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

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

On Starting Points and Reconciliation

We cannot but start where we are. And that is also true for each participant in an ecumenical dialogue aimed at effecting true unity. So we first have to know where we ourselves are, and then we have to learn where our interlocutors are. That requires an openness, a willingness to listen patiently and sincerely, and learn each other's positions. If we find our interlocutor saying "No, that's a straw man of my position; my position is this", we know we have to listen and understand more carefully. But once we understand each other's positions, where do go from there? The next step, it seems, is to find and agree about what we have in common, and what are our points of disagreement. We seek to understand each other's stories about how we came to be separated, again noting the points of agreement and disagreement regarding how the separation came about.

It seems to me that so much (perhaps most) of the ecumenical task in reconciling and reuniting Protestants and Catholics involves what I have just summarized in the paragraph above. In order to move forward toward the unity of full communion, we have to look backward in time and determine together what happened in the past that caused us to be presently divided from each other.

In the Protestant mind, the Catholic Church at some point during the Middle Ages (or earlier) abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Reformers recovered this gospel, and thus the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church continues with the Protestants who hold and teach this gospel. From the point of view of the Catholic Church, on the other hand, the Catholic Church never abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ. According to the Catholic Church, the Protestant versions of the gospel are novelties arising 1500 years after the Apostles, and are falsely read back into the writings of the Apostles by Protestants.

Did the Catholic Church abandon the gospel? (I'm not referring to abuses and corruptions of the sixteenth century, but to the doctrines of the Church.) Or did the early Protestants misinterpret the Scripture and thereby redefine the gospel as something that it never was (e.g. "imputed righteousness")? Instead of jumping right into that debate, I would like to take a step back and ask the second-order question: How should we determine who is right here? How do we go about answering these first-order questions about whether the Catholic Church abandoned the gospel and whether Protestants misinterpreted the Bible to come up with a novel gospel?

If the Catholic Church did not abandon the gospel, then the Protestant ecclesial authorities (i.e. denominational hierarchies, pastors, and uniquely Protestant creeds) are not authoritative, and we should not be following them in order to resolve the Catholic-Protestant schism. Likewise, if the Catholic Church did abandon the gospel (and for the sake of simplicity we set aside the Orthodox), and if the Protestants preserved the gospel, then Catholics should not be submitting to the Pope and Catholic bishops in order to answer these first-order questions.

Instead of turning to the pope or local Catholic bishops, or turning to Protestant authorities or our own interpretation of Scripture, we need a means of answering the first-order questions that does not beg the question, that is, does not assume already at the outset which position is correct. We could each simply stand right where we are, appeal to our present [unique credal and/or ecclesial] authority and present methodology, respectively, and answer the first-order questions. But that would only beg the question (i.e. assume precisely what it is we are trying to determine) on both sides, and thus perpetuate the division between us. That is because it is precisely our present credal and/or ecclesial authorities and present unique epistemic methodologies that are called into question by a sincere consideration of our first-order questions. Although we must start where we are, when resolving disagreements we must recognize that we have to go back, so to speak, to how we got to the point where we are. Taking up our history is in this way part of coming to know and understand where we are now.

That brings me to what I want to say here about ecumenical starting points. How do we get to a non-question-begging starting point? It seems to me that we must turn to history, to that time before the separation, when we (well, actually our ecclesial ancestors) were still united. Only if we go back (so to speak) in history to the point where we were united can we then proceed forward discursively and evaluate together, from a shared conceptual point of view according to shared (and thus non-question-begging) criteria, the actions of our ancestors in our respective ecclesial traditions. But we need to agree on where we can start in history as one united people. And in the Catholic-Protestant discourse, that is not as easy as it may initially appear.

Let me explain. In January, on the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, I discussed here the need for Catholics and Protestants to trace together our history, from Jesus through the Apostles all the way to the sixteenth century. There I talked about the difference between "tracing matter" and "comparing form" in determining in a principled manner, in the case of a schism, which party is the schism and which is the continuation of the Church that Christ founded. In the comments there I wrote:

The Catholic-Protestant discussion is, in a certain sense more difficult, because Protestants (generally) don't "trace matter", but rather "compare form". Anglicans are something of an exception here. But often Protestants, when talking with Catholics about these issues, will bring up the 1054 split, as though that shows that the Catholic Church is just one branch of the Church. So, already, they are thinking of the Church as an invisible Church with visible members. And that implies that they are not thinking in a "trace matter" manner, since there is an historical line that can be drawn from *any* schism back to the Apostles. "Trace matter" therefore doesn't just mean showing historical continuity. It means showing in a principled manner why the Church continues one way, and not the other, through all the schisms she has endured. In order to "trace matter" with Protestants through the 16th century split [i.e. in order to determine which way the Church went], Protestants would actually need to get up to the 1500s with us [in this exercise of tracing the historical path of the Church]. But generally they don't make it that far. See, for example, my discussion of ecclesial deism, in which Al Mohler bails out around 500 AD. While the Catholic-Protestant split takes place in the 16th century, many Protestants retroactively reject the prior 1000 years. So, I think with Protestants, we have to go back to the first five hundred years, i.e. to the Church fathers. When we study the fathers, we see an organic growth and continuity, nothing to justify bailing out at 500 AD and then restarting (supposedly) in 1520 where the Church left off in 500 AD.

So one reason why it is difficult to start with Protestants from a shared and united point in history, and then work forward, is that in principle, for Protestants, everything in Church history is called into question except the writings of the Apostles. So in practice that means that we have to begin our ecumenical exercise in the first century, and trace the path forward together from the time of the Apostles.

When I am talking with Mormons (who claim that the Church was already apostate by the end of the first century), I ask them how they know that St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Clement of Rome, the Didache, and St. Polycarp were apostate. Other than a subjective appeal to the Holy Spirit (which they describe experientially as a "burning in the bosom"), the answer I generally receive is one of "comparing form". The Mormons claim that the early Church fathers teach a different gospel from the one found in the New Testament. I then ask them how they know that the gospel taught by the early Church fathers is not the same gospel taught by the Apostles, and that the Mormon interpretation of the New Testament is not an erroneous interpretation of the New Testament. The point of my question is to show that there are two paradigms here: one is that of [what I call] ecclesial deism, and the other is that of providential development. These correspond to two fundamental possible stances: We can either read the New Testament through the eyes of the fathers, learning from them how better to understand what the Apostles taught, or we can judge and critique the teachings of the fathers by means of our own personal interpretation of Scripture or our contemporary tradition's interpretation of Scripture. (I came to that same conclusion about these two fundamental stances in Part 2 of What is the True Church?.)

There are obviously many important differences between Mormonism and the various other forms of Protestantism, but they do tend to have something in common, and that is a distrust of the early Church fathers, and a belief that something fundamental was lost for at least a millennium and a half, and was recovered in either the sixteenth century or the nineteenth century. (Think of Alister McGrath's claim that "imputed righteousness" [forensic justification] was unknown from the time of St. Paul to the Reformation, that it fell out of view for 1500 years.) I discussed this shared distrust of the fathers in my post on ecclesial deism. At present, I do not know how to persuade those who take a skeptical stance toward the early Church fathers to trust that the Holy Spirit was working through them providentially to guide the Church into all truth. A stance (or attitude, or disposition of the will) is not the same sort of thing as a proposition. A proposition can be refuted or at least shown to be without justification, or it can be substantiated and confirmed. But a stance or attitude is just not that sort of thing; it is something closer to the level of the heart, not the intellect.

Perhaps the best I can do is to ask my Prostestant brothers and sisters to engage in an exercise in charity, for the sake of trying to achieve unity, by allowing themselves to listen to the fathers as if the Holy Spirit were providentially guiding the Church through the fathers. I'm not talking about cherry-picking from the fathers to support any present ideology. I mean listening to the fathers in an organic way inspired by faith, that is, as if the Church is a Body growing organically and guided providentially by the Holy Spirit from the time of the Apostles onward. (The 'faith' part comes from trusting that the Holy Spirit is continually guiding the Church and protecting her from error.)

How then do the fathers understand the marks of the Church? Do they do so by "comparing form" or "tracing matter"? Do they understand 'apostolicity' primarily in the "trace matter" sense or the "comparing form" sense? I leave the inquirer to answer that question through his own reading of the fathers. But consider the implications of each alternative. If "comparing form" were primary, then every heresy in history could treat its novel interpretation of Scripture as the true gospel that had been lost when the Apostles died, and thus we could not trace the Church through history in a non-question-begging way. Protestants are not unwilling to concede that point. But they respond in two ways. First, they assert the perspicuity of Scripture so as to avoid the implication of an ecclesiology instituted by Christ that obviously leaves the sheep in a situation of massive confusion and endless sectarianism. Second, they object that the "trace matter" approach leaves the believer open to falling into heresy, if the line of bishops being traced has fallen into heresy or apostasy.

But the perspicuity claim seems to be falsified by history itself, for Bible-believing Christians have multiplied sects in vast number, and simply pointing to the various passages in Scripture has failed repeatedly to achieve reconciliation and reunion. Similarly, the worry about the "trace matter" approach carries with it the same distrust we see in Mormonism and the general ecclesial deism of Protestantism. That's not to say that from the Catholic perspective, bishops cannot become heretics; history shows us that they have! But heresy is possible as something objective only if "trace matter" is primary. Otherwise your heresy is my orthodoxy, and vice versa. Heresy in an objective, non-question-begging sense is possible only because ecclesial authority in the "trace matter" sense (and not in the question-begging "those who teach what I believe" sense) has already laid down what is orthodox and what is heresy.

One thing that helped me move from Anglicanism to Catholicism was witnessing an Anglican bishop pick and choose from the first seven ecumenical councils, as if he could take and leave whatever he wanted among them and within them. Either these councils are authoritative, in which case we cannot pick and choose from them, or they are not authoritative. If "comparing form" is the right approach (and not "tracing matter"), then no creed is authoritative, because no council is authoritative. But if "tracing matter" is the right approach, then the creeds and councils are authoritative, not because they happen to agree with our own interpretation of Scripture but because of the sacramental authority in succession from the Apostles of those who constituted these councils. In that case we cannot pick and choose from among these councils according to our own interpretation of Scripture; our own interpretation of Scripture is subordinate in authority to that of the councils. How would we know if an ecumenical council were heretical? It would contradict a dogma that had always been held by the Church and/or had been explicitly taught by the Church's magisterium.

What I am trying to do here in this post is to take us (Protestants and Catholics) to a common starting point, one that does not beg the question either way. And then walk forward together with the Church fathers, using the criteria they use to determine where is the Church in the first centuries. As we walk forward together through the early history of the Church, we can observe what the fathers's conception of apostolic succession is, and what role apostolic succession is playing in determining the identity through time of the Church that Christ founded. That will help us when we come to evaluating the events of the 16th century, by providing shared common ground by which we may mutually evaluate those events and sort them in such a way as to be able to say sincerely to each other, with full agreement: "Ok, you were right about this, but wrong about that. We were right about this but wrong about that. In order to be reconciled and reunited, here's what we need to do." We can't stand nowhere in evaluating these things. We have to stand somewhere. And we should not remain in a starting point in which we assume a priori some theological position that arose in the sixteenth century, even if that is the starting point in which we find ourselves upon entering the ecumenical dialogue. In order for our ecumenical dialogue to be fruitful, we have to find a shared starting point. And that shared starting point, I am arguing, should be that of the early Church, from which point we trace together her organic development and unfolding by the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, please help Protestants and Catholics sense the pain of the wound of our present separation. And by your Holy Spirit, help us make peace and be reunited to each other, in truth and charity and trust. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


jmw said...

