Friday, July 01, 2011

Understanding the Early Development of the House Churches in Rome 5: Patronage and Leadership

Since I haven’t been able to publish every day, just by way of review, my goal in this series is to present a useful (and easily accessible) overview of some of the writings that discuss the recent historical understanding that the earliest Roman church was composed of a network of households, and thus, that they had no single leader. This, in turn, flatly contradicts both the pronouncements of “perpetual” successors given at Vatican I, and the history that Roman Catholic Church has been telling for centuries about the foundation of its own authority.

As the Roman Catholic biblical scholar John P. Meier recently noted in recent “high level” ecumenical discussions, the papacy does not yet provide “a credible historical account of its own origins…” (“Petrine Ministry in the New Testament and in the Early Patristic Traditions,” in James F. Puglisi, ed., How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Uity of the Universal Church?” Grand Rapids, MI and Cambridge, UK: William Be. Eerdmans Publishing Co., © 2010). Meier is one of those who believes in “God’s providential guidance of the church, leading by a series of steps to the emergence of the bishop of Rome,” but this is a far, far cry from the “divine institution” of the papacy – directly conferring it on Peter who directly conferred it, in “full power” directly to an unbroken chain of “successors.”

And as the Lutheran scholar John Reumann noted in an essay in that same work,
Biblical and patristic studies make clear that historically a gap occurs at the point where it has been claimed “the apostles were careful to appoint successors in” what is called “this hierarchically constituted society,” specifically “those who were made bishops by the apostles . . .,” an episcopate with an “unbroken succession going back to the beginning.” For that, evidence is lacking, quite apart from the problem that the monepiscopacy replaced presbyterial governance in Rome only in the mid-or late second century. It has been noted above how recent treatments conclude that in the New Testament no successor for Peter is indicated. (in Puglisi, pgs 65-66, emphasis in original).
The historical studies as presented in this series serve as the underpinning for the statements given here by Meier and Reumann.

This is the kind of understanding that I believe Reformed and Evangelical believers must bring to any ecumenical discussions (along with Scriptural contradictions of any notion of “the papacy”) as solid reasons for rejecting Roman claims and for requiring repentance from the entire institution of Roman Catholicism for its false claims through history and damage has caused to the church and the hindrance it has added to the Gospel throughout history.

Part 1: Households in Ancient Rome: An Introduction
Part 2: Christians and Jews in First Century Rome
Part 3: Commerce and Household Communities
Aquila, Priscilla, and the accurate history of Acts 18.2
Part 4: Household Leadership as Church Leadership
House Churches and Households in the New Testament

Continuing with Lane’s account from my most recent post:
A typical insula [apartment building where a house church might congregate] contained a row of shops on the ground floor, facing the street, and provided living quarters for the owners and their families over the shops or in the rear. There would be space on the premises for the manufacture of goods sold in the shops, and accommodations for visiting clients, workers, servants, or slaves. The arrangement brought together a considerable cross section of a major group in society, consisting manual workers and tradespeople. Such households were part of an intricate social network made up of other households to which they were tied by kinship, friendship, professional advantage, and other considerations. The strategy of situating the church in the home was sound, for it provided Christians with relative privacy, a setting where identity and intimacy could be experienced, a ready-made audience as well as a social network along which the influence of the Christian movement could spread. The conversion of households with their dependents helps to account for the growth of Roman Christianity.

Wealth, Patronage, and the House Church
There is an abundance of evidence from antiquity that patronage and leadership went hand in hand especially when a member’s generosity extended to the gift of his home for communal use. To cite only two instances, inscriptional evidence recovered from the house synagogues at Dura-Europos and at Stobi demonstrates that this was true in the Diaspora Jewish community. Epigraphic evidence from the third-century-C.E. Dura synagogue shows that the owner of the house, Samuel Ben Yed’ya funded and supervised the conversion of his private home into a synagogue complex. The designation of Samuel as elder (πρεσβυτέρως) and ruler (ἄρχων) probably indicates that he was the highest authority in the community. C. H. Kraeling, who published the evidence, argues that Samuel continued to live in the domestic quarters of the enlarged complex. At Stobi in Macedonia, in the second century C.E., Tiberius Polycharmus, who is designated “father of the synagogue,” converted his villa into a household synagogue containing a prayer hall, a dining room, and a portico, reserving for himself and his successors the right to reside in the upper story of the complex. In both instances, wealth and patronage were determining factors in leadership.(209-211).

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