The Rise of the Monoepiscopate in Rome: a Catholic Response

Over the years, I have found a number of Catholics leave the Church on the basis of a historical theory, subscribed to by both Protestants and liberal Catholics, arguing that there was no monarchical episcopate in Rome until the late second century, which would make the papacy, or so some Protestants say, an anachronistic invention.

The major evidence used to buttress this theory is that the New Testament writings do not distinguish between the words “elder” and “bishop,” and indeed, they are used interchangeably. Moreover, in Clement’s epistle to the Church in Corinth, dated circa 96, Clement identifies the Church as a plurality of elders and names no, and neither identifies himself as, a singly bishop of Rome. Moreover, Ignatius epistle to the Romans, dated a decade or so after Clement’s epistle, also does not mention any such bishop (despite making reference to various bishops in other cities in his other epistles).

When one notes, for example, that Irenaeus of Lyons, a student of Polycarp, who was an adolescent when Clement wrote his epistle to the Corinthians, listed the bishops of Rome prior to Clement as Linus and Anacletus, the traditional argument used to counter this evidence is that Irenaeus was “reading back into that era the structure of the Church in his day.” In actuality however, such writers are accusing Irenaeus of fabricating the succession he lists in Rome. Moreover, such authors further accuse Irenaeus of no shortage of ignorance of the time period in which he lived–a rather audacious and pretentious view in my opinion, as writings dated to this period are scant at best, and even scholars often resort to sociological theories and guesswork to determine what was going on during this primitive period of Church history. Thus, for these writers to claim that they understood the structure and hierarchy of the Church in the early period of Irenaeus’ life better than Irenaeus himself warrants serious skepticism.

Moreover, the fact the New Testament uses the words “presbyter,” “bishop,” “elder,” and the like interchangeably would appear to be problematic to the thesis posited by such scholars, for although there is no formal term which describes a monarchical bishop, such a position is found in scripture. James, for example, who was not among the twelve, is designated as monarchical bishop of Jerusalem. Thus, what one finds in Ignatius writings is a semantic evolution–a change in the usage of the word “bishop” to refer to a sole leader of a college of presbyters, and not a change in Church hierarchy. Another issue arises in the fact that Ignatius constantly enjoins the flock to recall and live in accordance with, the traditions handed down to the Church, as conceded by the proponents of the anachronism of the single bishop theory. Yet, despite admitting that Ignatius is quite conservative and in accord with the traditions of the Church, they also claim he is inventing a novel teaching which has no basis in tradition. Again, the inconsistencies are glaring.

There is found a strong reason in Peter’s first epistle to various persecuted Churches in Anatolia as to why neither Ignatius nor Clement identify a bishop of Rome in their epistles. Peter identifies his location as the “Church in Babylon,” and for good reason–this veiled reference to Rome helped protect a Christian community which was constantly under duress, and this only escalated during the interval following the conflagration of Rome under Nero. Given the prominence of the Roman bishop, Ignatius and Clement would have only done themselves and their respective flocks a disservice by naming the bishop of Rome. The fact that many works were falsely attributed to Clement indicates and effectively refutes any arguments made by certain Protestants that he held no prominent position within the Church. Hermas also indicates that Clement had a specialized role within the Roman Church.

I also say this: even if there was no official separation between deacons, priests, and bishops within the early structure of the Church, a prominent elder, who would have acted as papal successor to Peter could have very well have been understood to carry a certain authority not realized by either the college of elders or bishops in neighboring Churches. In that light, this theory would appear to be fairly innocuous to the doctrine of the papacy, which, we have acceded a long time now, developed over the centuries, but has its germ in Christ’s promises to Peter (see Matthew 16:13-19 and John 21:15-17).

What are your thoughts on the monoepiscopate and how it impacts Catholic theology, especially relation to the papacy? I am interested in discussing this issue further.

They’re correct. Anybody who thinks that anything like a modern Pope was running around in the First Century has no grasp of ecclesiastical history.

which made make the papacy, or so some Protestants say, an anachronistic invention.

It’s not an invention, but a development. All doctrine develops (and it is still developing).