This assumes that we can know what the Fathers thought. We have a sliver of their thinking preserved. We know nothing of vast writings that may have been lost, sermons that were never recorded due to location, and so forth. What we have preserved is what later generations chose to preserve due to the reigning thought of their day. It would be like living 2,000 years from now in a gay tolerant America where anti-homosexual literature had not been preserved and assuming that we knew what the dominant thought of the past had been.
History is vast and the church was in many places. Text, sermons, thoughts, expositions were lost in great amounts. Assuming that we can "know" what some unitary body we call 'the Fathers' thought is not necessarily true. Not to mention that they bought into errors such as being wrong about the age of Jesus.

Principium Unitatis said...


I don't see justification for such suspicion of the fathers, or pessimism concerning the way in which their extant writings accurately reflect their thought. These are the same people who determined and preserved the canon of the NT. If we shouldn't trust them, then we shouldn't trust the canon. Have you read the available writings of the fathers through the first three centuries? When the fathers write letters, they clearly presume that Christians in other cities believe the same things that they believe. It seems to me that this idea you are proposing that the beliefs of the fathers diverged widely is not a safe assumption. That is especially so for the basic 'catholic' beliefs and practices of the Church. I think we can know, for example, what the fathers thought about apostolic succession -- follow the link in my post.

If you fundamentally disagree with me (about turning to the fathers to find common ground and an ecumenical starting point), what is your proposal for how we should go about effecting reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

contrarian 78 said...

My thoughts on the issue of skepticism about the Fathers is that one needs to take the implications of that perspective into account. If there is no grounds for trusting the writings of Christians in the first five centuries or so, we are all doomed to skepticism in general. In any other historical analysis, one places more trust in the eyewitnesses and their successors on an issue vs. one retrospectively analyzing through the filter of one's own cultural, intellectual, and philosophical milieu. For some reason, some Christians think that approach will lead to more truth than being in fellowship with the Apostles. 1 John 1 comes to mind, as John does not solely call us to fellowship with God, but the the Apostles. That the people in the next generation who knew John and Paul and Peter claimed to have a similar sense of unity and fellowship is undeniable. What is deniable is that that is meaningful. But if we consider the implications of viewing them as wandering stars with no light to shine, we can see the fruitlessness of even our own efforts.

CD-Host said...

Bryan --

Interesting enough I'd argue that what you are proposing is exactly what the Protestant community is doing. If you read the 16th century Protestants they are basically Catholic with some minor areas of disagreement. Primarily on issues having to deal with nationalism vs. a unified Christiandom.

As time goes on the have examined more and more of the historical doctrines and rejected more and more of them. You give an example of scripture being preserved, so I'll use that. The faith that scripture was fully preserved started to be questioned in the 18th century. By the 19th century textual criticism was being aggressively applied to variants and the received text / vulgate was being questioned. Today virtually every protestant bible (and most catholic bibles) is based on the UBS's reconstruction of scripture (currently the NA27). That is the assumption is that scripture has not been preserved but at least an early 3rd century version can be reconstructed.

At the same time just as in the 18th century questions were starting to be raised about verses within books you see questions being raised today about the choice of books in the canon. There are several bibles that now include Thomas. At the same time the pastorial epistles as being authentic are widely rejected.

So I'd argue the Protestant community is doing what you ask, though it is taking a long time. What they are finding in their search is that they go back further an ancient world very much like the modern with dozens of sects and subsects each with their scriptures and interpretation of scripture dialogging with one another and forming their faith relative to one another. That is a model consistent with the Protestant world, though not one consistent with its theology.

John Bugay said...

Bryan, I am glad you are looking to history to find that “common starting point.” I would suggest, at a minimum, that you begin to look at the groundbreaking work of Peter Lampe, in his definitive work on the earliest church in Rome: “From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries.”

Lampe says: "The fractionation in Rome favored a collegial presbyterial system of governance and prevented for a long time, until the second half of the second century, the development of a monarchical episcopacy in the city. Victor (c. 189-99) was the first who, after faint-hearted attempts by Eleutherus (c. 175-89), Soter (c. 166-75), and Anicetus (c. 155-66), energetically stepped forward as monarchical bishop and (at times, only because he was incited from the outside) attempted to place the different groups in the city under his supervision or, where that was not possible, to draw a line by means of excommunication. Before the second half of the second century there was in Rome no monarchical episcopacy for the circles mutually bound in fellowship.”

Lampe's work here, from 1987, is considered by virtually everyone to be the definitive work on the subject.

More: “The list of Irenaeus (Haer.3.3.3) is with highest probability a historical construction from the 180’s, when the monarchical episcopacy developed in Rome. Above all, the framework of “apostolic” twelve members (from Linus to Eleutherus) points in the direction of a fictive construction. The names that were woven into the construction were certainly not freely invented, but were borrowed from the tradition of the city of Rome… They had belonged to presbyters of Roman church history. These persons, however, would never have understood themselves as monarchical leaders – especially Pius at the time of Hermas.” (Lampe, pg 406)

In follow-up work, the Catholic historian Klaus Schatz, in his work on papal primacy, affirms that Catholic and non-Catholic Scholars agree that:

"The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter's lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter's death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably "no."...

"If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter's death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church's rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer....

"If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no." (From "Papal Primacy, pg 1)

Schatz goes on to point out that, if one is looking for a “peg” in the early church, on which to model a future Primacy, it exists with the regional Council of Sardica in 342. He is not even very definite about that.

Rome used to say this was an “unbroken chain.” Today Rome says it is aware of “the development of the papacy.” What I would suggest to you that these writers are saying here is that there is, early on, a severe break in the “Apostolic Succession” chain – a chain which, to bear the kind of weight you are putting on it today, ought to have no question at all regarding its pedigree.

These two studies by leading historians should have a lot of impact in your effort to “go back in history” to see what was going on back then. I would hope that you would begin your ecumenical study with these two authors.

Principium Unitatis said...


Thanks. But I'm not talking about going back to contemporary secondary sources, but to primary sources. Replacing appeals to ecclesial authorities with appeals to present academic authorities is not a non-question-begging approach, for these academics also bring their philosophical and theological assumptions to their work.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John Bugay said...

I do not see how you can refuse to take these sources into account and still consider yourself as honest with the sources. Not only the two that I cited, but the Catholic historians Eamon Duffy (who calls much of what circulated for truth about Peter "pious fiction" and also Paul Johnson wrote extensively about "fictions" in succession lists.

I would not for a minute dismiss the sincerity of the early fathers. But for you to dismiss these sources is tantamount for you to be accepting fiction as history.

In such a dialog as you are proposing, this really, really seems to be a dishonest thing.

That does not seem to me to be a very good thing at all on which to base one's faith.

Anonymous said...

These comments only exemplify Bryan's point that the issue at hand has more to do with heart than intellect.

He proposes a way to seek common ground and Protestants respond "We can't trust the fathers only modern scholarship".

John Bugay said...

Tim, I did not say, "we can't trust the fathers, only modern scholarship." What I did say was, I don't doubt their sincerity, but some very good CATHOLIC modern scholarship (aside from Protestant sources) does propose some (more than) viable alternatives to reading them "de fide". Not to consider that is the equivalent of burying one's head in the sand.

What's all this about "to be deep in history" but "ignore the historians"?

Grifman said...


I disagree that we can disregard the work of historians/scholars because they have their own "theological and philosophical baggage". Using that logic we should ignore what any historian says - or what anyone else says about anything, because we all have our baggage. Do you really want to take that position?

In addition, the authors cited are not discussing theology or philosophy but are instead investigating historical evidence and reaching conclusions. How can you disregard their work if you say that we must go back to history? Why shouldn't we consider the evidence and opinions of scholars in matters such as this?

If you think their theological and philosophical baggage is influencing their historical conclusions, then you are free to show that bias, or provide historical evidence which refutes our counters their conclusions. If you can provide better evidence, then more power to you, and may the person with the best evidence win. But I don't think you can just ignore them by appealing to primary sources.

Lastly, I'll add that your own position can be turned against the Fathers. After all, they have their own theological and philosophical baggage. Should we disregard them also on this basis? I don't think so, but your position forces you to do so to be consistent, doesn't it?

If we are going to take an historical approach, I think it is only reasonable to sort through all the evidence that can be brought to bear on the subject at hand.

Anonymous said...

I have read the German guy's book and one of the thing's that gave me pause, and I think should give anyone with a high view of Scripture pause, is his methodology, which he applies to Scripture (particularly the Gospels) every bit as much as the Fathers and leads him to dismiss much of the data either as spurious and / or a latter development from within the changing communities.

He does accept the modern papacy, and argues that it can be reconciled with the historical data (along certain lines).

I think that Bryan's idea of returning to the sources is to do so sans the suspicions of modern historiography, and especially to forgo cherry-picking just those suspicions which align with our own ecclesiastical position. To cite a few modern authors and then invite Catholics, or anyone else, to "read up or bury your head in the sand" is not the thing, not the thing at all.

Grifman said...

Who's talking about cherry picking? All I think John is saying is that if we are going to talk history, let's look at all the evidence. Put all the evidence on the table and have at it. Papal pontifications, protestant protestations, founding Fathers, skeptical scholars, whatever. If an argument can't stand up to evidence, it's not much of an argument to begin with.

And I think the comment about "burying one's head in the sand" was directed towards Bryan's rather curt dismissal of what historians might have to say on the matter.

Alexei said...

Jesus wept...

John Bugay said...

"IF any Bishop should ordain for money, and put to sale a grace which cannot be sold, and for money ordain a bishop, or chorepiscopus, or presbyters, or deacons, or any other of those who are counted among the clergy; or if through lust of gain he should nominate for money a steward, or advocate, or prosmonarius, or any one whatever who is on the roll of the Church, let him who is convicted of this forfeit his own rank; and let him who is ordained be nothing profited by the purchased ordination or promotion; but let him be removed from the dignity or charge he has obtained for money. And if any one should be found negotiating such shameful and unlawful transactions, let him also, if he is a clergyman, be deposed from his rank, and if he is a layman or monk, let him be anathematized." (Council of Chalcedon, 2)

"election to the chair of Peter, as we have seen, was frequently a commodity for sale or barter...Benedict IX (1032-48), whose election was the result of a systematic campaign of bribery by his father, the Tusculan grandee Count Alberic III, was as bad as any of the popes of the preceding 'dark century'. Like his uncle and immediate predecessor John XIX, Benedict was a layman, and was still in his twenties at the time of his election. He was both violent and debauched, and even the Roman populace, hardened as they were to unedifying papal behaviour, could not stomach him. He was eventually deposed in favour of Silvester III (1045). With the help of his family's private army, he was briefly restored in 1045 amid bloody hand-to-hand fighting in the streets of Rome. He was evidently tired of the struggle, however, for he accepted a bribe to abdicate in favour of his godfather, the archpriest John Gratian....The spread of nepotism and of venal appointments to the cardinalate, in return for money or favours, made the outcome of elections towards the end of the century even less likely to reflect a simple search for 'God's candidate'. In the 1484 conclave which elected Innocent VIII (1484-92) there were a record twenty-five cardinals present, many of them scandalously secular men. Proceedings were stage-managed by Giuliano della Rovere, nephew of the dead Pope. When it became clear that he himself was unelectable, he saw to it that a manageable nonentity was chosen. The successful candidate, Cardinal Cibo, bribed electors by countersigning petitions for promotion brought to him in his cell the night before the decisive vote. Roderigo Borgia's election as Alexander VI in 1492 was accompanied by even more naked bribery." (Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes [New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997], pp. 87, 149)

Research by Jason Engwer

John Bugay said...

