St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church

Oct 17th, 2010 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Today is the memorial of St. Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch who was martyred in Rome in AD 107. What does St. Ignatius reveal to us about the Church? According to the early fourth century Church historian Eusebius, St. Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch (from approximately AD 70 to 107) after Evodius, about whom little is known. Evodius, apparently, was ordained by the Apostle Peter, who according to the account in Acts 12, seems to have gone immediately to Antioch after being released from jail by the angel. St. Ignatius is thought to have been an auditor (i.e. hearer) of the Apostle John, who died around AD 100 AD. St. John Chrysostom (c. 347 – 407 AD), who grew up in Antioch, taught that St. Ignatius had been ordained at the hands of Apostles, including St. Peter. According to ancient tradition, St. Ignatius was the child whom Christ had held, as described in Matthew 18:4, as depicted in the fresco below from the Gračanica.

Detail from a fresco depicting Christ picking up the child St. Ignatius, from the account in the Gospel of St. Matthew 18:4.

According to the eyewitness account of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius, recorded by Deacon Philo of Tarsus and the Syrian Rheus Agathopus, who had accompanied St. Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, in Emperor Trajan’s ninth year (AD 107) he sent for St. Ignatius on his way through Antioch, and ordered him to worship the Roman gods. When St. Ignatius refused, Trajan had him bound and sent to Rome “there to be devoured by the beasts, for the gratification of the people.” When he arrived at Rome he was in fact martyred in the amphitheatre by wild beasts.1

On his way to Rome St. Ignatius composed seven epistles, five of which were addressed to Churches of various cities along the way, one to the Church at Rome, and one composed to St. Polycarp (AD c. 69 – 155), the bishop of Smyrna. St. Polycarp knew St. Ignatius (they had met face to face) and wrote about St. Ignatius’s epistles in his Epistle to the Philippians. Smyrna was the first place that St. Ignatius stopped on his way from Antioch to Rome. There he wrote his letters to the Churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome. Then, when St. Ignatius arrived at Troas, he wrote his letters to the Church at Philadelphia and to the Church at Smyrna, and he also wrote his letter to St. Polycarp.

In each of these seven letters we can learn something about the nature and structure of the Church at the beginning of the second century, and especially the structure and ground for the leadership of the Church.

In his Epistle to the Ephesians, St. Ignatius refers to Onesimus as the bishop of the Ephesians (c. 1). Then he writes:

“It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing,” [1 Corinthians 1:10] and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified.” (c. 2)

Notice here that he enjoins the Christian faithful in Ephesus to be subject to their bishop and the presbytery, as the means by which they may all be in “unanimous obedience.” He explicitly denies issuing orders to the Ephesians as if he is some “great person.” He points out that he can learn from them, and that he is exhorting them on account of love. He speaks of bishops being already established all over the world, writing:

“For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ.” (c. 3)

Then he continues in chapter 4, writing:

“Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God.”

Notice that unity and harmony are, for St. Ignatius, made possible by hierarchical order. St. Ignatius is not teaching that unity takes place by a ‘flattening’ of authority to some form of egalitarianism. Rather, for St. Ignatius, it is precisely in the harmony of each person acting in accordance with his appointed office that true harmony is made possible.

Then in chapter 5 he writes,

“For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature — how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity!”

Here St. Ignatius again shows how being united to our divinely appointed ecclesial authority is analogous to the union of the Church with Jesus, and the union of Jesus to God the Father. Just as the gospel has come to us in an hierarchical fashion (from the Father, to the Son, from the Son to the Apostles, from the Apostles to the bishops), so likewise our present union with God the Father is through an harmonious hierarchy: first with the bishop, through union with him to the Apostles, through union with them to Jesus Christ, and through union with Him to God the Father.

At the end of that same chapter St. Ignatius writes,

“Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”

The hierarchical nature of our union with God makes union with the bishop essential, and makes separation from our bishop a separation from the divinely appointed means by which we are united to God. Then in chapter 6 St. Ignatius writes:

“Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, (Matt 24:25) as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that you all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth.”

Notice the relation between following the bishop, preserving unity and avoiding any sect. For St. Ignatius, we receive and follow the bishop because He is sent by Jesus. And the bishop is sent by Jesus by having been sent by the Apostles, not by a secret inward call from heaven.

St. Ignatius commends the Ephesians for not heeding false teachers. (c. 9) Then in chapter 13 he writes:

“For when you assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith. Nothing is more precious than peace, by which all war, both in heaven and earth, is brought to an end.”

He points out that Satan is seeking to bring destruction and division. This is overcome through the “unity of our faith.” Especially in the last sentence he reveals that peace is not the cessation of war. Rather, peace and unity are that by which war is overcome. To bring peace we must ourselves enter the peace and unity of God. We cannot make peace or unity out of division and strife. We must find the existing peace and unity established by Christ Jesus, and enter into it. This principle applies also to sects and schisms between Christians. We cannot make unity out of division, without being united to an existing divinely-established unity.

Then in chapter 20 St. Ignatius writes:

“[S]o that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.”

Here too St. Ignatius urges the Ephesian Christians to obey their bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, so that they can share together the Eucharist. We may be reminded of what St. Paul wrote: “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Corinthians 10:17) We see here in chapter 20 of St. Ignatius’s letter that for him, this sacrament by which we are made one is deeply connected to our being joined together to our rightful shepherds. If we depart from the bishop, we no longer share in the one Bread, and thus are in some respect separated from the one Body.

In his Epistle to the Magnesians, chapter 2, Ignatius writes:

“Since, then, I have had 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 Sotio, whose friendship may I ever enjoy, inasmuch as he is subject to the bishop as to the grace of God, and to the presbytery as to the law of Jesus Christ, [I now write to you].”

Notice that the deacon is subject to the bishop (as by analogy to God the Father) and also to the presbytery (as by analogy to Jesus Christ).

In chapter 3, he writes:

“Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop] in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. And all such conduct has reference not to man, but to God, who knows all secrets.”

Chapter 3 in this way gives us an insight into the thought of St. Ignatius regarding the hierarchical way of being united with God in love and obedience. When we submit to the bishop, we are not submitting ultimately to the bishop himself, but ultimately to God the Father, because it is God who has sent and appointed the bishop as His representative. We thus serve God by way of following our divinely appointed shepherd, the bishop. To disobey the visible bishop (or feign obedience to him) is to disobey the Bishop who is invisible (i.e. God the Father).

In chapter 4 he writes,

“It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment.”

Some Christians, according to St. Ignatius, recognize a person as having the title ‘bishop’, but disregard their bishop in their activities, as if he has no authority. This behavior, claims St. Ignatius, is not in accordance with the commandment pertaining to the assembling of believers. Believers are supposed to assemble in union with their bishop.

In chapter 6 he writes:

“Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed. Do ye all then, imitating the same divine conduct, pay respect to one another, and let no one look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but do ye continually love each other in Jesus Christ. Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality.” (my emphases)

This paragraph again shows how St. Ignatius understands the basis for a divine harmony in the Church. There is an hierarchical order of bishop, presbyters, and deacons. They are united to each other in that hierarchy, and the laity are united to them in obedience and love. This is the key to unity, according to St. Ignatius, that we be visibly united to our bishop and the others under him in the hierarchy, so that we may reflect to the whole world the eternal order and unity in the Godhead.

In chapter 7 he writes:

“As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavour that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.”

Here again we see that the unity St. Ignatius urges us the believers to maintain is based on an hierarchical order that comes from God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ whom He sent, then through the Apostles whom Christ sent, and then through the bishops whom the Apostles appointed. For St. Ignatius, to be united together in true unity in the Church, we must be united to the eternal divine harmony that has become incarnated through Christ and continues in the enduring apostolic succession.

St. Ignatius finishes chapter 7 with the following statement:

“Therefore run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.”

We are to run together as into one temple of God, not to multiple temples. The Church is one, because Christ is one, and because God the Father is one. How do we ensure that we run together into one temple of God? For St. Ignatius, the answer is this: by following the bishop whom God has appointed and established.

In chapter 13 he writes,

“with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God. Be subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.”

Notice again St. Ignatius’s hierarchical conception order and unity. The unity of a plurality in which the plurality is in some sense preserved is always a unity of order. There is an order in the Trinity. So likewise, there is an order in the Church, of deacons to presbyters, and presbyters to the bishop. If we wish to imitate Jesus in His obedience to the Father, we are be obedient to the bishop, and thus, together in submission to our bishop, we are also to be subject to one another. For in this way, according to St. Ignatius, the Apostles were subject to Christ, to the Father, and to the Spirit. By being subject to those in the flesh who have been divinely established over us, we are also being subject to the Spirit.

In his Epistle to the Trallians, St. Ignatius writes in chapter 1 about Polybius as the bishop of the church at Tralles. He writes:

“I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind in patience, and that not only in present practice, but according to inherent nature, as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna by the will of God and Jesus Christ, and so sympathized in the joy which I, who am bound in Christ Jesus, possess, that I beheld your whole multitude in him.”

Polybius had come to Smyrna to visit St. Ignatius, and through him St. Ignatius beholds, as it were, the whole Church at Smyrna.

In chapter 2, St. Ignatius writes:

“For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.”

Here again we see St. Ignatius distinguish the offices of bishop, presbyter, and deacon. He explains that the Christians are to be subject to their bishop as to Jesus Christ. They are to do nothing apart from their bishop, that is, nothing pertaining to the Church. They are to be subject to the presbytery as to the apostle of Jesus. So the authority of Christ and the Apostles continues in the Church, according to St. Ignatius, through the offices of bishop and presbyter. The deacon holds a different order. The deacon is distinct from the bishop and presbyter in the third place after the bishop and the presbyter. The deacon is not a minister of the “mysteries” (i.e. the sacraments), because he is not a priest. Deacons are not “ministers of meat and drink” (i.e. the Body and Blood of Christ). They are servants of the bishop, and in this way servants of the Church of God.

In chapter 3 he writes:

“In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. Concerning all this, I am persuaded that you are of the same opinion. For I have received the manifestation of your love, and still have it with me, in your bishop, whose very appearance is highly instructive, and his meekness of itself a power; whom I imagine even the ungodly must reverence, seeing they are also pleased that I do not spare myself.”

Here again the deacon is to be honored as an “appointment of Jesus Christ” while the bishop is to be honored (by comparison) as if Jesus Christ. This is a very early explanation of what it means for the bishop or priest to be in Persona Christi. The presbyters are to be honored as “the sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles.” By describing the presbytery in both these ways, St. Ignatius draws a connection between the magisterial authority under the Old Covenant and that of the New Covenant, showing that under the New Covenant, the presbyters have succeeded the Sandhedrin, and by implication the bishop has the place of the high priest. He again in this chapter we see the three fold distinction in Holy Orders, from bishop, presbyter, and deacon.

In chapter 7 he writes:

“Be on your guard, therefore, against such persons [i.e. heretics]. And this will be the case with you if you are not puffed up, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.”

St. Ignatius teaches here that if we remain humble and in intimate union with “Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop, and the enactments of the apostles” we will be able to avoid being deceived by heretics. This statement shows that in the mind of St. Ignatius, what was enacted by the apostles continues in the succession of the bishops. Therefore, to remain in intimate union with Jesus Christ, believers must remain united to their bishop, for in doing so, they remain joined to the act of the Apostles, and thus to Jesus Christ. If we remain in this divinely established order, according to St. Ignatius, we will be protected from heresy. St. Ignatius’s statement implies that in the succession of bishops set up by the Apostles, there is a promise of divine protection from heresy and schism.

In chapter 12, he writes:

“Continue in harmony among yourselves, and in prayer with one another; for it becomes every one of you, and especially the presbyters, to refresh the bishop, to the honour of the Father, of Jesus Christ, and of the apostles.”

By remaining in harmony with one another, and praying for another, we refresh our bishop, and honor God the Father and Jesus Christ, and the apostles [who appointed the bishops].2

In chapter 13, he writes:

“Fare well in Jesus Christ, while you continue subject to the bishop, as to the command [of God], and in like manner to the presbytery.”

St. Ignatius seems to believe that with the death of the Apostles, he as a bishop must remind the Christians that the apostolic authority continues in the succession of bishops whom the Apostles appointed. Only in this way can unity be preserved and heresy avoided.

In his Epistle to the Romans, St. Ignatius writes in a very different manner from the tone in his other letters. He never enjoins the Christians at Rome to submit to their leaders. Instead he asks them to pray for him. It is worth recalling that at this time there was a recognized primacy in the three apostolic churches: Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. They held a primacy not because of their size or importance, but because of their relation to St. Peter.3 But St. Ignatius here shows deference to the Church at Rome, in contrast to the tone he adopts in his other letters. This seems to be an indication of his recognition of the primacy had by the Church at Rome, even among the three apostolic Churches, since he himself was the bishop of the Church at Antioch.

In chapter 2 he identifies himself as “the bishop of Syria,” writing “that God has deemed me, the bishop of Syria, worthy to be sent for from the east unto the west.” He clearly does not see himself as one among many different equal bishops of Syria. Then in chapter 9 he writes, “Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me.” His role as “the bishop of Syria” has been to shepherd the believers in Syria. It is not that while he was the bishop of Syria the Church there in Syria did not have God as its shepherd. What he means here is that now (upon his absence from Syria) the Church in Syria has only God as its shepherd (or bishop).

From Troas, St. Ignatius wrote his Epistle to the Philadelphians. In chapter 2 of this epistle he writes:

“Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive (2 Timothy 3:6) those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place.”

How are we to flee divisions and wicked doctrines? The answer St. Ignatius gives is to follow the shepherd (i.e. the bishop). That answer would be of no use if there was no objective way to distinguish true shepherds from imposters. Only if there is a basis for assurance of divine protection among the successors of the Apostles can staying with the successors of the Apostles be the means by which the sheep keep themselves from wolves, thieves, and robbers, i.e. those self-appointed persons who climb into the role of shepherd by some other way than through the gate, by the authorization of the gatekeeper in apostolic succession.4

In chapter 3 he writes:

“Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.].”

By “evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend” he means those who are separate from the bishop. “For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop”. But God is merciful, so that if any return in repentance to the unity of the Church, they shall belong to God. St. Ignatius makes a very strong claim about schism. To create a schism or to follow those who create a schism, is to imperil one’s soul. We are not to walk according to “strange [novel] opinion,” but according to what has been handed down to the bishop.

In chapter 4, he writes:

“Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God.”

St. Ignatius here enjoins the believers in Philadelphia to be united to their bishop, so that they may have only one Eucharist and in this way show forth the unity of Christ’s blood. St. Ignatius’s here again clearly distinguishes between the three offices: bishop, presbytery and deacon. In being joined in our actions to the bishop, the presbyters and the deacons, we are ensuring that we are acting according to the will of God.

In chapter 7, he writes:

“For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. But He is my witness, for whose sake I am in bonds, that I got no intelligence from any man. But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father.”

St. Ignatius here exhorts the Christians to “love unity” and “avoid divisions.” How are they to do this? By “giving heed to the bishop, the presbytery, and the deacons.”

In chapter 8 he writes:

“I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.”

According to St. Ignatius, God is a God of unity, peace and order. He does not dwell where there is division and wrath. So if we wish to be united to God, we must return to the “unity of God.” How do we return to the “unity of God”? By seeking communion with the bishop.

In chapter 10 he writes:

“[A]s also the nearest Churches have sent, in some cases bishops, and in others presbyters and deacons.”

He St. Ignatius reports that some of the churches bishops, and others sent presbyters and deacons. It is very clear that there is in the mind of St. Ignatius a clear distinction between the bishop and the [mere] presbyter.

In Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius writes in chapters 7-8:

“But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils. See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.”

How do we avoid divisions (which are the beginning of evil)? For St. Ignatius, the answer is: Follow the bishop even as Jesus Christ follows God the Father, and follow the presbytery as we would the apostles, and reverence the deacons as being the institution of God. Here we see in St. Ignatius the three primary Holy Orders as having been established and perpetuated by God, so that to follow those holding these Holy Orders is to follow God. Likewise, according to St. Ignatius there is a very important relation between Holy Orders and the other sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Only that Eucharist is proper which is administered by the bishop or by one to whom the bishop has entrusted it (i.e. a presbyter under him). According to St. Ignatius, the same is true of baptisms. The people are to follow the bishop. Where the bishop is, there is the Catholic (i.e. universal) Church. In other words, the bishop forms the backbone, so to speak, of the Body of Christ. We are all joined together in an organic unity insofar as we are joined to the bishop.

In chapter 9, he writes:

“It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.”

Here St. Ignatius teaches in the strongest language that those who reject the authority of the bishop are serving the devil. This is because the bishop has been authorized by Christ, by way of the succession from the Apostles. Just as those who reject Jesus are rejecting God the Father, so also those who reject the successors of the Apostles are rejecting the Apostles, and those who reject the Apostles are rejecting Jesus Christ. The bishop is a continuation of Christ’s ministry on earth. So to honor and reverence the bishop is to honor and reverence Christ, and to reject the bishop is to reject the One who sent him, i.e. Jesus Christ.

In chapter 12 he writes:

“I salute your most worthy bishop, and your very venerable presbytery, and your deacons, my fellow-servants, and all of you individually, as well as generally, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, in union with God and you.”

Here again he distinguishes the three offices of Holy Orders, corresponding to the high priest, priest, and Levite in the Old Covenant.

Lastly, in his Epistle to Polycarp, St. Ignatius writes in chapter 5:

“If [the man who chooses to remain a virgin for Christ] begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust.”

Through this letter we get to look on as an old bishop at the beginning of the second century passes down the tradition to a young bishop, i.e. St. Polycarp. Notice that for St. Ignatius, consecrated celibacy is a higher calling, but the person who has been called to consecrated celibacy is still to be subordinate to the bishop. Similarly, the marriages of Christians should be approved by the bishop. Here already we see the sacramental and ecclesial character of Christian marriage, as well as the superiority of consecrated celibacy over the vocation of marriage.

In chapter 6, in speaking of the duties of the flock he writes:

“Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!”

Here again we see the three-fold distinction in Holy Orders, as well as the nature of the divine authority of those having Holy Orders. If we want God to give heed to us, we need to give heed to the bishop. If we rebel against the bishop, we are rebelling against God, and therefore cannot expect God to give heed to us.

