The Church Always Had Monarchical Bishops: A Response to James White
"YES, VIRGINIA, THE CHURCH HAS ALWAYS HAD MONARCHICAL BISHOPS" (A Merciful Response to James White's "Roman Catholic Apologists Practice Eisegesis in Scripture and Patristics")
by Mark J. Bonocore
A few months ago, anti-Catholic Protestant apologist Mr. James White posted an article on his web site in which he criticizes several historical proofs I presented for the existence of the first century monarchical episcopate; and even goes so far as to claim that these proofs represent "an interesting example of the constant presence of anachronism in Roman Catholic apologetic treatments of both the Bible and patristic sources."
It's been over three years now since Mr. White repeatedly failed to address the "Scripture alone" challenge I posed to him. That is, to name one ancient Church Father who arrived at "orthodox Christianity" (i.e. Mr. White's Reformed Baptist faith) via their supposed "Scripture alone" reading of the Bible; and thereby proving that Mr. White's "fundamental truth" of "Scripture alone" leads to "reliable," consistent, and repeatable results over time (which it obviously and objectively does not). However, so far, Mr. White continues to ignore this enormous hole in his personal theology; and, instead, wishes to take pot shots at my understanding of the Church Fathers, in an apparent attempt to depict my apologetic arguments as baseless.
Since I've received numerous requests to respond to Mr. White (both from Catholic-friendly circles and from Mr. White's own associates), I will now address his essay in detail.
To begin, let me take a moment to re-present my position on the monarchical episcopate, which is the position of orthodox Catholic Christianity itself. Simply stated, it is a historical fact that the three-fold office of the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) ministerial priesthood (i.e. bishop, presbyter [priest], and deacon) has existed in the Church since earliest times and was established by the Apostles themselves. Now, in opposition to this historical fact (and as Mr. White himself points out), numerous Protestant and liberal Catholic historians have tried to suggest that the earliest Apostolic city-churches were not governed by monarchical bishops (in which one man served as the chief shepherd of the city-church), but were rather governed by colleges of supposedly-equal ("democratic" ?) presbyters. And, indeed given a first-glance, pedestrian, and modernist reading of the earliest patristic evidence, it is not surprising that some might come to such a conclusion. Case in point, as seen in the New Testament literature itself, it is an indisputable fact that the earliest Christians used the terms "bishop" ("overseer") and "presbyter" ("elder" / "senior") interchangeably:
Titus 1:5-7: "For this reason I left you in
Acts 20:17-28: "From
What's more, in the earliest patristic literature (especially when it applies to the Western city-churches, such as the church of
As for Protestant historians who wish to deny the existence of monarchical bishops in Apostolic times, this desire certainly shouldn't surprise us, since discrediting the monarchical episcopate was both a key and essential objective of the Protestant Reformation, without which the Reformation could not possibly have succeeded. And why not? Because, unlike previously-successful schisms in Church history, Protestantism was not a movement initiated by legitimate bishops. Rather, all the Protestant leaders were either mere Catholic priests (like Martin Luther) or Catholic deacons (like John Calvin), with no bishops among them to lend an air of "episcopal authority" to their heretical doctrines.
True, at the tail end of the Reformation, there were some Catholic bishops who "jumped ship" (as in the creation of the Elizabethan "Church of England"); but, by that time, the denial of a special episcopal charism was already a universally-established tenet of the Protestant heresy; so much so that, at the "ordination" of Matthew Parker (Queen Elizabeth's first truly-Protestant Archbishop of Canterbury), an ordained priest (now-Protestant) and two Low Church ministers (a/k/a laymen) participated in the "ordination" as equal partners with legitimately-ordained Bishop Barlow (who had also gone over to the Protestant heresy). So, the idea of a "college of presbyters" was very clear in their minds, and any notion of actual episcopal authority was something to be totally rejected.
Thus, if anyone wonders why anti-Catholic Protestants like James White are so keen on disputing the existence of early monarchical bishops, that's the REAL reason. It is because his Protestant theology NEEDS THIS to be the case. So, this isn't some cold and academic disagreement about Church history; but an extremely important part of Mr. White's theology, without which one of the founding principals of the Protestant heresy is called into question. In other words, before the sixteenth-century Protestant rebellion against legitimate Church authority, no one of any importance seriously questioned the Apostolic nature of the episcopal teaching office. However, for the Reformation to succeed as a "valid" Christian movement, episcopal authority had to be discredited, because no bishop in the Church subscribed to Protestant corruption.