It is Rome itself, with its unwarranted claims, which is the cause for the disunity that you see:

In its 28th canon, the Council of Chalcedon said that the Roman church had a primacy *given* to it by the fathers, and the council elevated Constantinople to the same primacy, with Constantinople being second only in chronology and honor, not jurisdiction:

"Following in all things the decisions of the holy Fathers, and acknowledging the canon, which has been just read, of the One Hundred and Fifty Bishops beloved-of-God (who assembled in the imperial city of Constantinople, which is New Rome, in the time of the Emperor Theodosius of happy memory), we also do enact and decree the same things concerning the privileges of the most holy Church of Constantinople, which is New Rome. For the Fathers rightly granted privileges to the throne of old Rome, because it was the royal city. And the One Hundred and Fifty most religious Bishops, actuated by the same consideration, gave equal privileges (isa presbeia) to the most holy throne of New Rome, justly judging that the city which is honoured with the Sovereignty and the Senate, and enjoys equal privileges with the old imperial Rome, should in ecclesiastical matters also be magnified as she is, and rank next after her"

The bishop of Rome at the time, Leo I, opposed this canon of the council, but the canon was passed and widely accepted anyway. Roman Catholic historian Robert Eno wrote:

"The easterners seemed to attach a great deal of importance to obtaining Leo's approval of the canon, given the flattering terms in which they sought it. Even though they failed to obtain it, they regarded it as valid and canonical anyway." (The Rise of the Papacy [Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1990], p. 117)

The Roman Catholic scholar William La Due:

"Pope Leo's victory in the doctrinal arena was frustrated by the setback he suffered through canon 28." (The Chair of Saint Peter [Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999], p. 301)

Roman Catholic historian Klaus Schatz:

"Rome's opposition to the canon was a complete failure" (Papal Primacy [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996], p. 48)

In his own writings after the council, Leo I acknowledged that canon 28 was widely accepted in spite of his rejection of it (http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/NPNF2-14/Npnf2-14-106.htm#P5374_1107913).

(Research by Jason Engwer)

Tom B. said...


I'm game. I was even reading a little early fathers last night before bed time...

Peace in Christ,

contrarian 78 said...

If I may respond to Mr. Bugay's list of issues about Church history--

1) He lists an anathema of those who sell ordinations, and then shows that bishops and popes were indeed ordained through money.

2) He discusses the 28th canon of the council of Chalcedon.

Regarding 1), anathemas are not matters of our faith or our morals. Secondly, even if this condemned particular bishops, how does this change the truth of our faith? Did Judas' apostasy lead us astray? Infallibility does not guarantee the salvation of all those who are ordained by God to lead His Church. It refers to their office as leader of His Church.

Regarding 2), I think this is the sort of historical event that is worth investigating. I had only recently heard about this aspect of Chalcedon, and would appreciate more investigation of this important council.

Here are my two thoughts on the issue. We should also be quick to note that many other elements of Chalcedon vindicate Leo as the successor of Peter, just starting with the basis of it being called as a response to the Robber Council of 449. I could go on but don't have my favorite book at hand, and know that others will defend this principle more clearly.

More directly to the matter of the 28th canon, reading the text of that Canon shows a very interesting final clause when it says that Constantinople should "rank next after her".

Ok, so that says that Istanbul should be #2. How that unsettles Rome's primacy is beyond me. That it would be opposed by Leo is not surprising, especially when we look back to how long that place flowered as a seat of Christianity. Rome still stands, albeit surrounded by a relatively post-Christian country. The Hagia Sofia is now a mosque.

Those are my initial thoughts on the matter.


Eric Telfer said...

To be fair, Bryan Cross did not say that one should not take contemporary sources into account. He did not dismiss the contemporary sources across the board. He did not propose that we ignore the historians. Rather, it seems reasonable, as with most scholarship, to give priority to primary sources. Further, we must keep in mind the philosophical and theological assumptions of contemporary works, avoiding the chronological snobbery that is so common. Furthermore, we must keep in mind who claims to have ecclesial authority and who does not. I do not, for example. Some do, however. Knowing that I lack such authority, i.e., an office of authority within the Church, which is the pillar and bullwark of truth, what am I to do when confronted with such authority?

John B. wrote:

'It is Rome itself, with its unwarranted claims, which is the cause for the disunity that you see:'

The only cause? Is the Catholic Church the cause of all of the division amongst Protestants also? The cause of Protestants and Orthodox not being united as well? Would all or most Protestants be willing to unite doctrinally with the Orthodox Church? The Anglican Church?

Beyond that, where there are people there will be disagreements and mistakes and poor ways of handling disputes. The human element sometims masks the divine element, unfortunately. The Catholic Church does not claim to be perfect and has apologized for its part in some of this by way of JP II, as I recall. Now it is time to let unity weigh on our hearts and to search for truth in love, recalling to mind Christ's prayer for unity and the many injunctions in the Bible to walk in unity, to follow the tradition given, to follow the doctrine given, to be of one spirit, to eat of one bread, to be one body, to be united by one baptism, etc.

There is so much diversity amongst Protestants that I would not expect all to agree on any single starting point. And it appears here that some are not willing to allow the Church Fathers to be the starting point. But I think other Protestants might be willing to start there, remembering that it is a starting point, not a finishing point, the purpose of which is to understand without misconception, what the other side is saying and why they are saying it.


Anonymous said...


Like I said, cherry-picking. I call to witness John's tried and tired citations, from which nothing prejudicial to Catholic dogma necessarily follows.

Eric Telfer said...

I would also ask

(1) what 'unwarranted claims' John B. has in mind here,

(2) whether or not any Protestants or other non-Catholics have made 'unwarranted claims', on John's view,

(3) what makes the claims unwarranted, and

(4) by what authority John speaks on such matters, as compared to others with whom he disagrees.


Grifman said...

Witness accepted. The prior citations were on topic IMO, but right now John's verred off topic. We can all drag out the old arguments used by either side but that's not going to get us very far, which was the purpose of Bryan's request to start where he wanted to start.

John Bugay said...

If it seems like I am "cherry picking," consider that I posted two items, on the legitimacy of the papacy (not on "Catholic dogma").

This is the comment section on a discussion board, and between the historical citations I listed earlier, and these last two illustrations from Chalcedon, I would suggest that there was an incredible amount of resistance to the whole idea of the papacy, over hundreds of years.

Canon 2 of Chalcedon is not about "indulgences," as was stated. It says that those who buy their office are anathema. In conjunction with that, I cited Duffy, a Catholic Historian, who listed a number of "bishops" of Rome, who "bought their offices." You all ought to be appalled at this, not making excuses for it, or dismissing it in any way.

Note also from Chalcedon's 28th canon, that Rome's "first among equals" status was not based on any theological reason, but on political factors. This contradicts later teaching on the papacy.

I assure you, I "cherry picked" these two examples because they put the authority of a council clearly in the way of claims by Roman bishops to some kind of supremacy. There are hundreds more.

This is a forum devoted to "unity." But the way you are dismissing these citations, as if they are "tired," is more a sign of your own unwillingness to investigate the dark underside of your own "tradition."

Oso Famoso said...

Almost of all of John Bugay's assumptions are based on a refusal to align his understanding of Catholic dogmas with the actual dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church. I've read his blog carefully. The Catholicism that John is attacking is not the Catholicism of reality but rather a poorly constructed mischaracterization. It should be noted that 9 times out of 10 the scholars he cites draw conclusions that are opposed to his conclusions about their work.

I've tried to correct his vision of Catholicism if only for him to admit the realities but have not been met with sucess.

This renders dialog impossible since he is not actually even talking about the same Catholicism.

contrarian 78 said...

Mr. Bugay,

The word indulgences was not only not used by me when discussing (and attempting to refute) your interpretation of Canon 2, it appears nowhere else on this thread but on your most recent post accusing someone (if not me, I don't know who) of interpreting Canon 2 to being about indulgences.

I offered a substantive response to your quotations, and hope to see the same from you or someone else who defends Protestantism.


CD-Host said...

OK this seems to be going in a circle. What about the United Bible Society as a reasonable starting point? That is a group that includes Protestants and Catholics, has made forward progress, has resolved difficult issues, and has credibility across a very wide range of Christians: Catholic, all major Protestant denominations and even non Protestant denominations like Jehovah's witnesses, SDA...

That looks like success to me. A standard: theological neutrality, academic evidence and respect for but not subservience to tradition seems to have worked on resolving a major issue. Today we have a Greek New Testament that everyone can believe in. Why isn't that a reasonable model for a way forward?

And I'd argue that this is what ecumenical councils used to look like. They solved issues by bring all sides together to search common ground; not attempting to dictate policy to one another.

John Bugay said...

The place to begin is at the beginning. What’s the Catholic story of the beginning? Peter took the commission – “on this rock I will build my church … feed my sheep …” Moves to Rome, sets up shop. Lays hands on the next guy: Linus. Anacletus. Clement, etc. etc. Popes one and all.

Even that, according to Eamon Duffy, a Catholic historian, is a pious fiction. Duffy says, “All the essential claims of the modern papacy, it might seem, are contained in this Gospel saying about the Rock, and in Irenaeus’ account of the apostolic pedigree of the early bishops of Rome. Yet matters are not so simple. (“Saints & Sinners, 2)

In fact, stories about Peter which “were accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church – Origen, Ambrose, Augustine” were “pious romance,” and he continues, “ALL the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles at Rome.” (2)

Now, please keep this in mind as we consider ALL of the authority that the pope has, in the words of Gregory VII – “That the Roman church has never erred, nor, by Scripture’s testimony, will it ever err.” Now, you may try to convince me that you still thoroughly believe for theological reasons that the Catholic Church has given – that the “dogma” of the papacy is still intact.

Consider how “Tradition” is transmitted – consider how “Succession” happened. The history looks very much as if Peter succeed into thin air for 120 years, and the boastful claims picked up around the year 200. Where did the “papal authority” go?

I will tell you that Rome has a current story about this, and it is different from the old one.