In chapter 7 he says to St. Polycarp:

“It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honour that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ.”

Here St. Ignatius explains that it would be fitting for St. Polycarp, as bishop of Smyrna, to assemble a very solemn council in order to choose someone to perform this particular task of going to Syria as a messenger on behalf of St. Ignatius.

What can we learn from these seven epistles regarding what St. Ignatius believed about the Church? In these epistles he reveals his concern for the preservation of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church. For St. Ignatius, the divinely established means for the preservation of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church is for all Christians, wherever they may be, to follow the bishop, because the bishop has divine authority from Christ through the Apostles. St. Ignatius also clearly and repeatedly distinguishes between the three Holy Orders in the Church: bishop, presbyter, and deacon. Also implicit in St. Ignatius’s ecclesiology is a belief in the perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church through the apostolic succession of the bishops, by virtue of its being a continuation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, in His Mystical Body.

Of course this does raise the question whether bishops can fall into apostasy. What is explicit in St. Ignatius’s ecclesiology regarding the ordered relation of deacon, presbyter and bishop, implies that insofar as there is any hierarchical order among the bishops themselves, those subordinate bishops should likewise defer to those of greater authority. And this seems to be the case for the bishops of the three apostolic churches: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. St. Ignatius, as the bishop of the Church in the second highest place of honor and preeminence in the Catholic Church, clearly shows deference to the Church at Rome, and in this way gives an example to all bishops of lesser sees. Implicit then in St. Ignatius’s belief that the laity are assured divine protection as they follow their bishop are two conditions: namely, that the bishop in question remains in full communion with the bishop holding the highest authority in the Church, and that the bishop with highest authority in the Church has some unique divine protection from error.

  1. See also chapter 11 of St. Ignatius’s Epistle to the Philadelphians. []
  2. We cannot help here but be reminded of Hebrews 13:17. []
  3. According to the tradition, at Rome St. Peter sent St. Mark to found the Church at Alexandria. []
  4. cf. John 10:1-5 []
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  1. [...] St. Ignatius of Antioch on the Church, published online at Called to Communion. [...]

  2. Dr. Cross,

    Thank you for posting an excellent article on Ignatius, and analyzing his descriptions, particularly of the ecclesial structure of the churches of his own day, the centrality of the eucharistic celebration, the necessity of unity to the bishop, and the like. I can say that it was his letters that really shook up my thinking as a Protestant (particularly a Presbyterian)–here was the “unbiblical” form of government that “developed after the apostles,” only it wasn’t supposed to have “developed” so quickly! What especially struck me was that he was writing such a letter to the Ephesians, the same Ephesians who not long before had Timothy as their bishop, who’d received instruction from Paul on how to ordain new bishops/elders and deacons. Ignatius wasn’t writing to suggest something new, but to commend them for what they were *already doing.* Evidently they forgot Paul’s letters quickly, or Paul wasn’t describing Presbyterianism quite as much as some might like. So it made a big impression on me–however, while appreciating your article, I must also ask some questions, as one thing I absolutely do NOT get from Ignatius is ANY sense of hierarchy among bishops, whether Roman or otherwise. I believe Catholic readers often try to pry Roman primacy from the abyss of Ignatius’ silence on the matter. Forgive me.

    First, the letter to the Romans is unique in that it is the only one written to a western church, and also the only one written that does not make any mention of a bishop. It commends the Roman church for its qualities, but doesn’t mention submission, obedience, etc. to a bishop as he does in his other letters. This is a unique and puzzling silence. It *could* mean that he simply took for granted all of these things, and didn’t mention them because they weren’t of primary importance to his topic, which is largely his impending martyrdom and his plea that the Roman church not interfere. It *could* mean that he did not recognize any single bishop there–this is hotly debatable, but certainly many (including some Catholic authors I’ve read) question whether there was a monarchial bishop in Rome before late in the 2nd Century (although Irenaeus’ list seems to imply that there was)–this isn’t necessarily the most likely, but it is a *plausible* explanation for his silence on the matter. In fact his silence extends beyond the matter of bishops, as he doesn’t appear to mention any order of clergy there at all…no presbyter, no deacon…the only mention of “bishop” is in reference to himself.

    What he also doesn’t mention, here or anywhere else in his corpus, is any authority higher than “the bishop.” He repeats that theme to each individual church, strongly implying that the highest authority to any given church is its own bishop, surrounded by his presbyters and deacon, celebrating the eucharist in harmony with the laity. If I could cite a few examples from your article:

    – “What is explicit in St. Ignatius’s ecclesiology regarding the ordered relation of deacon, presbyter and bishop, implies that insofar as there is any hierarchical order among the bishops themselves, those subordinate bishops should likewise defer to those of greater authority.”

    I simply ask, where in any of Ignatius’ letters do we find *any* mention of hierarchy among bishops? Your statement is logical, but entirely contingent. IF there is a hierarchy, THEN it is logical that his model of submission would extend up the chain. IF I had a million dollars, THEN I could quit my job. But I don’t have a million bucks, and here I sit typing while I should be working ;-) That’s a big contingency. In every letter that mentions a bishop, he writes to encourage submission (as a bishop himself) to THAT local bishop. When he mentions his own absence from Antioch, he says they now have God as their bishop. It seems very clear that he recognizes no “bishop” higher than any other bishop, but God himself.

    – “And this seems to be the case for the bishops of the three apostolic churches: Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. St. Ignatius, as the bishop of the Church in the second highest place of honor and preeminence in the Catholic Church, clearly shows deference to the Church at Rome, and in this way gives an example to all bishops of lesser sees.”

    Was this early arrangement of authority this explicit, this early in history? It was affirmed in 325, and it had existed prior, but where do we get any sense that Ignatius has ANY knowledge of such a ranking? He makes no mention of the honor of Antioch, and no mention of Alexandria at all. I believe you’re trying to establish a framework for his remarks, but I don’t believe that framework was that solid, that early. And as for “clearly showing deference to the Church at Rome…” what besides praising them for their “presiding in love” implies any sort of submission beyond the mutual submission expected of all Christians? In other letters Ignatius even appears to be showing submission and deference to deacons, who clearly would not outrank him.

    Lastly, if I could look at this introduction to the letter to the Romans itself:

    – “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Mast High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the report of the Romans…”

    The church in Rome has obtained mercy, and is beloved and enlightened by the will of God. What of these things could not be said of *any* church? Also, it seems obvious that he is saying that it is the church in Rome that “presides in the place of the report of the Romans,” not the *bishop* or clergy in Rome. How is the “church” understood in Ignatian terms? Again, the church exists where Christ is, and Christ is wherever the bishop celebrates valid eucharistic worship in harmony with his clergy and congregation. The most I could get out of this salutation is to say that this particular church in Rome presides *in some sense* within the region of the Romans…perhaps among other local churches, perhaps not, but in no sense does it imply that the Roman church presides anywhere other than in the region of Rome itself.

    “… worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.”

    Again I would have to ask, what of this could not be said of any church? Granted, Ignatius lavishes such praise upon only the Roman church in his letters. But I see nothing here that in any way, even remotely, implies an ecclesiastical superiority of this particular church. He does not say that this church presides over other churches, or over the universal Church, but rather that it presides “over love.” What does this mean? Love is the essence of the Christian faith, and even God himself “is Love.” Every church is to preside over love, and is to show it to the world. The church is to be Christ’s ongoing presence on this earth. And again “the church” exists wherever you find the bishop, his clergy, and the laity properly worshipping God in harmony.

    Last few points:

    – “Also implicit in St. Ignatius’s ecclesiology is a belief in the perpetual divine protection of the unity and orthodoxy of the Church through the apostolic succession of the bishops, by virtue of its being a continuation of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, in His Mystical Body.”

    Where does Ignatius even allude to any sort of succession? Now I grant that there’s no reason why any bishop should arise other than through succession, but even facing his own martyrdom and obvious vacation from his own office, he does not mention anything about who would replace him, other than to say they now have God as their bishop.

    – “Implicit then in St. Ignatius’s belief that the laity are assured divine protection as they follow their bishop are two conditions: namely, that the bishop in question remains in full communion with the bishop holding the highest authority in the Church, and that the bishop with highest authority in the Church has some unique divine protection from error.”

    These could only be implicit in his other letters, as he makes no mention of bishops in his letter to the Romans. I would have to ask where any sense of ongoing, divine protection from error, comes from when reading Ignatius, other than reading later Catholic theology back into him? He is saying that THIS church (whichever one he is writing to) CURRENTLY is united to God, SO LONG AS they remain in proper harmony between the bishop and the laity, celebrating eucharistic worship and refraining from heresy. I see no promise of anything future, nor any concept of what should happen in the case of a bishop falling into heresy, or in the case of bishops disagreeing, or what have you. No sense of conciliarity, no sense of universal Papacy–in short, he writes to each church essentially as a discrete unit, each possessing the fullness of the universal and complete (i.e. “catholic”) Church.

    I may well be wrong, but more than anything, Ignatius’ letters (together with other early writings like Clement, Didache, and others) convinced me that the early church was neither Protestant nor Roman Catholic, but something “other.” And frankly, I’ve now come to see that this “other” sounds an awful lot like Orthodoxy.

    Forgive me, I write as a brother and not a detractor. God bless you.

  3. BT,

    you wrote, “When he mentions his own absence from Antioch, he says they now have God as their bishop. It seems very clear that he recognizes no “bishop” higher than any other bishop, but God himself. ”

    Well, when he writes to the Romans, he says of Antioch: “Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it, and your love.”

    This indicates that the Church of Rome is to play some part in watching over the Church in Syria.

    Ignatius’ letters are a rich enough data set to see that Bishops were an essential part of the authority of the early Church. But they are not rich enough to distinguish between competing models of worldwide doctrinal authority. Nor were they written to be.

    As soon as the data set gets rich in the late 300s, the evidence of the worldwide doctrinal authority of the papacy becomes abundant. Before that, the evidence is sparse, but interpretable in many ways. After that, the evidence is quite clear. This is a problem with the sparseness of the data set before the late 300s, not a problem with Catholic beliefs on the special role of the Roman Bishops. You can’t distinguish a subtle doctrine in a data set that’s not rich enough for such distinctions. But that doesn’t mean we should all only settle for believing precisely those doctrines which happen to be distinguished as obviously true in the tiny subset of evidence that has survived from before the late 300s. To do so would, among other things, amount to claiming that pillars of the Church in the late 300s knew no more about Ignatius’ era than we do. That’s very unlikely.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  4. K. Doran,

    Thank you for your feedback. I have two brief points…again forgive me if I cause any offense.

    1. Yes, the Church of Rome is to play some part in watching over the Church in Syria. Ignatius makes explicit their part…to love them and to pray for them. To say that this in any way implies that Rome also has some sort of juridical authority over them is, it seems, to read way, way, way, way too much into his remark. They are to pray for and show love toward his home church…same as ANY church should do for ANY other church. Why did Ignatius write this remark to the Romans and not the others? We simply can’t know, but I can’t see basing any sort of theory of Roman primacy on it. Perhaps I’m missing something.

    2. Your second paragraph seems to grant my earlier point, namely, that the article above does in fact read later ideas about Roman primacy back into Ignatius, but that these ideas themselves aren’t drawn from Ignatius. I don’t disagree that evidence is sparse before 300, nor that it picks up quickly afterward (but not universally, and not to any degree that I would say establishes an idea of Roman primacy outside *some* fathers, and those mainly in the West…this obviously is an entirely different matter and outside the scope of this post). The post was not about how we can square the writings of Ignatius with later, more explicit ideas of Roman primacy. Nor was it about how later theologians may have understood Ignatius. It was attempting to show that Ignatius clearly recognized an already existing 3-tiered structure (granted), and that this strongly implies that the hierarchy continues among the bishops themselves, up to the Pope, who is divinely protected from error (very much NOT granted).

    In Christ.

  5. BT,

    I don’t think Bryan’s post claimed that Ignatius’ letters prove by themselves the subtleties of the modern conception of papal authority. But I will let Bryan answer that for himself.

    There is plenty of evidence of worldwide papal authority (though it differed from place to place around the world) as soon as the data set gets rich enough (sufficiently richer than Ignatius’ letters) to even possibly provide evidence for or against papal claims. That doesn’t square easily with a world in which the modern beliefs of non-ecumenical Orthodox were also held by the early Church. It squares most easily with a world in which some form of meaty papal authority was held by the early Church. Let the clear parts of the data interpret the unclear. Let the rich data set of the united Church from 370 A.D. to 430 A.D. interpret the unclear data of the early Church from 30 A.D. to 330 A.D.. When we do so, we see that a world in which there is no Pope (i.e. the world of some modern non-ecumenical orthodox, as opposed to the world of the ecumenically-minded orthodox who long for a reunion with the Pope) looks nothing like the early Church.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  6. K. Doran,

    You are right, Bryan did not claim that Ignatius’ letters are sufficient in themselves to prove out the modern nuances of Papal authority. My belief is that they aren’t sufficient in themselves to prove *anything* relating to Papal authority.

    As to the rest of your reply, the evidence for Papal authority in the 4th, 5th or later centuries is an entirely different discussion, and I don’t think the letters of Ignatius really would sway anyone in either direction by themselves, although I still believe (granted, I have a “lens” like anyone else) it leans away from Papal superiority rather than toward it. I will only say there is a lot of difference between even “meaty Papal authority” and “universal Papal jurisdiction including the authority to appoint and depose other bishops,” as was later claimed in the West. And among even the “ecumenically minded Orthodox” who long for reunion with the Pope, that does not include a longing to recognize an always-existing universal Roman jurisdiction. Even those Orthodox who are entirely antagonistic toward Rome always and forevermore (kind of like some Protestants and Catholics who are still just as hostile as they were 500 years ago) don’t claim there was ever “a world in which there is no Pope,” nor even a world in which there never was a type of primacy accorded to Rome (it’s there in the canons of the early Councils!)–but that is still a far cry from a world in which there was ever *universal Papal jurisdiction over all other bishops*. The former could be supported by Ignatius…I see no conflict. The latter is just entirely beyond anything contained in his epistles, in my opinion.

    Anwyay, I’ll refrain from any further comment on later evidence for/against Roman jurisdiction, because I don’t want to take the thread away from the original topic.

    Forgive me.

  7. BT, (re: #2),

    Thanks for your comment. (Please just call me ‘Bryan;’ I’m not a ‘Dr.’ yet, and even if I was, I would still prefer that you call me ‘Bryan.’) I did not claim in my post that St. Ignatius mentions a hierarchy among bishops. But, I think it does follow from the argumentation he gives in his epistles for the role of the bishop in the particular Church as its principle of unity. (I’m going to assume that you are familiar with the distinction between the particular Church and the universal Church.) It would make no sense if a bishop were needed for the unity of the particular Church, but no unique bishop was necessary for the unity of the universal Church. In other words, denying that there is a uniquely authoritative bishop serving as the principle of unity of the universal Church would entirely undermine St. Ignatius’s repeated arguments that the unity and order of the particular Church depends upon loyalty and obedience to the singular diocesan bishop.

    When he mentions his own absence from Antioch, he says they now have God as their bishop. It seems very clear that he recognizes no “bishop” higher than any other bishop, but God himself.

    I don’t think that conclusion is justified. I think that is reading into what he says, more than necessarily follows from what he says. Another explanation of his statement is that because of his absence from Antioch, and because an episcopal successor (to himself) has not yet been ordained, God is directly (i.e. without making use of a bishop) protecting and governing the Church at Antioch. St. Ignatius isn’t here saying anything about the relative authority or jurisdiction of the See at Rome, which because of the distance couldn’t directly govern the affairs of the Church at Antioch anyway.

    Was this early arrangement of authority this explicit, this early in history? It was affirmed in 325, and it had existed prior, but where do we get any sense that Ignatius has ANY knowledge of such a ranking? He makes no mention of the honor of Antioch, and no mention of Alexandria at all.

    The higher authority of the three sees (i.e. Rome, Alexandria and Antioch) and their order, was not something invented at the first ecumenical council, but was affirmed at that council on the basis of the shared tradition. It wasn’t that some time between 100 and 325, the Church at Rome just took the first place, and the Church at Alexandria took the second place, and the Church at Antioch took the third place. The order of these three sees was recognized by the Council apparently on the basis of the origin of the Sees. That’s why the Council says, “Let the ancient custom be maintained …” St. Peter had been the first bishop (as Apostle) of Antioch. Then he came to Rome, where he handed on the keys and spilled his blood. But before he did that, he sent his disciple Mark to found the Church at Alexandria. In this way, all three sees had their place as the most authoritative sees from their relation to the Apostle to whom Christ had given the keys of the Kingdom. This order and higher authority of these three sees was not a novelty arising some years after the death of Peter, or at the Council of Nicea; it was there all along. For example, in 269 when the Synod of Antioch deposed Paul of Samosata, they directed their letter to Dionysius of Rome and Maximum of Alexandria. And these three sees had corresponded likewise in resolving the Novatian schism. You can see this in the Letter of St. Gregory the Great to Eulogius, bishop of Alexandria:

    Your most sweet Holiness has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy, not only in the dignity of such as preside, but even in the number of such as stand. But I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peter’s chair who occupies Peter’s chair. And, though special honour to myself in no wise delights me, yet I greatly rejoiced because you, most holy ones, have given to yourselves what you have bestowed upon me. For who can be ignorant that holy Church has been made firm in the solidity of the Prince of the Apostles, who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called Petrus from petra. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth, “To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19). And again it is said to him, And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren (xxii. 32). And once more, Simon, son of Jonas, do you love Me? Feed my sheep. (John 21:17) Wherefore though there are many Apostles, yet with regard to the principality itself the See of the Prince of the Apostles alone has grown strong in authority, which in three places is the See of one. For he himself exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life. He himself adorned the See to which he sent his disciple [i.e. Mark] as Evangelist. He himself established the See in which, though he was to leave it, he sat for seven years [i.e. Antioch]. Since then it is the See of one, and one See, over which by Divine authority three bishops now preside, whatever good I hear of you, this I impute to myself. If you believe anything good of me, impute this to your merits, since we are one in Him Who says, That they all may be one, as You, Father, art in me, and I in you that they also may be one in us. (John 17:21). [Book VII, Letter 40]

    According to St. Gregory, the three patriarchs of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, derived their authority from St. Peter, and yet they were not equal in rank, because St. Peter “exalted the See in which he deigned even to rest and end the present life.” We can see this ranking in the writings of St. Cyprian in the third century (who deferred to the Church at Rome, even when he disagreed over the re-baptism issue), and in the last part of the third century, when St. Dionysius (Patriarch of Alexandria) dealt with the Sabellian heresy, and in the case of Paul of Samosata as I mentioned above. (I won’t type all these out, but I’m sure you can look them up.) We can see it in the claim of St. Irenaeus as well, who says that it is necessary for every other particular Church to agree with the Church at Rome, on account of its preeminent authority. (Adv. haer. III 3.3) All of this wasn’t a second or third century innovation, but part of the Apostolic Tradition in which St. Ignatius lived and of which he was a bearer.