Yet, what of the historical evidence itself? After all, if we don't see any direct reference to a monarchical bishop in the earliest patristic evidence, isn't it the simplest and most likely conclusion that no monarchical bishops existed? No, not at all. Rather, the simplest and most likely conclusion is that we're dealing with a change in Christian semantics, and that the term "bishop" began to be used for the leading presbyter of a city-church, as his importance became more and more apparent during the heresy battles at the end of the first century. In other words, the Apostolic city-churches always possessed leading presbyters who presided over their fellow-presbyters (e.g. James at
As we've already seen, in New Testament times, the terms "bishop" ("overseer") and "presbyter" ("elder") were still being used interchangeably (e.g. Titus 1:5-7). Thus, in the original Christian usage, all "elders" were "overseers," and all "overseers" were "elders." And, as we've also seen, it was only in the time of St. Ignatius of
Letters of St. Ignatius of
Ignatius of Antioch was a man who both knew and was ordained by the Apostles. No modern scholar, Protestant or Catholic, seriously questions this fact. What's more, as I said earlier, whenever Ignatius uses the term "bishop," it always applies to the leading, one-man shepherd of a city-church. Ignatius does not use the term "bishop" as the New Testament does, where the word is interchangeable with the term "presbyter." Rather, for Ignatius, "bishop" and "presbyter" are clearly separate offices; and again and again, we see Ignatius referring to the traditional Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon," in which the term "bishop" ("overseer") is used for the monarchical leading presbyter alone:
"You must all follow THE BISHOP as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbyters as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the church without THE BISHOP. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by THE BISHOP, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever THE BISHOP appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Ignatius, TO THE SMYRNEANS)
"....your most worthy BISHOP, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow servant the deacon Soto, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to THE BISHOP as to the grace of God." (Ignatius, TO THE MAGNESIANS, Chapter II)
"Take care, then who belong to God and to Jesus Christ -- they are with the THE BISHOP. ...Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the
From these selected quotes alone, we can clearly see that one of Mr. White's assertions is false. Mr. White claims:
<< It is true that Ignatius like the NT speaks of episkopoi (bishops); but also like the NT, he only means local presbyters. >>
This claim is clearly a mischaracterization of historical fact.
Furthermore, despite what some other so-called "scholars" have directly stated in their books, St. Ignatius of
"I received therefore your whole multitude in the name of God, through ONESIMUS, a man of inexpressible love, AND YOUR BISHOP IN THE FLESH, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him." (Ignatius TO THE EPHESIANS, Chapter I)
"I know that you possess an unblameless and sincere mind in patience, and that not only in present practice, but according to inherent nature, as POLYBIUS YOUR BISHOP has shown me." (Ignatius TO THE TRALLIANS, Chapter I)
"I salute your most worthy BISHOP POLYCARP, and your venerable presbyters, and your Christ-bearing deacons, my fellow servants ..." (Ignatius TO THE SMYRNEANS, Chapter XI)
"Since, then, I have the privilege of seeing you, through DAMAS your most worthy BISHOP, and through your worthy presbyters Bassus and Apollonius, and through my fellow servant the deacon Soto, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is SUBJECT TO THE BISHOP as to the grace of God." (Ignatius, TO THE MAGNESIANS, Chapter II)
"Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, which is at Philadelphia, in Asia ...which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if men are in unity with THE BISHOP, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit. Which BISHOP I know, obtained the ministry I know which pertains to all ....Wherefore my soul declares HIS (one bishop) mind towards God a happy one, knowing it to be virtuous and perfect, and HIS (the bishop's) stability as well as freedom from all anger is after the example of the infinite meekness of the living God." (Ignatius TO THE PHILADELPHIANS, Intro and Chapter I)
What's more, Ignatius repeatedly refers to himself as either the "bishop of Antioch" or the "bishop of Syria," meaning that he himself was the monarchical shepherd of the enormous first century church of Antioch (capital of Syria). For example, he says:
"Remember in your prayers the
So, at the time of Ignatius, about a decade after the death of the last Apostle, we find a pre-existing situation, in which the following persons are already ruling as bishops over the following (corresponding) city-churches:
Ignatius = Bishop of
Onesimus = Bishop of Ephesus (possibly Paul's disciple mentioned in Philemon)
Polycarp = Bishop of
Damas = Bishop of Magnesia
Polybius = Bishop of Tralles
[Unnamed] = Bishop of Philadelphia.
