Gary Wills on the Bishop of Rome and priesthood

Gary Wills, a well known Catholic author, has claimed that the office of bishop of Rome, e.g. the papacy, did not exist until the second century. He claims that Peter could not be the first pope because the office did not exist for many decades after his death. Mr. Wills also claims that there was no priesthood until the second century. Can anyone here provide me with authoritative history of the early papacy and priesthood?


What were the Apostles doing running around anointing Bishops and leaving them in charge of the new congregations and telling them to appoint priests and deacons?

St. Paul wrote extensively about this when he sent letters to his appointees.

Whoever makes these claims must NOT have read the Bible or just read what they wanted to read.

You say Mr Wills has made the claims.

it is up to Mr Wills to prove them, not for us to attempt to disprove them.

And “Mr Wills says” is not a proof.

I don’t really want to read “Why Priests?” which is the book I’m sure in which he made the claims (my eyesight is failing and I intend to limit my reading to books which will help lead me to God, not away from Him), but hopefully somebody else will and will do the research to show where statements are conflated, misinterpreted, etc.

The presbyters and elders mentioned in the letters are the priesthood. You can imagine that the early Church would have wanted to differentiate itself from the Levitical priesthood that continued to exist up until the Temple was destroyed, and so avoided those terms. They may also have recognized that the Levitical priesthood was a temporary, and wanted to liken themselves to what existed before the levitical priesthood, where the elder fathers and elder brothers carried the ministry.

As for Peter, the tradition of the Gospels clearly recognizes Peter’s prominence. He’s in Jesus’ inner circle, he’s usually the first to speak, the first (or only) Apostle mentioned by name when it refers to them. Let’s take a moment and pretend we’re not Catholic. Let’s pretend we’rd not even religious. Anyone reading the Gospels and Acts should clearly assume that Peter was the most prominent and influential of the Twelve after Pentecost. He would not have been written so exclusively and central to the narrative if it were otherwise. And I say that without even considering Jesus calling him the rock upon which he would build the Church (which Peter actually took as his NAME, when before him there is no history that anyone ever used that name). Plus, the Gospel has Jesus quote Isaiah 22:22 regarding the keys of the Kingdom. And yes, Jesus (or if you’re not religious, at least the author) was referring to that quote in which Isaiah speaks of the successive office of the “prime minister” of the Davidic Kingdom holding the keys with the power to bind and loose (close doors/open doors). That wasn’t a reference made lightly. Clearly Peter had a special role within the Early Church, as demonstrated by these first century texts, whether you are a believer or not.

Did they refer to priests? Did they use the word pope? No, the language and structure did need some development, but the early Church did have structure. It was not just an unorganized mass that realized they needed to develop a structure centuries later. Certainly there was some freelancers, too. People who went around spreading what they thought was Christianity without any apostolic authority or structure. That’s clearly evidenced by Paul’s letters. But that’s not the system the apostles built.

So the first century gospel texts attest to Peter’s primacy. Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians is a late first century (perhaps very early second century) text that demonstrates the influence of the Roman Church in the Early Church, and Christian tradition also attests to Peter’s primacy.

Here’s an article covering many points concerning Mr Wills and his beliefs

Maybe you’ve seen this acronym before, CINO = Catholic in name only

As an aside, the article describes how Wills puts himself directly against Church dogmas.

So for him, what are the consequences of that?

2089"*[FONT=Arial]Heresy *is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same;[/FONT]

Therefore, Wills, a baptized person, fully knowledgable of Church dogma, and who rejects those dogmas, is a formal heretic.

Paul has some frightening words to say about a heretic

Titus 3:10
“As for a man who is factious ( [FONT=Verdana]αρετικν[/FONT] heretic ), after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.”

Just thinking outloud, I’m sure Wills has gotten his share of admonishments on his actions and beliefs.

Then he doesn’t know what he is talking about and only wearing the title"Catholic" for profit. He seems to think he knows more that the Church, History and TRUTH. God Bless, Memaw

CANON I.–If any one saith, that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood; or that there is not any power of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord, and of forgiving and retaining sins; but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel, or, that those who do not preach are not priests at all; let him be anathema.
Council of Trent
Session XXIII
Chapter IV
Canon I

Looks like Mr. Wills is, at least, a material heretic. If he knows this Canon then he is outside the Church. I would give his article no more attention.

Isn’t it interesting that apostolic Churches (Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, Catholic, etc…) all over the world, ages before any real type of communication, all had priests? If an idea of a sacrificing priesthood was unChristian, why no uproar in any branch of early Christianity?

Seems like the burden is on Protestants and Mr. Wills to unwrite global historical development.

In the meantime, pray for your priest, give him a word of encouragement, and thank the Lord for peace of mind knowing that “the gates of Hell will not prevail” against His Church. You see the practicality of having a Magisterium. Share that peace and certainty with those who need to hear it.

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