In truth, I could go on and on with citations, from Catholic and Protestant scholars from Duffy to Klaus Schatz to Peter Lampe (whose account is universally recognized as the definitive account) to J.N.D. Kelly. All of these say, and I am summarizing, the Roman church was a network of house churches, led by a “presbyterial” style network of elders. The list that Irenaeus cited (it was not his list) was “with highest probability, a fictional construction. It was not until Victor until even a “weak” attempt was made to exercise primacy, and that was

The former Princeton and Westminster scholar J. Gresham Machen said, “the student of the New Testament is primarily a historian.” And in fact, thanks to some of the “historical Jesus” quests, both Jesus and the history of the New Testament, having undergone a thorough historical examination, have only had their historical reliability enhanced

On the other hand, historical scrutiny of the early papacy has turned up nothing but “pious fiction” and worse.

I am not citing “a few modern authors.” I am citing the very best historians in the early church business. I am very comfortable in this place. I am very comfortable with the works I have cited. Because both the East and the Protestants all agree that the papacy was harmful to unity and even illegitimate. You don’t have to take my word for this. I am not making things up. If any of you wants to do a historical search into this, you are free to do so. Or not.

John Bugay said...

Andrew Preslar: “Of the German guy’s book” it was said that “all modern discussion of the issues (regarding the earliest Roman church) must now start from the exhaustive and persuasive analysis by Peter Lampe.” I do not know what your qualifications are, but I am less likely to accept your “pause” about it without some thorough interaction.

Contrarian: I don’t recall having mentioned any names. I apologize for the “indulgences” comment, I must have been responding to something else. Regarding your suggestion that “the condemned bishops” did not “change the truth” of the faith, it seems as if any old fiend is sanctioned to remain in office as pope or bishop, so long as they don’t contribute something to “the teaching” on faith or morals. Their own presence there is, uh, accepted and embraced. (And in the case of popes, absolutely needed, to retain the claims of “unbroken succession.”) As far as Chalcedon’s ranking, Rome got first place, but not for theological reasons – it was for political reasons. But this is in direct contradiction with Vatican I.

Eric Telfer: If not “the only cause,” then “a significant cause” of disunity. One cannot imagine a “reformation” of the proportions that we had within an Orthodox type of collegiality. The illegitimacy (recognized by the Orthodox) of the papacy itself, then the iron rule of the inquisition, and the absolute corruption of the later medieval popes, all helped to motivate those running away from Rome to run further and faster. No the Catholic Church “does not claim to be perfect” but it claims infallibility in all matters of faith and morals. Is it a matter of faith that we accept the teaching of the pope, with the papacy having begun the way that it did?

I have watched, and I have not seen “the Catholic Church” apologize for anything. JPII apologized quite frequently for “the sins of the children of the church.” But there was no apologies for “the sins of the Church.” If I am wrong about this, if you can produce such an apology, I’ll be happy to take a look at it.

John Bugay said...

Oso Famoso: “Almost of all of John Bugay's assumptions are based on a refusal to align his understanding of Catholic dogmas with the actual dogmatic teaching of the Catholic Church.”

I’m not sure if you realize this, but I grew up Catholic, very nearly attended a Catholic seminary, attended Opus Dei for several years, and was absolutely a model Catholic in every way. You are perfectly free to cite chapter and verse here, and say precisely what it is that I am misunderstanding. What are the “nine times out of 10” of those scholars I disagree with? Perhaps you mean that individuals like Duffy and Schatz and Johnson all are still committed Catholics, in spite of what their research produces. So what does that mean? If you want to do the kind of research that they do, and still remain loyal to Rome, you are free to do so. My own sympathies now lie very strongly with those who consider the claims of the popes of Rome to be, well, false. There is good historical reason to hold this position.

CD-Host said...

John --

OK this is supposed to be about dialogue. So lets look at worst case scenario. Purely secular.

1) There are a bunch of proto-Christian sects running around the 1st century BCE.

2) Somewhere around 50 CE +/- 100 years some books get written by "Paul" that are widely accepted by most of these communities as authoritative. These communities that accept those writings self identify as Christian.

3) The Christian communities have city wide leaders "bishops" fairly early. Some but not all of the sects accept the leadership of the bishops, but there does seem widespread awareness of their existence by the 2nd century CE. Those Bishops seem to associate themselves with Peter as being their founder, other groups choose other legendary or actual founders (Mary Magdalene being a popular alternative).

4) The sects coalesce somewhere around the 3rd century into the Catholic church which identifies itself with Peter as its founder and some other minor sects which proceed to mostly die off over the next few hundred years.

That is absolute worst case....

And that's pretty darn close to the Catholic position.


Now if you want to pious fiction. Lets look at the bible. In the gospels we have this supernatural man being running around doing rather impressive things, that ends with major civil disturbances like dead people rising from their graves and a mass riot in front of Pilate's residence that gets roughly 0 attention from secular sources.

Or maybe Revelations which has some zingers like stars falling to earth. Now the stars being spoken of are the ones visible from 1/3rd of the way across the galaxy that would instantly sterilize the Earth if they were within Saturn's orbit.

I'm sorry but you have a bad case of the pot calling the kettle black in terms of pious fiction.

If we are going to be skeptical then lets apply the same standard to both sides. No there is absolutely no evidence for apostolic succession in any meaningful historical sense. But the secular we have is relatively consistent with the broad outlines of the Catholic story.

On the other hand the secular history we have is totally inconsistent with either the historical or scientific claims of the Bible in broad outlines. No Moses, no Joshua, no 10 lost tribes, no david, no solomon, no Pilate / Herod / Jesus story, no census and 3 wiseman....

So do you want to operate within the myth or in the harsh daylight of pure history?

Oso Famoso said...


What, pray tell, is the first century evidence that exists (from the first century) that prooves the premise that "there was no single bishop in Rome for well after a century of the apostles?"

Because, I can cite extant Church history which blatently opposes this novel notion....

"The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth ... But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger."

Clement of Rome, Pope, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1 (c. A.D. 96).

"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love..."

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue (A.D. 110).

"There is extant also another epistle written by Dionysius to the Romans, and addressed to Soter, who was bishop at that time. We cannot do better than to subjoin some passages from this epistle…In this same epistle he makes mention also of Clement's epistle to the Corinthians, showing that it had been the custom from the beginning to read it in the church. His words are as follows: To-day we have passed the Lord's holy day, in which we have read your epistle. From it, whenever we read it, we shall always be able to draw advice, as also from the former epistle, which was written to us through

Clement.' Dionysius of Corinth, To Pope Soter (A.D. 171).

"Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre- eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere."

Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:3:2 (A.D. 180).

"A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Saviour's Passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Saviour...Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicated.”

Pope Victor & Easter (c. A.D. 195).

Now. Please present the evidence that all these guys were lying or making it up as some sort of vast and highly organized conspiracy.

Jason Stellman said...

Speaking of question-begging, Bryan....

How can you advocate reading the fathers and concluding one thing (i.e., apotolic succession is true) while dismissing as biased a historian who reads the fathers and concludes something else (i.e., apostolic succession is false)?

This is about the most obvious example of question-begging I have seen, for you are assuming that YOU can read the fathers and divine their true meaning, while those who read them and disagree are bringing baggage to the table.

Isn't your historical metholodology suspiciously like the Protestant's exegetical methodology? If we can't read the Bible and figure out its basic message, how can you read the fathers and figure out theirs? Are you just smarter than the rest of us?

John Bugay said...

Regarding Clement, Ignatius, and Irenaeus:

"Rome was the hub of the empire, the natural centre for anyone with a message to spread." (Duffy, 11.)

"The church in Rome, even under persecution, was wealthy. Because of the cosmopolitan nature of the Christian community there, the Roman church was especially aware of the ecumenical character of the faith, its faith spread through the whole Roman world. That awareness lay behind the Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians in ad 96, which was a demonstration of the Roman church's sense of responsibility for other churches. The Roman community continued to show that broad concern in practical ways ... the Bishop of Rome ... was an increasingly influential person ... able to use the fact that the Emperor Commodus' mistress, Marcia, was a Christian, to get Christian prisoners released .... The habit of appealing to the Bishop of Rome in doctrinal disputes ... sprang both from the sense of the dignity of a community which had inherited not only teaching but the eloquent blood of the two Apostles, and, more mundanely, from the fact that the Pope was an im portant grandee, a patron. But the prestige of the church of Rome was not at this stage primarily a matter of the bishop's status or authority. It was the church of Rome as a whole which basked in the glory of the Apostles and commanded the respect of other second- and third-century Christian communities." (Duffy 17.)

"First Clement, from the end of the first century, presents itself as a letter from the community written in the first person plural ("we")... although written by one individual, as a genuinely communal work." (Lampe 206, 217).

The church at Rome was spread out broadly across the city. (It was a large geographic area.) "...in the capital city of Rome, [we have identified] at least seven separate islands of Christianity... There is nowhere any indication of a central location for the different groups scattered over the city ... the 15 to 20 pre-Constantinian titular house churches ... [he provides maps] are indebted to private individuals who put space at the disposal of house communities..." This fractionation "favored a collegial presbyterial sytem of governance, and prevented for a long time, until the second half of the second century, the development of a monarchical episcopacy in the city... This Christianity, conscious of spiritual fellowship within the city, is summed up under the concept "ecclesia," but that changes nothing in regard to the plurality of those presiding over it... Hermas knows the human side of the presiders: They quarrel about status and honor (Vis. 3.9.7-10; Sim. 8.7.4-6). (Lampe, 360-361, 364, 397-398)

The list you cite given by Irenaeus "is suspiciously tidy ... Well into the third century Christianity in Rome would remain turbulent, diverse, prone to split." (Duffy 14).

It is "is with highest probability a historical construction from the 180's ... Above all, the framework of 'apostolic' twelve members (from Linus to Eleutherus) points in the direction of a fictive construction. The names that were woven into the construction were certainly not freely invented but were borrowed from the tradition of the city ... These persons, however, would have never understood themselves as monarchical leader." (Lampe 406)

Regarding Victor, do you know who Valentinus was? He was a gnostic leader. "The Valentinian Florinus extols his community with the "psychic" Christians of Rome ... He flatters himself with the fact that he labors as a presbyter in union with Bishop Victor... Unhampered, Florinius circulated his Valentinian writings ... It was quite a long time before Victor took offense at Florinus. Significant is the manner in which that occurred. First, an outsider, Irenaeus from Gaul, incited Victor to intervene against Florinius, and to suppress his writing. Victor 'obeyed' ... Of further interest is that Irenaeus insinuated that Victor had not read any of Florinus's Valentinian writings (Lampe 389).

So, Oso, again you stretch what I am trying to say. I said neither "lying" nor " highly organized conspiracy." The evidence given here supports a series of unique and natural developments which show how and why the Roman church gained its prominence, apart from the theologies that were later superimposed upon it.

This is the "development" upon which the infallibility of the whole Roman Catholic church is based. It is quite different from the "unbroken succession" that was claimed in earlier years.

And, in the spirit of the unity of this blog, I submit to you all, again, that Roman claims of authority, which had their roots in the fights "among equals" as to who was greatest, continued in a highly political fashion into the third and fourth centuries. This is how Rome achieved its "primacy of honor," written about at Chalcedon.

John Bugay said...

CD -- I am glad to see that you accept the "purely secular" "worst case scenario" that you present as "pretty darn close to the Catholic position." Some of the folks here simply will not accept it.

