Rome had no Pope for a century?


[LEFT]Found this on James White’s site and never heard/read about it before. Basically states that in the begining there was a group of elders at Rome and then it gradually became into a “monarchical episcopate.” There a refutation of this somewhere?[/LEFT]

White cites J.N.D. Kelly:
"…The word “pope” was not used exclusively of the bishop of Rome until the ninth century, and it is likely that in the earliest Roman community a college of presbyters rather than a single bishop provided the leadership.
J.N.D. Kelly likewise notes this reality:
In the late 2nd or early 3rd cent. the tradition identified Peter as the first bishop of Rome. This was a natural development once the monarchical episcopate, i.e., government of the local church by a single bishop as distinct from a group of presbyter-bishops, finally emerged in Rome in the mid-2nd cent. (p. 6)."


Actually the word pope just means papa or, father. But the office of the bishop of rome has been there since the beginning.

Roman community a college of presbyters rather than a single bishop provided the leadership.
Actually that’s half right . There is a community called a magesterium which is a community of presbyters but there is a head to this community, whoever happens to be the see of Peter.


Thanks for the reply. Are there any citations for your last comment I could find and use?

thanks again


I’ve heard that argument many times and am not sure whether we should react

  1. by denying the opinion of all these church historians (Catholic and Protestant) who say there was no Bishop of Rome at the beginning


  1. by saying they’re right but that the papacy was a natural, reasonable and God-guided development.

If you prefer the 1) approach, one could perhaps use the following arguments:

  1. Ireneus in 180-190 AD writes of the succession of the bishops of Rome in Against Heresies listing the Bishops from Peter and Paul to his day. He says the apostles gave the episcopacy to Linus, Cletus, Clement etc. The scholars say this was a logical thing to do since by 180 there was indeed a bishop of Rome so they tried to read that practice back into the earliest times and came up with a list of succession against the Gnostics and other heresies in order to show the real church was right. But we might ask, how could Ireneus use such an argument against the Gnostics if they could’ve easily pointed out that there was actually no bishop of Rome during all those years?

  2. Church historian Eusebius in the 4th century tells us the 1st letter of Clement was written by Clement in the 90s, the 3rd bishop of Rome. The scholars say this letter supports their position since it doesn’t refer to its writer as bishop of rome but rather to “us”, a college of presbyters. White says he might’ve been a secretary of a sort. We could ask why no early sources identify him as just one of the presbyters or a secretary but the bishop of rome and that Clement might’ve been speaking in the royal plural or in behalf of the whole church of Rome.

  3. Ignatius writing in 100-110 AD is used against us because in his letter to the Romans he never makes any reference to the bishop of Rome even though he exhorts all other churches to be obedient to the bishop. But Ignatius doesn’t refer to the presbyters either though he does in all other letters and since this doesn’t prove there were no presbyters it doesn’t prove there was no bishop either.

  4. Eusebius records Ireneus’ argument in the passover controversy explaining that Polycarp in about 150-160 AD visited Rome and met with the bishop to discuss the matter and though no agreement was found they communicated together. This is the earliest clear reference to a bishop in Rome and so this is when the scholars say the episcopacy developed. It’s funny how my country’s leading church historian in one work says it developed in the 200s, then in another that it happened around 160. To me it seems that whenever they find an earlier reference they assume the whole thing has developed as late as possible to explain the data. There is no explicit evidence for either side before 150-60 it’s up for interpretation in my opinion at least. Perhaps there was a college of presbyters of which one was the leader that was identified as having been apostolically appointed.


Click below :slight_smile:
[size=]Pope Fiction[/size]
By Patrick Madrid


It’s possible that White’s sources are correct, but that possibility does not destroy the reality of the papacy.

We know that the first four popes were all contemporaries (as Clement was the last bishop of Rome to have known Peter personally). Further, even in the oldest lists of the popes, there seems to be confusion as to the exact order in which Linus, Cletus/Anacletus, and Clement assumed the office.

Furthermore, the New Testament seems to indicate that the titles of “presbyter” and “bishop” were not quite as distinguished as they later became. The structure of “single bishop with presbyters assisting him and deacons assisting them” likely evolved after the apostles had passed from the scene, since as long as there are living apostles the precise nature of apostolic succession isn’t a pressing matter. Still, that structure must have developed quite early, concurrent with the writing of the later New Testament books, as it seems to have been pretty firmly established by the time Ignatius wrote his letters in 107. Indeed, we can sort of see this development in the NT itself, as in some places the titles of presbyter and bishop seem to be used interchangeably, while in I Timothy separate qualifications are listed for the two offices.

