Friday, January 24, 2014

An Extended Review of Peter Lampe’s “From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries”

From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries
From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome
 in the First Two Centuries
Brandon Addison has posted an Extended Review of Peter Lampe’s “From Paul to Valentinus” at This is something that I myself have wanted to do for a long time, but have never had the time to do it.

The papacy is critical to Roman Catholic sensibilities about itself. Now with the doctrine of “papal infallibility”, it is a cornerstone of Roman Catholic epistemology – you’ll hear some apologists saying things like “because of the papacy (and papal authority), we have the ability to know with certainty what’s really ‘divine revelation’ and what’s merely ‘human opinion’.”

Growing up as a Roman Catholic, I was certain that the papacy had been a strong, firm, well-defined institution from the days of Peter – when he founded the church at Rome and was the first bishop there – his bishoprick extending for 25 years. Then there was a grand and glorious history of popes down through the next 2000 years.

In holding to the doctrine of the papacy (and it is a doctrine of the Roman Catholic church – and remember, doctrines can never change), Roman Catholics have intertwined this doctrine tightly with the history behind it. In fact, with reference to the papacy, history is so intertwined with dogma that it is referred to by theologians as a “dogmatic fact”.

This has been defined by an eminent Catholic theologian as “historical fact so intimately connected with some great Catholic truths that it would be believed even if time and accident had destroyed all of the original evidence therefor” (Shotwell and Loomis, in the 1927 introduction to their work “The See of Peter” (New York, NY: Columbia University Press, ©1927, 1955, 1991), pgs xxiii–xxiv).

Shotwell and Loomis were among the first researchers of the 20th century to explore the history of the papacy in depth, but they weren’t the last. Others explored the history and theology of that period, and exploded the notion that Peter was at Rome for 25 years – if at all. Oscar Cullman’s 1953 work “Peter: Disciple, Apostle, Martyr” applied historical and exegetical methodologies to the New Testament (and post-NT writings) about Peter and concluded that yes, while Peter was important, there was no such thing as “apostolic succession”. Cullman was a Lutheran and a very ecumenically-minded one at that. He was one of the Protestant observers at Vatican II. Karl Barth joked with him that his tombstone would carry the inscription “advisor to three popes.”

But Lampe has provided the crowning achievement on a century’s-worth of work on the earliest papacy. Relying on a methodology that seemingly scrutinizes every scrap of paper from that period (Rome in the first two centuries), every grave and cemetery, every inscription, every archaeological find, Lampe provides a clear and compelling picture of what it was like to be a Christian in Rome during those centuries.

And while being totally non-polemical throughout the whole project, Lampe’s work gives us a keen insight into Rome in the first two centuries that almost totally excludes the notion that there was a pope, or a “successor to Peter”, or in fact, that there was even a single bishop in charge in the city during those first two centuries.

The clarity of this picture simply turns on its head the “dogmatic fact” of the papacy – in fact, this work (first published in German in 1987) inspired the Vatican’s own investigation of “the Primacy of the Bishop of Rome in the First Millennium”, and was probably behind Pope John Paul’s search for “a new situation” for “The Successor of Peter” in the 1995 encyclical ut unum sint.

* * *

In 10,000 words, Brandon provides thorough overview of Lampe’s work, along with a rebuttal of a treatment that Bryan Cross gave to it at the Called to Communion site. Brandon’s method is to “summarize each of Lampe’s sections and then explain how the traditional Roman Catholic position fails to account for all of the data.” As for Bryan Cross, Brandon notes that his comment “demonstrates his ignorance of Lampe’s book throughout this entire comment”.

This review is a brilliant introduction to a brilliant piece of work. By all means, click over and read the review. If you don’t have time to read all 10,000 words, at least skim through it. But as Brandon suggests, the best way to gain a sense of the magnitude of this study, by all means, “read Lampe himself for his fuller argument”.

Here is the link to the work: From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. A great deal of it is available through the “Look Inside” feature.

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