A response to a Critique of the Apostolic Succession of St. John's disciples, among other things

Hello Brothers and Sisters:

I have questions and comments to those who are more history savvy. I found this intriguing claim by a Mr. Paul Tobin, founder of the website Rejection of Pascel’s Razor regarding the Apostolic Succession of Saints Papias, Polycarp, Ignatius, and Irenaeus:

First we look at the case of Polycarp.
Early Christian tradition claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John, son of Zebedee and was appointed to the position of bishop of Smyrna by the apostle himself. The main source of this tradition was Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon.
There are three argument against this tradition:
The silence of earlier tradition about connection between Polycarp and the apostle John.
Irenaeus’ mistake about Papias’ connection with John.
The presence of an alternate tradition about the succession of bishops in Smyrna.
In conclusion these three arguments make a strong case against the historicity of the connection of Polycarp with the apostle John.

Mr. Tobin’s article can be found here: rejectionofpascalswager.net/apostolic.html

I’m not perfectly sure how to refute this claim. I don’t know of any scholar who rejects the connection between St. Polycarp and St. John the Apostle, and, although Mr. Tobin wrote a book (which is usefully titled the same as the website) on in part the History of Christianity, which I have not read (nor plan to), I do not think that he has any historical scholarship credentials. However, he does site many scholars, and seems to be familiar with the discipline, so I wish to take some of his claims seriously, even if they are contradictory to what many scholars teach (scholars have a tendency to be insanely wrong, so I can respect a educated layman opinion on matters, especially since I am one myself).

I skimmed through other pages in his site, where he cited many skeptical scholarship (especially Edward Gibbon), which already points to his bias (as if it were not obvious already). Nevertheless, they are scholars, and so should be taken seriously, even if we disagree with their (often question begging or false a priori assumption filled) conclusions (although I have trouble taking the conspiracy theorist Mr. Bart Ehrman seriously, at least in more his popular works). I found that Mr. Tobin specifically uses Gibbon’s false presentation of the Hypatia Affair, so he definably is willing to use false and skewed information in his articles, whether he is aware of its falseness or not (if the reader is interested, a series, undertaking the Hypatia Affair, was done (humorously) by Mr. Mike Flynn (a layman regarding Historical scholarship) at his website: tofspot.blogspot.com/2015/02/hypatia-part-i-mean-streets-of-old.html. He presents his sources (including primary and secondary documents) at the end).


He first makes an argument of silence, claiming that, since St. Polycarp didn’t mention his connection with St. John in his only surviving letter, that stretches the credibility of this Apostolic Succesion claim. I think that here Mr. Tobin is assuming that St. Polycarp would definitely have mentioned his connection with St. John in the context of the letter, if it were true. However, he does not provide any evidence for this. He doesn’t show why St. Polycarp should have mentioned his sucession if it were true in the context of the letter (does he think that St. Polycarp should write in every letter “I knew St. John?” Will historians in the future conclude that a record from my friend which mentions my father’s name is false because my writing (that survives) doesn’t mention his name?). Furthermore, the context of the letter indicates that St. Polycarp was pastoring the believers in Philippians, where St. Paul did a lot of missionary work apparently. Thus, I would say that St. Polycarp mentions St. Paul and not St. John by name because the baptized there were far more familiar with St. Paul than St. John. Further, the readers of this text seem to be aware of who St. Polycarp is, so if everyone there already knows that St. Polycarp was taught by St. John, why would he mentioned it? The letter is not an autobiography in any way. In other words, the desired receivers of the letter would not need to be reminded about information they already know.

(On a side note: I find this approach to searching for the context of a letter to understand it, like those of St. Paul, to be effective: the skeptic shouts “why didn’t St. Paul mention this or that in this letter?” to which I reply, "he is assuming that the recipients already are aware of a lot of the Gospel already (preached orally to them), and in the letter is just clearifying what was already taught (this is pretty clear for many of the texts in the Bible: read the introduction to the Gospel of St. Luke: the Gospel was written to supplement the traditions already taught to them). Apparently, according to St. Peter in his letters and St. Paul himself in his, St. Paul can be quite confusing and misunderstood (look at what the Gnostics and the Protestants did and have done with his writings :wink: ). He probably wasn’t trusted by many who knew his past, which is why he had to work his butt of in order to gain the other Apostles’ trust as well as everyone else. I think that the popularity of St. Paul’s theological approach only came in retrospect somewhat, after those who were immediately aware of his past or even experienced his early persecutions died out, and when the Gentile converts started to grow in number, outnumbering the Jews (he was popular with the Pagan converts: he is the “Apostle of the Gentiles,” to use his words, after all). This theory (which I argue is much better based in the facts, and doesn’t force such strange and anti-traditional assumptions into historical studies for no reason other then to “assume one’s conclusion” a priori) is especially destructive to that wicked tendency in modern Biblical criticism to pit St. Paul’s teaching against the teachings of the other Apostles (especially St. James, who is considered the leader of “Jewish Christianity” as opposed to “Pauline Christianity” :shrug: ), which seems to be influenced by the philosopher Hegal’s false “thesis, antithesis, synthesis” approach to history (but who actually understands Hegal in the end anyway? :stuck_out_tongue: )).