    At the time of the Council of Nicea, the bishops were not just a loose collection, but were organized under metropolitans, who were themselves under patriarchs — and of the three patriarchs, the bishop of Rome had the primacy. This hierarchy of bishops under metropolitans and patriarchs was not something that developed from the bottom up, but from the top down. And that’s how we can know that it went all the way back to the beginning, even to the time of St. Ignatius. (Notice that St. Paul not only ordained St. Timothy a bishop, he also made him a metropolitan at Ephesus, and St. Titus a metropolitan in Crete; they were bishops over other bishops.) St. Ignatius held the office in Syria that would become known as patriarch, one having an authority over other bishops. Whether St. Ignatius already exercised patriarchal authority over other bishops is unclear. But just as the priesthood grew from the episcopate as an expression of the need to extend the work of the bishop, so the expansion of bishops under metropolitans and patriarchs grew not in a democratic way (i.e. by the coming together of bishops and election of one of them to be patriarch) but by the appointment of subordinate bishops by the patriarchate. So even if this did not yet occur in St. Ignatius’ lifetime, it at least occurred shortly thereafter in his successors, who by the time of the Council of Nicea had patriarchal authority over many bishops.

    Regarding the praise St. Ignatius gives to the Church at Rome, and his clear deference in tone, that takes on a greater significance in light of Antioch’s place as the third patriarchal see, after Rome and Alexandria. It gives us an indication of the subordination of the Antiochan patriarchate to the Roman patriarchate.

    He does not say that this church presides over other churches, or over the universal Church, but rather that it presides “over love.” What does this mean?

    St. Ignatius is contrasting the City of Man and the City of God. St. Peter, in his first epistle (5:13) refers to Rome as Babylon. She is the continuation of that statue in Daniel 2. And she represents the City of Man, from which Babylon took its source. (See “Pentecost, Babel, and the Ecumenical Imperative.”) When the mother of James and John asked that in the Kingdom (i.e. in the Church) her sons would sit at Christ’s right and left, this provoked contention among the Apostles. Jesus replied by contrasting leadership in the City of Man with leadership in the City of God. He said:

    “My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. “It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mt. 20:25-28) (cf. Mark 10:42ff, and Luke 22:25ff)

    It was God the Father who revealed to Peter that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the living God. (Matt 16:16-17) And so this primacy of being the rock (Petros) upon which the Church is built, and to whom the keys of the Kingdom were to be given, was prepared for Peter by God the Father. Christ picked Peter because God the Father chose to reveal Christ’s divine identity to Peter. But Peter presides in Babylon, that is, Rome, not as do the Caesars over the City of Man, but as the Son of Man does over the City of God (i.e. the Church) in self-sacrificial love — not to be served but to serve, to be the servant of the servants of God. This is the contrast St. Ignatius is highlighting. He is contrasting the presiding of the key-holder of the Kingdom of God (i.e. the City of God), with the presiding of the key-holder (i.e. Caesar) in the kingdom of this world (i.e. the City of Man). That’s one way to understand why he says, “presiding in love.”

    Where does Ignatius even allude to any sort of succession? Now I grant that there’s no reason why any bishop should arise other than through succession, but even facing his own martyrdom and obvious vacation from his own office, he does not mention anything about who would replace him, other than to say they now have God as their bishop.

    As I explained in the post, it is implicit in what he says to the believers about how to avoid heresy and schism. His admonition that the believers remain obedient to the bishop as a way of avoiding false teachers and schisms, would make no sense if bishops did not have authority from the Apostles, and there was no means of protection from error among the bishops. The kind of obedience and submission St. Ignatius exhorts the believers to show to their bishops makes sense only if the bishops have a succession of authority from the Apostles by which they are (in some way) preserved in apostolic orthodoxy, and carry on divine authority. Otherwise, he would have had to tell the Christians in each of these different cities, that they should follow their own interpretation of the Scriptures and then follow the bishop only if he is in agreement with their interpretation of the Scriptures. Unless you think that this divine protection from error among bishops was only temporary in the first generation after the Apostles (which would be an ad hoc thing to assume), St. Ignatius’s admonitions regarding the authority of the bishops and the obedience due to them imply therefore a perpetual divine protection among the bishops, though not necessarily a protection of each bishop (individually) from error.

    I see no promise of anything future, nor any concept of what should happen in the case of a bishop falling into heresy, or in the case of bishops disagreeing, or what have you. No sense of conciliarity, no sense of universal Papacy–in short, he writes to each church essentially as a discrete unit, each possessing the fullness of the universal and complete (i.e. “catholic”) Church.

    He can’t be writing to each Church essentially as a discrete unity, because he himself is a bishop of the Church at Antioch writing to these other particular Churches, and therefore his very letters show the catholicity of the Church, i.e. that each particular Church is a part of the Catholic Church. And we see this very clearly in St. Irenaeus, where each particular Church must agree with the particular Church at Rome, on account of its “preeminent authority.” (Adv. haer III 3.3) But the fact of being a particular Church within the universal Church already shows the imperative of remaining in the faith of the universal Church. The particular Church as such, is not the highest standard, precisely because it is part of something bigger than itself. But yet, without a rock, that is, without a principium unitatis, there would be no visible locus of orthodoxy and ecclesial unity, and the Church would not be visibly one, and could not then be incarnational and sacramental. It would be an invisible Church. Hence there must be a Rock upon which the Church is built and upon which it always remains orthodox and unified — and that Rock must be visible. Of course this is not explicit in St. Ignatius’s epistles, but it is implicit in his ecclesiology, on account of his recognition of the catholicity of the Church and on account of his understanding of episcopal authority with respect to avoiding schism and heresy.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  8. Bryan,

    I’ve read the claim that Ignatius’ total focus (even obsession) with apostolic authority and the bishop’s leadership is not an indication that this was the teaching of the apostles. Some scholars claim, rather, that this is an indication of an early power struggle between different Christian views of authority.

    Basically, its a more suspicious reading of Ignatius. It seems fairly reasonable to ask, “Why is Ignatius so obsessed with the authority of the bishops?” Once you realize that he himself IS a bishop, you begin to wonder. How would you respond to this kind of reading of the early church fathers, that doesn’t take their trustworthiness for granted?

  9. TDC, (re: #8)

    It is a hermeneutic of suspicion, otherwise known as unbelief, otherwise known as ecclesial deism. There is no reason to think St. Ignatius was not being entirely faithful to what he had received directly from the Apostles. So the willingness to disbelieve him (or the unwillingness to believe him) is an expression of a stance of the will, a stance which when applied to the Apostles themselves is called liberalism, or unbelief or culpable doubt. Rejection of the Church Fathers inevitably leads to rejection of the Apostles and the faith, which is why Protestant liberalism necessarily followed Protestantism. If a person rejects the Fathers, he is rejecting those who sent them, and thus ultimately rejecting the One who sent the Apostles. The faith needed to believe the Church Fathers cannot come from ourselves; it can only come from God as a gift. So if we find ourselves in a state of unbelief, we should pray and ask God to help us to believe, to increase our faith.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  10. Bryan,

    Thank you for the reply. It is always rewarding to have a chance to discuss these things with new people and from other points of view.

    On the whole (and forgive me if I’m wrong), your reply primarily focuses on what I would consider standard Roman Catholic arguments in favor of the Papacy (not that this makes them right or wrong, only that this discussion has gone in a very predictable direction) based entirely on Roman Catholic interpretations of later writers. For example, you clearly presuppose the “Peter as Rock and therefore first infallibly guided Pope” interpretation of Matt. 16:18, and I hardly need to point out that this is far from accepted, and was likewise NOT universally accepted in the early church. You clearly presuppose the standard Catholic interpretation of Irenaeus remarks about the necessity of churches agreeing with Rome, that this necessarily implies a *juridical* authority over other churches based on their exemplary doctrine, which would *never* change.

    Frankly, your reading of the “City of Man, City of God” motif into Ignatius is somewhat astonishing. How that can even begin to be read into his simple phrase about presiding over love is simply beyond me. Perhaps I lack eyes to see.

    In the interest of remaining with Ignatius, I will not further discuss the age-0ld arguments over Matt. 16:18 or the rest, because Ignatius will be quickly left behind and we already know that the other arguments will go on endlessly, with presuppositions clashing against presuppositions.

    I will make a few other comments, trying to remain focused on the text of Ignatius.

    First of all, I do not grant your argument for the necessity of a “principle of unity” located in one office presiding above all others. I believe Ignatius himself, read (if such is possible) in his own context and NOT with reference to writings from later centuries, provides us with the principle of unity we seek. And it’s one that does nothing to help establish the case that he is recognizing any juridical primacy in Rome. His epistle to the Smyrneans, which you quoted in your article, gives what I think is a fairly clear answer. Firstly, he opens the letter to them with:

    “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which has through mercy obtained every kind of gift, which is filled with faith and love, and is deficient in no gift, most worthy of God, and adorned with holiness: the Church which is at Smyrna, in Asia, wishes abundance of happiness, through the immaculate Spirit and word of God.

    I glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord…”

    I would say that his salutation and first chapter show “deference” to them in a way not entirely different from that shown to the church in Rome, and his list of descriptors here is admirable: obtained EVERY kind of gift; filled in faith and LOVE; deficient in NO gift; MOST worthy of God; adorned with holiness. And even PERFECTED in an immovable faith. Honestly, there is enough here that one could sort of push this to the top of his outbox and identify the church in Smyrna as that church which would never fall away from the faith, the guardian for others, even for Ignatius himself. They’re holy, they’re perfect in faith, they are IMMOVABLE. They are filled with love…maybe not presiding over it, but why not read some City of God, City of Man ideas into this one too? All it would take is a pre-existing committment to Smyrna as the Principle of Unity among the Universal Church, and one could logically claim Ignatius as support for that belief.

    Now, when we move on to the section from which you quoted, Ch. 7-8, he identifies how the CHURCH is to preserve itself from heresy (here, docetism/gnosticism) and keep itself pure. First, they are to keep “aloof” from such people as deny the coming of the Christ in the flesh. And,

    “See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is[administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude[of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

    Moreover, it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness[of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does[in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ[shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.”

    He tells us where we can find not only the “particular” church, but also the “universal church.” It is in the faithful congregation following “the bishop” and “the presbytery” and revering “the deacons,” celebrating that Eucharist which is administered either by “the bishop” or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Let all the people gather wherever the bishop is doing this, because (as is implied) this is where Jesus Christ is, and where Jesus Christ is, “there is the Catholic [i.e. "universal" and "whole/perfect/complete"] church. To which bishop is he urging them to submit, as of supreme importance and authority? The one in Smyrna. Polycarp, in this case. Why? Because in so doing they are actually submitting to Christ, the true bishop (my interpretation from his other letters).

    To try and squeeze ANY sense of primacy of ANY church to which he writes, I believe, is an exercise in futility, or in simply reading our presuppositions into him. If a case can be made for his deference to Rome, an even greater case could be made for Smyrna, where he actually mentions the bishop!!!

    You started by saying you’ll assume I’m familiar with the distinction between the particular and universal church. Yes, if by that you mean to ask, am I familiar with the Roman Catholic understanding of that distinction. Even here you are implicitly elevating that definition to the status of true and correct, from the very beginning, just as a Protestant might say to you, “Bryan, I’ll assume you’re familiar with the distinction between the visible and invisible church…” and then proceed with that implicit understanding as the backbone of the entire conversation. I am familiar with this distiction, but I do not grant it, and I don’t think Ignatius would have understood it in those terms either.

    So I’ll conclude by saying, I pretty much hung with your analysis of Ignatius all the way to the end of your discussion of his letter to the Smyrneans. You then “turned it up to eleven” by going beyond what was written to attempt to show that he can (or should) be read to support a Roman primacy. In support of this I believe you have very eloquently presented arguments from much later in history and represented standard RC arguments for the Papacy that really are well beyond the context of Ignatius. And, the entire position is being guided by the ASSUMPTION that the church cannot function without a single, juridical head over it, other than Christ himself. The ASSUMPTION that “the bishop” (wherever he may be) is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the universal church. I think Ignatius speaks otherwise.

    Frankly, I’m not 100% convinced by anyone’s readings of Ignatius. Protestants tend to either ignore, or dismiss him as a mystery that doesn’t jive with the rest of the Fathers, or grant that he’s proof of how early the church left its roots and ran off the rails. Catholics and Orthodox both tend to read him in the context of their own understandings of the church. For further reference, I found Fr. John Romanides’ analysis of Ignatius to be very interesting: http://www.romanity.org/htm/rom.11.en.the_ecclesiology_of_st._ignatius_of_antioch.01.htm#s7

    God bless, Bryan.

  11. Hey Bryan,

    i hope you and everyone else will forgive me for cheerleading, but I wanted to highlight a few items from #7:

    In other words, denying that there is a uniquely authoritative bishop serving as the principle of unity of the universal Church would entirely undermine St. Ignatius’s repeated arguments that the unity and order of the particular Church depends upon loyalty and obedience to the singular diocesan bishop…

    In this way, all three sees had their place as the most authoritative sees from their relation to the Apostle to whom Christ had given the keys of the Kingdom. This order and higher authority of these three sees was not a novelty arising some years after the death of Peter, or at the Council of Nicea; it was there all along…

    We can see it in the claim of St. Irenaeus as well, who says that it is necessary for every other particular Church to agree with the Church at Rome, on account of its preeminent authority. (Adv. haer. III 3.3) All of this wasn’t a second or third century innovation, but part of the Apostolic Tradition in which St. Ignatius lived and of which he was a bearer.

    But the fact of being a particular Church within the universal Church already shows the imperative of remaining in the faith of the universal Church. The particular Church as such, is not the highest standard, precisely because it is part of something bigger than itself. But yet, without a rock, that is, without a principium unitatis, there would be no visible locus of orthodoxy and ecclesial unity, and the Church would not be visibly one, and could not then be incarnational and sacramental. It would be an invisible Church. Hence there must be a Rock upon which the Church is built and upon which it always remains orthodox and unified — and that Rock must be visible.

    All of that is so well said.

  12. Bryan wrote:

    It would make no sense if a bishop were needed for the unity of the particular Church, but no unique bishop was necessary for the unity of the universal Church.

    That, in a nutshell, is why I’m Catholic rather than Orthodox. The notion that a monarchical bishop is necessary for the unity of each particular church, but is not necessary for the unity of the communion of such churches, never made much sense to me.

    We can dispute all we want about how much can legitimately be inferred from the early sources viewed in isolation, or even when viewed in a much larger historical context. But that is an essentially academic squabble. No academic method can tell us what we ought to believe as Christians, at least not by itself. At most and by itself, such a method can only yield opinions about what various groups of Christians did in fact believe. What’s needed is a living authority speaking for Christ himself. Contra the Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox recognize that need and uphold such an authority. Ultimately, the only issue between Catholicism and Orthodoxy is about how to locate and identify such an authority.

    Best,
    Mike

  13. Just entering a dummy comment to subscribe.

  14. BT,

    There is a difference between what can be concluded from the following two statements:

    (1) Ignatius of Antioch is unclear about the existence of a Papacy. He provides insufficient evidence to conclude anything strong either way.

    and

    (2) Ignatius of Antioch clearly shows that there is no Papacy. He provides sufficient evidence to make the existence of the Papacy much less likely than its non-existence.

    You seem to be confusing (1), which actually represents what Ignatius can tell us in isolation from the rest of the data, with (2).

    That is why you suggest that it is anachronistic to use later data to help interpret Ignatius. But the fact is, that either we leave ourselves at (1), or we let the clear data of later history interpret the unclear data of Ignatius. We can’t get to (2), which is what one would need to get to to use Ignatius to make the later clearly delineated papacy seem like a corruption.

    Notwithstanding Michael’s skepticism about the usefulness of academic historical arguments, applying good academic standards to what we are willing to call historical evidence can help us in this problem. You really seem to believe that Ignatius provides evidence for a type of church order that is papacy-free. He certainly does not. We are left to later evidence to provide sufficient clarity. And as soon as we get to later evidence, we get more and more papal evidence, even as the data set overall gets larger and larger. Add in the fact that in the later evidence the antiquity of papal duties is repeatedly mentioned, and it makes the existence of popes with worldwide authority in Ignatius’ time more likely than unlikely.

    Basically, you are trying to use unclear early evidence to claim that the papacy displayed by clear later evidence is a corruption. But the unclear cannot override the clear. It should be much the other way around.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

    p.s. Also, popes did replace Bishops in antiquity. What source did you read that made this claim to you?

  15. K Doran:

    I agree with everything you’ve just said above. But perhaps it would be useful to explain my “skepticism” about academic inquiry into these matters.

    Your general approach to the use of evidence, and the particular conclusions you’ve reached about the early evidence for the papacy, enable us to establish that the developed Catholic doctrine thereof is at least consistent with what’s currently available to us from the early sources. That’s important because it’s part of what’s needed to show, contrary to what many believe, that said doctrine is not a mere corruption of the early Church’s faith and practice. But assuming we’ve rightly weighed the evidence from an academic point of view, we haven’t got a step closer to identifying what Christians really ought to believe about ecclesial authority. That’s because, even though the overall evidence shows a kind of consonance between the earlier and later authority of Rome, it doesn’t show that the later was a necessary development from the earlier. It only shows that the later is logically consistent with the former.