So, here, at the very end of the Apostolic age, we have six separate city-churches -- three of which the Apostle John himself had recently addressed in the Book of Revelation (
So, with this being the case, one cannot help but ask the question: Who appointed all these monarchical bishops? Especially in places such as
Ah! But, while all this may be fine for Eastern city-churches like
First of all, it is very true to say that Ignatius speaks of
Secondly, critics of the Catholic position are quite right that Ignatius never addresses a "bishop of
"Remember in your prayers the
Furthermore, if one appreciates the historical context involved, it is quite understandable why Ignatius fails to address a Bishop of Rome in his epistle. In addressing the Roman bishop by name, Ignatius would have been signing this man's death warrant. One needs to appreciate who and what Ignatius himself was. As Bishop of Antioch, Ignatius was the leading Christian of all
In this way, Church unity could be maintained throughout the entire known world. And so, by arresting Ignatius of Antioch, the pagan imperial government had captured one of the most important "ring leaders" of the "Christian cult." All the other Christian bishops (such as Polycarp in
Answer: It is because they wished to parade their very important captive before the Christians along the way as a sobering example of what was in-store for them if they did not submit to imperial paganism, etc. This is also why Ignatius was permitted to stay with Christian communities along the way and interact with fellow-bishops like St. Polycarp. So, for this reason alone, it is clear why Ignatius (primate of the Church in
Lastly, I will address later in my responses Mr. White's direct criticisms. In Chapter III of his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius clearly says:
"...and also BISHOPS, settled EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS OF THE EARTH, are so by the will of Jesus Christ."
Here, once again, we must remember that, for Ignatius, "bishop" was a term that exclusively referred to the leading presbyter of a city-church. Thus, if "bishops" were "settled everywhere, to the utmost bounds of the earth" in Ignatius' day, then there was clearly a Bishop of Rome as well. And, anyone who wishes to deny that, or maintain that Ignatius only recognized some "college of equal presbyters" governing the city-church of
Furthermore, aside from the contextual reasons why Ignatius does not mention a "bishop" for
And very hard evidence for this presents itself in the case of Ignatius' associate St. Polycarp of Smyrna -- one of the monarchical bishops who Ignatius meets (and later writes to) during his overland journey to Rome.
Indeed, as we've already seen, Polycarp is unquestionably the monarchical bishop of the city-church of
"I salute your most worthy BISHOP POLYCARP, and your venerable presbyters, and your Christ-bearing deacons, my fellow servants..." (Ignatius TO THE SMYRNEANS, Chapter XI)
And Ignatius speaks of Polycarp as a monarchical bishop again and again in the two separate epistles he sends to him (i.e., "Ignatius to the Smyrneans" and "Ignatius to Polycarp"). Yet, in the months that follow, as Polycarp corresponds with the Western (European) city-church of Philippi (in
"Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the
This formula strongly implies a different semantic for the Philippian city-church, as well as the other city-churches of the European West. In other words, the Europeans were not yet using the term"bishop" to mean the leading presbyter of a city-church (e.g. Polycarp), but were still apparently utilizing the original, New Testament semantic, in which "bishop" and "presbyter" were interchangeable terms. And, this being the case, it is no wonder that Ignatius, Polycarp, and other contemporary (or earlier) patristic sources do not impose the Asian terminology on
So, the solution is a semantic one; and there was no "later development" of the office of bishop itself. Indeed if we only possessed Polycarp's "Epistle to the Philippians," and not Ignatius' two epistles "To Smyrna" and "To Polycarp" (in which he repeatedly identifies Polycarp as the monarchical bishop of Smyrna) James White and others like him would, no doubt, try to argue that Polycarp was merely an "equal member" of the Smyrnean college of presbyters, as opposed to its presiding head. However, the naked truth is that no early city-church was ever governed by a "college of equal presbyters"; but rather, like the synagogue system that preceded the city-church, there was always a leading figure who presided as its head. And this fact becomes even more apparent when we turn to the Scriptural evidence.