So I’d say it’s at least possible that the men we now recognize as the 2nd-4th bishops of Rome did not succeed each other in a nice linear progression as we would see today, but served as “co-bishops” of a sort. It’s reasonable to presume that there would have been a “senior bishop” among the trio, as Peter undoubtedly was when all four were alive, but we don’t know enough historically about any of these men’s lives to say for sure.

The important thing is that, even as early as Clement’s time, the Church at Rome was recognized as the “court of appeal” for other Christian communities. Once it became the custom to have a single bishop over each city or region (whenever that occurred), that authority was logically personified in whatever man held the bishop’s seat in Rome.

Since we don’t have any records of Linus and Cletus disputing over some key teaching (nor, indeed, records of them doing much of anything at all), the fact that we can’t quite be sure exactly when each one was “the Pope” isn’t a terribly devastating thing.



From the website Pope Fiction:

Pope Victor I (reigned 189-199) worked to settle a dispute among the bishops of the East and West over when to celebrate Easter — known as the Quartodeciman controversy. The other bishops recognized his unique authority when they followed his directive to convene local and regional synods to deliberate on the issue. Most of the bishops decided to adopt his proposal that the whole Church celebrate Easter on the first Sunday after Passover. Those who didn’t, he threatened with excommunication. The fact that no bishop in the world — not a single one — disputed his authority as bishop of Rome to carry out such an excommunication is a powerful piece of evidence that the early Church recognized the unique authority of the bishop of Rome.
Shortly before his death in A.D. 200, St. Irenaeus of Lyons wrote to Pope Victor asking him to relent and allow the Eastern bishops to maintain their celebration of Easter according to the Hebrew lunar calendar, evidence that he recognized the pope’s authority to threaten excommunication. Pope Victor did not in fact relent, but it’s important to note that St. Irenaeus, like most of the bishops, submitted to the pope’s ruling

This an interesting interpretation to say the least of the following passages from Eusebius


:2 Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew. up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord’s day, and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only. There is still extant a writing of those who were then assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, bishop of Caesarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, presided. And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenaeus was bishop, and of those in Osrhoëne and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.


BUT the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:”

Polycrates, a bishop

“And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.
I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’”

Eusebius again

But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

  1. Among them was Irenæus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows

This is a case of a person going outside of their boundaries to cut off whole churches from Rome. Rome’s primacy is not in these passages, the central crux is that the bishops worked in unity together and the bishop at Rome, nothing more, nothing less, was breaking the unity.


According to you…and a pair of non authoritative sources.

Sure seems like the rest of the church got the message.


Here’s an interesting recent developement, the Ravenna document which was jointly pronounced and published by both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches last October…

It explores what it explains as the three tiered structure of the early church and comes to a conclusion about the Bishop of Rome…

  1. During the first millennium, the universal communion of the Churches in the ordinary course of events was maintained through fraternal relations between the bishops. These relations, among the bishops themselves, between the bishops and their respective protoi, and also among the protoi themselves in the canonical order (taxis) witnessed by the ancient Church, nourished and consolidated ecclesial communion. History records the consultations, letters and appeals to major sees, especially to that of Rome, which vividly express the solidarity that *koinônia *creates. Canonical provisions such as the inclusion of the names of the bishops of the principal sees in the diptychs and the communication of the profession of faith to the other patriarchs on the occasion of elections, are concrete expressions of koinônia.

  2. Both sides agree that this canonical taxis was recognised by all in the era of the undivided Church. Further, they agree that Rome, as the Church that “presides in love” according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs. They disagree, however, on the interpretation of the historical evidence from this era regarding the prerogatives of the bishop of Rome as protos, a matter that was already understood in different ways in the first millennium.

The Orthodox and Catholic Churches of course disagree on exactly what “primacy of the Bishop of Rome” entails and have left those definitions for later discussions.

This controversy is far from over, but this document makes a strong case for Papal primacy and lays the foundation for further understanding.