    That’s the hole through which many Protestant and Orthodox apologists try to drive their wedge. They argue that, if the later wasn’t a necessary development of the earlier, then Christians cannot be obligated to embrace the later. The Orthodox in particular like to point out that the Eastern church in the first millennium gradually came to reject the papal claims as those became more explicitly absolutist. That is true. Both Orthodox and Protestants like to point out, additionally, that the medieval papacy hypertrophied after the East-West schism, so that in that form, it cannot be said ever to have been the consensual understanding of the Church universal. That too is true. Because they are backed by historical evidence, such objections to the Catholic doctrine of the papacy cannot be decisively refuted merely by an argument based on that kind of evidence. Such an argument can show that said doctrine is consistent with the evidence we have from the early Church, but it can’t show that it’s necessitated by that evidence.

    That’s why I believe a different sort of argument is also needed. Such an argument has two parts. The first would show that, unless some visible body is identifiable as “the” Church, there can be no doctrinally authoritative interpretation of the sources; and if there is no such interpretation, then we have no principled way to distinguish divine revelation from human opinion. The only visible bodies with a plausible claim to be “the” Church are the Roman and the Eastern-Orthodox communions. The second part of the argument would be that, whichever communion is “the” Church, its criteria for identifying when “the” Church speaks with her full authority, and thus with the voice of Christ, would be clearer than the other’s. By virtue of the papacy, that would be the Catholic Church.

    Best,
    Mike

  16. Hey Mike,

    I like what you say in your last paragraph. I think that the orthodox and Protestant objections that you bring up in the second paragraph don’t correspond with what I’ve read in the primary sources of antiquity. In particular, drawing a timeline of papal claims is messy, because people use bad arguments from silence as a key feature of the long-term trend that they claim to be able to see (e.g., “After around 360, popes began using legislative language in their decretals, representing a major change, dare we say a corruption.” To which I respond: “and how many letters from popes have survived from before 360, pray tell? Is not circa 360 the starting point of the uninterrupted stream of letters in the first place?”). Thus, I have rarely met a claim of papal “change” that stood up to elementary standards of evidence. It really is grasping at straws for the orthodox to look at the level of explicitness in the absolute claims of the papacy over time — Innocent I is quite absolute, and pretty darn explicit too; as juridical language advanced, that explicitness could express itself an a more technical and complete way, but that is a function of language development; all doctrines experienced such changes, no doubt! Thus, there is so much reverse causality there and so many omitted and unknown variables that it is hopeless to draw subtle distinctions from the mess, using those subtle distinctions to distinguish the antiquity of various modern-day churches. Subtle is the key word here — we can draw broad distinctions, but if they attack us with subtle distinctions then their attack is based on asking too much of the data.

    What I propose instead is that one simply let the clear interpret the unclear. Let the clear parts of antiquity distinguish our churches from each other, instead of the unclear parts. Is it clear that there were popes wielding worldwide precedent-setting doctrinal authority over other bishops in the first millennium? Absolutely. That makes churches without such a pope unpatristic. Is it clear that papal authority was circumscribed by really specific permanent and divinely-sanctioned guidelines above which papal authority suddenly becomes a corruption? Absolutely not. The evidence is never clear enough for such subtle claims. Whenever one discusses papal authority in antiquity with an Orthodox blogger, one hears: “well, but they never did _that_. Or at least, they rarely did that. And both times such-and-such is going on, and as we all know that’s a special case.” It is too much! Is this kind of unclear “evidence” to override the obvious absence of a pope at all from the Orthodox world?

    You said: “even though the overall evidence shows a kind of consonance between the earlier and later authority of Rome, it doesn’t show that the later was a necessary development from the earlier. It only shows that the later is logically consistent with the former.” Yes, but our critics aren’t really that subtle. They think that the popes of antiquity never replaced bishops, etc. I think that your philosophical approach is necessary. But not necessarily for the reason you stated. It is necessary because people want to reach conclusions not merely from historical evidence but from philosophical reasoning as well, and they are afraid to put their faith in something unless all forms of reasoning (historical, philosophical, etc) “independently” reach the same conclusion. But I can’t agree that the historical evidence doesn’t by itself make the orthodox claim much less likely than the Catholic one. Which is more opposed to antiquity: a church whose popes have more jurisdictional but (quite possibly) less doctrinal influence than the popes in the earliest period of rich data (from 370 to 430) in the united church wielded? Or a church that doesn’t even have popes at all? The one may not be known as a necessary development from antiquity from historical reasoning alone, but the latter isn’t even consistent with the clear parts of antiquity.

    To sum it up again: all that they have against us is the unclear evidence. The subtle trend which so-and-so identified by cherry-picking 13 letters and ignoring the rest. These are the kind of trends that, even in the absence of cherry-picking, could never be identified clearly from the messy data that we have. If they had the clear, broad evidence against us, it would be another thing. As it stands, a man can see from historical reasons an “independent” path towards Rome. And, if he follows your excellent advice on the philosophical side, he will begin to conclude: “perhaps all roads lead to Rome after all.”

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  17. K. Doran,

    Regarding #14, your first conclusion (1) that Ignatius provides insufficient evidence to conclude either way, is my position. I said in an earlier post that I don’t think his letters are sufficient to assign any primacy (in the Roman Catholic sense) to any church to which he writes. Again, I will call attention to the fact that this post was about Ignatius’ letters, but almost no response given so far to anything I’ve written has actually had anything to do with Ignatius, but rather with later history, even if only by a short time. The fact that this discussion instantly turned to later writers, the broad picture of history, and whose philosophical system better matches the evidence…well, basically proves the point that the original post was simply trying to squeeze too much out of Ignatius. A better way to conclude the post might have been to say, as Michael said earlier, that if you interpret later history in such a way as to conclude that the Papacy is indeed present in the church from the beginning (in the full, modern Roman Catholic understanding of jurisdiction, primacy, infallibility etc.) then one can read Ignatius in such a way as to support that. Certainly nothing in his letters explicitly refutes that. Nothing there shows that the Papacy was a corruption of the original form of government, nor does it establish that it was always there in that way. It can’t even, strictly by itself, establish that there even was a bishop at all in the city of Rome when he wrote–he just plain doesn’t mention the matter at all. Yes, we can infer it, but can’t conclude it.

    Ignatius, to me, was a smack in the face and a kick in the pants to realize that the so called evolution toward episcopal government was not some long process, but rather was already there by just after 100 AD. Tracing it a bit further back, nothing in Clement contradicts that form of government. And read in this way, nothing in the Pastoral letters contradicts it either–less precise use of “elder” and “overseer” are not enough to establish that they were exactly the same office when such early post-NT evidence shows they likely were not separate. Evolution from congregation-level bishops toward diocesan level bishops, or arrangement into metropolitans, patriarchs etc. is an extension or adaption of the early system, but certainly no corruption of it. So that’s a biggie for Protestant claims to the contrary. Also, it clearly shows that the central point of worship, unity and truth is the celebration of the eucharist (and pretty clearly establishes that a denial of the physical presence of Christ amounts to docetism). Again, pretty clearly stands against claims that the Reformation “restored the centrality of the sermon.” It can’t be restored to the central place if it never held the central place. So, taken by himself, Ignatius certainly does seem to establish certain things pretty clearly. But not all things. And any sense of hierarcy, at all, whatsoever, among bishops, is not among those things.

    So, since the discussion has left Ignatius anyway… :)

    I believe Mike’s post #15 is extremely astute and I thank him for writing it. All sides can find something in history that, interpreted according to certain principles and presuppositions, will yeild an historical case in support of a particular point of view. I do not deny that RC claims are backed by historical evidence, nor do I deny that Orthodox claims against the RC position are likewise backed by evidence. Yes, the Pope did depose bishops at times, early as in the case of some correspondence of with Cyprian (if I’m recalling correctly). But the patriarch in Alexandria, I believe, was also granted jurisdiction over all bishops. Canon 6 of Nicea: “Let the ancient customs in Egypt, Libya and Pentapolis prevail, that the Bishop of Alexandria have jurisdiction in all these, since the like is customary for the Bishop of Rome also. Likewise in Antioch and the other provinces, let the Churches retain their privileges. And this is to be universally understood, that if any one be made bishop without the consent of the Metropolitan, the great Synod has declared that such a man ought not to be a bishop.” Let the ancient customs prevail…nothing new, just a recognition of what’s been there. Evidently, cities including Rome, Alexandria and Antioch did have these structures. Does this prove that Rome didn’t? No, that’s absurd. But it does prove that it was not unique to Rome, and it speaks of these patriarchates having “jurisdiction in all these…” All these what? Apparently all these areas within the scope of that particular see, things which are somewhat fluid throughout history. This would seem, to me, to establish that the patriarchs at this point in history did have authority in this manner *over their respective jurisdictions,” and not over each others’.

    Let the clear history interpret the unclear, right? K. Doran, believe me, I see your point. But what we have in the case of RC vs. EO is not entirely unlike that in Baptist vs. Methodist vs. Presbyterian. All agree the clear should interpret the unclear, but they disagree as to what is clear! Different things are clear in different ways and at different times. I have to think that if Cardinal Newman became Catholic and Jarislov Pelikan became Orthodox (and Philip Schaff remained Protestant), then history alone (as Mike says) is far from sufficient to conclude the matter.

    I probably have read less history than you have. But what history I have read (Kelly, Schaff, Pelikan), including some “original” material from the fathers, although not a whole lot, in no way has convinced me that the Roman See ALWAYS held immediate jurisdiction over the ENTIRE church. It has convinced me that history records things that don’t all fit a consistent pattern. Bishops of Rome deposed bishops. Bishops of other cities deposed bishops. Emperors deposed bishops! Bishops tried to depose emperors. Often, who prevailed may have been a matter of who had more popular support or who was able to raise a bigger mob. Frankly, if not for my presupposition that God has preserved His church throughout history in spite of itself, I may just have conlcuded it’s not worth pursuing further :(

    So appeals to “the clear” in history really convince me even less than do appeals to “the clear” in Scripture. So much in every case rests upon other assumptions of what must, or should, be. If one believes the universal church MUST have a top bishop with total jurisdiction to function (which Mike said is, in a nutshell, why he’s Catholic) then one will end up Catholic. If one doesn’t have that assumption (which I do not) then one will probably end up Orthodox, which seems to be the direction I’m heading. To me, Ignatius “clearly” seems to be describing a view of unity that agrees with what Orthodoxy believes to be its model. The fact that they do not always adhere to this model perfectly in practice doesn’t throw out the model itself. Nobody ever follows their own teaching perfectly (how that I have kids I really know this!!!)

    For now it seems the only resolution for someone like me is to settle somewhere, and pray like crazy that the ancient church will one day reunite in God’s providence and to His glory. I am not hostile to Roman Catholics, nor to Protestants, nor to those who’ve washed out completely after trying to find the “clear” picture in history. I appreciate those on all sides who realize that we’ve all been born on the far side of various divides we had nothing to do with, and who are longing for unity and not just for winning arguments. I appreciate the goal of this site although I disagree with many of its interpretations and conclusions. Probably because I disagree with many of the foundational assumptions, and those are really hard to prove.

    Anyway, I’ll quit rambling about all this. Thank you for the interesting and courteous chats. Please pray for me and I will pray for you.

    God bless.

    ps. I’ll just mention something else about Ignatius’ letter to the Romans…his focus on martyrdom. It seems almost exaggerated…odd to read the writing of one looking forward to his own demise. Yet it struck me that this man really believed! And it impressed upon me that Christianity always has been the faith of martyrs. Whether in an arena with beasts, or in monasteries, or in homes and families, our call is to always die to ourselves and live to others and for God. I fall very short of that, and I pray that God will show me how I can deny myself as did Ignatius (not praying that I’ll be thrown to lions, exactly…) May we all learn from him.

    pps. You guys are still wrong :-P

  18. BT,

    There are objective standards that one can apply for distinguishing the clear from the unclear. (1) You need to have enough data to repeatedly test your assertion. (2) The tests need to come out in one direction significantly more than in the other. It is a shame that you chose to read those authors and no others. You have not given the Catholic position a chance.

    There was no see with equal authority to that of Rome in antiquity. Everything that other sees did, Rome did more of. The unique authority of Rome is a part of Christian history that cannot be written out. Pelikan claimed, as I remember, that Rome’s unique authority was written backwards and forwards into history due to the Council of Chalcedon. I have rarely read a more deeply deeply incorrect statement. The history of the condemnation of Pelagianism clearly demonstrates that in the united Church, during a time period when finally enough data was preserved to test subtle aspects of papal primacy in the data, the popes of Rome had the right and duty to exercise doctrinal oversight at the service of the entire Church around the world.

    If you are willing to read a short chapter from “Studies on the Early Papacy” by Dom John Chapman, you can find the evidence I’m talking about. It’s been copied in two parts here, on a Catholic website:

    http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/num16.htm

    and:

    http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/num17.htm

    Contrary to Pelikan’s assertion, this is here clear evidence of worldwide papal doctrinal authority from considerably before Chalcedon, when the Church was briefly united around the world; and there are too many documents corroborating it for the entire episode to have been written backwards into history.

    Furthermore, if you have not read the documents that prove the influence of Leo on Chalcedon itself, I recommend reading the very short section on Chalcedon in the “The first eight general councils and papal infallibility”

    http://books.google.com/books?id=hP0OAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA7&lpg=PA7&dq=chapman+the+first+eight+general+councils+and+papal+infallibility&source=bl&ots=GNXKzECHhB&sig=zVubqHGivKdR3lvMPCqUk7zIE8E&hl=en&ei=XubCTK6nJI3_nAfyk_zfCQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2&sqi=2&ved=0CBcQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

    All of these popes were held in high regard in the East, as far as I know. The east was in happy communion with them, at least the orthodox in the East. It is too too much to suppose that we are to have a church without such Roman leaders, when the entire world was in communion with Roman leaders who claimed that their succession from Peter gave them these duties. You do not realize it, but in joining Orthodoxy you are rejecting the voice of the East from the early 400s.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  19. BT (re: #10),

    I do not read St. Ignatius in isolation, because he himself was not in isolation. It would be an artificial abstraction to read him in isolation, or thus to presuppose that those succeeding him could not further illuminate his writings. I do not presuppose that those who came after him corrupted what he believed, because I do not presuppose ecclesial deism. I extend the principle of charity to the Fathers, believing them to be faithful stewards of the Apostles Tradition, except where or when there is very good reason to believe they were mistaken. This is the Church of Christ, who is God, and so some degree of confidence in His protection and guidance of her is due. I said what I said about “presides in love” precisely because I do not read any particular Father in isolation (and any particular author of Scripture in isolation). But, of course, if I did read him in isolation, like a few cells studied in isolation from the organism of which they are members, I too would be astonished at seeing the City of God / City of Man contrast within those three words: “presides in love.”

    I agree that where we find a particular Church we are also finding the universal Church, provided that particular Church is not cut off from the universal Church. Where someone finds my foot, someone finds me (provided my foot is not detached from me). But, the particular Church is not identical to the universal Church just like my foot is not identical to me. So in one sense the Church at Smyrna was the universal Church, because it was truly a member of the universal Church, but in another sense the Church at Smyrna was not the universal Church, because the universal Church was not limited to the particular Church at Smyrna.

    You started by saying you’ll assume I’m familiar with the distinction between the particular and universal church. Yes, if by that you mean to ask, am I familiar with the Roman Catholic understanding of that distinction.

    It is not a uniquely Catholic distinction. The Orthodox recognize it as well. Otherwise they would have to deny the first mark of the Church, since there are fourteen (or fifteen) autocephalous particular Orthodox Churches.

    I am familiar with this distinction [between particular Church and universal Church], but I do not grant it, and I don’t think Ignatius would have understood it in those terms either.

    Let’s consider whether he could have denied the distinction between the particular Church and the universal Church. If St. Ignatius had denied the notion of a particular Church, then he couldn’t have written to these different “Churches” as such, since they would (for him) be only parts of the one “catholic” (i.e. universal) Church. But he did write to these particular Churches as “Churches”. Likewise, if he had denied the one catholic Church, then he would have no reason, as bishop of the Church at Antioch, to write letters to these people in other cities, since his Church at Antioch would have had no connection or relation or communion with those other persons in those other cities. But, he did believe himself to be in communion with those Churches in other cities; that’s why he wrote to them. And therefore he believed in one catholic Church. And therefore, since he also obviously believed in particular Churches (as shown by the fact that he writes to them as such), and since he also believed in the one catholic Church (as shown by the fact that he believed himself to be in communion with persons outside of his particular Church at Antioch) it follows that he believed in the distinction between the particular Church and the universal Church.

    And, the entire position is being guided by the ASSUMPTION that the church cannot function without a single, juridical head over it, other than Christ himself. The ASSUMPTION that “the bishop” (wherever he may be) is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the universal church. I think Ignatius speaks otherwise.

    I think St. Ignatius, being himself a bishop appointed by the Apostles, would anathematize that notion as a gnostic error. That is because it is, by obvious implication, a rejection of the authority of every bishop, including the authority of St. Ignatius himself. If it is ipso facto wrong to claim that the local bishop is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the universal Church (because it calls into question the power of God), then it is for that very same reason wrong to claim that the individual Christian is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the particular Church, and thus for the universal Church. If Christ can invisibly guide the universal Church as its invisible Head, then Christ can invisibly guide the particular Church as its invisible Head, and hence the local bishop can justifiably be ignored not only as superfluous, but even as competing with Christ, and calling into question the omnipotence of Christ, by implying that Christ is incapable of governing particular Churches directly. But if the authentic authority of a local bishop does not call into question the power of Christ, then neither does a Vicar of Christ overseeing the universal Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  20. BT,

    to reiterate, you said: “Let the clear history interpret the unclear, right? K. Doran, believe me, I see your point. But what we have in the case of RC vs. EO is not entirely unlike that in Baptist vs. Methodist vs. Presbyterian. All agree the clear should interpret the unclear, but they disagree as to what is clear! Different things are clear in different ways and at different times.”

    There are objective standards of what constitutes clarity. A clear conclusion is one in which we have asked a very simple question of a large amount of data; and received answers that consistently are the same, allowing us to clearly reject the alternative hypotheses as opposed to the data. An unclear conclusion is one in which we have asked complicated questions of small amounts of data; since the question is richer than the data set, any number of answers “fit” the data, and no firm conclusion can be drawn without secretly relying on outside assumptions.