When exploring the Scriptural evidence for the truth of the Catholic position, one cannot help but immediately focus on the figure of St. James the Just who, without question, functioned as the one-man monarchical leader of the
Similarly, in Galatians 2:12, as St. Paul complains about some Judaizing Christians from the church of Jerusalem, he does not say that these Jewish brethren came "from Jerusalem" or from "the presbyters of Jerusalem," but rather "from James" -- thus equating James with the church of Jerusalem itself. Also, in Acts 12:17, as Peter flees
However, as with St. Polycarp himself, one could easily try to "camouflage" St. James within a college of supposedly-equal presbyters (if one wasn't aware of the truth of his primacy). For example, in Acts 21:18, it says
"The next day Paul accompanied us on a visit to James, and all the presbyters were present."
This is clearly shades of "Polycarp and the presbyters with him." Yet, while James is not called the "bishop" here, we know from both the context of this passage (and from the overall witness of Scripture itself) that James was the presiding leader of these presbyters (a/k/a their "bishop").
Also, in Acts 15:2, when a dispute arose between Paul and Barnabas and some Jewish Christians from
Indeed if, as both Scripture and the patristic sources show us, the Apostles appointed one man (James) to act as the monarchical governor of Jerusalem, which was without question the most important city-church of New Testament times, and the model for all subsequent city-churches founded by the Apostles, why would they set up entirely different systems of church government elsewhere? That makes absolutely no sense. However, the truth is that the Apostles did not create other systems of government for the other city-churches; but that each "college of presbyters" in a particular city-church always included a leading figure (an "arch-presbyter," if you will), who was later designated as its "bishop" in the Ignatian terminology. And this can be seen most clearly in Scripture itself. For example, we already presented the witness of Titus 1:5, which reads:
Titus 1:5: "For this reason I left YOU (i.e., Titus) in
Here, St. Paul speaks to St. Titus in the "you-singular" in Greek, thereby showing that Titus possesses the exclusive episcopal authority to ordain presbyters throughout the entire island nation of Crete -- which is why both Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy counts St. Titus as the first Bishop of Crete; the authority to ordain is a bishop's authority. Titus was, without question, the presiding presbyter (a/k/a "bishop") over all the presbyters he ordained on the island. Thus, like James in
"Presbyters who preside well deserve double honor...Do not accept ("you-singular") an accusation against a presbyter unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Reprimand ("you-singular") publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid. I charge you (singular) before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels to keep these rules without prejudice, doing nothing out of favoritism. Do not lay hands (you singular) too readily on anyone...."
Here, it is more than clear that St. Timothy possesses exclusive and personal authority over the other Ephesian presbyters. It is Timothy himself who is to "accept (or reject) an accusation against a presbyter" (just like modern Catholic bishops). It is Timothy himself who is to "publicly reprimand" a sinful presbyter (just like modern Catholic bishops), so as to inspire pious "fear" in all the other presbyters. It is Timothy himself who must personally "keep these rules" and not show "prejudice" (one can only "pre-judge" if one has the authority to "judge") or "favoritism" (another reference to authority or the possible exploitation of authority). And, it is for Timothy himself (just like modern Catholic bishops) to "lay hands" upon a man so as to ordain him to the presbytery. Yet, as he does with Titus, Paul tells Timothy to act prudently when granting such ordination.
Thus, in at least three New Testament city-churches (
Furthermore, as I pointed out earlier, it is important to appreciate the fact that the first Christian city-churches were based upon the old Jewish synagogue system that preceded them (e.g. Acts 18:7-8). And, while these synagogues clearly possessed "colleges of presbyters" who acted as a governing body for a particular Jewish community, they ALSO always possessed a "leading presbyter" (e.g. a "chief rabbi"), who was the president and spiritual father of the Jewish community. And it was no different for the earliest city-churches, in which this leading Christian presbyter would eventually be called "the bishop." However, as we've also seen, it was not a common first century semantic to separate this leading presbyter (the "bishop") from his associate presbyters in the city-church, but to speak of them as one body ("the presbyters") instead. This semantic comes directly from the Jewish practice that preceded the city-churches; and it can be most clearly illustrated in the case of
For example, shortly after Paul arrives in
"We have received no letters from
Notice here how these Jews merely say "from
Lastly, as Mr. White well knows, St. Irenaeus of Lyons (a disciple of St. Polycarp), along with several other second century Fathers, spoke extensively on the necessity of monarchical bishops. Irenaeus himself holds up the monarchical bishop as a safeguard against the countless (Gnostic) heresies threatening the Church at this time, and even presents us with lists tracing one-man succession from the Apostles to the reigning monarchical bishops of his own day. The reason he bothered to do this was to demolish the Gnostic claim that the Apostles imparted "secret knowledge" to some of their followers; and that the Gnostic heresies were part of this "secret knowledge." In this, Irenaeus brilliantly argues that, if the Apostles were to entrust such "secrets" to any of their disciples, it would most certainly have included those to whom they entrusted the care of the city-churches. Yet, as he goes on to point out, none of the succeeding monarchical bishops ever taught anything remotely similar to the Gnostic doctrines; and the succession lists of these bishops (available in all of the second century city-churches) proves this to be an indisputable fact.