I don’t know why some Catholics delude themselves into thinking that all doctrine develops EXCEPT our understanding of the universal jurisdiction of the Papacy. Somehow, they think that idea was fully developed in Peter’s time. Nonsense.

We see the seeds of this in the Bible and the writings of the Early Fathers. But no reputable Catholic historian would claim that universal jurisdiction was well understood in the First Century.

What are your thoughts on the monoepiscopate and how it impacts Catholic theology, especially relation to the papacy?

I don’t think it matters any more than the development of any other doctrine. Was Jesus just a man, or only a spirit, or both? Is Baptism by heretics valid? Is Jesus fully present under both forms of Bread and Wine? These doctrines all developed (and countless others). Why is universal jurisdiction any more significant than the very nature of Our Lord? (which, by the way, is now contested only by the Jehova’s Witnesses). If someone can accept the dual human/divine nature of Christ (a Fifth Century development), why can’t they accept universal jurisdiction?

I’m not sure you quite understand what is meant by no “monarchical bishop”–the thesis presented by such scholars is that, not only did the bishop of Rome not wield authority over neighboring churches, but that there was no single Roman bishop whatsoever. Such scholars concede that such bishops were present at this time in other churches (e.g., Antioch). I, nor any Catholic I know, would argue that the papacy, as understood today, was in effect in the First Century. However, there is quite a difference between saying that the papacy developed and arguing that no monarchical bishop was present in Rome until the late second century.

That is certainly true–we’ve had some two-thousand years to study the scriptures and furnish theological insights via analysis and comparison of the sacred writings and through study of the Church Fathers. However, one would still expect the germ of the papacy to be established in the First Century. One can clearly note Roman primacy over neighboring churches in the fact that the church in Corinth bypassed Ephesus, thereby traveling many hundred extra miles to seek Rome’s consultation concerning their erstwhile quandary. Nonetheless, one puts Catholicism’s doctrine of the papacy in a parlous state by acceding no monarchical bishop having been present there until the late Second Century without elaborating on what one means by that.

If we are going to say that Rome during the entire First Century and most of the Second Century had no monarchical bishop and that there was complete bishopric egalitarianism, then one moves to the shaky ground of identifying the papacy from something that “developed” to a wholesale invention. How could the elders in Rome have understood even the slightest iota of what we identify today as the papacy if they didn’t even believe in a single bishop governing a particular location? I am willing to submit that there was no formal separation between “bishop” and “elder” during the time period until Ignatius writings, and even than that was mostly confined to the East. But, I would not say that there was not a single bishop who was recognized as the successor of St. Peter and whose role was to tend to the sheep and the lambs in Rome…

All of these doctrines have a firm basis, at least as seedlings, in the most primitive era of the Church. I think one needs to be careful of making the transition from “doctrinal development” to “doctrine ex nihilo,” and I’m sure Newman would agree.

Ah, well, that’s another thing. I thought you were talking about jurisdiction over the entire Church.

I’m sure that Rome, at times, had more than one Bishop. It has eight today, including the Pope (it has ten if you include the Vicar General (a Cardinal) and a certain Pope Emeritus). My own Diocese has two Bishops. But most systems of leadership have one guy at the head (such as as my Archbishop and his Auxiliary Bishop). This is how leadership normally works in governments, schools, Boy Scout troops, fishing boats, businesses, military units, prison cell blocks, street gangs, and just about every other form of human social organization.

In the absence of any historical evidence that Rome was initially ruled by an egalitarian council of Bishops without a recognized leader (while ignoring hard evidence to the contrary), it is wildly speculative and goes against almost all human precedent, both then and now.

Furthermore, if such a “council of equals” existed, there would have surely been controversy if one Bishop attempted to usurp the authority of the others, and claim for himself the right of leadership. It’s hard to imagine that such an event could have escaped mention in surviving historic texts, especially when these texts are otherwise full of leadership controversies (Bishops being deposed, Bishops being un-deposed, Bishops being re-deposed, etc).