    You are speaking as if all historical conclusions are in the latter category. This is incorrect. With sufficiently simple questions, and sufficiently rich data, one can reach firm and incontrovertible conclusions from the data of christian antiquity.

    While most of my reading has been on the papacy, I believe that the following conclusions can be safely reached, in rough order of clarity:

    (1) Jesus Christ really existed at a particular time and place; he really died; he was really resurrected; this really matters for everybody.

    (2) Christians are to be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins and the regeneration of their souls.

    (3) Trinitarian formulas are used in prayers, hymns, and homilies.

    (4) Bishops, priests and deacons are to rule the Church, as successors of the apostles and their assistants, respectively. They have the right and duty to forgive sins and to bind and loose.

    (5) The Roman particular Church and its Bishop have a right and duty to serve the worldwide Church in matters of Faith, in a manner which no other particular Church and its Bishop have.

    (6) The Eucharist really and truly is the Body and Blood of Christ. Your eyes are to be ignored in this matter.

    (7) Mary and the Saints are to be venerated.

    There are more that could be added in the list of what can be clearly determined from the data of christian history. But the problem with the orthodox position is that it seeks to justify the existence of a Church that doesn’t have #5 above, by imagining that issues on which we have much less clear evidence can be placed in the list above. In particular, the orthodox imagine that subtle distinctions about the filioque and about the precise rights and duties of the papacy make it better to have a church without #5 above, then to have one with #5 but have to compromise on these subtle issues. In this way, the orthodox are letting the unclear dominate the clear. If the orthodox were refusing to have communion with catholics because having #5 meant losing #6, that would be one thing. But having #5 merely means compromising on issues on which the historical evidence is much less clear. So we can see from history that the better approach is to stick with the Church that has #5.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  21. BT (re: #17)

    You wrote:

    Ignatius, to me, was a smack in the face and a kick in the pants to realize that the so called evolution toward episcopal government was not some long process, but rather was already there by just after 100 AD. Tracing it a bit further back, nothing in Clement contradicts that form of government. And read in this way, nothing in the Pastoral letters contradicts it either–less precise use of “elder” and “overseer” are not enough to establish that they were exactly the same office when such early post-NT evidence shows they likely were not separate. Evolution from congregation-level bishops toward diocesan level bishops, or arrangement into metropolitans, patriarchs etc. is an extension or adaption of the early system, but certainly no corruption of it. So that’s a biggie for Protestant claims to the contrary. Also, it clearly shows that the central point of worship, unity and truth is the celebration of the eucharist (and pretty clearly establishes that a denial of the physical presence of Christ amounts to docetism). Again, pretty clearly stands against claims that the Reformation “restored the centrality of the sermon.” It can’t be restored to the central place if it never held the central place. So, taken by himself, Ignatius certainly does seem to establish certain things pretty clearly.

    What is inconsistent here, from my point of view, is that you are allowing St. Ignatius to shed light on St. Clement of Rome and the Pastorals, but in your previous comments you are not allowing what St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Optatus, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, ….. say about St. Peter and his successors, to shed light on St. Ignatius. If St. Ignatius can shed light on St. Clement of Rome and the Pastorals, then the Church Fathers can shed light on St. Ignatius, and to deny that seems ad hoc.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  22. BT: Frankly, if not for my presupposition that God has preserved His church throughout history in spite of itself, I may just have concluded it’s not worth pursuing further :(

    So appeals to “the clear” in history really convince me even less than do appeals to “the clear” in Scripture. So much in every case rests upon other assumptions of what must, or should, be. If one believes the universal church MUST have a top bishop with total jurisdiction to function (which Mike said is, in a nutshell, why he’s Catholic) then one will end up Catholic. If one doesn’t have that assumption (which I do not) then one will probably end up Orthodox, which seems to be the direction I’m heading.

    May God grant you wisdom and guidance on your search for His church! First, I would say that if you believe that scriptures are inerrant, you don’t have to presuppose that His church has been preserved throughout history in spite of itself. Christ promises that the “powers of death” will not prevail against His church (Matt 16:18 RSV). That is a key starting point for your search.

    I think that there is something that can help you in your seeking to find His church. For the sake of argument, let us assume there is a man called Joe Seeker that earnestly desires to become a member of the church that Christ founded. Let us further assume that Joe Seeker has been given the grace of God to believe that the bible he reads is the inerrant word of God (let us say it is a Protestant RSV Bible so that I can quote from it).

    Joe Seeker has read in his RSV Bible:

    All the churches of Christ greet you. I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. Romans 16: 16-17

    This verse of scripture brings Joe Seeker to the realization that that he must become a member of one of “the churches of Christ” and that he must avoid the heretics that create dissensions and difficulties within the church that Christ founded.

    Joe Seeker looks first at the Protestant churches to see if these could be the “churches of Christ”. He sees that that all of these Protestant churches were founded by men, so they can’t possibly be the visible church that Christ founded against which the power of death can never prevail. Also Joe Seeker sees that Protestantism is really nothing more than thousands upon thousands of divided churches that preach conflicting doctrine, so they cannot be the “churches of Christ” that are united in their doctrine. The doctrinal anarchy reigning within Protestantism rules out Protestantism for Joe Seeker.

    Joe Seeker then looks for those churches that have a history that stretches back two thousand years – the churches that have at least a plausible claim that Christ founded them. Joe Seeker finds that he has three options that meet that criterion, the Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholic Church.

    Joe Seeker wants to know how these churches settle matters of doctrine, since he knows that scriptures teach that must belong to one of the “churches of Christ” that does not teach heresy. He finds that Oriental Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, and the Catholic Church all teach that scriptures are inerrant and “God breathed”. So that is a relief to him, since that this is what he believes because of the grace that has been given to him. Joe Seeker finds the all the OO, EO and Catholic Church all teach that Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura is heresy. So he is willing to give up the idea that scriptures are the ONLY authority to which a Christian has access. He also notes that sola scriptura is taught nowhere in his RSV Bible, so that gives him one more reason to reject Luther’s doctrine of sola scriptura.

    One thing that Joe Seeker finds out in his investigation of the OO, EO and Catholic Church, is that all these churches teach that when validly ordained bishops meet in an Ecumenical Council, that these bishops can definitively define doctrine is a way that binds the consciences of all the members of “churches of Christ”. Joe Seeker’s RSV Bible isn’t the ONLY source of authority for defining the doctrines of Christianity.

    The OO, EO and Catholic Church teach another thing about Ecumenical Councils, and that it is possible for bishops to meet in what was intended to be an Ecumenical Council, but ended up NOT being a valid Ecumenical Council. The OO, EO and Catholic Church all teach that no Christian is required to believe the doctrines that were promulgated by an invalid Ecumenical Council. (The “Robber” Council of Ephesus of 499 A.D is an example of an invalid Ecumenical Council.)

    The key question that Joe Seeker needs to answer is how is the ordinary person supposed to know when an Ecumenical Council is valid. To me, the obvious thing that Joe Seeker should do is ask the bishops of the OO, EO and Catholic Church how they answer that question. If Joe Seeker does that, he will find that the bishops of the EO and the OO cannot answer that question in a way that is unambiguous. At best, the bishops of the EO and the OO will say something nebulous such as an Ecumenical Council is valid when the whole church accepts it. But what is that supposed to mean? Does the “whole church” meet after an Ecumenical Council and vote to decide the validity of that council? Do women and children get a say in deciding the validity of an Ecumenical Council? Wouldn’t the whole church have to include the members of the church that are not yet born? If you press the EO and the OO to clarify how an Ecumenical Council is determined to be valid you will never get an answer that makes sense. But if you ask the bishops of the Catholic Church how an ordinary person is supposed to know if an Ecumenical Council is valid, you will at least get an answer that is unambiguous – an Ecumenical Council is valid if the pope ratifies the dogmas promulgated by an Ecumenical Council.

    I say that for Joe Seeker, the only viable option available to him is the Catholic Church, since she is the only church with a two-thousand year old history that can answer the question of how the ordinary person is supposed to know when an Ecumenical Council is valid.

    Think about this for a moment. How is it possible that after two thousand years that the question of determining when an Ecumenical Council is valid can NOT be known without ambiguity by “the churches of Christ”? If this vital question cannot be answered without ambiguity, then what is the ordinary person supposed to do when he wants to know with certainty what the doctrines of “the churches of Christ” actually are? Without an unambiguous answer he is in principle no better off than the Protestant that believes his bible is the only inerrant source of authority to which he has access.

    I realize that I have made a bold claim when I stated that the bishops of the EO and the OO cannot give a clear answer to the question of how the ordinary Christian determines the validity of an Ecumenical Council. I don’t expect you to take my word for this. I formed my opinion about that by doing what I ask you to do. I asked the members of the EO and the OO for a straight answer to that question, or for them to at least point me to what their bishops teach. I gave up when I saw that I never could get an unambiguous to that question from the members of the EO an OO churches.

    Perhaps I was asked the wrong persons within the EO and OO churches. If you can get an unambiguous answer from the EO or the OO for how the ordinary person is supposed to know when an Ecumenical Council is valid, please, please, tell me what it is!

  23. BT (#17):

    I appreciate your compliment. I also agree with what others have said in reply to your overall comment. All I want to do here is correct a misunderstanding you seem to have about my position. I suspect that such a correction, and my explanation for making it, would aid your decision-making process.

    You wrote:

    If one believes the universal church MUST have a top bishop with total jurisdiction to function (which Mike said is, in a nutshell, why he’s Catholic) then one will end up Catholic. If one doesn’t have that assumption (which I do not) then one will probably end up Orthodox, which seems to be the direction I’m heading.

    It’s not entirely accurate to say I believe that “the universal church MUST have a top bishop with total jurisdiction to function.” What I believe is that it makes little sense to hold, on the one hand, that a monarchical bishop over each local church is necessary for the unity of each such church, but on the other hand that no monarchical bishop over the universal Church is necessary for the unity of the universal Church. Since there’s far more diversity in the universal Church than in any given local church, it seemed to me that a single bishop with primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church would be at least as necessary for her unity as the jurisdiction of monarchical bishops taken severally is for their local churches, or as the jurisdiction of patriarchs is for regional synods. So on that score, Catholicism made more sense to me than Orthodoxy. But that doesn’t show that Catholic ecclesiology “must” be the truth. All it does is state part of why I find Catholicism more reasonable than Orthodoxy.

    As you know, I don’t believe that the Catholic doctrine of the papacy can be derived from history alone. But neither do I believe it can be derived a priori, by logic, from a prior understanding of the rest of the deposit of faith. When I was trying to decide between Catholicism and Orthodoxy, both seemed to me rationally plausible, and either struck me as far more plausible than Protestantism. But I won’t detain you with the reasons for that, since you seem headed away from Protestantism anyhow. As a college student in the 70s, I asked myself this question after rejecting Protestantism: given that both Catholicism and Orthodoxy are rationally plausible, how is one to decide between them?

    Beyond the reason I’ve already given, I should cite my actual experience with trying to get Orthodox sources to enunciate the criteria for determining the ecumenicity of councils. That experience was very similar to what mateo describes, in #22 just above, as that of “Joe Seeker.” I got a number of different answers, none of which satisfied me. One struck me as no different from what Protestants generally say about their own views: the theology of such councils was “in accord with the Scriptures.” So what? If it were obvious what accords with Scripture, then ecumenical councils themselves would be unnecessary; and if they are necessary, then it isn’t obvious that their decisions accord with Scripture. Another criterion I heard cited was the consensus of the Pentarchy. That struck me as historically untenable given the schisms after Ephesus and Chalcedon. Another criterion I heard proposed was that a council is ecumenical just in case its dogmatic decrees are “received” by the whole Church. That struck me as just begging the question: for of course one is not to be accounted a member of “the Church” unless one professes what those councils taught. And finally, I noticed that some Orthodox thought that more than seven councils were ecumenical. Eight, maybe even nine or ten. Well, who exactly is to say? Even if they’re agreed that there were at least seven, they don’t seem to agree that there were at most seven. Something fishy about that.

    By contrast, the Catholic criteria for the ecumenicity of councils have been clear and consistent. A council is ecumenical, and thus binding on the whole Church, just in case it gathers bishops from throughout the Church to settle matters that concern the whole Church, and its dogmatic decrees are ratified by the Bishop of Rome. That’s it—and that’s been it for as long as we have records. In conjunction with my first reason for finding Catholicism more reasonable, that sealed the issue for me.

    But even that sealing of the issue was only an opinion of mine that has no authority. It does not “prove” that the Roman as distinct from the EO communion is “the Church.” This is a matter of faith, not just of reason. And the assent of faith is free, uncompelled by considerations of reason or anything else. I just wanted my decision to be reasonable, and I believe more than ever that it was. But it was never based on any preconceived idea of which ecclesiology “must” be true.

    Best,
    Mike

  24. Michael Liccone: I noticed that some Orthodox thought that more than seven councils were ecumenical. Eight, maybe even nine or ten. Well, who exactly is to say?

    Good point. The Oriental Orthodox accept three Ecumenical Councils, the Eastern Orthodox accept seven, and some EO perhaps more than seven. But if neither the Oriental Orthodox nor the Eastern Orthodox can spell out the criteria for how the ordinary Christian is supposed to know when an Ecumenical Council is valid, then neither the Oriental Orthodox nor the Eastern Orthodox can know with certainty that any the Ecumenical Councils that they do accept are, in fact, valid. This is a big problem that can’t be ignored! Doctrines of the faith are solemnly defined at Ecumenical Councils because of controversies that arise within the Christian community, and the determination of what is orthodox belief actually is depends on knowing when an Ecumenical Council is valid.

    There are some Protestant sects that claim that they accept the dogmas promulgated by seven Ecumenical Councils. But why do they do that? How do these Protestant sects determine that these particular seven Ecumenical Councils are valid, and that dogmas promulgated by the Council of Trent are invalid? What is their criteria for determining the validity of an Ecumenical Council?

    Michael Liccone: I should cite my actual experience with trying to get Orthodox sources to enunciate the criteria for determining the ecumenicity of councils. … One struck me as no different from what Protestants generally say about their own views: the theology of such councils was “in accord with the Scriptures.” So what? If it were obvious what accords with Scripture, then ecumenical councils themselves would be unnecessary; and if they are necessary, then it isn’t obvious that their decisions accord with Scripture.

    Exactly! This is why I said that if a Christian cannot know with certainty whether a particular Ecumenical Council is valid or invalid, then he is no better off than the Protestant that believes that his bible is the sole source of inerrant authority.

    Michael Liccone: No academic method can tell us what we ought to believe as Christians, at least not by itself. At most and by itself, such a method can only yield opinions about what various groups of Christians did in fact believe. What’s needed is a living authority speaking for Christ himself.

    Amen! You make this point well, and it can’t be made to often. And I thank you for your persistence in making this point.

  25. Mike (# 23):

    And the assent of faith is free, uncompelled by considerations of reason or anything else. I just wanted my decision to be reasonable, and I believe more than ever that it was.

    I’d like to better understand this statement. It seems to me that whether your decision was reasonable or not really wouldn’t affect the legitimacy of the assent of faith as you’ve described it.

    Blessings,
    Jason

  26. Sure, Jason.

    As a Catholic, I believe that faith and reason are not only compatible, but that the latter supports the former. For the full story about all that, see John Paul II’s encyclical Fides et Ratio. Such an account steers between the extremes of “fideism” and “rationalism.” Fideism is the view that faith does not need any reasons. Rationalism is the view that faith must be proven by reasons. Both are false.

    When I say that “I wanted my faith to be reasonable,” I was not being a rationalist. I do not believe that either the identity or the content of divine revelation can be proven by reason. At the same time, there are reasons that support the free assent of faith, as there must be if that assent is not to be arbitrary and thus contrary to reason. Of course, those reasons do not determine or mandate the content of divine faith; to hold that they do would be rationalism. But they do support faith, so that there is, or can be, reason enough to make the assent of faith. To deny that would be fideism.

    I hope that helps.

    Best,
    Mike

  27. Would it be fair to say, Dr. Liccione, that in saying:

    And the assent of faith is free, uncompelled by considerations of reason or anything else.

    you weren’t in any way suggesting that your “assent of faith” was completely inconsiderate of reason?

    The distinction, then, is to be made between the terms compulsion and consideration. In other words, your faith, then, though not compelled by reason, was certainly deeply informed by reason. Fair enough? thanks to all of you- herbert

  28. Indeed, herbert!

  29. Wowee. A lot happens in a few days. I have read through all the responses and posts, and to attempt to respond to all the matters that have been raised would lead to an endless amount of writing and an exponentially scattered list of topics. So I will not attempt to respond to everything. In fact I will attempt to do what I started out doing, and that is, to actually discuss Ignatius and his letters. I’ll make a few observations to attempt to explain my own position, and then probably bow out because I’ve had these discussions so many times, I probably can expect to see them repeated again here (really, a quick scan of any com-box discussion for any article on this site will pretty much reveal the same general handful of topics coming up again, and again, and again. I won’t change anyone’s mind here and I don’t expect to have mine changed, although I have been given a few new things to consider and I appreciate that. So, a few observations:

    1. On Ignatius and his view of bishops and the Papacy.

    Frankly, the silence in this discussion is deafening. We’re going on 30 comments now, and almost none of them have actually addressed a single point I’ve raised, or question I’ve posed, about Ignatius or his actual letters. I’ve simply been snowed under by all these claims of objective, overwhelming, plain-as-day, can’t possibly be argued with evidence–all from significantly later than Ignatius himself. I will simply take this as an overall, implicit admission (that nobody has simply come forward with as of yet) that the writings of Ignatius simply contain NOTHING that, on their own, can establish anything like Papal supremacy (and note, that is qualitatively different from primacy, which also cannot be established from Ignatius). Rather, the closest we can come is to form an opinion of the matter from other, later sources, and then find that Ignatius doesn’t conflict with that theory. There is nothing in Ignatius that rules out Papal infallibility or supremacy. There is nothing in Ignatius that rules out Orthodoxy conciliarity. I honestly can’t see that either of those were really on his radar when he wrote. However, I believe it is clear that the highest authority in the church that is explicitly described in his letter is the LOCAL bishop. Apart from writing collegial letters to other churches as a bishop himself, he simply does not address the matter of relationships among different bishops, or what might possibly happen if they were to disagree. It was left to later generations to address those issues. So, having said that, I believe the intellectually honest way to conclude the original post would be to show that Ignatius’ letters *could* be read in such a way so as to support the RC view of the Papacy–not to attempt to show that they actually do, or that he intended to do so. Acknowledge that his silence in the letter to the Romans is just that–SILENCE–and that it can be legitimately interpreted in multiple ways depending upon the view that one already holds on the matter.