Now let's assume for a moment that Mr. White is correct. Let's assume that the Apostles themselves did not appoint monarchical bishops, but that they were a later, second century development; and that they were still unknown in
Okay. Even if we were to accept Mr. White's apparent premise, and assume that Irenaeus and his associates were liars and fabricators of history (or at least ignorant and grossly mistaken), this still fails to explain the effectiveness of their anti-Gnostic argument! For goodness sake, if the succession of one-man monarchical bishops presented by Irenaeus (and others) was not something that could be verified historically, then his entire argument would have blown up in his face, and he certainly would have known this! Indeed, Irenaeus was not merely arguing history for history's sake, but was basing the very integrity of orthodox Christian doctrine on the fact that there were always monarchical bishops (in all the city-churches) from Apostolic times! If this were not true, then Irenaeus was not only dishonest, but also stupid; and his Gnostic opponents were even more stupid since they never questioned the monarchical episcopate's Apostolic origins or unbroken successions, but were totally silenced by Irenaeus' argument! Mr. White needs to explain how this could be. If Irenaeus fabricated history, passing off a very recent "development" as something stretching back to the lifetimes of the Apostles, why didn't any of his Gnostic opponents expose this obvious "crack in his armor" ? Unless, of course, they weren't able to, because Irenaeus was presenting true and verifiable historical information.
Answers to Specific Criticisms
So, with all this said, let me address Mr. White's criticisms point-by-point. For starters, he writes
<< The first assertion Bonocore makes is that since Ignatius uses episkopos in the monarchical sense, when he speaks of bishops who are "settled everywhere" (Eph. 3) that this somehow means that Rome must have had a monarchical episcopate as well. But the idea that Ignatius is saying something about the organization of the church at
Is it, Mr. White? Says who? As I already presented above, in Chapter III of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius says that bishops are settled "EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth" and not merely by 'ecclesial development' or by accident, but rather "by the will of Jesus Christ." As I've also established, whenever Ignatius uses the term "bishop" he always means the one-man (monarchical) leader of a city-church; and here in Ephesians, Ignatius clearly says that this one-man (monarchical) office of church leadership is established "EVERYWHERE," even to the "UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth." Now,
<< Upon what basis is this assumption made? We are not told. >>
Okay, well I'll tell you now, Mr. White.
(1) Upon the fact Ignatius always uses the term "bishop" to mean the monarchical leader of a city-church.
(2) Upon the fact that
(3) Upon the fact that Ignatius clearly and unambiguously states:
"...and also BISHOPS, settled EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS OF THE EARTH, are so by THE WILL OF JESUS CHRIST." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter III)
Find a way out of this if you can, Mr. White.
<< When Ignatius wrote to the church at
No, that is untrue. As I also illustrated above, he also fails to name the Bishop of Philadelphia; although he certainly does address him (albeit indirectly). As for why he does not directly address the bishop of
"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church that presides in the chief place in the Roman territory; a church worthy of God, worthy of honor presiding in love, maintaining the law of Christ" (Ignatius, To the Romans Chap I)
"You have never envied anyone, you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed, which in your instructions you enjoin [on others]. (Ignatius to the Romans, Chap III)
Aside from this, Ignatius tells us nothing about Roman authority or the structure of its local church government.