That is how I feel as well, in addition to the fact that Christianity is a form of Judaism, in which the hierarchy was a triple stratum with deacons at the bottom, priests above them, and the chief priest at the top rung. I only wish more traditional Catholics were cognizant of this theory and analyzed it more critically (those few, liberal Catholics who do so don’t seem to care the slightest scintilla of subjecting the theory to scrutiny). You can read a paper defending the theory at the following link:

google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCQQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.auss.info%2Fauss_publication_file.php%3Fpub_id%3D401&ei=ER_PVMv8J9S3yATIoYLwCQ&usg=AFQjCNG8Ot8AOqHuziEYAzi7jV_J_Gzg6A&sig2=Zkx0PBN7H_0fjnFzX7Ugew&bvm=bv.85076809,d.aWw

Here is a refutation provided by Catholic apologist Mark J. Bonocore: biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/a80.htm

I dont see it as evidence against the providential origin of the CC structure if the monoepiscopate went through development. Protestants like to claim this development somehow invalidates the claim that Christ founded the CC and the papacy is nothing more than human development. Jesus did not leave a blueprint for the Church. He left the Paraclete to guide. At the same time I think Bryan Cross who I believe supports an early development of the monoepiscopate eg 1st century over at called to communion has written a very well thought out response to this topic. Check it out
calledtocommunion.com/2014/06/the-bishops-of-history-and-the-catholic-faith-a-reply-to-brandon-addison/

Early on, most cities didn’t have a terribly large number of Christians. It was usual for all the Christians to go to Sunday Mass at the same time and place, with the bishop officiating.

Rome, OTOH, was a very big city, and the community seems to have grown a lot faster. So it probably ended up doing faster what other cities ended up doing - the bishop ordaining some or all of the elders, and allowing them to say Mass elsewhere. (Hence the shift in meaning of “presbyter” to “priest.”)

But there are indications that despite a fair amount of danger, early Roman Christians were usually baptized quite close to Peter’s tomb, and that they were much more organized and aware of doctrine than the average Christian.

By the time we get to Pope Sixtus II’s martyrdom and that of three of his deacons who were caught along with him (Ss. Lawrence, Felicissimus, and Agapitus) in the middle of the third century, the church in Rome was apparently extremely organized, but also very quickly able to decentralize and hide the archives and church vessels. A lot like a Resistance group in WWII.

So given that the Roman church was made a target by Nero and every other persecution, and given that their big shrine to Peter was hidden in the tomb area right next to the biggest racecourse in the Empire, a bit of vagueness about the true extent of their organization, and the identity of their current leader, was probably a good idea. OTOH, they were also noted for the accuracy of their secret recordkeeping despite the dangers, so obviously they really really loved organization. Really really.

(Because normally, what you do with possibly-incriminating baptismal and ordination records is NOT KEEP THEM, but Catholicism in the West has always insisted on parish records even during persecution. Which obviously must be the Roman church’s passionate respect for church law being passed down to us.)

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There is no logical connection between “the term επισκοπος was not used of leaders of the church in Rome in the C1st” and “there was no individual leader of the church in Rome in the C1st”.

I suspect that Irenaeus was being terminologically anachronistic in referring to Linus et al. as “bishops”, but that neither means that he was ignorant (since he could well have been using the term which had come into use, as I used “bishop” rather than επισκοπος just then) nor that he was projecting the whole structure of his day back onto that time.

Sometimes, a label is just a label.

So are you arguing for the position that there was a recognized leader of the church in Rome during the First Century?

It seems highly unlikely that there should not have been an individual leader, since that tends to happen among groups of humans, especially in the situation where one of them had walked and talked with the Messiah. I suspect that Peter would have had great difficulty persuading the others not to defer to him.

Peter and Paul could well have been referred to in their own time as apostles, however, rather than bishops, since the former trumps the latter.

There is, however, a possible reason for Linus, Anacletus, and Clement not having had that title (bishop) either. If, as Tertullian believed (32), Clement was ordained by Peter (sect. 32) and thus was ordained when Linus and Anacletus were still there, and if επισκοπος (literally “overseer”, later “bishop”) and πρεσβυτερος (“elder”) were not clearly differentiated positions in Peter’s own day, then Peter and Paul might well have ordained Linus, Anacletus, and Clement as πρεσβυτεροι (elders), the position of επισκοπος being quite redundant in a church with two apostles watching over it.