    2. K. Doran…on the supposedly “objective” evidence, and it’s supposed “clarity.”

    This matter has been fought out for hundreds of years, through countless debates and books. Brilliant scholars have converted into Rome, away from Rome, or have stayed just where they were, having read all the same letters and patristic sources. You wrote

    It is a shame that you chose to read those authors and no others. You have not given the Catholic position a chance.

    In my earlier post I listed authors I had read…I said nothing of what authors I had NOT read. Nor did I list all that I had. You seem to assume, rather uncharitably, that I’m just blasting away at your position without having tried to understand it. I cannot tell you how many debates I’ve listened to or read. I have read plenty of material on Catholic Answers, books (or sections of them) by prominent apologists. I haven’t read the work of Dom John Chapman, but he obviously is regarded as a very informed and reliable source from a Catholic perspective. I’m sure that in reading him, I will broaden my view, and perhaps give the RC a “fair chance.” But I am not ignorant of sources. I have heard Mitch Pacawa, Gerry Matatics, and others debate Protestants plenty of times on the matter of the papacy. Frankly, I simply never could believe that they were coming out on top. My problem always was that the Protestant position offered as an alternative wasn’t satisfying, either.

    As to it being a “shame” that I’ve read certain authors, I’ll simply put this forward. YOU have told me that Pelikan was biased and flat wrong in his interpretation of history. YOU have asserted that by applying an “objective” test, it can be plainly seen that he was wrong. Yet how often have I seen him quoted (or Kelly, or even Schaff) in debates against Protestants? I’m not entirely sure why I should trust the opinion of an individual on a Blog site over against the opinion of one of history’s most renowned and respected scholars, including among many Roman Catholics. I could also point out that as he (and the others) were all writing as Protestants, I also didn’t give Orthodoxy a chance, either. Yet here I am. I hope to read some of what you’ve suggested from Dom Chapman.

    3. Bryan…a few topics

    I have just a few observations. First, thank you for posting this and for replying. I think you’re assuming a few things about my positions that aren’t entirely warranted. First, you point out that you aren’t reading Ignatius in isolation…implying that I am, and that I’m trying to get you to do the same. I probalby haven’t expressed myself very well, but the precise point I’m making is that he cannot be read in isolation–nothing can–and how he’s interpreted will have everything to do with what the reader already believes was the case, or must be the case, or whatever. I’m also saying that if you *do* read him in isolation, certain things are more prominent in his writings–the necessity of submission to bishops, the glory of martyrdom, his view that even as a bishop he is only beginning to become a Christian–and things like his view of the Roman bishop are entirely lacking. I’m not attempting to use him in isolation, nor am I attempting to leverage him to prove my already existing convictions. I see that he is consistent with several because he just plain doesn’t address them.

    You wrote,

    I think St. Ignatius, being himself a bishop appointed by the Apostles, would anathematize that notion as a Gnostic error. That is because it is, by obvious implication, a rejection of the authority of every bishop, including the authority of St. Ignatius himself. If it is ipso facto wrong to claim that the local bishop is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the universal Church (because it calls into question the power of God), then it is for that very same reason wrong to claim that the individual Christian is insufficient to serve as the principle of unity for the particular Church, and thus for the universal Church. If Christ can invisibly guide the universal Church as its invisible Head, then Christ can invisibly guide the particular Church as its invisible Head, and hence the local bishop can justifiably be ignored not only as superfluous, but even as competing with Christ, and calling into question the omnipotence of Christ, by implying that Christ is incapable of governing particular Churches directly. But if the authentic authority of a local bishop does not call into question the power of Christ, then neither does a Vicar of Christ overseeing the universal Church.

    Gnostic heresy? That’s too much of a leap for me. I don’t think your conclusions follow from what I stated, namely, that you’re beginning with an assumption that the church must have one single visible head (with direct, immediate, irrevocable jurisdiction over all other bishops) in order to have any principle of unity above the individual Christian. Perhaps I lack sufficient training in philosophy, but that just seems like a sweeping conclusion that isn’t warranted…or is it warranted to say that Ignatius would himself have agreed with it. It is in no way obvious that rejecting a single “vicar of Christ” immediately rejects the authority of all bishops in the Church. If all are equal in authority within their own jurisdictions, and matters are settled by councils, then the Spirit can be seen to have acted through those bishops. If we need someone external to also give the thumbs-up or veto, immediately we begin the infinite regress of “Who approves that guy’s approval?” Oh, God Himself, of course! Really? Couldn’t God have also approved the judgment of the council? The logic in both cases is guided by assumptions.

    You also wrote,

    I do not read St. Ignatius in isolation, because he himself was not in isolation. It would be an artificial abstraction to read him in isolation, or thus to presuppose that those succeeding him could not further illuminate his writings. I do not presuppose that those who came after him corrupted what he believed, because I do not presuppose ecclesial deism. I extend the principle of charity to the Fathers, believing them to be faithful stewards of the Apostles Tradition, except where or when there is very good reason to believe they were mistaken.

    Where, exactly, am I supposing they were mistaken? What of my statements, besides their not agreeing with your beliefs, makes me guilty of supposed “ecclesial deism?” I am not assuming they’re mistaken–I am simply not granting that they can ONLY be interpreted according to your understanding. Evidently, anything other that a belief in Papal infallibility amounts to believing that God fired up the Church and then just let go of the wheel. Frankly, that’s absurd. Protestants don’t explicitly believe this, although as you pointed out in your article of the same name, they have quite a challenge explaining their way around broken apostolic succession. Orthodoxy does not have this “deistic” view as you label it. I will also point out that a Google search on “Ecclesial Deism” turns up hits only to this site, or to other blogs that quote it. You seem to have coined a term that you now use to settle arguments with detractors as though your position, or its label, were an accepted theological position. I might suggest a bit more humility. If whoever controls the definitions wins the debate, then I suppose whoever *invents* the definitions must really win? Forgive me.

    I’ll post a final few thoughts separately so this doesn’t become any longer than it already is.

  30. Continued from above…

    4. Bryan…regarding the “ad hoc” nature of interpretation

    You wrote,

    What is inconsistent here, from my point of view, is that you are allowing St. Ignatius to shed light on St. Clement of Rome and the Pastorals, but in your previous comments you are not allowing what St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, St. Clement of Alexandria, Origen, St. Cyprian, St. Optatus, St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, ….. say about St. Peter and his successors, to shed light on St. Ignatius. If St. Ignatius can shed light on St. Clement of Rome and the Pastorals, then the Church Fathers can shed light on St. Ignatius, and to deny that seems ad hoc.

    Yes, this would be entirely ad hoc, were anyone to take that position. But to assume that’s what I’m saying, or doing, is an Evil Knievel sized leap. Where did I even begin to suggest that Ignatius could shed light on a reading of Paul, but later writers can’t shed light on Ignatius? What I am not doing is allowing a *modern Roman Catholic understanding* of those later Fathers to interpret Ignatius. There’s nothing ad hoc in this.

    To cite but one of many examples…your use of the perpetually-popular-among-RC-apologists Irenaeus quote, that it’s necessary for all churches to agree with Rome on account of its preeminance. That this is varyingly interpreted is well known. That even the translation itself is disputed is also well known. Schaff’s translation contains the following footnote:

    The Latin text of this difficult but important clause is, “Ad hanc enim ecclesiam propter potiorem principalitatem necesse est omnem convenire ecclesiam.” Both the text and meaning have here given rise to much discussion. It is impossible to say with certainty of what words in the Greek original “potiorem principalitatem” may be the translation. We are far from sure that the rendering given above is correct, but we have been unable to think of anything better. [A most extraordinary confession. It would be hard to find a worse; but take the following from a candid Roman Catholic, which is better and more literal: “For to this Church, on account of more potent principality, it is necessary that every Church (that is, those who are on every side faithful) resort; in which Church ever, by those who are on every side, has been preserved that tradition which is from the apostles.” (Berington and Kirk, vol. i. p. 252.) Here it is obvious that the faith was kept at Rome, by those who resort there from all quarters. She was a mirror of the Catholic World, owing here orthodoxy to them; not the Sun, dispensing her own light to others, but the glass bringing their rays into a focus. See note at end of book iii.]

    Rene-Francois Guettee, a 19th century Catholic priest who converted to Orthodoxy after years of trying to establish the Papacy from history, gives a very compelling challenge to the conventional RC understanding in his book, The Papacy (http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/inquirers/Guettee_ThePapacy.pdf), starting here around page 21. The work is polemical, no doubt, but not much written at that time wasn’t! So what’s really happening here, is that one must interpret Irenaeus’ remark also in light of other, and later, pro-Papal understandings, and so on. So it isn’t really Irenaeus who we’re allowing to interpret Ignatius, is it?

    5. Other remarks, especially about the criteria for an ecumenical council

    I’ll try to be brief. One point I’ll make is that, if all the evidence (believe me I’ve read quote upon quote from RC apologetics) all through history were so plain as day (objectively!!!) in favor of an infallible Vicar of Christ on the Throne of Peter in the See of Rome with immediate jurisdiction over all other bishops…it seems there would have been less objection through history. We can grant, for argument, that all of Orthodoxy just got into a prideful snit and willfully hardened itself against the clear truth, and remains in schism to this day because they just dont’ want to see it. OK, let’s even grant that all of Protestantism is in the same boat, only they threw the bishops out with the bathwater (I made that up…I hereby label it Ecclesial Bathwaterism and consider it now firmly established…). One would rationally expect that certainly, there would be no opposition among those within the Roman communion to such a doctrine as Papal infallibility, right? Among those who already believed Rome to be in the right against Orthodoxy and Protestantism! If anyone would see the objective, clear, irrefutable evidence, it would be those who already were in the camp that rightly understood its own history! But that isn’t exactly what appears to have happened. The adoption of that doctrine wasn’t exactly smooth as butter. Evidently I am not the only one who lacks eyes to see the objective, clear testimony of all of history.

    As to the criteria for deciding which council is ecumenical, I will agree that the RC solution (the Pope ratifies it) is neat and tidy. So is believing that whatever the current Mormon prophet says, is truth. Or a Patriarch in constantinople, or a Ouija board. Logically they all solve the problem. That doesn’t make them right. The relationships between Popes and councils have been fairly well documented, at least in the sources I’ve read, and the picture certainly isn’t one of the entire empire holding its breath to see whether the Pope would ratify their decisions. They moved on their decisions and quite evidently saw them as binding and correct. To explore this any further would require half the Internet and the ink has already been spilled elsewhere. I have ready plenty of evidence from the RC side from the usual apologetic sources. I have read refutations and counter-proposals from Orthodox authors, who in many cases were former Catholics. Their works have an agenda, just as much as the works of RC or Protestant apologists, no neutrality for sure…but I haven’t seen replies to them that really seem to satisfy. Specifically the books by Michael Whelton give quite a different interpretation of the data and one that I frankly find compelling. Also, I’ll just link to this online debate between an RC and EO apologist over these very topics. I have to say, I was quite underwhelmed by the RC attempt to refute the EO positions, which at times seemed to amount to screaming “Matt. 16:18!!!” over and over again. (http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/articles/deb_papacy/)

    The material presented by the EO on the various councils, relative to the Papacy, in the opening statement (starting here: http://www.americancatholictruthsociety.com/articles/deb_papacy/chris/open/#one) was barely even responded to. And I haven’t heard much else satisfactory from other sources.

    Now, my whole point is that I will agree with Michael and Mateo, that I haven’t heard an EO give an iron clad answer to how we can know with 100% certainty which councils are binding on all Christians. The fact that some hold to 8 or even 9 councils is a little weird to me. I will also say that I have yet to hear any RC give an iron clad answer as to how we can know with 100% certainty which Papal pronouncements are infallible and which aren’t. Some say only two…some say more…some say the encyclicals about the body and sexualtiy are infallibly binding on all Catholics. Some say they don’t meet the criteria…because they don’t agree on what the criteria are. I don’t find 100% assurance of truth in Orthodoxy, any more than I can find it in Catholicism. So please forgive me if I’m underwhelmed by the problem of identifying councils with 100% certainty.

    Anwyay, I don’t think much more will come from my ramblings here. Thanks for the whirl, and please, let’s pray for each other and for the unification of all who believe.

    God bless,
    BT

  31. BT,

    As long as you agree that Ignatius cannot be used as evidence either for or against the papacy when read in isolation, I agree with you on him, so there’s no need to respond further to what you wrote.

    The fundamental point about what can be learned from history is that we have to be careful which hypotheses we are willing to test using the limited data at hand. I am asserting that if you test the hypothesis: “The Roman particular Church and its Bishop have a right and duty to serve the worldwide Church in matters of Faith, in a manner which no other particular Church and its Bishop have” then you will receive a clear answer from christian antiquity. I am not asserting that the particulars of current latin rite jurisdictional practice are clear or implied to be non-abuses from antiquity. Or that the particulars of the very limited manner in which popes are today considered to be infallible are implied from the data of christian antiquity (after all, during Leo’s time, people spoke of his office’s infallibility in much broader terms than we allow for it today).

    Now, if the hypothesis that I listed is clearly something that was part of the belief system of the early church, then the next step is to see whether there are any churches today that have similar beliefs. And there is precisely one: the Catholic Church. You counter that the particulars of our current papal practice are not implied by the data of antiquity. But they are not denied as abuses by the data of antiquity either. The data of antiquity isn’t rich enough to know whether early Christians would reject the precise papal practices of today as abuses. But it is rich enough to say that they remained in happy communion with Popes who asserted that some kind of papacy was part of the divine constitution of the Church.

    So the clear part of antiquity is only satisfied by one church: the Catholic Church. The orthodox churches use unclear and ambiguous parts of the historical evidence to say: “well, it would be nice to have a papacy, because that would make us more like the church of the first millennium. But your papacy is an abuse, because of the following overly subtle evidence from antiquity.” My only point is: the orthodox can’t know that our modern papacy would be considered to be an abuse by Christians of the first millennium with the same degree of certainty with which we can all know that some kind of papacy was considered an integral part of the church in the first millennium.

    So the Catholic Church of today matches the clear evidence of antiquity in that it has a papacy at all. As for the unclear evidence on the exact boundaries of the papacy’s rights and duties; it would be against the principal of letting the clear interpret the unclear to let that unclear evidence get in the way of us being Catholic.

    Sincerely,

    K. Doran

  32. BT: I have heard Mitch Pacawa, Gerry Matatics, and others debate Protestants plenty of times on the matter of the papacy. Frankly, I simply never could believe that they were coming out on top. My problem always was that the Protestant position offered as an alternative wasn’t satisfying, either.

    Why isn’t the Protestant position satisfying for you? Is it because within Protestantism there is no way of ever settling a doctrinal dispute among Protestants?

    BT: It is in no way obvious that rejecting a single “vicar of Christ” immediately rejects the authority of all bishops in the Church. If all are equal in authority within their own jurisdictions, and matters are settled by councils, then the Spirit can be seen to have acted through those bishops.

    Please explain how a doctrinal matter ever gets “settled” in an Ecumenical Council if one has no principle for determining the validity of an Ecumenical Council. The “Robber” Council of Ephesus of 499 A.D settled nothing because it was an invalid council – and it was called as an Ecumenical Council to settle a doctrinal matter involving the nature of Christ as taught by the abbot Eutyches.

    Unless you have some principle for knowing with certainty whether a particular council is valid or invalid, then you have no way of knowing that ANYTHING has ever been settled by a particular Ecumenical Council.

    BT: As to the criteria for deciding which council is ecumenical, I will agree that the RC solution (the Pope ratifies it) is neat and tidy. So is believing that whatever the current Mormon prophet says, is truth. Or a Patriarch in constantinople, or a Ouija board. Logically they all solve the problem. That doesn’t make them right.

    I wrote in a previous post that “if you ask the bishops of the Catholic Church how an ordinary person is supposed to know if an Ecumenical Council is valid, you will at least get an answer that is unambiguous – an Ecumenical Council is valid if the pope ratifies the dogmas promulgated by an Ecumenical Council.” I didn’t mean to imply that the Catholic Church couldn’t give sound arguments for why this unambiguous answer makes a whole lot of sense. As you well know, if one wants an argument from scriptures, the Catholic apologist is going to give an exegesis of the meaning of the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” given to Peter by Jesus in Matthew 16:19 and the meaning of the “key of the house of David” given by the Lord to Eliakim (Isaiah 22:22). In Isaiah 22:22 “key” is a symbol of an office, and the holder of the key could act in the name of the King.

    The obvious parallelism that Mathew is making cannot be ignored in any reasonable exegesis of scriptures:

    “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matt 16:19

    And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. Isaiah 22:22

    What is an unreasonable exegesis of scriptures is the argument that Christ gave not just to Peter, but all the Apostles the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”; and because Christ did that, then all the bishops that hold by apostolic succession their offices within Christ’s church also have an equal status of authority within Christ’s church. No, Christ gave only to Peter the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”, and that makes perfect sense because only one man at a time ever held the “key of the house of David.”

    There are good reasons to believe that the Mormon claims aren’t credible, and I won’t go into them here.

    Your Ouija board argument is not as lame as it might seem. The Jews did divine the will of God by casting lots, and they divined the will of God by using the Urim and Thummin. The Apostles chose between Mathias and Justus by the casting of lots to determine who would hold the office within Christ’s Church that was left vacant by the death of Judas. Why don’t we have a Church where doctrinal matters are settled by the casting of lots or by the using of something like the Urim and Thummin? The last time scriptures speak of lots being cast to divine the will of God was in the upper room, and that happened before the Apostles were “baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). After Pentecost, the Holy Spirit guides Christ’s Church through the Apostles. And that leads the Catholic apologist to yet another exegesis of scriptures involving the role of Peter and the Holy Spirit at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts chapter 15 …

    As far as an argument that the Patriarch in Constantinople holds the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” – well that doesn’t make any sense to me. Constantinople didn’t even exist as a seat of secular power when Christ gave the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” to Peter. If you can develop an argument from scriptures that supports the idea that the Patriarch in Constantinople is the holder of the “keys of the kingdom of heaven”, then I would like to see it.