Letter of St. Clement of
Mr. White then moves on to my understanding of St. Clement of
As for my use of First Clement itself, White basically criticizes my equating of the author's reference to the Jewish three-fold ministry of "High priest / priest / Levite" with the Christian three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon." In this, he argues that I have wrenched Clement's words out of their intended context; and that Clement himself had no understanding of the three-fold Christian ministry, but recognized only two Christian ministerial offices -- that of "presbyter/bishop" and that of "deacon."
Well, first of all, let me make it very clear to Mr. White that I agree wholeheartedly with his observation that 1 Clement is speaking of the literal High Priest, the literal priests, and the literal Levites of the Jewish temple in the passage in question. It was never my intention to formally argue that he is using the words "High Priest," "priest," and "Levite" to mean "bishop," "presbyter," and "deacon" respectively. Rather, my argument rests on the very fact that Clement cites this three-fold Jewish ministry as a parallel example, when he is arguing for the legitimacy, and Divinely-created character, of the Christian ministerial offices! In other words, why cite the three-fold Jewish ministry at all? Unless, of course, it held some significance for his audience when it came to their understanding of the Christian ministerial offices.
However, White rejects all of this, and quotes from J.B. Lightfoot in an attempt to refute my very valid observation. He says:
<< [Bonocore] bases this upon a misreading of the above text, focusing upon the Old Testament illustration used by Clement. However, as J.B. Lightfoot rightly commented on this passage, "Does the analogy then extend to three orders? The answer to this seems to be that...this epistle throughout only recognizes two orders, presbyters and deacons, existing at
Well, first of all, let me express my boundless amusement when it comes to White's "sage blessing" of Lightfoot's position, as when he says, "Lightfoot rightly commented on this passage." I'm sure Dr. Lightfoot would take great comfort in knowing that Mr. White acknowledges his "rightness." However, this alone illustrates the nature of what we're dealing with here -- mere conjecture and opinion. White does not see a parallel in First Clement for the simple reason that he does not wish to see a parallel. Now, if Mr. White possessed the overly-fastidious scholarly integrity of a J.B. Lightfoot, perhaps that could be excused. However, this is far from the case; and, as even his quote from Lightfoot tells us, many other scholars agree with me, and DO see an analogy in Clement between the threefold Jewish ministry and the threefold Christian one.
This latter point becomes particularly relevant once we recall the semantic tendency (already discussed) in which the earliest Christians spoke of their leading presbyter (later termed their "bishop") as part of the body of presbyters itself. If we approach First Clement from this terminological perspective, then of course the ancient author only recognized two (nominal) church ministries: "presbyter/bishop" and "deacon." This is because he was still utilizing the New Testament-period semantic, in which "presbyter" and "bishop" were interchangeable terms; and so a city-church's bishop was presented as one of the presbyters (albeit the leading presbyter). However, from a practical, ministerial, and personal perspective, the author of First Clement would also have distinguished between the man serving as Corinth's leading presbyter (e.g. the "High Priest") and the other presbyters among him (e.g. "the priests"), because this individual leading presbyter would have had special duties within the college of Corinthian presbyters that made his ministry special and unique; and thus the fitting analogy to the Jewish "high priest," whose priestly ministry was ontologically identical to that of the other Jewish priests, save for special privileges and duties (per James in Jerusalem, Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus on Crete).
So, in the case of First Clement, we come full circle and return to the observation that the late first-century Church (especially in the West) was still using the terms "presbyter" and "bishop" interchangeably. Yet, there is nothing in First Clement, or in any other patristic source, which in any way suggests that these city-churches did not possess a leading presbyter who presided over the other presbyters, or that these presbyters operated according to some "democratic" system, in which "all presbyters were created equal." While the latter notion may be particularly attractive to the very-American Evangelical Protestant mind, it is also the height of anachronism and does not speak to the reality of the early Church itself, which based its form of government upon the Jewish synagogue system.
Mr. White thereafter attacks a quote I presented comparing the 1 Clement analogy to a much later comment from St. Athanasius, which reads:
"You shall see the Levites (i.e. deacons) bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Athanasius, "Sermon to the Newly Baptized," c. 373 A.D.)