Once the two apostles were martyred, the group of πρεσβυτεροι would presumably have run the church at Rome, apparently under the leadership first of Linus, then of Anacletus, and then of Clement (since that is the list generally provided by historians of the times). Even if it were pointed out to them that other churches had individually-labelled επισκοποι, these successive chairmen would not necessarily have felt a need to follow suit: having been appointed πρεσβυτεροι by apostles, the three might well have preferred that lesser title conferred by greater men to a greater title (επισκοπος) conferred by possibly lesser men (those who were not apostles).

This is conjecture, but it would explain why Clement’s letter to Corinth uses the first-person plural, a form apparently not normal for bishops of Rome before Damasus (Burn-Murdoch, Development of the Papacy, p.181): if he were the leader of the council of elders rather than a singular and separate overseer, including them would be natural. The church at Rome might then have followed the more widespread pattern of titles with Evaristus, who was presumably ordained closer to the end of the century, when a/ the differentiation of titles was more firmly fixed, and b/ there were no handy apostles to ordain him.

Perhaps I am missing something, but the fact that Clement’s letter is written in the plural appears to me to be a very tenuous reason to argue for an absence of monarchical episcopate in Rome; the fact that there were elders and deacons in those cities would appear to be sufficient reason to identify the Church as a plurality with or without a single bishop system.

And, as already noted, the monarchical episcopate is patently seen in the situation with James at Jerusalem during the Apostolic Age of the Church. As many Protestants seem to ignore as well, Clement’s epistle to the Corinthians very firmly establishes the doctrine of Apostolic Succession; that is to say, that the Father sent the Son, who then sent the Apostles, who then ordained clergymen who themselves possessed the authority to ordain other clergymen in a succession that continues to the present day, which is what one observes with the situation of Peter at Antioch and Ignatius acting as its Third Bishop. Yet, the bishopric successor to Peter would not have been Ignatius and Evodius but Linus then Anacletus.

The extent to which Apostolic Succession permeates patristic writings and has a clear witness in the Pauline epistles excludes for me the possibility of Protestantism being the true faith. The schismatic situation with the Eastern Orthodox Church is truly unfortunate, but it is historically true that the Roman pontiff held primacy over other bishops, and contrary to modern arguments, this primacy was in relation to jurisdictional and not merely honorary recognition.

Well, I would apply David’s thesis to this as well. In fact, I think that Newman’s basic argument against high-church Anglicanism (and Orthodoxy) is strengthened by this research. That is to say, there is evidence for Roman primacy over other churches (Clement’s letter to the Corinthians) before there is evidence for a monarchical episcopacy in Rome (i.e., there’s a stronger case that Clement’s letter represents some kind of claim of authority by the Church of Rome over the Church of Corinth than there is that Clement himself was a monarchical bishop).

Hermas says that Clement was the presbyter entrusted with letters to other churches. While the date, genre, and accuracy of Hermas is open to dispute, it seems quite plausible that there was some such office within the early Roman Church, and that this office developed into the Papacy. From a later second-century standpoint, it made sense to describe the holders of this office as monarchical bishops, but that may not be how Roman Christians thought about it at the time.

The strongest evidence for the absence of a monarchical bishop at Rome, in my opinion, is Ignatius’ letter to the Romans. Given Ignatius’ theology of the episcopacy, and the prominent mention of bishops in his other letters, it seems extremely odd that he wouldn’t address the letter to the bishop of Rome if there was such an office.

That is certainly true–we’ve had some two-thousand years to study the scriptures and furnish theological insights via analysis and comparison of the sacred writings and through study of the Church Fathers. However, one would still expect the germ of the papacy to be established in the First Century. One can clearly note Roman primacy over neighboring churches in the fact that the church in Corinth bypassed Ephesus, thereby traveling many hundred extra miles to seek Rome’s consultation concerning their erstwhile quandary. Nonetheless, one puts Catholicism’s doctrine of the papacy in a parlous state by acceding no monarchical bishop having been present there until the late Second Century without elaborating on what one means by that.

Well, here’s an elaboration: it seems likely that the title “bishop” was not used until that time in Rome as a title exclusive to one of the Roman presbyters. It seems further likely that there were a lot of different Christian communities in Rome, without the leader of one of them exercising authority over the others. That does not mean that Catholic claims are false. Perhaps all the presbyters were successors of Peter. Or perhaps only the one entrusted with relationships with other churches was the bearer of the full apostolic authority that was, theologically, passed on to later Popes.

