Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thinking about becoming Roman Catholic?

WSCal Grad Brandon Addison
WSCal Grad Brandon Addison
Brandon Addison, a WSCal grad who has spent a lot of time at the Called to Communion site has posted this comment over at in response to a reader, which I think is a great piece of advice to anyone who is looking at Roman Catholicism as an option:

If you are considering Rome, I think you are asking the most important questions [asking for works about the early papacy]. Speaking biographically, I was initially intrigued by the notion that Jesus founded the RCC. I was reading some of the theological/philosophical problems posed at various conservative Catholic blogs where they pressed that Sola Scriptura only allowed us to have an opinion with no principled means to distinguish my opinion from someone else’s. The principle means proposed was to follow the Church that Jesus founded--and he founded a visible church after all. As a disciple of Christ it made perfect sense to join the institution that Jesus founded, and it would make it much easier to know that the Church could not err (emphasis added).

But then I started digging into the major premise of these claims. Did Jesus really found the RCC? To be honest, I wanted to be persuaded. [But the opposing evidence] was staggering. I started digging into the academic literature. What did Roman Catholic scholars have to say about the early episcopate? I read Raymond Brown, Eamon Duffy, Allen Brent, and Edward Schillebeeckx. All of them rejected the notion that there was an episcopate in Rome from the time of Peter.

In Roman Catholicism, especially the brand proposed by the Called to Communion gang, “Peter as Bishop of Rome” is not only the visible foundation of the RCC, but it is the epistemological foundation as well. That is, the whole system is dependent on that having happened, and then they begin their history lessons assuming that it happened that way. But when you look at Christian history from the beginning, that is, from 33 AD, there isn’t a shred of evidence in favor of that assumption.

I continued reading scholarship from Protestants from various positions (Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational). I read Oscar Cullmann, John Crocker, Peter Lampe, Robert L. Williams, Eric G. Jay, Robert Jewett, and Larry Hurtado to name some of the different people I consulted. All of them agreed there was no monarchical bishop in Rome.

Take this statement from Larry Hurtado at his blog (

As reflected in most scholarly studies on the subject, there is no evidence that Peter was ever “bishop” in/of Rome. All the earliest texts, e.g., 1 Clement (ca. 90 CE) mention Peter and Paul together as martyrs in Rome, but make no claim about Peter as first bishop or any indication that a succession-line was in operation. The earliest such claim is from mid-3rd century CE, and that claim was disputed at that time…There is no claim that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and that subsequent bishops inherited his authority before the third century CE.

This is representative of the scholarship in the field. Earlier Roman scholarship is exemplified in Gregory Dix’s essays on early literature (though Dix was oddly an Anglican working for reconciliation with Rome). You can also see things by people like Dom Chapman, Felix Cirlot, and Adrian Fortescue for older takes on Roman scholarship. To be honest, the field has developed so much since these men wrote that there works are not very useful when asking about the first two centuries of Christianity--particularly Roman Christianity.

Modern scholarship I’ve seen cited is Bernard Green’s book on Roman Christianity. [Green is an admitted child-molester--which I note not to discredit his work, but because I think that someone who commits such heinous crimes needs to have these despicable actions noted about them.] It really is a good book overall. Green is not as persuaded by Lampe’s discussion of fractionation of Roman Christianity. Green’s work, however, also approvingly cites Eric G. Jay’s article on presbyter-bishops where Jay concludes that the monarchical episcopate developed in the second century. The other work which I have recently been pointed to (and which I have not read) is Chrys Caragounis’s chapter on first century Rome. I hope to read that today actually and report on it in a forthcoming article.

To summarize, Lampe’s work is the most thorough and is recognized as the definitive work by his peers because he interacts with so much of the evidence. But Lampe’s view is not new. Even John Crocker, committed to episcopal church government stated,

If to believe in the Apostolic Succession it is necessary to hold that there was always conformity to the threefold ministry of bishops, priests, and deacons, without development through a period of inchoate beginnings and widespread diversity; if it is necessary to hold that there were Bishops everywhere in the later sense of the word from the Apostles’ time to this, and that the immediate successors of the Apostles enjoyed the same authority as the Twelve, the surely the doctrine must be recognized as one which historical investigation has decisively discredited.

That was written in 1936. Lampe is not setting to discredit anything, his study is to sketch what we know of early Roman Christianity. One of the things we learn through his study is that Roman Christianity had a presbyterian form of government and that the existence of a monarchical episcopate is unheard of until the later part of the second century. This also happens to corroborate what scholars like Crocker had believed for half a century before Lampe’s study.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Rome's historical claims and claims of authority are built on sand. I wish we could say that to know history is to reject Romanism. Yet depravity blunts reason.

    1. Hi Ex, I agree, built on sand, but here's an explanation that I just got from a Roman Catholic (in that same thread):

      To be clear, what I am arguing from are the explicit accounts (not the silences) that we do have from those early times, which constitute a picture of the universal church in its early stage of development, is quite consistent with later stages of development, beginning with the Gospel accounts of the call of the Apostles and the various commissions given them and others (cf. the seventy) by Christ, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (where we can see how the Apostolic ministry was exercised in its first stages), Clement (who specifically mentions Apostolic succession), Ignatius (who specifically mentions the monepiscopacy), and Irenaeus (who specifically mentions the bishops of Rome going back to the first century).

      I can and have responded to this sort of thing in the past, but the response requires checking into each of those sources (often using commentaries to determine what is actually being said in each instance), and by that time, the discussion has moved on.

      But yes, depravity (and a sense of partisanship in some) blunts reason.