In response to this quote, White writes:
<< Bonocore then provides more anachronistic eisegesis of the text in Clement by moving more than two centuries into the future, and a thousand miles away geographically, to a quotation by Athanasius, where Athanasius does use the term "Levite" of a deacon. Are we to conclude that because one writer in the fourth century uses "Levite" of "deacon" that every writer in all preceding centuries followed the same path? Surely not >>
Here, Mr. White both misses the significance of the quote I presented; and again puts his own rhetorical "spin" on the widespread ancient Christian custom of calling deacons "Levites." Here, Athanasius is by no means an isolated example, in that countless patristic sources (in particular those of the Eastern Church) speak of deacons as "Levites"; and this custom continues in Eastern Orthodox Greece and
Mr. White, however, wishes his audience to completely ignore the unanimous and consistent witness of the Church Fathers (from the first century on) in which the Christian Eucharistic celebration (a/k/a the Lord's Supper) is presented and understood as a Sacrifice, mirroring (and prefigured by) the Temple sacrifices under the Old Covenant. However, once one comes to appreciate the fact that the entire early Church viewed the Eucharistic service in this way, the connection between the mentality of St. Athanasius and that of St. Clement is obvious. In other words, given that Christian ministry centered around the Sacrificial celebration of the Eucharist, both Clement and Athanasius (along with untold numbers of other ancient Fathers) saw a clear parallel with the Jewish three-fold office of "High Priest / Priest / Levite." This is why Athanasius calls deacons "Levites" and this is why Clement presents his analogy to the Jewish temple ministry when arguing for the legitimacy of Christian ministers. In other words, the Christian cultural understanding was always there, just as when St. Paul (a generation before Clement) made reference to the same Sacrificial mystery of the Eucharist and compared it to the Jewish altar in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22, writing:
"The Cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the Blood of Christ? The Bread that we break, is it not a participation in Body of Christ? ...Look at ISRAEL ACCORDING TO THE FLESH; are not those who eat the SACRIFICES participants in the altar? So, what am I saying? That meat SACRIFICED to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they (the pagans) SACRIFICE they SACRIFICE to demons, NOT TO GOD, and I do not what you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink of the Cup of the Lord AND ALSO of the cup of demons. You cannot PARTAKE of the Table of the Lord AND ALSO of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger?"
Here, we must not forget that both
Aside from this, Mr, White attempts to remind us again and again that First Clement to the Corinthians does not attribute its authorship to Clement of Rome (fourth Bishop of Rome) himself, but is written in the name of the church of Rome, and so therefore supposedly cannot be used to argue for a first century Roman bishop. For example, White writes:
<< Remember that the title is traditional: the epistle does not give a name of the writer(s). >>
Well, that's very true, Mr. White. Yet, neither does the Gospel of Matthew. So, are you saying that the Apostle Matthew didn't write it? Also, neither do the Gospels of Mark, Luke, and John. So, are you saying that we should doubt that Mark, Luke, and John wrote those Gospels? If not, Mr. White, then upon what basis do you dispute the authorship of First Clement?
Indeed, as with First Clement, the Apostolic authorship of the 4 Gospels rests totally upon very early and reliable oral tradition; and we find historical documentation of the traditional authorship for both First Clement and the four Gospels presented in the very same early sources. For example, the strongest early documentation we possess for the authorship of the four Gospels comes to us from the aforementioned St. Irenaeus of
"Matthew also issued among the Hebrews a written Gospel in their own language, while Peter and Paul were evangelizing in
And this same St. Irenaeus of
"The blessed Apostles (Peter & Paul), then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the Apostles, CLEMENT was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed Apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the Apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their Traditions before his eyes. Nor was he alone [in this], for there were many still remaining who had received instructions from the Apostles. In the time of this Clement, no small dissension having occurred among the brethren at Corinth, the Church in Rome dispatched a most powerful epistle to the Corinthians, exhorting them to peace, renewing their faith, and declaring the Tradition which it had lately received from the Apostles ... To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus ..." (Against the Heresies 3)
Here, please note a couple things: First of all, St. Irenaeus speaks of the authorship of First Clement while tracing the succession of monarchical Roman bishops from the Apostles (a historical reality that Mr. White does not acknowledge). Secondly, St. Irenaeus clearly says that the epistle in question was dispatched by the Roman church with Clement acting as its bishop.
Now Mr. White will no doubt call all this "anachronism" or perhaps, as his very thesis suggests, accuse St. Irenaeus and his fellow second-century defenders of the monarchical episcopate of "fabricating history." Yet, Mr. White cannot do this without also calling into question the authorship of the Gospels themselves!