    Now, my whole point is that I will agree with Michael and Mateo, that I haven’t heard an EO give an iron clad answer to how we can know with 100% certainty which councils are binding on all Christians.

    That leaves you with a very big problem that you need to resolve! If you don’t know with “100% certainty which councils are binding on all Christians”, then you have no certainty at all. At best, you have only highly probable opinions being offered about matters of Church doctrine, and I don’t see that, in principle, you are any better off than the Protestant that desires a matter of doctrine to be definitively settled once and for all.

    Let me ask you a question. Suppose that it is true that after two thousand years of Christianity, that the question of how the validity of Ecumenical Councils is determined is still something that is not settled within Christianity. That means that the ordinary Christian can’t know with certainty that the doctrinal questions debated by Ecumenical Councils have ever been settled once and for all. My question to you: Do you really believe that Christ founded a Church and then left us ordinary Christians with no way of knowing with certainty what we are actually supposed to believe?

    I believe that scriptures are inerrant and “God breathed”, and because of that, I also I believe that is absurd to think that Christ founded a church and then left his church to drift about in a sea of doctrinal confusion for the last two thousand years. The scriptures teach us to listen to what Christ’s church teaches, and the scriptures instruct us to avoid the heretics that cause disputes and divisions within the church. God can’t be asking the ordinary Christian to do something that is impossible! If I can’t know with certainty who is teaching heresy, then I can’t obey the command given in scriptures to avoid heretics.

  33. Fascinating discussion!

    What I find, in a single reading of this thread, is the over-arching desire, if not need, to determine “Which Church is the Right Church” on the basis of Reason and/or Logic. The current fulcrum upon which this particular see-saw rests seems to be the Ecumenical Councils: who, what, where, when, why, and how many? and who says so?

    Is it logical to assume that the Pope, alone, is the single arbiter of whether or not a particular council of Brother Bishops has rightly divined True Truth…after the fact? After all, Scripture teaches, “In a *multitude* of counselors, Wisdom is found.” Which, by the way, at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), *James* was the final arbiter in the dispute, giving Paul and Barnabas the “rule” that was to be followed (and which, BTW, has never been rescinded) by the Gentile Christians. Seems that Peter was no more important at that Council than Paul or Barnabas; he was just another speaker and in company with the other Apostles (plural). Is it a personal bias that is giving Peter primacy here, rather than James?

    Oh! And that reminds me! My Step-Daughter’s fiance, who is Serbian Orthodox, calls his Patriarch, His Holiness Irinej (Irenaeus) “Pope”. That’s how the honorific translates out from Serbian to English. There is another Orthodox jurisdiction that does this as well although which one it is escapes me right now… So, for the Serbian Orthodox who are immigrants here, they use the word “Pope” to mean their “Bishop/Patriarch”. Huh. As the Jesuits taught me, “define your terms…”

    But I digress…

    Michael Liccione (#23) states, “What I believe is that it makes little sense to hold, on the one hand, that a monarchical bishop over each local church is necessary for the unity of each such church, but on the other hand that no monarchical bishop over the universal Church is necessary for the unity of the universal Church. Since there’s far more diversity in the universal Church than in any given local church, it seemed to me that a single bishop with primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church would be at least as necessary for her unity as the jurisdiction of monarchical bishops taken severally is for their local churches, or as the jurisdiction of patriarchs is for regional synods. So on that score, Catholicism made more sense to me than Orthodoxy. But that doesn’t show that Catholic ecclesiology “must” be the truth. All it does is state part of why I find Catholicism more reasonable than Orthodoxy.”

    I am confused by this. What about diversity in the universal Church requires unity under a single, monarchical Bishop? Logic, to my mind and understanding, necessitates just the opposite! Only a local Bishop can truly understand the needs of a local flock. Unity comes through the shared Sacraments, especially Eucharist, and the shared Doctrines: One Faith, One Hope, One Baptism, One God and Father above…One Gospel; shared by all in a plethora of local expressions and non-invasive customs (language, chant, venerated saints, for example). In declaring what is known to be True, all Bishops, together, in a single conciliar motion, transcend their local diversity and bring unity to the universal Church *in the area of binding universal doctrine*. Whereas a single Bishop, be he a German in Rome, a Frenchman in Rome, a Jew in Rome, an Italian in Rome, cannot possibly bring with him the diversity required to rule a Church that belongs to all people, all nations, all tongues, all colours…

    The idea that reason informs faith is a product of pre-Enlightenment Scholasticism; something much admired in the West, but not, necessarily, a part of religious thinking in the East. The idea that Ignatius informs Paul who, in turn, is informed by others ad infinitum only goes so far as we are able to divest ourselves of our historical and cultural and religious biases and enter into the moment *of * Paul…*of* Ignatius…*of* Iranaeus and see through their eyes. Can anyone here truly do that? I can’t and I admit to that. At best, I can only see through a glass, darkly. I freely admit to my biases, my agendas, my prejudices, my lack of understanding of what it was like to be a 2nd C Bishop.

    Like my Daddy used to say to me, lo! these many years ago, “Tell me how you feel; I’ve never been a 14-year old GIRL.” And we would laugh uproariously.

    Indeed, I can read every extant piece of writing there is in the original languages, and still not truly understand Ignatius without a 21st C American Christian Female Bias. Hind-sight, and all of that. (Think Augustine and Romans 5:12 ;) )

    My point, Gentlemen, is this: you who are Catholic are Catholic because. Not because Catholic made better sense, or the doctrine of the Papacy was better, or the ecclesiology was more grounded, or because Catholic was *rationally plausible*. “Rationally plausible” to whom? by what *objective criteria*? and who is the final arbiter of such criteria? You? Then, by that logic, you might as well be Protestant for this is much akin to solo scriptura. You are reading into history that which you desire to find: justification for your choice.

    God has called you to be Catholic. What a blessing!!! Are you content? Then follow the advice of St Seraphim of Sarov: “Find inner peace and thousands around you will find their salvation.”

    For Mateo (#32) above, of course, God wouldn’t set His Church adrift on a sea of doctrinal confusion for 2000 years. But, as we can readily see in the Old Testament, neither does He spell things out in words of one syllable. Every bit of information (how many prophecies? 400+?) needful for the Children of Israel to find and know the Christ were right there in front of them in the Covenant, in the Passover Supper, in the Law and the Prophets and still, the vast majority of His People–HIS PEOPLE, His CHOSEN People whom He Loved–got it very, very wrong.

    I believe there is a lesson there.

  34. BT (#30):

    Broadly, what K Doran said just above. Specifically, I want to reply to what you addressed more to me and mateo, which is a type of tu quoque argument.

    …my whole point is that I will agree with Michael and Mateo, that I haven’t heard an EO give an iron clad answer to how we can know with 100% certainty which councils are binding on all Christians. The fact that some hold to 8 or even 9 councils is a little weird to me. I will also say that I have yet to hear any RC give an iron clad answer as to how we can know with 100% certainty which Papal pronouncements are infallible and which aren’t. Some say only two…some say more…some say the encyclicals about the body and sexualtiy are infallibly binding on all Catholics. Some say they don’t meet the criteria…because they don’t agree on what the criteria are. I don’t find 100% assurance of truth in Orthodoxy, any more than I can find it in Catholicism. So please forgive me if I’m underwhelmed by the problem of identifying councils with 100% certainty. [Emphasis added]

    The passage of yours that I’ve bolded exaggerates the areas of uncertainty by skating over some important distinctions.

    The first such distinction is that between “RCs” full-stop and Catholics (Roman or Eastern) who have a firm grasp on the subject at hand. In my experience as an educated Catholic, rather few Catholics who are not professional theologians seem to have a firm grasp of this subject, whether or not their faith is orthodox. My grasp is firm enough for the present purpose, even though I’m not a specialist in ecclesiology. So, whatever you may have failed to hear in the past, you shall hear now.

    Among Catholics generally, there is no dispute that whatever popes unilaterally and solemnly “define” ex cathedra–with an anathema or something similar in form–is infallibly taught. Leaving aside decrees of canonization, which call themselves definitions even though their subject doesn’t pertain to the deposit of faith, the actual instances of such papal definitions are relatively few, easily identified, and uncontroversial. Many educated Catholics also know that whatever is
    “solemnly” defined (i.e., with anathemas) by a council deemed ecumenical by the papacy is also infallibly taught. Among theologians who teach with the papally required mandatum, there is no dispute about that either. Nor is there any dispute among ecclesiologists that some teachings, though not solemnly defined, have been infallibly set forth by the “ordinary and universal magisterium” (OUM) of the bishops. One such teaching is the Resurrection itself, in the sense that Jesus’ real, human body which died was transformed into a different and better body that nevertheless had continuity of personal identity with that of the earthly one. Another such teaching is that the Passion of the Christ won grace sufficient for the salvation of each and every human being. I could go on, but there’s no need to. Even Catholic theologians who dissent from magisterial teaching on some serious issues would grant that all the above are settled criteria for identifying “irreformable” teaching, i.e. teaching that, according to the Church, have been infallibly set forth.

    Controversy arises mostly about whether certain teachings that have become controversial of late have actually been infallibly set forth by the OUM, such as those on women’s ordination or birth control. In its dogmatic constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, Vatican II taught:

    Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.

    That statement is only 45 years old, which is mere infancy by theological standards, and which accounts for the fact that both its degree of authority and its proper interpretation still in dispute among Catholic theologians. Few theologians would deny that it’s true, but there’s been a lot of controversy for the past 20 years or so about just how to apply its key criteria. E.g. since the statement itself is not a solemnly defined dogma, are Catholics as such bound to believe it? Does it apply to itself? And if the answer is yes to both questions, how are we to recognize, short of a dogmatic definition, when the college of bishops is “in agreement on one position as to be definitively held?”

    The actual arguments given on both sides are irrelevant here. What’s relevant is the question what’s needed to get matters in dispute beyond the level of mere theological opinion, and onto the level of binding doctrine. There’s only one way to do that: rely on the Roman Magisterium itself to apply the relevant criteria authoritatively. Anything short of that leaves as matters of opinion the doctrines whose level of authority is in dispute. Fifteen years ago, Rome made a start on what needed to be done with this and this document. I think she should do so in other cases too. If she did, misimpressions such as yours, which are shared by many Catholics, would be less frequent.

    Best,
    Mike

  35. Laura: In declaring what is known to be True, all Bishops, together, in a single conciliar motion, transcend their local diversity and bring unity to the universal Church *in the area of binding universal doctrine*.

    What are the criteria by which the ordinary Christian can know with certainty when “a single conciliar motion” has validly defined doctrine that is binding for the universal church? IOW, how does the ordinary Christian know with certainty whether or not a particular Ecumenical Council is valid? This isn’t just some arcane academic question with no importance in the life of the universal church.

    BT: One would rationally expect that certainly, there would be no opposition among those within the Roman communion to such a doctrine as Papal infallibility, right?

    Why would one expect that? Ever hear of the Catholics of the Utrecht See that went their own way after they rejected the doctrine of papal infallibility defined at the Ecumenical Council of Vatican I? History is rife with examples of groups that went into schism after a valid Ecumenical Council. The Oriental Orthodox come to mind …

    The doctrine of Papal infallibility was solemnly defined at an Ecumenical Council – Vatican I. If you don’t accept Vatican I as a valid Ecumenical Council, fine. Show me the criteria that establishes the validity of any Ecumenical Council, and then we can have a discussion to see if Vatican I meets that criteria.

  36. BT, (re: #29, 30)

    You wrote:

    We’re going on 30 comments now, and almost none of them have actually addressed a single point I’ve raised, or question I’ve posed, about Ignatius or his actual letters.

    Which question of yours, do you think has not yet been answered? And which of your points do you think has not been addressed?

    I believe the intellectually honest way to conclude the original post would be to show that Ignatius’ letters *could* be read in such a way so as to support the RC view of the Papacy–not to attempt to show that they actually do, or that he intended to do so.

    Given the principle of charity, perhaps it is a bit premature to accuse the author of this post of intellectual dishonesty. Of course his post is logically compatible with his being intellectually dishonest. But, there is an alternative explanation of the way he concluded the post, one that does not entail that he was being intellectually dishonest. And that alternative explanation is that he, informed by what other Church Fathers in the succeeding centuries have to say about the role of St. Peter and his successors, sees papal primacy implicit in what St. Ignatius says about the necessary role of the [diocesan] bishop as the principle of unity and authority in each particular Church, given St. Ignatius’ belief that Christ founded one essentially unified and visible catholic Church. The author’s argument can be found not only in the original post, but also in comment #19. Just because you do not find that argument convincing, it does not follow that the author of that argument is being intellectually dishonest. So it might be better not to resort so quickly to the ad hominem, but to focus on showing why you think the argument does not support the conclusion, rather than suggesting that the author has engaged in intellectual dishonesty.

    First, you point out that you aren’t reading Ignatius in isolation…implying that I am,

    Actually, no, my stating that I am not reading St. Ignatius in isolation doesn’t imply anything about you. I was simply explaining to you how I can see the City of God / City of Man distinction in St. Ignatius’ statement that the Church at Rome “presides in love.”

    That’s too much of a leap for me. I don’t think your conclusions follow from what I stated, namely, that you’re beginning with an assumption that the church must have one single visible head (with direct, immediate, irrevocable jurisdiction over all other bishops) in order to have any principle of unity above the individual Christian.

    I’m not beginning with the assumption you claim I’m beginning with. The position I think St. Ignatius would have anathematized as gnostic is the notion that the Church need not have a single juridical head because it has Christ Himself as its head. That position, for the reason I explained in #19, by obvious implication is a rejection of the authority of every bishop, including the authority of St. Ignatius himself. It is the equivalent of saying that the Church in its very infancy didn’t need the Apostles’ authority, because it had Christ for its Head. But the anti-gnostic principle is that he who rejects the Apostles, rejects Christ, just as he who rejects Christ rejects the Father who sent Christ. “The one who listens to you listens to Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me; and he who rejects Me rejects the One who sent Me.” (Luke 10:16) That is the basis for the authority St. Ignatius claims belongs to the bishops, their having been authorized by the Apostles. And so arguing that Apostles’ (and bishops’) authority is unnecessary, because one can be governed immediately and directly by the ascended Christ, is a kind of gnosticism, because it denies the materiality (and thus the sacramentality) of ecclesial authority. The authority of Christ comes down through the Apostles, and through their successors. Christ’s authority over His Church remains visible, by remaining in the succession of the bishops that were authorized by His Apostles. We can see that in St. Irenaeus about seventy years later, when he writes:

    “Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters [priests] who are in the Church — those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate [bishop], have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also necessary] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever . . . . But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did.” (Adv. haer. IV.26.2)

    The bishops and priests have their authority because they “possess the succession from the apostles.” That is a beautiful phrase, because it shows that St. Irenaeus understood that the sacrament of Holy Orders gives to the recipient a gift that he possesses. One aspect of that gift is “the certain gift of truth.” The priests and bishops are promised (by Christ) the gift of preserving the truth that was entrusted to them by Christ through the Apostles, upon condition of remaining in communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is not a guarantee of infallibility on one’s own, or in a sect with some other rogue bishops. St. Irenaeus teaches here that we should hold in suspicion those who depart from “primitive succession,” i.e. those who reject apostolic succession, and claim to teach the apostles’ doctrine, but do not have the authority from the Apostles to say what is the Apostles’ doctrine. St. Irenaeus views departure from the succession of bishops as schism. This is also what St. Ignatius is opposing when he admonishes the believers to avoid schism, and to do nothing apart from the bishop. So because authority remained visible, through the succession, the notion that visible authority is unnecessary, on account of invisible governance from heaven, is directly contrary to the whole principle of the extension of Christ’s authority through His Church by way of the succession of the bishops from the Apostles. And that’s why I think St. Ignatius would have anathematized it.

    It is in no way obvious that rejecting a single “vicar of Christ” immediately rejects the authority of all bishops in the Church.

    I agree it is not immediately obvious. That’s why I gave an argument showing how it has that implication.

    If all are equal in authority within their own jurisdictions, and matters are settled by councils, then the Spirit can be seen to have acted through those bishops.

    Of course. But this only pushes back the question: Which councils are authoritative? And which group of bishops is authoritative, in the event of disagreement among the bishops. (See the section on the papacy in the CTC recommended reading.) Only if one bishop has a primacy and divine protection from error can these questions be answered in a principled (i.e. non-arbitrary) and objective way.

    If we need someone external to also give the thumbs-up or veto, immediately we begin the infinite regress of “Who approves that guy’s approval?”

    That question presupposes that this person has not been given final ecclesial authority. In other words, the question begs the question, by presupposing that Christ did not give a supreme ecclesial authority to one man. If Christ gave to one man a supreme magisterial authority, then the answer to the question “Who approves that guy’s approval?” is “Christ already did, in advance.” But unless you believe that every Church council (including councils like the Robber Council of 449) were infallible, then it is not possible to apply the answer “Christ already did, in advance” to councils.

    Couldn’t God have also approved the judgment of the council?

    If there were separate and disagreeing councils, then we would have no way of knowing which one was God-approved, without papal primacy and protection from error.

    Where, exactly, am I supposing they were mistaken? What of my statements, besides their not agreeing with your beliefs, makes me guilty of supposed “ecclesial deism?” I am not assuming they’re mistaken–I am simply not granting that they can ONLY be interpreted according to your understanding. Evidently, anything other that a belief in Papal infallibility amounts to believing that God fired up the Church and then just let go of the wheel. Frankly, that’s absurd.

    Slow down a bit! You’re being defensive when you don’t need to be. You’re reading into my statements more than I’m saying. When I say that I do not presuppose ecclesial deism when I read St. Ignatius, I’m not saying that you do. Nor am I saying that you think the other Fathers were mistaken. Nor did I ever claim that a denial of papal infallibility amounts to ecclesial deism. I’m merely trying to help you see how I approach St. Ignatius; I’m not criticizing you. So, there’s no need to be defensive, ok?