Regarding your trashing of the Bible, I am aware that there is a school of thought that also adopts this position. I am also aware that Catholic Biblical Scholars (those sanctioned by the "Holy See") are largely of the "Historical Critical" hermeneutic, which is the same hermeneutic used by the Protestant Liberal scholars that so deeply damaged Protestantism in the 19th century. I am thinking of names like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, and Luke Timothy Johnson. David Wells, commenting shortly after Vatican II said, "Present-day Catholicism, on its progressive side, is teaching many of the ideas which the Liberal Protestants espoused in the last century. Though progressive Catholics are largely unaware of their liberal Protestant stepbrothers, the family resemblance is nevertheless there. Since these ideas hav eonly come into vogue in Catholicism in the last two decades, they appear brialliantly fresh and innovative. To a Protestant, whether he approves or disapproves of them, they are old hat. ("Revolution in Rome," 1972, pg 8).

However, the best Protestant scholarship now disagrees with you that "the secular history we have" regarding the Old Testament is "totally inconsistent" with historical or scientific claims. There is a huge amount of documentary (historical, archeological, etc.) evidence to support both Old and New Testaments. Certainly there are objections. But, with one recent Biblical commentator, "Because there are so many historical referents in the biblical text, it is entirely proper to seek relevant background information where such information would be shared by the human authors and readers... The Bible is historically conditioned." Historical investigation supports "the Bible's sufficiency and clarity ... Because the Bible was graciously given to us by God in a lengthy series of specific historical contexts, significant light can be shed" through historical investigation. (New Bible Commentary, 21st Century edition, ed. Wenham, Motyer, Carson, and France, emphasis in original).

In short, the Biblical narrative (OT and NT) is supported by historical investigation. Historical analysis has very much confirmed the more conservative accounts of the New Testament (and even the OT). The increasing body of knowledge about the "pious histories" about Peter, however, have Catholicism has had to alter its narrative significantly (i.e., "Thou art Peter, "unbroken succession") and thus is altering its theology to more adequately deal with the history.

That is the point I was making. In this current environment, one can confidently be a Christian, expressing the utmost faith in the Biblical sources, without doing any harm to the intellect. Giving one's total assent to the Catholic church (with docility, no less!) is much more problematic.

Principium Unitatis said...


Perhaps you misunderstood me. I have not "dismissed" anyone. What I am trying to do is find common ground and a non-question-begging starting point from which we can examine the questions that separate us. My own experience in academia gives me concern that relying on contemporary secondary sources is not a non-question-begging approach. I do not deny that their work is valuable in many respects, and helpful for sorting out various questions. But as soon as contemporary academics become the authorities by which the Protestant-Catholic disagreement is adjudicated, it only pushes the question back: Whose academics, and how do we adjudicate between the various academics in a non-question-begging manner? Every denomination has its academics, even Mormons. And there are liberal Catholic academics as well as orthodox Catholic academics.

I do not think (nor did I claim) that I myself do not "bring baggage" to the question. I have not proposed myself as an authority of any sort. I'm trying to be a peacemaker, and so trying to propose a way in which we can pursue unity. I've witnessed many debates between Catholics and Protestants, and they are generally not very fruitful. And, in my opinion, the reason they are not fruitful is because both sides are working in distinct paradigms. And the effect of being in distinct paradigms is that evidence presented by one side is interpreted through the paradigm of the other side. The paradigms themselves are almost never compared. So what I'm proposing is a way of comparing the paradigms, not from some hypothetical abstract neutral view-from-nowhere, nor from our own present-day divergent points of view, but from the point of view of the early Church as it grows in history. If we go back (so to speak) to that point, and work forward together, then we can trace the development and separation of the two paradigms, and be in a position to determine mutually which is the continuation of the Church that Christ founded.

Jason, I would think you would be entirely on board with what I'm proposing. If you think Scripture is perspicuous, then it would seem that you would think that of the Fathers too. If you disagree (at this point) with what I claimed about apostolic succession, then how are we going to try to pursue agreement about this question? My proposal is that together we examine the fathers, starting from the first century, and try to see what they said about this subject.

I'm sorry I haven't been able to interact with much of this discussion -- I'm dealing with pressing demands in preparation from the upcoming academic semester. But I would ask that we all try to raise the level of charity and good will. Expressing disagreement here is fine. But remember, our goal here is to bring about unity. So, don't just leave it at "I think you're wrong"; suggest your own positive proposal for how we can determine which is the Church that Christ founded, and how Protestants and Catholics can be reconciled. We're coming up on 500 years of being separated -- let's redouble our efforts to find ways to be reconciled and reunited in truth and charity.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

OK Bryon I'll play. But if we are going to talk, let make them real early Christians not imaginary Catholics. Lets go back 1900 years: it is Aug 15th, 108 CE. OK so lets call our guy Korah. I'll pick a neutral Christian sect, he's Sethian (at this point the Sethians haven't broken off from the church and won't during Korah's lifetime).

OK he believes in the OT but uses books like Apocalypse of Adam as part of his interpretative framework. His family was strongly and the wisdom traditions of Philo. He is enthusiastic to discover their is a whole world of people that also believe that God sent an emanation of himself through to save the world and definitely wants to be a part of that global Christian movement. The literature of Paul has been eagerly accepted and while not seen as fully on par with holy writ it has been unquestionably influential. In fact some of the people in the community are currently rewriting Sophia texts in terms of Jesus. Korah has mixed feelings:
Perhaps this Jesus is just another name for Sophia?
Perhaps Jesus is another way of realizing Sophia?
Perhaps the scriptures regarding the messiah have been misread?

In the end if the community decides to focus on Jesus and abandon Sophia he will OK with it. He is aware the Christian bishop in Alexandria, leaders from his community have even spoken with him and consider him well educated in the scriptures. This dialogue with the followers of Paul will be fruitful.

OK Bryan your move. We've stepped back to the Christianity of 1900 years ago. How does this help?

Principium Unitatis said...


(Would you mind providing your real name, so we can have a real person-to-person conversation? Thanks.)

Do you think that the Sethians were founded by the Apostles and received their doctrine from the Apostles? If not, then since neither do I, there is no need for us to begin with the Sethians. We could begin instead with the writings of St. Clement, the Didache, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, the writings of St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Ireneus, and Hippolytus and other late first-century through second century fathers.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

CD-Host said...

St. Clement, the Didache, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Polycarp, the Shepherd of Hermas, the writings of St. Justin Martyr, Tertullian, St. Ireneus, and Hippolytus and other late first-century through second century fathers.

Notice for most of that list you are now close 2 generations further along in Christian development. You are also over 100 years removed from the apostles. If you start looking at books from modern Protestants (like Pagan Christianity, by Frank Viola, George Barna) they have the church become substantially corrupted very quickly.

Heck you can even look at John Bugay's argument here. He's fully agrees that by about 160 you have hierarchical Bishops answerable to Rome. His disagreement is over the 130 years between that and when Peter became head of the church in your view. Those are the years in question.

Do you think that the Sethians were founded by the Apostles and received their doctrine from the Apostles?

I think you are begging the question by arguing the only legitimate religion is one founded on apostolic succession. That was one of the key notions rejected by the reformation.

But even if we assuming the most important thing about a church is who founded it, Seth and Enoch go back a lot further than Peter. Seth knew Adam and Enoch was so cool that he was bodily taken up into heaven. So if the game is who had a better mythical founder I gotta tell you, they win.

Now if it is just apostles that count even questions of who were the apostles were in dispute during that time period.

The Sethians work because they have a high opinion of scripture from which they derived their doctrines, they also have an independent literary tradition. But most importantly because they don't end up as part of the church we can trace them through time. There is no other group that is all that is possible for.

In the end you suggested was a list of leaders whose ideology supported the battles the church engaged in during the late 2nd - 5th century. That is to say those that support Catholic positions and oppose proto-protestant ones. Ireneus argues for a hierarchy: "One God means One Bishop and make sure you do good licking my boots clean". Is your point just that Catholicism grew out of the beliefs of its founders? Well yeah, isn't that obvious?

Your suggestion was to go back and look at early Christianity, not proto-Catholicism. The fact is you consider the two to be synonyms which is one of the presuppositions that you talk about. I'm sensing that for you Proto-Protestantism isn't authentic while proto-Catholicism is.

Sure I was having a bit of fun, but that's not all that unrepresentative of what early Christianity looked liked. I could have picked one of magical sects that were interested in secret baptisms and the mystical rites so that the holy spirit would descend on them in the form of a bird, just as easily. 1st and 2nd century Christianity is not Catholicism yet. As I pointed out in the post to your branches thread many of the ideas that become parts of Protestantism come from the Reform movement from the Cathars from the Bogomills from the "early heretics".

So at least to me, what is sounds like you really meant was you want to ignore most of early Christianity and only look at those pieces which became part of the orthodox Catholic church. And if that is the investigation, then yes that is going to lead to Catholic doctrine. The whole point Luther made during the reformation was the church had become gradually polluted. Where modern Protestants differ is they see this as having happened much more quickly.

One more quick points:

The Didache which was on your list, doesn't support your position at all. That's a highly egalitarian document that supports all believers in their search for the truth. I don't see any evidence of that book supporting a permanent monarchy to rule over all Christianity in perpetuity.

And you can use Collin D. Host if you want a name for some reason. I like to make my blog about ideas not people.

Jason Stellman said...


Don't get me wrong, I do think your proposal is helpful, and one I hadn't thought of to be perfectly honest. And I'm not even closed-minded about being convinced that the early fathers "smell" more Catholic than Protestant.

But I think that secondary sources need to be brought in to the discussion at some point, especially since they are able to see a good chunk of the big picture, being removed from it by some time. And as far as baggage goes, most of John's sources were RC, meaning that their own dogmatic interests would not be served by simply dismissing apostolic succession the way you seemed to dismiss their conclusions about apostolic succession.

And finally, the moment you read the fathers and conclude something, that conclusion becomes a secondary source, does it not? Sometimes I wonder whether our "hermeneutic of suspicion" has clouded the entire issue. Like, what if we could actually read the Bible and get its basic message (or or that matter, the fathers)?

John Bugay said...

Bryan, I think your approach has some merit, and I would very much like to see what Jason has to say in this type of forum. I would hope, though, that if someone starts saying "Pope St. Clement" (I am quoting Bishop Wuerl here), that you would at least cast a stern eye on it.

To begin with, I think that your goal of finding "which is the Church that Christ founded" should be expanded to include a definition of "church" (not "Church") that encompasses Reformed and even Reformed Baptist conceptions of the early church. Because I think that an argument could be made that the earliest church, scattered about Asia and Europe and Africa was not more than a loose collection of congregations that had Apostolic (or sub-Apostolic) teaching and rudimentary collections of Scriptures (LXX, and eventually Gospels, Paul's letters, with no question at all about "canon" or the "authority" to determine such).

Principium Unitatis said...


I don't think that ideas and persons can ever be fully separated. All dialogue is between persons, and it involves the character of the participants. The more I know about you, the more I can determine your credibility, your sincerity, your authenticity, and likewise the same is true the more you know about me. For principled reasons, I am not a fan of anonymous internet debate. It artificially separates persons from ideas and arguments, and in this way it assumes a false anthropology, as if we are mere intellects, and not embodied beings with feelings and biases and emotions, character, histories, etc.