If we are going to say that Rome during the entire First Century and most of the Second Century had no monarchical bishop and that there was complete bishopric egalitarianism,

Those statements aren’t equivalent, in my opinion. It’s highly unlikely, just from a cultural point of view, that any relationships among people in the ancient world were entirely egalitarian (of course, some might argue that this was precisely the distinctive of Christianity, which was quickly lost or obscured). There would almost certainly have been a senior presbyter. (Clement’s letter is not evidence per se for monarchical episcopacy, but it is evidence for Clement being steeped in Roman cultural attitudes about the importance of order and hierarchy.)

then one moves to the shaky ground of identifying the papacy from something that “developed” to a wholesale invention. How could the elders in Rome have understood even the slightest iota of what we identify today as the papacy if they didn’t even believe in a single bishop governing a particular location? .

Well, throughout the early Church it seems to me that the primacy of Rome was understood as the primacy of the local church of Rome, so that idea could exist independently of any particular form of government within that local church. But as I said, I think it’s highly unlikely that there was no primacy among the elders of the Roman church.

Edwin

The Catholics I know who left, did NOT leave because of disagreement on historical fact. They left because of moral issues. Like divorce and remarriage without an annulment.

Catholics can certainly make a logical case for Peter’s episcopal office in Rome. #25
Apostles argued over primacy, and it was settled by Jesus at the Last supper #30

And here #385

I’ve not seen protestants make that argument work.

True

True

Exactly. Ignatius is on his way to Rome to be thrown to the lions.

In the Acts of the Apostles (14:23) Saints Paul and Barnabas “appointed presbyters (=priests) for them in every church.” Paul and Barnabas were bishops who had received at ordination the power to ordain others. In Greek the words used were presbyteros for priest, elder, presbyter, and *episcopos *for bishop, overseer, supervisor, or guardian. By the time of St Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107) he speaks of the bishop as one who has “acquired his ministry, not from himself, nor through men”, and that he is to be regarded “as the Lord Himself.” (Ep. Ad Philad., 1; Ephes. 6).

St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch and was martyred in Rome in approximately 107 A.D. His letter comes from about 96 A.D. Even at this early date, the threefold hierarchy of bishops, priests (presbyters in Greek), and deacons is present and the practice of celebrating the Holy Eucharist is clearly a long-established practice.

“The substance of the record contained in the Ignatian epistles is this:
While the Christian communities of this period (c.100-110) have many presbyters and deacons, they have only one bishop….there are bishops and the faithful are to obey both the bishops and the presbyters.” The New Biblical Theorists, Msgr George A Kelly, Servant Books, 1983, p 78].

“It is a matter of seeing not simply words as such, but the facts, the realities: seeing the Church live – and as far back as the New Testament.”

Cardinal Lawrence Shehan says that the NT is not a book of neat linguistics. He cites the New American Bible, Hinds, Noble and Eldredge’s Greek English Dictionary, the English Jerusalem Bible, Goodspeed’s translation of the Chicago Bible, Kleist-Lilly, Joseph Fitzmer, SJ, and Fr Andre Feuillet’s The Priesthood of Christ and His Ministers as all acknowledging priests or priesthood in the NT under a variety of terms – presbuteroi, leitourgos, hierourgos, Leitourgon, Leitourgon hierougounta. “The absence of the use of the one term hierus is evidence merely that this one term was not used, not that priest or priesthood are unacknowledged in the NT.” [See *The New Biblical Theorists, Servant Books, 1983, by Msgr George A Kelly, p 84].

Pope Clement I writing to the Church of Corinth reminds the rebels at Corinth that the apostles ordained bishops and deacons, and unquestionably expects them to respect men: “who had been appointed by the apostles or afterward by other eminent men……The apostles are from Christ…they appointed their first fruits – after having tested them through the Spirit – to be the bishops and deacons of the future believers.” The New Biblical Theorists, Msgr George A Kelly, Servant Books, 1983, p 97-98].