Alright, back on topic:

Mr. Tobin secondly argues that St. Irenaeus was incorrect regarding St. Papias’s connection with St. John: he points out that in a fragment of St. Papias’s writing, the saint makes a claim that he was not taught by an Apostle. He uses the difference in tense between two instances of the “to say” verb in the translated English and he mention of “the elders” to advance this claim. Does anyone know where I could find the Greek text(s) for Eusebius’s History of the Church? But, even if we take the Engish translation of the Greek as accurate, I think Mr. Tobin is reading far too into this fragment. First of all, it’s a fragment, and the context is somewhat lost without the complete work. St. Irenaeus, St. Jerome, and Eusebius did not come to his conclusions about St. Papias not being a second generation Bishop ordained by St. John, and they processed the entire work, the native understanding of the language, and a closer culture context to the context which it was written (Mr. Tobin reads ancient texts like a 21st century modern western protestant would, not how a early first millennium Roman citizen would), not to mention access to sources we are unaware of (other writings, oral traditions regarding these men, passed down to their current disciples, etc.), and these Fathers were much, much closer to the events than we are. Maybe the word choice was just an coincidence, where he did not intend to convey what Mr. Tobin thinks he is, especially if it is mentioned in another part of the lost work that he was educated by St. John. Second of all, I think Mr. Tobin is reading his a priori theory into the facts, rather than attempting to constructing a theory that fits all the fact the best we can. His theory dismisses many of the facts without justification and with disregard for unknown variables in St. Irenaeus’s and the rests conclusions. History is educated guesswork, so he shouldn’t deny information unless we have a good reason. Thus, to deny the saint’s statement simply because it doesn’t fit your theory reveals that your theory is probably false. This explains why he would read the fragment as a denial of his direct Apostolic succession, which is a forced interpretation based on a presupposed denial of Apostolic succession, since St. Ireanaeus and Eusebius both were familiar with St. Papias’s work, and both taught that St. Papias was a disciple of St. John. In other words, they did not see the passage as denying St. Papias’s Succession probably because other parts of the text confirmed the succession line from St John. Mr. Tobin is not thinking about the other possible variables in play here. Remember the saying of statistician Williams M. Briggs: “the love of theory is the root of all evil.”

I am unable to handle the third objection, since I am not familiar with the texts in questions. However, since they are of a later date, and St. Irenaeus was a disciple and friend of St. Polycarp, I would say we should go with the more immediate, personal source (who should we trust regarding St. Polycarp: a friend of his or writers writing 200 years later?). Further, Mr. Tobin mentions that St. Polycarp is not mentioned in Apostolic succession records in the city he supposably lived and pastured. However, I would point out that in first century Christianity, there were multiple Bishops in a city at the same time, so the mentioning of multiple Bishops of a city would be expected.

What do my Brothers and Sisters in Christ think of my approach here?

I have not read the part about St. Clement as of yet.

Christi pax,


Pope Leo VIII did say you need both the proper “Form” and “Intention” at the ordination for a valid succession. What you have posted does not appear to meet that threshold.

Thanks for the topic.



Are you saying that St. Polycarp, St. Ireneaus, etc. are not ordained?

Christi pax,


Not saying they aren’t. Just quoting what Leo VIII stated, infallibly btw. If Leo VIII is correct it would appear to raise the question.

I too find it curious which I guess is why I referred to it. How do you see it?

Thanks for the response.

Brother/sister in Christ,

I can’t see why they were not ordained. St. Irenaeus specifically claims that the Gnostics were wrong because they do not follow the tradition handed down to the Bishops. He’s the first to present an in depth explaination of Apostolic sucession, and use it to dismiss heretics.

All of these men are refered to as Bishops in writings…

Christi pax,


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