    If you grant that later writers can shed light on St. Ignatius, then when you read Chapman and Giles and Fortescue and Rivington and Allies (see the CTC library), you’ll see the patristic case for the papacy. (I don’t have time to type out all the patristic statements supporting the papacy, but they are laid out in those five books.)

    As for Schaff’s interpretation of St. Irenaeus, his is a novel interpretation; that is not how it has always been understood. Nor does it fit with what St. Irenaeus is saying. St. Irenaeus says nothing about travelers to Rome keeping the Church at Rome orthodox. Travelers to Rome could just as easily have corrupted it with heresies. In fact we know of many gnostics who went to Rome in the second century (e.g. Marcellina, Cerdon, Valentinus, Marcion and others), precisely to try to infiltrate the mother Church with their heretical doctrines. The basis St. Irenaeus gives for the “preeminent authority” of the Church at Rome is the succession from St. Peter. And that’s the basis St. Augustine gives as well, when he says:

    You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not.”

    And St. Cyprian, in the middle of the third century had written:

    “With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church, in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance.”

    “There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one Chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering.”

    “You wrote also, that I should forward to Cornelius [bishop of Rome], our colleague, a copy of your letter, so that he might put aside any anxiety and know immediately that you are in communion with him, that is, with the Catholic Church…. Cornelius was made bishop [of Rome] by the decision of God and of His Christ, by the testimony of almost all the clergy, by the applause of the people then present, by the college of venerable priests and good men, . . . which is the place of Peter, the dignity of the sacerdotal chair…. Since it has been occupied both at the will of God and with the ratified consent of all of us, whoever wishes now to become bishop must do so outside. For he cannot have ecclesiastical rank who does not hold to the unity of the Church.”

    (See also my post titled “St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Church.”)

    Tertullian, likewise, toward the end of the second century wrote:

    “Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called the rock on which the church should be built,’ who also obtained the keys of the kingdom of heaven, with the power of loosing and binding in heaven and on earth?

    The basis for the authority of the Church of Rome, for St. Irenaeus, had nothing to do with the high volume of travelers who came to Rome, but is the foundation Christ Himself laid, in changing Simon’s name to Peter [Rock], and giving to this fisherman called Rock the keys of Christ’s Kingdom, i.e. the keys of Christ’s Church. It was this Peter who poured out his blood there in Rome, and handed down these keys to Linus, who was the next to sit in St. Peter’s chair (cathedra).

    As for Guettee, I could simply give names of persons who have gone from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, persons such as Soloviev and James Likoudis. But, I don’t think trading names in that way is helpful, because it sidesteps the hard work of getting our hands dirty in the evidence in the Church Fathers and Church history. However, if you want to ask about some particular argument or evidence Guettee sets forward, please feel free.

    One would rationally expect that certainly, there would be no opposition among those within the Roman communion to such a doctrine as Papal infallibility, right?

    You are aware, I hope, that a significant percentage of Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraceptives, even though up until 1930 all Christians around the world recognized the immorality of contraceptives. So, the fact of dissent within the Catholic Church does not prove that the doctrine being dissented from is either unclear or novel. Dissent within the Church is mostly due to some combination of poor catechesis, pride or rebellion against the authority of the Church. But we are able to distinguish between dissent and orthodox faith, precisely because there is a principled basis for determining what is the faith of the Church.

    In the peace of Christ,

    - Bryan

  37. Mateo (#35):

    The Pope hardly works within a vacuum. I believe Pope Honorius I learnt that when three Ecumenical Councils anathematised him for monothylitism. The criteria for Papal infallibility *requires* sensus fidelium, to ensure that dogmatic teachings proclaimed to be infallible will be received by all Catholics. If the sense of the Catholic faithful diss the teaching, infallibility fails since the Holy Spirit also indwells not just the Catholic faithful individually, but corporately as the Body of Christ!

    St Vincent Lerins once famously defined orthodoxy as, “quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus”: that which has been believed in the Church, everywhere, always, by all. Interestingly, this exact “rule” is how the Eastern Church determines that the Seven Ecumenical Councils are True and Infallible: the *people* have accepted them as such, recognising the working of the Holy Spirit within the Council as a whole and the Bishops *they have elected* (as per the Biblical proscriptions given in 1Timothy 3 and Titus 1). It’s a ground-up mechanism, not a redundant singular monarchical “top-down” mechanism such as the Catholic Church employs where the Pope ratifies those doctrines (for the most part) already believed always, everywhere, by all.

    Which, BTW, can anyone within the Catholic hierarchy even list the infallible ex cathedra pronouncements that the Papacy has made? Ummm…no. The list varies and is open to scholarly discussion by injecting, with 20/20 hindsight, infallibility criteria into various historical papal pronouncements.

    So how can I, an ordinary pew-sitter, know what is True and what is not, be it an Ecumenical Council or any other doctrine or dogma of the Church? By slavishly following The Pope, the Magesterium and their (maybe) infallible pronouncements? By memorising doctrine about Christ (rather than studying His own words, contained in Scripture)? By knowing about Him (and not HIM)? That’s not how I approach my marriage…should I give God less??? Not hardly. That removes, from me, the responsibility to approach God in my own sinfulness, beg mercy and forgiveness, and *know what I believe* as a “meat-eater”, a mature, fully-functioning member of the Body of Christ.

    I rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit Who will lead me into all Truth; the gift of the *informed* mind as God has given me; the gift of Faith and Wisdom, sought through prayer and fasting; the gift of a multitude of counselors, historical and contemporary. But by relying on a man, regardless of how “gifted” that man may be, I am side-stepping the Biblical mandate to “come and see” for myself “the goodness of the Lord”. I become a “grandchild”, as it were, of the Pope, the Magisterium, rather than a committed Believer in Christ and in the Gospel message…a Child of God directly. And this, in and of itself, is wrong, as it absolves me of personal culpability in exercising my own free choice.

    As Paul once lamented, “Brothers, I urge you, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, not to have factions among yourselves but all to be in agreement in what you profess; so that you are perfectly united in your beliefs and judgements. From what Chloe’s people have been telling me about you, brothers, it is clear that there are serious differences among you. What I mean is this: every one of you is declaring, ‘I belong to Paul,’ or ‘I belong to Apollos,’ or ‘I belong to Cephas,’ or ‘I belong to Christ.’ Has Christ been split up? Was it Paul that was crucified for you, or was it in Paul’s name that you were baptised? I am thankful I did not baptise any of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptised in my name.” (1 Corinthians 1:10-15)

  38. Laura: For Mateo (#32) above, of course, God wouldn’t set His Church adrift on a sea of doctrinal confusion for 2000 years. But, as we can readily see in the Old Testament, neither does He spell things out in words of one syllable. Every bit of information (how many prophecies? 400+?) needful for the Children of Israel to find and know the Christ were right there in front of them in the Covenant, in the Passover Supper, in the Law and the Prophets and still, the vast majority of His People–HIS PEOPLE, His CHOSEN People whom He Loved–got it very, very wrong.

    I believe there is a lesson there.

    What lesson would that be?

    The Old Testament is the story of the progressive revealing of the Messiah. The Messiah came at the fullness of time, and the Messiah reveals how the OT prophecies point to Him. Christ is the Messiah, and Christ is the full revelation of God to man. After Christ ascended into Heaven, he sent the Holy Spirit to remind his followers all that he had revealed to them. The public revelation of God is now closed, and Christ’s Church will always proclaim what has been revealed by God without corruption until the Christ returns at the Final Judgement.

    You agree that God didn’t set His Church adrift on a sea of doctrinal confusion for the last 2000 years. So would you please explain to me how a catechumen comes to know with certainty the doctrine that Christ’s Church teaches? History shows that controversies arise within Christ’s Church, and Ecumenical Councils are called to settle the controversies. But some Ecumenical Council are valid and some are not. So how does the catechumen or candidate know with certainty if a particular Ecumenical Council is valid so that he can accept the doctrines promulgated by that Council?

    The candidates that desire to enter the Catholic Church will be asked to make a profession faith before man and God. They will proclaim:

    “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.”

    The profession of faith in the older Roman Ritual was more specific. The candidates made a profession of faith that included these words:

    … I believe the Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Roman Church to be the only and true Church established on earth by Jesus Christ, to which I submit myself with my whole soul. I believe all the articles of Faith that she proposes to my belief, and I reject and condemn all that she rejects and condemns, and I am ready to observe all that she commands me. And I make the following profession of Faith:

    I believe in only one God in three divine Persons, distinct from, and equal to, each other – that is to say, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

    I believe in the Catholic doctrine of the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ; and the personal union of the two Natures, the divine and the human; the divine Maternity of the most holy Mary, together with her most spotless Virginity.

    I believe in the true, real and substantial presence of the Body and Blood, together with the Soul and Divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the most holy Sacrament of the Eucharist.

    I believe in the seven Sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind – that is to say, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Order, Matrimony.

    I believe in Purgatory, the Resurrection of the Dead, Everlasting Life.

    I believe in the Primacy, not only of honor, but of jurisdiction, of the Roman Pontiff successor of St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Jesus Christ.

    I believe in the veneration of Saints and of their images.

    I believe in the authority of the Apostolic and Ecclesial Traditions, and of the Holy Scriptures, which we must interpret and understand only in the sense which our holy mother the Catholic Church has held and does hold.

    And I believe in everything else that has been defined and declared by the sacred Canons and by the General Councils, and particularly by the holy Council of Trent, and delivered, defined, and declared by the General Council of the Vatican, especially concerning the Primacy of the Roman Pontiff, and his infallible teaching authority.

    With sincere heart, therefore, and with unfeigned faith, I detest and abjure every error, heresy, and sect opposed to the said holy, Catholic and Apostolic Roman Church. So help me God, and these His holy Gospels, which I touch with my hand.

    Note how the first profession of faith that I listed covers all that is said in the older Roman Ritual’s profession of faith because it is a broader profession of faith. Implicitly or explicitly, the catechumens and candidates are being asked to publicly profess before man and God that they “believe in everything else that has been defined and declared by the sacred Canons and by the General Councils.”

    I teach RCIA, and if a person in RCIA ever asked me how he is supposed to know whether a particular General Council is valid or invalid, I would understand that I couldn’t just ignore the question because I didn’t know how to answer it. This question is way too important to be ignored or obfuscated. It is morally wrong to ask a person to publicly profess that they accept the dogmas defined and declared by the General Councils if that person can’t be given the criteria that determines the validity of General Councils.

    I thank God that the Catholic Church does not put me in a position of where I am asked to do what is morally wrong!

  39. Laura, (re: #37)

    As for Pope Honorius, it would be poor reasoning to use an anti-Catholic assumption, to construct an argument against the Catholic Church. Yes, Pope Honorius I was condemned by the Sixth Council, but, in the Catholic understanding, the conclusions of an ecumenical council are binding and infallible only when they are ratified by the Pope, in the form in which he confirms them. And the Sixth Council (like every council) sent its decree to the pope for ratification. In this case it was sent to Pope Agatho, but he had died by that time, and Pope Leo II had succeeded him. Pope Leo II did ratify the decree of the Sixth Council, but only after making some changes to the charge against Pope Honorius I, to show that Pope Honorius I had not endorsed Sergius’ monothelitism, but had imprudently refrained from condemning it, and in this way permitted the growth of monothelitism. And this is how the Sixth Council’s condemnation (and subsequent councils’ condemnations) of Honorius should be understood. So it is not true that the supreme authority of the universal Church ever condemned Honorius I for heresy, even though you are correct that the council made that accusation against him. And the requirement of papal ratification, which the Six Council acknowledges and requests of Pope Agatho, is evidence against the thesis that the council’s condemnation of Honorius indicates the truth of conciliarism.

    Interestingly, this exact “rule” is how the Eastern Church determines that the Seven Ecumenical Councils are True and Infallible: the *people* have accepted them as such

    Which people? (And answering “the people who accepted them” only argues in a circle.) The Arians didn’t accept Nicea I. The Nestorians didn’t accept Ephesus. The monophysites didn’t accept Chalcedon. What is the non-arbitrary and non-question-begging way in which who belongs to “the people” is determined? An answer such as “those who agree with me” again, only makes oneself the ecclesial authority.

    I rely on the indwelling Holy Spirit Who will lead me into all Truth;

    So do Mormons. So how do you know that your bosom-burning is more reliable than is theirs? In June of last year I addressed this Montanistic approach to spirituality in a response to Presbyterian pastor Rick Phillips, in a post titled “Play Church.”

    But by relying on a man, regardless of how “gifted” that man may be, I am side-stepping the Biblical mandate to “come and see” for myself “the goodness of the Lord”.

    It seems to me that Martin Luther couldn’t have said it better. And this is how any ‘Christian’ in the first century could have justified rebelling against the Apostles. “We listen to Christ, not to you mere men.” You could say the same about the sacraments; that material stuff comes between you and the God who is spirit, and makes you into a grandchild, one step removed from God. You could say the same thing about Christ’s human nature. It just gets between you and the Logos, and thus puts you at arms length from God. I hope you see the problem with this anti-sacramental way of thinking. The sacraments Christ instituted do not distance us from God, by are divinely established means by which we participate in the divine nature. Through them we draw nearer to God, just as through Christ’s human nature we have communion with His divine nature. Likewise, the bishops do not separate us from God. They have their divine authority from Christ through His Apostles, and bring Christ to us, because they speak and act in persona Christi. They do not put some kind of chasm between us and Christ, or make us into grandchildren, but rather just the opposite — they bring Christ to us, through the very authority and charisms they have received from Christ.

    The kind of individualistic, anti-clerical spirituality you seem to hold looks nothing like the submission to the bishop enjoined so powerfully by St. Ignatius of Antioch. And in that respect, your position does not seem to be faithful to the dictum of St. Vincent of Lerins.

    In the peace of Christ,

    -Bryan

  40. Hey Bryan,

    I picked up a card at church the other day and you’ve just reminded me of it (#39): “These hands bring me Christ,” it said, with a picture of a priest’s hands. Last year I was blessed to attend the ordination of a deacon who had a great impact on my life, and I noticed people, afterwards, kissing the hands of the newly ordained priests and can’t express how deeply that moved me. I know that as a Protestant all of this would have totally offended me… thanks be to God, I can’t remember why anymore.

    …the bishops do not separate us from God. They have their divine authority from Christ through His Apostles, and bring Christ to us, because they speak and act in persona Christi. They do not put some kind of chasm between us and Christ, or make us into grandchildren, but rather just the opposite — they bring Christ to us, through the very authority and charisms they have received from Christ.

    Amen!

  41. Bryan, thank you for your post # 39. Laura, I wholly affirm Bryan’s response.

    Laura, would you please answer Bryan’s question:

    What is the non-arbitrary and non-question-begging way in which who belongs to “the people” is determined?

  42. Laura (#33):

    You wrote:

    What about diversity in the universal Church requires unity under a single, monarchical Bishop? Logic, to my mind and understanding, necessitates just the opposite! Only a local Bishop can truly understand the needs of a local flock. Unity comes through the shared Sacraments, especially Eucharist, and the shared Doctrines: One Faith, One Hope, One Baptism, One God and Father above…One Gospel; shared by all in a plethora of local expressions and non-invasive customs (language, chant, venerated saints, for example). In declaring what is known to be True, all Bishops, together, in a single conciliar motion, transcend their local diversity and bring unity to the universal Church *in the area of binding universal doctrine*. Whereas a single Bishop, be he a German in Rome, a Frenchman in Rome, a Jew in Rome, an Italian in Rome, cannot possibly bring with him the diversity required to rule a Church that belongs to all people, all nations, all tongues, all colours…

    Your argument would make perfect sense if the authority of the pope were meant to be exercised directly and regularly over local churches, and were meant as a focus of unity instead of the things you mention, such as the Eucharist, baptism, shared doctrines, etc. But it isn’t like that.

    For one thing, the Catholic Church has one bishop for each diocese, with real authority over his diocese as its “ordinary,” not one bishop for the universal Church, with local “bishops” being merely the pope’s delegates. That latter picture would be one of micromanagement doomed to failure, and it doesn’t reflect reality. Under ordinary circumstances, the pope acts as a focus of unity for the episcopal “college” itself, not for their respective local churches directly and regularly. Only on occasion does the pope intervene in the affairs of a local church over the head of its bishop. There have been times when Rome had done that more than is necessary to maintain the unity of the college. That is an abuse of authority. At other times, as in the Honorius case, the pope hasn’t done enough to maintain the unity of the college. That too is an abuse of authority. But as Augustine liked to say: abusus non tollit usum: “abuse does not take away use.”

    Second, as a Catholic I wholeheartedly agree with you that shared sacraments and doctrine are essential for the unity of the universal as well as the local church. The purpose of papal primacy is not to ensure unity instead of the ways those things unify, but to ensure unity among the bishops precisely about those things. The bishops, to be sure, are collectively as well as individually responsible for those other bases of unity; they exercise that responsibility collectively in synods and councils. That’s Catholic doctrine too. But in my view, it makes little sense to suppose that each local church needs a monarchical bishop to maintain its unity within, but that the college of bishops needs no monarchical head to maintain its overall unity in exercising responsibility for the universal Church. The monarchical principle necessary at the local level seems to me, in the way I’ve described above, also necessary at the universal level.

    That’s the only difference between the view you’ve expressed and the view I’ve expressed. I affirm everything you affirm. You just deny something I also affirm. That, to my mind, is the chief difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism quite generally.

    Best,
    Mike

  43. For general consumption, here’s a nice and relevant link: The Unbreakable Pinata. Although it´s directed against ¨the Protestant polemic,¨ it serves just as well against Orthodox polemic.

  44. Today, October 17, on this feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pope Benedict had the following to say about St. Ignatius’ claim that the Church at Rome “presides in love.”

    “The chair of Peter evokes another memory: the famous expression from Saint Ignatius of Antioch’s letter to the Romans, where he says of the Church of Rome that she “presides in charity”. In truth, presiding in faith is inseparably linked to presiding in love. Faith without love would no longer be an authentic Christian faith. But the words of Saint Ignatius have another much more concrete implication: the word “charity”, in fact, was also used by the early Church to indicate the Eucharist.”

  45. #45
    Bryan,
    Thank you.
    dt

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