Does St. Ignatius mention the subject of Roman presbyters and deacons presbyters or deacons in Rome? Does Peter in 1 Peter 5 mention the existence of presbyters in the Church in Rome? Selective use of silence when the argument supports one’s own position, but ignoring silence when it opposes one’s own position is dangerous. eg the presence of presbyters in Rome.

It is a good thing that I was not using it as the basis for such an argument.

I would suggest he deliberately veiled that reference to the bishop of Rome.

**Example **(in his letter to the Church of Rome)

"You have never envied any one; you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed [by your conduct], which in your instructions you enjoin [on others]. "

Who is Ignatius referring to?

Most consider this a reference to Clement’s letter settling sedition among the bishops in Corinth. In his letter to Rome, Ignatius is recognizing that plus is now pleading not to come to his protection, as he wants to be ground like wheat in the teeth of the lions.

So…Given
[LIST]
*]Ignatius writes in his letters to other churches in the East, that “NOTHING be done without the bishop”, I’m suggesting he is NOT going to go against his own beliefs now, writing to the Church of Rome, nor ask others in the Church of Rome, to go against that either.
*]Even though Ignatius letter doesn’t have a specific name that it is addressed to, it’s obvious Ignatius didn’t send this letter to Rome the city, hoping it gets to the bishop of the Church of Rome. Why do I say that?
[/LIST]Huge persecution of the Church is going on in Rome at this time. Catholics are going through wholesale martyrdom. It’s prudent not to name names, considering Ignatius is writing his letter on the way to be martyred himself.

Highly unlikely.

When Corinth needed help with their seditious bishops, they would NOT go to the Church of Rome if there was no authority there that was understood to have the power to overcome seditious bishops anywhere, and especially in another country.

I say that because
[LIST]
*]Corinth was not capable of settling their own problem or they would have done it themselves
*]St John is still alive and living on Patmos or in Ephesus. Both locations are closer to Corinth than the bishop of Rome. Why not go to a living apostle for help? One has to ask that question. Afterall this IS during apostolic times
*]Athens has valid bishops. It’s mentioned in Acts. It’s only 50 miles from Corinth. Why didn’t Corinth go to Athens for help?
*]Then there is Thessolonika to the north, also with valid bishops and MUCH MUCH closer to Corinth than is Rome. Why not go to THEM?
*]Then there is Antioch. Also closer to Corinth than is Rome. Wasn’t Peter also in Antioch before going to Rome? Let’s not forget, Ignatius is bishop in Antioch from ~69 a.d. to ~107 a.d. Why didn’t Corinth go to Ignatius for help?
[/LIST]SO…Why did Corinth go all the way to Rome, to ask the Church of Rome to settle their problem if they had all those other options?

Please don’t respond that Rome is the capitol of the empire. The State is no friend of the Church. The state has one thing in mind, that is to destroy the Church. So going to the Church of Rome because it’s the chair of Peter is the issue, and must be seperated COMPLETELY from any notion of going to Rome the city because Rome is the Capital of the empire .

As an observation, in this case, the Church of Corinth, when they had serious problems with their bishops, how did they act in fixing the problem? Who did they go to? And WHY did they go there instead of other options they could have gone to? **Unless of course those other “options” weren’t real options at all for Corinth **.

One has to ask, If the other options had authority to settle the matter for Corinth and Corinth needed an immediate fix, I’m suggesting here, they would have taken any of those other options. That’s logicical. Afterall, Rome is much farther away than all the other possibilities. And since the Church of Rome did NOT get back to Corinth speedily because of persecutions, and while Corinth needed a speedy solution, Corinth waited. I would suggest, that’s screams ANOTHER reason to support the point, Corinth didn’t think the other “options” were real options for Corinth.

It’s obvious, Corinth knows the Church of Rome, is the chair of Peter, and has the authority to fix their problem.

as an aside, the Greeks still use Clement’s letter in their liturgy.

Not likely at all.

No leader with authority over others? Really?

Just look at what Corinth is dealing with.

If Your scenerio is true, it would immediately eliminate from consideration, Rome’s help to settle Corinth’s problems with their bishops. That’s logical.

We know why Corinth went to the Church of Rome, it’s the chair of Peter.

That notion never had legs.

established by Christ #385

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