I'm not going to play any hypothetical games. What I am looking for is common ground. If you don't think the Sethites were founded by the Apostles, then there is just no reason for us (you and I) to start with the Sethites or any other gnostic group. Moreover, I haven't said anything about papal primacy. That's completely beyond the scope of what I'm proposing here at this point. I'm aware of what Barna and Viola say. I'm not sure why you bring them up unless you agree with them. I'm not talking with them; I'm talking with you. Do you think the Church became "substantially corrupted" by the mid-second century? If not, then let's try to understand what these early fathers taught about ecclesiology and apostolic succession. But if you do think that the Church became substantially corrupted [in doctrine and ecclesiology] by the mid-second century, then why do you think that? In other words, how do you know that whatever differences you see between the second century Church and the New Testament writings are not Holy Spirit guided development?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium Unitatis said...


Thanks. I basically agree with what you said about secondary sources. And regarding the RC sources John cites, one thing that sometimes surprises Protestants about the Catholic Church is that it is a lot more lenient toward liberal Catholic academics than conservative Presbyterians are. Catholic professors can seemingly say and write just about whatever they want, even if it is heretical or anti-Catholic in significant respects. The Church generally does not go after such people and discipline them, unless they make a public scandal of some sort. So that's one of the reasons why I always take "Catholic historian Joe Blow says X" with a grain of salt.

I wouldn't describe the conclusions I draw from studying the fathers as secondary sources. I'm not appealing to my own conclusions, and so I'm not treating my own conclusions as sources. I do agree that we can read the Bible and get its basic message. So, in that sense, I believe in the perspicuity of Scripture. But some things in Scripture are very complicated, such as the relation of faith and works and grace and election and covenant, etc. My grandmother would have a hard time figuring stuff like that out on her own, even reading the Bible continually for sixty years. Peter tells us that Paul's writings can be hard to understand, and can be misunderstood. So while I believe that the basic message of the Bible can be understood, I also think it is very easy to misunderstand many of the more difficult aspects of Scripture.

And I think this is true of the fathers as well, namely, that in reading them we can get the basic idea, but that it is also easy to misunderstand them when they are talking about more complicated things. But I think we can make a lot of headway (in terms of finding common ground regarding our shared history) just from the basic and explicit teachings in the fathers. Also, I'm not proposing an individualistic approach to the fathers, but a kind of ecumenical (Catholic-Protestant) *communal* reading and discussion of the fathers, as a way of trying to understand together our mutual history and also as a way of (eventually) seeing how to get back to unity.

By the way, I really appreciate your open and charitable attitude. It gives me hope that we can make progress toward reconciliation and reunion.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium Unitatis said...


I'm surprised you're letting me get away with putting "St" in front of Clement's name. (Just kidding!) But seriously, sure, I'm specifically trying not to beg any questions in this exercise, and that includes the title of "Pope". I'm not entirely sure that all question-begging can be avoided, but I'll do my best.

The idea of the Church (or "church") is more difficult. I'm not sure what difference (in your mind) the small 'c' is making. I'm hoping we (all) can agree (in our starting point) that Christ founded a single universal Church, as described explicitly in Matt 16. Whether that Church that Christ founded is visible or "not visible" is another question. I have written about this question (just click on the 'ecclesiology' label on the left side of my blog, if you're interested). I haven't approached the question from a "what do the fathers say about it" perspective, and I'm hoping we can get a sense of what the fathers thought about this question. Does that address your concern?

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John Bugay said...

Bryan, I'm willing to give it a look. When you say "a single universal church," my point was that I would not even want to start with any presuppositions about what that meant at the time. I don't know if "visible/invisible" is precisely the right question. I know that may be asking a lot, but I think, too, it is the right way to do a historical study.

Jason Stellman said...

I, for one, wish we could all sit down in a room (brick-and-mortar, not virtual-chat) and actually open the books and dig in. Whoever flies to Seattle, the coffee or ale will be on me. We brew really good beverages here....

CD-Host said...

Bryan --

Well if you are asking my personal opinion rather than representing Protestantism and Luther.... I do think what you see in the Sethians, what you see in the proto-Catholicism and what you see in dozens of other sects are equally valid expressions of early 2nd century Christianity. I don't think either side is corrupted at this point. And more importantly they are dialoguing and co-creating what will become Christianity in the centuries to come. So yeah I guess I'd say the early to mid 2nd century is the high point of Christianity. Within a generation after this people are starting to build institutional churches and that creates a tension. You start getting politicians and not just holy men.

The Bar Kochba war (130-4) undercuts Judaism and isolates the Christian community. So around 140-180 the philosophically the scene, at least within the "church fathers" (Catholicism) has changed. They are rejectionist and are starting to pervert history and doctrine to strengthen their position. In and of itself this wouldn't have been so terrible and might have self corrected but around 235 Roman decay puts a lot of pressure on the churches and so the political unification is succesful.

Its hard to pick any point in time since there are trends and counter trends and all sorts of nuances but if you want a date 235 is a good one for saying that the ancient church is essentially dead and the church of later Roman empire born.

And I think "corrupted" is much too strong a term for what I object to here. Evolved into a different type of religion is probably more a term I would agree with. Then of course within 100 years the church gets it first taste of state power and rather than building unity organically makes use of state terror to enforce their views. Behavior changes belief and so the religion has to alter to one supportive of state terror and then this becomes an addiction and here is where on balance it becomes a force of evil. I'm not saying it didn't do a lot of good but its hard to look at the church from 4th century on as anything other than a corruption of God's will. That church I would call corrupted. Now those were bad times and the problems in the church were still fixable. But it is hard to look upon that church as godly. During the dark ages the church is on balance a force for good but a mixed bag.

And then as the we enter the 2nd millennium the problems just gets worse. Gregory VII compounds the problem and by Innocent III, well I don't want to use flame language but that man is as godly in his leadership as Stalin. The church becomes not only dependent on violence but a major cause and instrument of violence under his leadership. Even if nothing theological justifies schism that sort of evil demands it. I'm sorry to be harsh but you asked for my opinion. Whatever laying on of hands Peter may or may not have done doesn't come close to justifying what was happening. Even if I assume this happened, the Prophets speak about about the wicked kings of Israel and the need to stop the wickedness. I see the situation as analogous.

Catharism is unsuccessful attempt to save Christianity from what its become. Catherism dies in battle but gives birth to an unsuccessful internal reform movement and that movement gives birth to Reformation. And the Reformation checks the spread of church violence. Theologically it is rather questionable but it has some good points. And more importantly it works. It brings the terror to an end. I don't think the reformers are saints but they are able to marshal armies and create a balance of power. This causes some evaluation and Catholicism starts to heal from its addiction. I wish it would heal faster but I have to give the reformation the credit for starting the processes.

The Beguine movement which emerges about the same time is as the Cathars offers a legitimate Christian counter movement. And that is one I can fully get behind. It was not going to be strong enough to stop the military machine but if offers a version of Christianity that can and is carring Christianity back to its high point: The Beguine/Beghards become the early members of the Brothers and sisters of the Free Spirit who end up founding groups like the Waldenses, and I assume everyone know the history from there.

Their ecclesiology is a simple one and yes it is the one that Barna and Viola and pushing (though their history of where these ideas came from is wrong). All Christians are the body of Christ and the church is the collection of all assemblies within the body. There you go, that's not the hypothetical that is the real opinion.

But that opinion isn't alterable by looking at the early fathers. It was what I was trying to address earlier regarding institutional and structural flaws.

Mike said...

Hi Bryan,

I just want to say that I respect what you are proposing and the goal that you want to achieve…I REALLY do, honestly and genuinely. You seem to have a great desire to see Christ’s church unified, and that is exemplified, if in nothing else, by your consistent charitable tone.

I am intrigued by your proposal, and, like Jason, I am not closed-minded either about the early fathers “smelling” more Catholic than Protestant, but, if you are at all interested, I will just tell you my hang-ups with it as a confessional Protestant:

1. The first thing that I simply cannot escape is the thought (and this could just be my cynicism) that unity for you means me recanting Sola Fide and the Three Forms of Unity, embracing Trent, and converting to Roman Catholicism. Is it possible for us, in your mind, to be unified if we confess different gospels, so to speak (i.e. you what is articulated about justification in Trent and me what is articulated in the Three Forms of Unity)? I am honestly asking what you think about that.

2. It is very hard for me not to see this as more question-begging, as Jason alluded to. It seems that, no matter what, you as a Catholic in good conscience will not deviate from anything that Rome officially teaches about the fathers, and that your reading of the fathers must be correct since it is in agreement with Rome.

3. The discipline of historical theology is a lot more complex than simply reading the fathers as a biblicist would his Bible, viz., only primary source. It seems way too simplistic of an approach.

4. I don’t have much confidence that we could do this profitably over virtual chat. It is often difficult to determine one’s tone of voice in a text or avoid misreading implications and/or overreacting to posts. We have hit several cul-de-sacs on Jason’s blog. How could we avoid this?

I just throw these things out there to you so that you know that I, FWIW, read your post and did not dismiss it. I too hope and pray for true unity as well.


Principium Unitatis said...


I am glad to learn your opinion about the development / corruption of the Church in the first three centuries. I don't share your opinion on this matter. But, perhaps we can consider each other's positions as we work through the fathers. I don't think the Sethians ever had any claim on being the heirs of the Apostles. But I am open to considering your reasons and evidence.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Principium Unitatis said...


Thanks for your irenic comments, and also for raising your concerns. Regarding your first concern, I do think that true unity includes agreeing about what the gospel is. In other words, I don't think we can have true unity if we disagree fundamentally about what is the gospel. There are many points of agreement (between Reformed soteriology and Catholic soteriology). And some of the disagreements, in my opinion, are rooted in different semantics (i.e. the conceptions associated with terms) in some ways that makes it hard to compare the two soteriologies, because the terms (and thus conceptual frameworks) are not exactly commensurable. But, unfortunately, there are also some points of substantive (i.e. not merely semantic) disagreement, as you know. In cases where we can't both be right, then at least one side must be wrong. (That's just logic.) I think we have to admit that, rather than adopting some kind of pluralism (i.e. many different contrary positions are 'valid' or 'legitimate' etc.), which, in my opinion, is a form of skepticism or relativism.

Your second concern, if I understand it correctly, is that if I am strongly committed to the Catholic position, then my appeal to the fathers is question-begging. The term 'question-begging', as I am using the term in this post, means "assuming from the outset [in the premises] what I am trying to prove [in the conclusion]". The term can also apply to a methodology, namely, a methodology that loads the conclusion into the very method itself. But in this second concern of yours, you are using the term 'question-begging' to refer to my degree of open-mindedness. I'm supposedly guilty of question-begging because I allegedly have my mind made up. But see how that is a different sense of the term 'question-begging'. It is actually a subtle 'ad hominem' (i.e. a criticism of a person) rather than a criticism of an argument or methodology. Having one's mind made up is not incompatible with presenting an argument or case in good faith. Otherwise Jesus would have been engaged in question-begging in everything He said during His ministry. I'm convinced that there is a continuity of doctrine and practice from the Apostles through the fathers and all the way up to the contemporary Catholic Church. But that doesn't mean I can't honestly and sincerely and openly consider objections to my position, or that I can't in good faith and sincerity ask my Protestant brothers and sisters to consider the Church fathers with me in an effort to work out what keeps us apart. Also, it is true that I am bound in a certain sense by the Church's dogmas, but that leaves me quite open with regard to Church history and interpreting the fathers. I am free, for example, to conclude from reading a certain father that he taught something contrary to what the Catholic Church presently teaches.