In 1997 the Anglican and Catholic Churches had similar discussions and produced a document entitled, “The Gift of Authority.” Here is an excerpt…

47. Within his wider ministry, the Bishop of Rome offers a specific ministry concerning the discernment of truth, as an expression of universal primacy. This particular service has been the source of difficulties and misunderstandings among the churches. Every solemn definition pronounced from the chair of Peter in the church of Peter and Paul may, however, express only the faith of the Church. Any such definition is pronounced within the college of those who exercise episcope and not outside that college. Such authoritative teaching is a particular exercise of the calling and responsibility of the body of bishops to teach and affirm the faith. When the faith is articulated in this way, the Bishop of Rome proclaims the faith of the local churches. It is thus the wholly reliable teaching of the whole Church that is operative in the judgement of the universal primate. In solemnly formulating such teaching, the universal primate must discern and declare, with the assured assistance and guidance of the Holy Spirit, in fidelity to Scripture and Tradition, the authentic faith of the whole Church, that is, the faith proclaimed from the beginning. It is this faith, the faith of all the baptised in communion, and this only, that each bishop utters with the body of bishops in council. It is this faith which the Bishop of Rome in certain circumstances has a duty to discern and make explicit. This form of authoritative teaching has no stronger guarantee from the Spirit than have the solemn definitions of ecumenical councils. The reception of the primacy of the Bishop of Rome entails the recognition of this specific ministry of the universal primate. We believe that this is a gift to be received by all the churches.

Isn’t interesting that the more some people struggle to deny history, the more it comes right up and gets in thier faces.

Those who deny Papal primacy are fighting a losing battle because, as we can see, more and more churches are recognising it as fact.



Subrosa, you are amazing! God bless you!


After the Germanic barbarians leveled the Roman Empire Rome was cut off from much of the world, the Celtic Churches which reintroduced not only Christianity but literacy back to Europe during the dark ages was essentially completely autonimous for centuries and apart from Rome. To me reading the history of the period between the fall of the Roman Empire and the crowning of Charelemange as Holy Roman Emperor doesn’t help Rome’s claim as the infallible HQ of the Church. Many Churches could care less about Rome and had no dealings with Rome at all and still not only prospered but essentially saved Western Christendom like the Celtic Churches.


This thread does not deal with infallibility. You need to make another thread.


So it is unclear as to if after the death of Peter there was ONE and only one leader at Rome? The argument could go either way. If there was a groups of elders exercising authority at Rome, then there could have been a “first amoung equals” person and that person’s position could have developed through study of tradition and scripture into the Pope.

The evidence against the claim of a Pope in the earliest days of the Church is not conclusive, given the evidence and possibilites, so the only sources to use are the ones after the years 100CE and they DO support the claims of the Church regarding the Pope role.
Is that a safe assumption?


So say even the supremacy or need of Rome for the Church to function. The Celtic Churches not only functioned but thrived and reintroduced literacy and Christianity back to Europe with essentially no involvement from Rome at all for centuries.


Would that explain why the Roman Bishops complained.
They had trouble understanding the visiting Irish, the Irish monk scholars latin - it was too good.


Latin was the language of the learned back then. This is what I mean by “reintroducing literacy back to Europe”. Irelands unique location and the fact that is was sheletered from both Roman and barbarian conquest allowed it to be a bastion for learning and creating great books while the rest of urope was being ravaged by barbarians who wre destroying all the centers of learning.

But the Celtic Churches were very much autonomous from Rome itself for centuries, this is without dispute.


The idea that there was a “community of presbyters” is wrong – read the Epistles of Paul, and see his comments on episcopoi (bishops.) At least from the time of Paul, the Church hierarchy consisted of bishops, priests and deacons. The bishops were consecrated as they are today, by the laying on of hands and it is the bishops (not the priests) who exercise the Magisterium.

Clement, the fourth Bishop of Rome, left us written evidence of his office and the exercise thereof. Most famously, the people of Corinth drove out their bishop and priests, and Clement, in his capacity as head of the Church on earth, wrote them a long letter, commanding them to take them back – and the Corinthians obeyed.


I will cheerfully argue about this later. This thread belongs to someone else.


No, the general consensus is that the earliest were presbyter/bishops. I think you will find very few people to agree with you…amongst the people who study this. Clement did not leave any evidence of what you said. That is interpretive spin and is not found in the context. Polycarp wrote similiar letters and no one claims he was head of the Christian Church.:wink:

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