite strong. I'd be glad to discuss this if you wish.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but that is a long chain of what seems to be at best a lot of *possible* inferences upon which to base an entire foundation for a rule of faith.

Well, instead of speculating, let's look at each one, one at a time.

What is your proposed alternative to the Catholic Church? Which Church do you think is the one that Christ founded? Or do you believe that Christ founded an invisible Church? What Peter said of Jesus "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (John 6:68) applies likewise to the Church Christ built on Peter. To whom else shall we go?

12) in particular is difficult to verify - something I recently came across was that no documented record of episcopal lineage for popes/priests/bishops extends past the 16th century - http://mysite.verizon.net/res7gdmc/aposccs/ (also confirmed at www.catholic-hierarchy.org) which seems very odd given the weight the RCC puts on this issue (you would think they would have put all their resources on this during the Reformation and guilded the results).

The authority of the Catholic Church does not depend upon whether she can provide documentary proof to you (or anyone else) that she is from the Apostles and Christ. The Apostles didn't have documentary *proof* that they were from Christ. Neither did the bishops whom the Apostles appointed. The bishops of the early Church could give you the list of successive bishops that had held the chairs in the apostolic Churches (see here), and we can do the same today with the bishop of Rome (see here). But that is not the same as giving a genealogy of sacramental succession, or documentary proof thereof.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Iohannes said...

"the dude,"

I think it comes down to the view one takes of development. If Newman was right, then apparent historical discrepancies can be explained one way or another. On the other hand, if theories like Newman's are mistaken, then the traditional claims of Rome do not fare as well under historical scrutiny.

Bryan,

You probably are aware of this, but the thesis that Rome never fell into heresy is disputed. Pope Honorius's seeming condemnation as a Monothelite heretic was one of the major obstacles to the definition of papal infallibility. That episode troubled the historian Döllinger, whose response to Vatican I is well known.