Regarding your third concern, I agree. I'm not equipped do any sort of historical theology, especially at an academic level. I am hoping that even what can be done at the simple level can be helpful for providing a non-question-begging common ground for the ecumenical task. I see no promising alternative (besides praying really hard) to finding common ground for the ecumenical task than something like what I have proposed in this post. So, even if we are going to be over-simplifying, it is better than nothing. Besides, there are enough internet critics around that I'm sure they'll correct us. :-)

Regarding your fourth concern, I agree that virtual discussions are so hard, especially because of our inability to see and read body language, tone, etc. I can't give you any assurances about that here. I try to work hard always to maintain a high level of respect and cordiality here. I expect that from those who post here, whether they agree with my positions or not. I try to set the standard here myself, in the way I speak to those who disagree with me. Tom Brown (Thos) of Ecumenicity outdoes me in this respect -- he's more charitable and gracious than I am. (And I've been impressed with Jason's way of handling things on his blog.) If we establish a good tone, and a clear desire to work toward unity, I think it can help people be more gracious and charitable in the way they present their criticisms. It is so easy to criticize. It is much harder to do something positive and constructive toward unity. So that's the challenge here, to step beyond the level of the quick-criticism, to the level of working positively toward real unity with each other.

I really believe it can happen. The world needs Christians to be united, because it needs our unified witness of Christ's love and the power of the Spirit to overcome the evil and darkness of our present age. One of the reasons why our unity shows forth Christ's love is because it takes love to achieve unity, just as it takes love to achieve the unity of a lasting marriage. And the Church is a kind of family, so it takes a labor of love to overcome the divisions which now separate us, and the suspicions and wounds that still linger from centuries of animosity and even violence. There is a great opportunity for us here (in our time) to be large-hearted, heroic in charity, forgiving, meek, peacemakers who will be called "sons of God". And in no way do we need to leave truth to do it. Love never demands a departure from the truth. (False ecumenicism, in my opinion, is that which seeks a pseudo-unity by setting aside the question of truth, and sweeping disagreements under the rug.) We never have to choose between truth and love. Love allows us to find the truth -- and truth teaches us to love. If we abide in love, then we will walk in the truth. And if we seek the truth in earnest, we will see that the truth is found in love.

So as we speak the truth in love, we can, I believe, make progress toward unity, really making a difference for the next generation, who are often now made cynical by our divisions and fragmentation. That's my hope, my prayer, and my vision. I wish to God that it would spread all over the world.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Oso Famoso said...

He's fully agrees that by about 160 you have hierarchical Bishops answerable to Rome. His disagreement is over the 130 years between that and when Peter became head of the church in your view

It would be great if there was a plethora of primary source material from that first 100 years or so wouldn't it? The fact of the matter is that we simply don't have much evidence from that era apart from the NT itself, and it that case much wasn't written until late in the first century. The earliest things we have are the didadche, clement etc.

CD-Host said...

I don't think the Sethians ever had any claim on being the heirs of the Apostles. But I am open to considering your reasons and evidence.

OK. Remember I picked the Sethians mainly because we have a reasonably complete documentary record, in other words by virtue of historical accident and geography of low humidity we happen to know a lot about them. There are many many other groups as well. My point was that early 2nd century Christians are not all (or even predominantly) Catholic.

I'll grant that by selecting church fathers you can show they believed that the Catholic Church as being the sole legitimate form of Christianity. That they believed that they had a unique relationship with Jesus through Peter. And I'll even grant that they upheld a hermeneutic based on authority and tradition.

All of those things are true. But what are you really showing is that a particular Christian sect came to believe it had a unique claim to the truth based on a particular rite (laying of hands). I don't follow how that proves anything more than it would for other Christian sects who also claim particular insight based on their rites or their particular scripture.

That is problem is you have a massive selection bias in this method. I can pick different ancient Christian writers, use your method and arrive at different conclusions.

Peter vs. Enoch, or
Peter vs. Mary (other groups) helps to make the case of Peter vs. Paul more extreme. It pushes it back to the earliest day of the Christianity. But in the end it doesn't really matter whether you consider Mary the great apostle or not an apostle at all. Because for Protestants, you need to argue that Peter's authority in appointing a successor (even assuming this occurred) is greater than Paul's, that is Paul should only be ultimately read and understood in terms of system that Peter established. And here there are huge numbers of ancient Christian writers that reject that notion. Protestants can just as easily turn to those.

To stick with the Sethians (of the late 2nd century when everyone is not friends anymore) they contest all of your key points:

1) There is no such thing as a unique relationship with Jesus via. the apostles. (Solus Christus, Soli Deo gloria)

2) There is no institution established by Jesus because institutions are by their nature corrupted. The point is to have a new perfect sacrifice in a heavenly temple not to create a better earthly temple. To die to Adam (flesh) and be reborn in Christ (spirit). (sola fide)

3) It is the revelation of Jesus that forms the essential of the faith (sola scriptura)

4) Because we are bound to flesh rites help us to experience the word of spirit. But they are not magic and spirit is what transforms spirit (sola gratia).

That's a primitive version of the 5 solas. The only major disagreement is on the issue of canon. And Luther himself had serious questions about the canon, that had been arrived at historically. Now you've written vaguely about this idea elsewhere on the blog so you are aware of the fact that which ancient church authorities you choose determine your attitude towards the events of the 16th century.

This post is getting long enough.

CD-Host said...

Oso --

It would be great if there was a plethora of primary source material from that first 100 years or so wouldn't it? The fact of the matter is that we simply don't have much evidence from that era apart from the NT itself, and it that case much wasn't written until late in the first century. The earliest things we have are the didadche, clement etc.

We have much more than that from the first 100 years. Our understanding of ancient Christianity has in the last 120-130 years advanced tremendously.

First off on the NT alone we've reconstructed Q and Signs. We have a better idea of Luke's early development as well (though this still rather speculative).

I've been talking about Turner's work on the Sethians where for the first time (ever) we have a good example of literary development of a Christian sect over several hundred years. With respect to other sects we've done well. For example with Marcion about 100 years ago we reconstructed the Gospel of the Lord. In this generation alone we've been able to reconstruct Marcion's Galatians. We probably are within 20 years of having all the other books done, and thus the first "bible". Culpepper (a Catholic scholar) had done terrific work showing the development between the ideas we see in Qumran to Odes of Solomon to John. If so we are beginning to piece together another Christian community's evolution, and one that did merge successfully into Catholicism! Regardless Odes gives us an example of what a 1st century hymnal looked like. The theory of early development of 1Enoch has been confirmed. The Gospel of Truth makes it under your window of 100 years.

I could keep going. We have far far less than we would like but we are not nearly as impoverished as most people think.

John Bugay said...

Oso, CD -- Both of you quoted a paragraph which supposedly had me saying "He fully agrees that by about 160 you have hierarchical Bishops answerable to Rome..."

That is not what I said. Consider: "Victor (c. 189-99) was the first who, ... energetically stepped forward as monarchical bishop and (at times, only because he was incited from the outside) attempted to place the different groups in the city under his supervision or, where that was not possible, to draw a line by means of excommunication. (Lampe 406). This was elsewhere described further as a "weak" attempt: "an outsider, Irenaeus of Gaul incited Victor to intervene against Florinius, and to suppress his writing. Victor 'obeyed' ..." Accoring to Schatz, the "first instances [of Roman bishops to exercise authority in the late second century] encountered resistance and ended in failure." Keep in mind how "tradition" is handed on. There was no "tradition" of "obeying" a bishop of Rome. On the other hand, Victor was chastised by Irenaeus. This is expanded upon even 100 years ago by Schaff, who noted that, at the time, that church at Rome was a missionary effort off of a more well-developed church in Gaul (Lyon) at the time.

It is not true, as Oso says, that "the earliest things we have are the didadche, clement etc." We have the entire New Testament, which are exceptional history. This is not in dispute. In the case of such things as the letters of Paul, the "we" statements in Acts, and the Gospels themselves, are eyewitness accounts to Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the development of the earliest church.

Beyond that, there are other sources as well. Lampe, citing not only Biblical, but public records, secular historians, archaeology, and other sources, traces the development of Christianity in Rome:

“The beginnings of pre-Pauline Christianity in Rome are shrouded in haze. Pre-Pauline Christians are attested for Rome (Romans; Acts 28:15) and Puteoli (Acts 28:13f.). Concerning the rest of the Italian cities, silence dominates. (Lampe 1)

Continuing to cite Lampe (11 ff.) [I am going to leave out his Greek citations]:

With the events surrounding “the edict of Claudius,” (Actus 18:2; Suetonius, Claud.; Orosius, Hist 7.6.15f.; cf. Cassius Dio 60.6.6f.), urban Roman Christianity steps for the first time into the light of history. We can derive from the sources four perceptions and propose them as theses: (a) Christianity got its first foothold in one or in several synagogues of Rome; the first pre-Pauline Christians of Rome were Jews or sebomenoi (devout people, Godfearers) who were attached to the synagogue. (b) Their witness to Christ led to unrest in one or several synagogues. (c) The authorities expelled the key figures of the conflict. (d) The events are to be dated at the end of the 40s.

There are several points to discuss.
(1) Jewish Christians were actually involved in the unrest. The oldest notice of the “edict of Claudius,” Acts 18:2, implies that Claudius expelled all the Jews from Rome, among them also “a Jew named Aquila”. Several observations suggest that Aquila and Priscilla had been expelled from Rome as Christians and had emigrated to Corinth.

In Corinth, Paul baptized only Gaius, Crispus, and the household of Stephanas (1 Cor 1:14-16) -- not Aquila or Priscilla. The first person converted in Greece by Paul was Stephanas (1 Cor 16:15) -- not Aquila or Priscilla. That is startling, because, at the very beginning in Corinth, Paul stayed, lived, and worked not with Stephanas but with Aquila and Priscilla (Acts 18:3). [In a note, Lampe says, “This is reliable tradition, because (a) of agreement with 1 Cor 4:12; 9:4; 6-7, 12; 2 Cor 11:7-8; 12:13. (b) 1 Cor 16:19 also fits together with Acts 18:2-3: The married couple apparently knew the Corinthians personally. They were in Ephesus in Paul’s entourage, and could easily have gotten acquainted with him in Corinth. …] The logical conclusion is that the couple were already baptized when Paul appeared as the first Christian missionary in Corinth….