Indeed, when it comes to the authorship of First Clement, there is not one ancient source which disputes that St. Clement of
"Today we kept the Holy Day, the Lord's Day (Sunday), and on it we read your letter (i.e., Soter of Rome's epistle). And we shall ever have it with us to give us instruction, EVEN AS THE FORMER ONE WRITTEN THROUGH CLEMENT." (Dionysius Epistle to Pope Soter in Eusebius H.E.)
Here again we see First Clement attributed to St. Clement of Rome himself, who is equated with St. Soter as the monarchical bishop of Rome. And so, if Mr. White wishes to dispute the authorship of First Clement or St. Clement's role as a monarchical leader of the First Century church of Rome, I challenge him to produce one shred of ancient evidence which in any way denies these things. This is something he will never do, because he cannot. The unanimous witness of the ancient Church is clear.
Mr. White then moves on to dispute the existence of monarchical presbyters (a/k/a "bishops") in Scripture itself. In this, he begins by undermining his own anti-Catholic thesis, admitting that James the Just was the monarchical leader of the
<< There is no question that James had a position of leadership in
Oh? And why is that, Mr. White? As I discussed above, in earliest times
<< Where do we find Paul ordaining "arch-presbyters" in the churches? >>>
Where do we not? Truth be told, the Scriptures themselves are relatively silent when it comes to describing the "practical mechanics" of first-century church government and how it was exercised among the presbyters. This is why we go with the oral witness of the ancient city-churches, which describes this for us in detail (e.g. St. Irenaeus), and presents us with consistent systems of leadership from one city-church to the next (i.e. the monarchical episcopate). It is only a "modernist mentality" which assumes (without warrant) that the presbyters ever operated according to some "proto-democratic" system. However, this was not the way the ancient synagogues operated; nor would the early churches have functioned this way. So unless Mr. White wishes to present us with evidence for an ancient Christian "Thomas Jefferson," who brought "political equality" and "democracy" to the city-churches, we are forced to retain our organic view.
Mr. White also says:
<< James' position was apostolic and unique: to extend his unique ministry in
Oh? And how do you justify this assertion that James' position at
<< Is it a sound argument to note that Paul wrote a letter to a single elder (Timothy), and since he used singular personal pronouns in writing to him, this means Timothy was the only elder, or held a position of priority over anyone else? Surely not! Such involves the same kind of leap in logic we have seen previously >>
Does it really, Mr. White? Well, as long as we're making "leaps of logic" here, let me ask you why Paul would bother to write a letter to a single elder (presbyter) at all? Unless of course that elder (presbyter) was someone in charge of the city-church itself. White has already "addressed" this problem, giving his solution as follows:
<< Paul is giving general instructions to Timothy (and through him to the entire church, knowing that Timothy, ministering in Ephesus as he did, would pass these truths along just as the gospel had gone forth from Ephesus into all of Asia Minor). >>
I see. So, Paul gave authoritative instruction to Timothy alone, and Timothy was responsible for passing this authoritative instruction along to the other presbyters of
As I said before, it is Timothy himself who is to "accept (or reject) an accusation against a presbyter" (just like a modern Catholic bishop). It is Timothy himself who is to "publicly reprimand" a sinful presbyter (just like a modern Catholic bishop), so as to inspire pious "fear" in all the other presbyters. It is Timothy himself who must personally "keep these rules" and not show "prejudice" or "favoritism." And, it is for Timothy himself (just like a modern Catholic bishop) to "lay hands" upon a man so as to ordain him to the presbytery. And we see Paul investing his other disciple Titus with the very same power and authority (for the Church on
Thus, the position of James at
As the celebrated Catholic scholar Henri de Lubac so eloquently put it:
"The history of the first Christian generations is full of obscurities for us. But the rare documents that do provide information about the situation of the churches towards the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, everywhere indicate the existence of men exercising the office of bishop in full awareness that it was of Apostolic origin, and that it combined presidency over their own church and an active concern for the other churches. No one feels any need to justify this situation by any arguments. And nowhere, either in the early period or for long afterwards, is there the slightest perceptible trace of this state of affairs being disputed in any way." (Henri de Lubac, The Petrine Office and Particular Churches)
Ubi est episcopus, ibi est ecclesia.