The argument [that Priscilla and Aquila of Acts 18:2-3 were already Christians] can be sharpened even further: Suetonius suggests that Priscilla and Aquila were expelled from Rome …” [Early in the second century, Suetonius wrote “Iudaeos impuslore Chresto assidue tumultuantes Roma expulit.” Do we want to assume that Aquila and Priscilla, who [later] preached Christ in Corinth, were also involved in a conflict about an urban Roman troublemaker Chrestus? The more probable interpretation of the Suetonius passage is that the proclamation of Christ had caused unrest in one or in several urban Roman synagogues -- which is no different from what is attested for the synagogues in Jerusalem (Acts 6:9-15), Antioch in Pisidia (13:45, 50), Iconia (14:2, 5) Lystra (14:19), and Corinth (18:12-17). Followers of the Christ-message were therefore involved in synagogal conflict. They -- as members of synagogues -- were the first urban Roman Christians…

If the separation of Christianity from the synagogue had something to do with disputation and conflict and if we seek for something of that sort in Rome, then we are left with the events surrounding the edict of Claudius, for we know of nothing else. The most plausible solution is that in the wake of these events, urban Roman Christianity separated itself from the synagogue. The first certain datum is the letter to the Romans. By the time of its composition in the second half of the 50s at the latest, urban Roman Christianity can be seen as separated from the federation of synagogues (citing Romans 15-16). In the year 64 c.e., even the authorities distinguish between Jews and Christians (urban Roman persecution under Nero: Tacitus, ann. 15.44) (Lampe 11-12, 15-16).

* * * * *

My reason for citing this rather long selection is multi-faceted:

1. I hope to show some of the skeptics here the degree to which Lampe (and some of the other historians) are able to interact with primary documents at a degree that is just not possible

2. Someone above mentioned Lampe’s “methodology.” I would suggest that the dating of Romans at “the second half of the 50’s at the latest” would give some indication of how he measures things.

3. There is extensive “history” within the New Testament, that both supports and is supported by other sources (i.e., secular history, public records, archaeology, etc.), and that a careful study of this material as history (as well as “revealed truth”) is going to be very fruitful.

4. The witness of the New Testament (historically, doctrinally and otherwise) should and must supersede what we find in the early church fathers, and that when something written in the fathers is contradicted by something in Scripture, then what the fathers wrote must be considered to be something of a corruption regardless of the dating.

As an example of point 4, let’s consider these two statements:

Paul: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col 2:13-21)

Clement: Exploring the depths of the divine knowledge, we must methodically carry out all that the Lord has commanded us to perform at stated times: namely, he has enjoined the offerings and the services to be performed, not at random or without order, but at fixed times and seasons. He himself, by his sovereign will, has determined where and by whom he wants them to be performed. Then, everything being religiously accomplished with his approval, will be acceptable to his will… (1 Clement 40).

What are we to say about this discrepancy? First of all, we know the promise that wolves would come into the flock. Second, yes, Paul urged Christians to do things “decently and in order,“ but when he wrote, there were already those who wanted to “judge” on the basis of what you eat, or with regard to religious festivals. So here is a contradiction -- Clement requiring “offerings and services to be performed… at fixed times and seasons.” In fact, you can see the beginnings of the “Catholic” flavor and practice in the early church -- possibly the church calendar. And within the New Testament itself, Paul himself cautioning against such things: “These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings.” There is a need for discernment here -- not an unquestioning assent to what Clement says as truth.

This is just one example among many that we will see. Now Oso, please do not infer from this that I am saying “Oh sure, the whole church went to hell in 100 ad.” That is not what I am saying, although I can see, based on your prior observations, that this is a conclusion to which you will likely jump.

No. What I am saying is, even the earliest church was subjected to corruptions and corrupt practices. Corruptions crept in. The Apostles wrote about corruptions and errors that were happening under their very noses. And it is very possible that these corruptions eventually became widely practiced, and that they “leavened” the entire lump of the church.

Principium Unitatis said...


Whenever someone appeals to Paul's statement that "fierce wolves will come in among you" (Acts 20:29) to suggest that the Church fathers are the wolves, I always wonder how they know that it is not those who opposed the fathers that were the wolves. The verse by itself gives us no reason to doubt the credibility of the fathers, because it can understood as a warning that heretics and schismatics would arise and lead many away from the divinely established order laid down by the Apostles and continued in the fathers. We can imagine heretics and schismatics using this verse to suggest to the sheep that their [rightful] shepherds are the wolves, when in fact it is they [i.e. the heretics and schismatics] who are the wolves.

My point is that this verse does not give us any prima facie reason to doubt the credibility and orthodoxy of the fathers. To claim otherwise is to presume a priori that the order instituted by Christ and Apostles for the continuation and transmission of the Apostolic tradition was not divinely protected. And that is not a non-question-begging assumption.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John Bugay said...

Sorry, I neglected to finish a sentence in my post just above:

1. I hope to show some of the skeptics here the degree to which Lampe (and some of the other historians) are able to interact with primary documents at a degree that is just not possible that is not possible [for the rest of us.]

In the interim, it has been pointed out to me that "the distinction between primary and secondary sources isn't always all that cut-and-dried. For example, is a critical edition of the letters of Ignatius a primary source or a secondary source? It's both. A lot of secondary scholarship goes into producing a critical edition of a church father. Distinguishing genuine from pseudonymous patristic literature is an editorial judgment. Dating the material is an editorial judgment. And so on and so forth. ... How much would we really know about the church fathers apart from patrologists who do the spadework in sifting through MSS, recovering the Urtext from scribal editions, placing the writer in time and space (e.g., When did he live? Where did he live?). Likewise, it's important to know the historical context of various controversies, viz. Who were their opponents?"

The point to this would be that, especially in discussions of patristics, we are far more dependent on "secondary" sources than we are aware of.

John Bugay said...

Bryan – I don’t think you read what I said carefully enough.

I quoted Paul as saying, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Then I quoted Clement saying “he has enjoined the offerings and the services to be performed, not at random or without order, but at fixed times and seasons.”

I did not out of the blue call Clement a “wolf.” I was suggesting that corruptions crept in, and that we ought not to take everything that a church father says at face value. That “there is a need for discernment.”

You said: “My point is that this verse does not give us any prima facie reason to doubt the credibility and orthodoxy of the fathers.

Nor did I leave that one verse as “reason to doubt the credibility and orthodoxy of the fathers.” I cited Clement as saying something quite the opposite of what Paul said.

You stated that “the order instituted by Christ and Apostles for the continuation and transmission of the Apostolic tradition was … divinely protected.”

This statement alone is a whole mouth full of a priori presumptions.

For example: What “order” was “instituted”? Christ said “the gates of hell would not prevail.” He did not say “there is an order instituted for the continuation and transmission of apostolic tradition.”

If you are going to prevent a priori presumptions from being brought into this discussion, you should be mindful of your own a priori presumptions.

Principium Unitatis said...


I quoted Paul as saying, “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” Then I quoted Clement saying “he has enjoined the offerings and the services to be performed, not at random or without order, but at fixed times and seasons.”

I did not out of the blue call Clement a “wolf.” I was suggesting that corruptions crept in,

You didn't call St. Clement a wolf. But you clearly implied it, by juxtaposing St. Paul's statement in Acts 20:29 with the alleged contradiction between St. Clement and St. Paul. (To see a more charitable reading of St. Clement that does not make him out to be contradicting St. Paul, see my latest post.) In rhetoric that's called "poisoning the well".

You stated that “the order instituted by Christ and Apostles for the continuation and transmission of the Apostolic tradition was … divinely protected.” This statement alone is a whole mouth full of a priori presumptions.

Careful. What I was doing there is showing the two paradigms. One of the paradigms is that there is an order established by the Apostles for the perpetuation of their ministry, and that this order is divinely protected. The other paradigm is that either there was no such order, or that if there was, it was not divinely protected. My statement is not meant to assert that first paradigm as true, but to show how your statement presumes the falsity of the first paradigm.

If you are going to prevent a priori presumptions from being brought into this discussion, you should be mindful of your own a priori presumptions.

I hear you. :-) What concerns me is your bringing in ecclesial deism as an a priori assumption, based on your interpretation of Acts 20:29 and based on (what seems to me to be a less than charitable reading of St. Clement).

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John Bugay said...

"My statement is not meant to assert that first paradigm as true, but to show how your statement presumes the falsity of the first paradigm."

The truth or falseness of "that first paradigm" itself should be open to discussion.

Principium Unitatis said...


I agree; it is open to discussion. Part of my purpose of studying the fathers (in this mutual, ecumenical endeavor) is to see what they thought about this very question.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

John Bugay said...

I've looked briefly at your post on Clement above (I am not all the way through it), but you are already stepping on two of the Lampe's conclusions: 1, that the list cited by Irenaeus (compiled by Hegesippus) is "a fictive construction" (this is not to impugn Clement in any way, but you are already putting him in a place that might be "pious fiction,") and that the Clement letter was the product of a single person in authority, and not "written on behalf of the entire church."

You are citing secondary sources as well, and assuming that they are more reliable than today's scholars.

And yet, there were "pious fictions" about Peter, placing him as "bishop of Rome" at 42 ad, and even you will agree that that is "fiction" no matter which of the early fathers cited that.

It is clear to me that there is a need for a discussion of the hermeneutic involved, before any discussion of "what Clement actually said" is discussed.

Principium Unitatis said...


Since I have said already that I am not being governed by contemporary secondary sources, I'm not terribly troubled by saying something with which Lampe disagrees. I guess I didn't make that clear. Even so, the thrust of my argument in my post does not hang on the accuracy of Hegesippus's list.

Also, I did not claim that St. Clement's letter was not "written on behalf of the entire church". In fact, I think it was. Being written by the leader of the church at Rome, and being written on behalf of the entire church at Rome, are not, in my opinion, mutually exclusive claims.

You are citing secondary sources as well, and assuming that they are more reliable than today's scholars.

If you look back at what I wrote, you'll see that I specifically said "contemporary secondary sources", and by "contemporary" I mean contemporary to us -- i.e. modern. My point there was not so much about determining the authenticity of the various writings of the fathers (i.e. whether they were in fact written by these fathers). I agree with you that modern historiography can help us determine the authenticity of these manuscripts (although I think this is still subject both to theological and philosophical presuppositions).

I am taking it as a given (on the basis of the wide acceptance in the tradition of the Clementine authorship of this epistle) that it was written by St. Clement at some point before the end of the first century. The ancient secondary sources I cite are those that give us a better understanding of what the Church of the succeeding two centuries after St. Clement thought about him and his letter.

My main focus is on the content of the letter.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Publican_Chest said...


Thanks for this blog. I have benefited from reading the discussion.

I had a question about the starting point. My question is: why not start at the beginning of the people of God, with the Jews? Why just start at NT times? Does our starting point already have some of our conclusion in it? It seems to start at the beginning of the church would be to start with Adam, and see the development of the people of God and what it says for our current church situation.

Just a thought along with a question. Again, thanks for having this blog.

Principium Unitatis said...

Publican Chest,

We could start at Adam and work forward. My thesis here is to back up until we are standing on common ground, and then work forward, tracing and mutually examining and evaluating the reasons for our eventual divergence. I was assuming that we were agreed about Christ and the Apostles, but if there is already disagreement at that point, then there is no principled reason why we can't start even earlier. Thanks for your comments.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan