The Bishops of History and the Catholic Faith: A Reply To Brandon Addison

Jun 8th, 2014 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Featured Articles

On March 24 of this year we posted a guest article by Brandon Addison titled “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment.” We had invited Brandon some months earlier to write an essay for Called To Communion on the topic of his choice, and we are very grateful for his generosity, trust, and yeoman work in putting together such a thorough essay. Brandon’s essay is one of the first posts we have published written from a Protestant perspective, and we hope it leads to further, ever-more fruitful exchanges of this sort. Why did we invite Brandon to contribute an essay? Brandon stood out to us among many other Protestant interlocutors for a number of reasons, the most important of which was his consistently gracious and respectful manner of dialogue, his sincere engagement in the effort to improve mutual understanding and overcome what still divides us, and his experience and training within the Reformed tradition. We believe strongly that a deep commitment to charity and respect is an absolutely essential precondition for authentic dialogue. And we recognized that Brandon shares that commitment. So even though we disagree with him on some major points, and he with us, nevertheless we believe that building on our shared commitment to charity, respect, and a recognition and appreciation of the significant common ground we share, with an open exchange of ideas, evidence, and argumentation can be a way forward to better mutual understanding and hopefully, eventually, a resolution of those obstacles that still divide us. Our response below is co-authored by Barrett Turner, Ray Stamper, and myself.1

Pudentiana Mosaic
Apse mosaic, Santa Pudenziana, Rome

[To download a pdf of this document, right-click here.]

Outline

I. A Short Summary of Brandon’s Essay and Argument
A. A Summary of the Nine Sections of the Essay
B. A Summary of the Argument in the Essay
II. Evaluation
A. Evaluation of Brandon’s Argument
1. Evaluation of major premise
2. Evaluation of minor premise
B. Examination of the Evidence
1. Preliminary Principles
a. Inscrutable Likelihood Differential (ILD)
b. Conditions for silence to carry evidential weight
c. Positive evidence in relation to silence
d. Proximate evidence informs underdetermined evidence
2. Canonical evidence
a. Acts
b. Pastorals
c. Catholic Epistles
3. Extra-Canonical evidence
a. 1 Clement
b. St. Ignatius of Antioch
c. St. Polycarp of Smyrna
d. Shepherd of Hermas
e. St. Justin Martyr
4. Hegesippus and Irenaeus
a. St. Hegesippus
b. St. Irenaeus
(1.) Brandon’s two mistakes
(2.) Selective arguments from silence
(3.) St. Irenaeus’s two ‘mistakes’
(4.) Differences in the successions lists of the bishops in Rome
(5.) The testimony of St. Irenaeus’s arguments
(6.) False dilemmas
(7.) Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s account of the Gnostics
(8.) Which: the Petrine pattern or massive rejection of the patristics?
(9.) Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s own history
5. Fractionation
a. Why fractionation is not evidence of the non-existence of the episcopacy
b. Fractionation as diocesan parishes: an alternative perspective
6. Evaluative Summary
a. Summary of evaluation of Brandon’s argument
b. The Original Challenge
c. Apostolic Succession Not Refuted
III. Resolution: Continuity and Paradigms
A. Documentary Witness of the Early Church Concerning the Episcopate
1. Brief introduction to the documentary witness
2. Presentation of the documentary witness
a. Proximate Evidence for the Apostolic Origins of the Episcopate
(1.) First Century
(2.) Second Century
(3.) Third and Fourth Centuries
b. Proximate Evidence for the Existence and Authority of the Petrine Succession
(1.) First Century
(2.) Second Century
(3.) Third Century
(4.) Fourth Century
(5.) Fifth Century
(6.) Sixth Century
3. The Documentary Witness of the Early Church and the Principle of Proximate Evidence
a. The Proximate Witness of the Early Church and the New Testament
b. The Principle of Proximate Evidence and the Evaluation of Paradigms
B. Two Paradigms
1. Deconstructing the Fathers
2. A Silent Ecclesial Revolution?
3. Where did the Church Christ Founded go for a Thousand Years?
C. Three Objections
IV. Conclusion

I. A Short Summary of Brandon’s Essay and Argument

A. A Summary of the nine sections of his essay

In his post titled “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment,” Brandon sets out to refute the claim that Jesus founded the [Roman] Catholic Church. His post consists of nine sections. In his first section he presents his thesis and offers some thoughts about the burden of proof, methodology, what prompted him to write this article, the argument from silence, and why scholars cannot be dismissed on account of their beliefs about other matters. His second section discusses the Protestant and Catholic interpretive paradigms. Here Brandon argues from the acceptance by a number of Catholic scholars of the “fractionation” of early “Roman Christianity” to the conclusion that this interpretation of the historical data is not a result of the Protestant interpretive paradigm. In his third section Brandon examines the evidence from Scripture, and argues that the terms πρεσβύτεροι (elders/presbyters) and ἐπισκόποι (overseers/bishops) were used interchangeably, that the apostolic practice was to establish a plurality of presbyters in each particular church, that the Jerusalem council included presbyters, and that even if there was a difference between bishops and presbyters, leadership in each of the churches was under the direction of “multiple individuals,” including the Church in Rome, where even St. Peter referred to himself as a fellow presbyter. The fourth section of Brandon’s article examines some patristic data from the first and second centuries. Here Brandon argues that in St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians the terms ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ are used interchangeably, that St. Ignatius’s distinction between bishop and presbyter was not universal at that time, that St. Polycarp refers to presbyters present with himself in the leadership of the church at Smyrna, and does not mention a bishop in his letter, and that St. Ignatius, Hermas, and St. Justin Martyr do not mention a bishop at Rome. In the fifth section of his essay, Brandon examines the episcopal lists from Sts. Hegesippus and Irenaeus, and argues that their lists are not reliable. In his sixth section Brandon argues “that the city of Rome was fractionated in the first and second century,” and thus that “Roman Christianity was not centralized and the entire Roman Church was not ruled over by a monarchical bishop.” In his seventh section Brandon examines the argumentation of some scholars who dissent from the ‘fractionation’ thesis, and concludes that “modern scholarship … agrees that the existence of a monarchical episcopate developed in the second century” and that “churches, and the church in Rome in particular, were governed by presbyterial authority.” In his eighth section, Brandon considers some objections, and lays out some implications, particularly that “the failure to substantiate the claim that Jesus did found the Roman Catholic Church undermines the apologetic attempts at showing the Roman Catholic epistemological advantage over Protestants.” Finally, in his ninth section Brandon presents his conclusion.

B. A Summary of the argument in his post

The argument in Brandon’s essay is aimed ultimately at showing that Christ did not found the [Roman] Catholic Church, as Brandon states at the beginning of his first section where he points out that his goal is “refuting the claim that Jesus founded the RCC.” He reasons to that conclusion from two key premises, the first premise stating an alleged necessary condition for the Catholic Church to be the Church Christ founded, and the second premise stating that this necessary condition is not satisfied. In essence, Brandon’s argument looks like this:

(1) In order for Jesus to have founded the [Roman] Catholic Church, the monepiscopate in Rome would have had to originate with the Apostle Peter, and thus would have had to be present in Rome when Peter died and in the years immediately after Peter’s death.

(2) The monepiscopate in Rome gradually emerged in the middle to late second century, and did not originate with the Apostle Peter.2

Therefore,

(3) Jesus did not found the [Roman] Catholic Church.

Before evaluating the argument, it may be helpful to explain here at least what motivates the first premise of Brandon’s argument. In Comment #11 following his essay Brandon writes:

The many Catholic authors I’ve cited remain committed to the Pope because they believe the Petrine office providentially developed even though it was not established by Jesus. Those who hold such a position are not the object of criticism in this essay.

Brandon believes that it is possible to be a faithful Catholic and simultaneously to believe that the Petrine office was not established by Jesus, but only providentially came into existence at some later time, and to believe that the Catholic Church is not the Church Christ founded. Brandon’s first premise, then, is not aimed at opposing such a position, but instead is aimed at the position of those who claim that the Petrine office was established by Christ, and that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded.

But these beliefs are not optional for Catholics. It is de fide that Christ appointed St. Peter to be the prince of all the apostles, and visible head of the whole Church militant, and that Christ gave to him primacy of jurisdiction. As the First Vatican Council declares:

If anyone says that blessed Peter the apostle was not appointed by Christ the lord as prince of all the apostles and visible head of the whole Church militant; or that it was a primacy of honor only and not one of true and proper jurisdiction that he directly and immediately received from our lord Jesus Christ himself: let him be anathema.3

Moreover, the First Vatican Council defined as Catholic dogma that:

[T]he holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, the pillar of faith and the foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the savior and redeemer of the human race, and that to this day and for ever he lives and presides and exercises judgment in his successors the bishops of the Holy Roman See, which he [i.e., St. Peter] founded and consecrated with his blood. . . .

Therefore, if anyone says that it is not by the institution of Christ the Lord himself (that is to say, by divine law) that blessed Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of blessed Peter in this primacy: let him be anathema.4

Finally, the doctrine that the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded is not an optional belief that Catholics may deny. The 1973 Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae teaches:

Catholics are bound to profess that through the gift of God’s mercy they belong to that Church which Christ founded and which is governed by the successors of Peter and the other Apostles, who are the depositories of the original apostolic tradition, living and intact, which is the permanent heritage of doctrine and holiness of that same Church. The followers of Christ are therefore not permitted to imagine that Christ’s Church is nothing more than a collection (divided, but still possessing a certain unity) of Churches and ecclesial communities.5

The Declaration Dominus Iesus, promulgated in 2000, includes the following:

The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession — between the Church founded by Christ and the Catholic Church: “This is the single Church of Christ… which our Saviour, after his resurrection, entrusted to Peter’s pastoral care (cf. Jn 21:17), commissioning him and the other Apostles to extend and rule her (cf. Mt 28:18ff.), erected for all ages as ‘the pillar and mainstay of the truth’ (1 Tim 3:15). This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.” With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth,” that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.”6

And the 2007 document Responsa ad quaestiones explains:

Christ “established here on earth” only one Church and instituted it as a “visible and spiritual community,” that from its beginning and throughout the centuries has always existed and will always exist, and in which alone are found all the elements that Christ himself instituted. “This one Church of Christ, which we confess in the Creed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic . . . . This Church, constituted and organised in this world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and the Bishops in communion with him.”7

So if any Catholic claims either that St. Peter was not appointed by Christ as prince of all the Apostles, or that it is not by the institution of Christ Himself that St. Peter had perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church, or that the papal office did not come from Christ through St. Peter, or that the Catholic Church is not the one and only Church Christ founded,8 he or she has fallen into at least material heresy.9 Hence the reasoning behind the first premise of Brandon’s argument. Brandon goes beyond the claim that Christ did not found the [Roman] Catholic Church, by claiming more ambitiously that “there are no good reasons to believe the traditional RCC narrative that Jesus founded the RCC.”10

II. Evaluation

A. Evaluation of Brandon’s Argument

In essence the formal structure of the argument is:

If A then B.
~B.
Therefore ~A.

where A is “Jesus founded the [Roman] Catholic Church” and B is “The monepiscopate in Rome originated with the Apostle Peter and was present in Rome when Peter died and in the years immediately after Peter’s death up to the middle of the second century.”

Formally, the argument is valid, as a modus tollens.11 That means that the conclusion necessarily follows from the premises. The soundness of the argument therefore depends entirely on the truth of all the premises, and to that question we now turn.

1. Evaluation of major premise

In order to avoid confusion, and especially to avoid the fallacy of equivocation, we have to disambiguate the term ‘monepiscopate.’ But disambiguating the term ‘monepiscopate’ requires first disambiguating the term ‘episcopate.’ The term ‘episcopate’ or ‘bishop’ has different possible senses, and for that reason when we are evaluating arguments constructed from historical claims that make use of these terms, we have to make sure that the term is used in the same sense in each premise. In this case, the term ‘episcopate’ can refer to the office invested with the authority and responsibility of overseeing the Church generally, or of overseeing a particular Church. This is also known as the power of supreme jurisdiction over a particular Church. The verbal form of the term (“oversee”) means the activity of shepherding the Church, and is an activity in which each of the three grades of Orders participates, each according to its station.12 The term ‘episcopate’ can also refer to that grade of sacramental Orders by which one man may ordain other men.

Explicitly distinguishing these two different senses of the term ‘episcopacy’ allows us to distinguish different senses of the term ‘monepiscopacy.’13 In one sense the term can refer to there being stationed within a particular Church only one person with that grade of sacramental order by which he may ordain others. In another sense the term can refer to that form of Church government by which within a particular Church there is only one person with the highest jurisdictional authority over that Church, such that all other ordained persons in that particular Church, whatever their grade of Holy Orders, are under his authority. Monepiscopacy in that latter sense of the term is compatible with multiple bishops in the former, third-grade-of-Holy-Orders sense of the term serving simultaneously in that local Church under that governing bishop’s authority.14 In fact, the Catholic Church today has many dioceses where several bishops labor together, one as the diocesan bishop having jurisdictional authority and the others as titular or auxiliary bishops.15 Monepiscopacy in that jurisdictional sense is also compatible with the simultaneous presence and collaboration with that bishop of ordained persons not possessing the third grade of sacramental order by which to ordain others, yet participating in the overseeing of the Church, each according to his station. Having distinguished these senses of the terms ‘episcopate’ and ‘monepiscopate,’ we can now return to the question of the truth-value of the first premise of Brandon’s argument.

The claim that Christ founded the [Roman] Catholic Church does not require that upon the death of the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome, there was at any point in time subsequent to their martyrdoms only one man in the Church at Rome having the power to ordain other men. Given the truth of Catholic doctrine, there can be multiple men working at the same time in the Church at Rome, each having the power to ordain others. At the end of the third century Tertullian even provides us with a reason to believe this to have been the case by testifying that according to the Church at Rome, St. Peter ordained St. Clement, and from the Tradition we know that St. Clement was ordained to the third grade of Orders.16 Thus given the evidence we will discuss below there were at that time in the Church at Rome at least three persons capable of ordaining others: St. Peter, St. Linus who succeeded him, and St. Clement.17 Thus in that sense of the term ‘bishop,’ from the Catholic point of view there could be three bishops simultaneously present in the Church at Rome before St. Peter’s martyrdom. So in that sense of the term ‘episcopate,’ there being multiple bishops working together in the Church at Rome is fully compatible with the [Roman] Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded, with all Catholic doctrine, and with historical data indicating the presence of a plurality of presbyters in Rome. The simultaneous presence of a plurality of persons having the third degree of Holy Orders is compatible with historical data indicating a plurality of presbyters because every bishop, whether such in sacramental Orders or also in jurisdictional authority, is a presbyter. Much as every human is a mammal, but not every mammal is a human, so every bishop is a presbyter, but not every presbyter is a bishop.18

So on the one hand, if by ‘monepiscopate’ Brandon is referring to there being only one person in a particular Church with the power to ordain, then his first premise is false. It is not true that in order for Jesus to have founded the [Roman] Catholic Church, upon the death of the Apostles Peter and Paul there must have been only one person in the Church at Rome having the power to ordain others. On the other hand, if by ‘monepiscopate’ Brandon is referring to there being only one man in a particular Church with supreme jurisdiction over that particular Church, then this puts the weight on the second premise, to which we now turn.

2. Evaluation of minor premise

To this very day, every Catholic diocese in the world is governed by a group of presbyters. We usually do not speak in this way, because now we more often use the term ‘presbyter’ (or ‘priest’) to refer only to those ordained to that grade of Orders by which one may offer the Eucharistic sacrifice but without the capacity to ordain others. That is, we usually use the term ‘presbyter’ to refer only to a man with the second grade of Holy Orders, because when speaking of men having the third grade of Orders we refer to them by a term that specifically designates their higher grade of Order, and the term ‘presbyter’ does not do this. But a presbyter having the second grade of Orders does not cease to be a presbyter (or priest) when he receives the third grade of Orders and becomes a bishop. Acquiring the ability to ordain does not remove one’s ability to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, and this is why bishops remain presbyters when they become bishops.

Furthermore, because no Catholic bishop governs his diocese alone, but does so only with a group of presbyters working with him under his authority, therefore it follows that every Catholic diocese in the world is governed by a group of presbyters. For that reason, merely knowing that a particular Church is governed by a group of presbyters does not show whether this particular Church is governed according to Presbyterian polity or episcopal polity. This is why each piece of data Brandon cites indicating the presence of a plurality of presbyters in Rome in the first two centuries is fully compatible with the existence of a jurisdictional monepiscopate in Rome at that time. And all the data Brandon cites in support of his thesis is data indicating that from the time immediately after the martyrdoms of Sts. Peter and Paul to the middle second century, the Church at Rome was governed by a group of presbyters. Hence Brandon writes:

I’ve argued that we should take the earliest sources at face value which state that there were multiple presbyters ruling the church in Rome.19

We too take those sources at “face value,” and fully affirm that there were multiple presbyters ruling the Church in Rome. But the Church at Rome being governed during this time by a group of presbyters is fully compatible with there being a jurisdictional monepiscopacy in Rome during that time, because a bishop is a presbyter. For this reason Brandon’s second premise has not been shown to be true, in part because the data he cites in support of his second premise is fully compatible with that premise being false, and, as we show below, is not evidence that that premise is true.

So although Brandon’s argument is valid, if by ‘monepiscopate’ he means that there is only one man in a particular Church with the power to ordain, then his first premise is false. If by ‘monepiscopate’ he means that there is only one man in a particular Church with supreme jurisdictional authority over that particular Church, then the data to which he appeals does not show his second premise to be true. Thus given that these are the only two available senses of the term ‘monepiscopate,’ Brandon’s argument has at least not been shown to be sound.

That evaluation of his argument depends on whether all the evidence he cites is fully compatible with the existence of a jurisdictional monepiscopate in Rome in the first hundred years or so after the martyrdom of St. Peter. So in the following section we examine the evidence Brandon presents, and show that the evidence is fully compatible with the existence of a jurisdictional monepiscopate in Rome from the time of the death of St. Peter to the middle of the second century.

B. Examination of the Evidence

1. Preliminary Principles

a. Inscrutable Likelihood Differential (ILD)

Before examining the evidence Brandon puts forward, it is worth reviewing certain second-order preliminary principles. One such principle is that data that is fully compatible with contrary available explanatory theses, and for which the respective likelihoods of the competing hypotheses are inscrutably comparable without begging the question, is not evidence for one of those theses above the others, all other things being equal. This follows from what is referred to as the “Law of Likelihood:”

Evidence E favors hypothesis H1 over H2 iff P(E/H1) > P(E/H2).20

From the “Law of Likelihood” it follows that if for two or more explanatory hypotheses the differences between the respective probabilities of the data given each hypothesis are inscrutable without begging the question against one or the other hypotheses, the data does not serve as evidence for one hypothesis over the others, all other things being equal. In other words, if one must presuppose one of the available hypotheses in order to determine the difference between the respective probabilities of the data given each hypothesis, then the data is not evidence for that hypothesis over and above the other available hypotheses, all other things being equal. So if we come across data for which multiple explanatory theses are available, and for which the difference between the likelihoods of the theses is inscrutable without presupposing what is in question, then we cannot justifiably claim that the data supports one of the explanatory theses above the others, all other things being equal. For short this can be referred to as the inscrutable likelihood differential (ILD) principle.

b. Conditions for silence to carry evidential weight

A second such principle concerns the conditions necessary in order for silence to carry evidential weight. In the first section of his essay Brandon claims that arguments from silence “are not fallacious;” rather, they “are valid arguments which infer conclusions from silence.” Of course an argument from silence infers a conclusion from silence, because any argument infers a conclusion from its premises. But the conclusion of an argument from silence does not necessarily follow from its premises. That is why such an argument is not deductively valid, and why such an inference is a logical fallacy.21 Silence can be legitimately used as evidence in abductive reasoning, but only if certain conditions are met. An argument from silence within a text carries evidential weight only when the conjunction of the four following conditions is satisfied:

(a) we know by other means that the author of the text intended the text to provide an exhaustive list of the items or events of the sort to which the unstated entity or event would belong,

(b) the author is not the sort of person who would overlook the unstated entity or event,

(c) the missing entity or event is not the sort of thing that might be unnoticed or overlooked by the author, and

(d) we have good reason to believe that the author has no overriding reason for concealing the entity or event.22

Merely calling the silence “noteworthy,” for example, or “highly suggestive,” or saying that it “stands out,” or is “exceptionally noticeable,” or “conspicuous” is not enough to make the silence carry evidential weight.

c. Positive evidence in relation to silence

A third relevant principle has to do with the relative strengths of positive evidence in relation to arguments from silence. When claiming in his essay that the argument from silence is not a fallacy, Brandon quoted from a website hosted by the University of Massachusetts. That same page explains the third important preliminary principle related to the argument from silence:

A single positive may overturn any number of negatives. A single sound refutes all silences.23

When one text gives a positive account of an event or condition, it trumps the silence of other accounts regarding that event or condition, all other things being equal.

d. Proximate evidence informs underdetermined evidence

A fourth principle is that proximate data informs the interpretation of underdetermined direct data unless there is independent positive evidence of discontinuity. If the data directly pertaining to the event in question is underdetermined with respect to its ability to indicate which of the available theses is correct, then data proximate to the direct data rightly informs the interpretation of the direct data, unless there is evidence of relevant discontinuity between the direct and proximate data. This means that when the direct data is such that from this data alone multiple explanations are possible, and the difference between the likelihoods of the explanations is inscrutable without presupposing what is in question, then all other things being equal, the explanation most compatible with data proximate in time and space is to be preferred unless there is independent positive evidence of a discontinuity between the direct data and the proximate data. As a consequence, the likelihood of an explanation of underdetermined direct data is increased by the existence of proximate data that comports with that explanation, all other things being equal.

This principle thus requires that the scope of relevant data must not be artificially restricted.24 That form of epistemic reductionism applied to historical inquiry by which one excludes a priori the evidential relevance of proximate data on the basis of an assumed discontinuity is a violation of this principle, because such reductionism presupposes discontinuity by interpolating discontinuity into the methodology. Likewise, the positivist methodology of historiography by which one presupposes that there is no evidence for an event or entity at time t, unless there exists presently documents written at time t about that event or entity is a violation of this principle, again because such a methodology unjustifiably loads the presupposition of discontinuity into the methodology by unjustifiably disallowing proximate data to count as evidence. For this reason the silence of explanatorily underdetermined direct data does not establish a priori a discontinuity with proximate data having positive evidential implications for one of the available explanations of the direct data. On the contrary, all other things being equal, proximate data supports that explanation of the direct data that is continuous with that proximate data where there is no independent positive evidence indicating a discontinuity between the respective circumstances from which the direct and proximate data are drawn. With these principles in view, our evaluation of the evidence Brandon cited in support of his thesis follows below.

1. Section III: Canonical evidence

a. Acts

All the data in the book of Acts to which Brandon appeals (i.e., Acts 6, 14, 15, 20:17,28) is fully compatible with Catholic and Orthodox doctrine and polity, and is not evidence for Brandon’s thesis, under the ILD principle explained above. That data includes the appointing of deacons in Acts 6, the existence of presbyters at the Church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:30), the appointing of a plurality of presbyters in each of the particular Churches (Acts 14:23), the existence of presbyters at the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), and the plurality of presbyter-bishops in the Church at Ephesus (Acts 20:17, 28). Consider each of those pieces of evidence in turn. The appointing of deacons in Acts 6 is fully compatible with the Apostles ordaining bishops, and with there being a monepiscopate in Rome from the time of the martyrdom of St. Peter to the middle of the second century. The existence of a plurality of presbyters at a particular Church is fully compatible with at least nine different polity possibilities:

(e) multiple presbyter-bishops, only one of whom has supreme jurisdictional authority, and no mere presbyters,25
(f) multiple presbyter-bishops, one having supreme jurisdictional authority, and accompanied by subordinate mere presbyters,
(g) only mere presbyters all having equally shared supreme jurisdictional authority, but with the possibility of presbyter-bishops,
(h) multiple presbyter-bishops, all having equal shared supreme jurisdictional authority, there being no mere presbyters present or possible, because to be a presbyter is ipso facto to have the power to ordain,
(i) multiple presbyter-bishops, all having equally shared supreme jurisdiction, accompanied by mere presbyters subordinate to the presbyter-bishops,
(j) only mere presbyters, only one of whom has supreme jurisdictional authority,
(k) only mere presbyters, some of whom, but not all of whom, share equally supreme jurisdictional authority.
(l) multiple presbyter-bishops, all having equally shared supreme jurisdictional authority, there being no mere presbyters present, though mere presbyters are possible, simply not present in this particular Church at this time.
(m) only mere presbyters, none having supreme jurisdictional authority, because that authority is held by a living Apostle to whom these mere presbyters are subject.

All other things being equal, each of these nine is fully compatible with, and its likelihood differential inscrutably comparable in the light of Scriptural data indicating a plurality of elders in a particular Church. However, Brandon appeals to this Scriptural data indicating a plurality of elders as if this data is evidential support for his own thesis, i.e., (h). Here’s an example. In his section on Acts, Brandon writes:

The way the Jerusalem council is convened it would seem to match the definition of presbyterian government: the representation of the people of God from local congregations (Antioch, Jerusalem, outside Judea, etc.) in assembly making decisions as the body of Christ.

All other things being equal, the way the Jerusalem council is convened is no less compatible with, or scrutably more likely under a Catholic or Orthodox conception of Church polity than under a Presbyterian polity, without begging the question. This compatibility of the Scriptural data located in Acts 15 with Catholic and Orthodox polity makes possible the Catholic and Orthodox use of the Jerusalem council as an exemplar for all subsequent ecumenical councils. Brandon treats the Jerusalem council as evidence against Catholic (and Orthodox) polity for three reasons: because St. Luke mentions six times that presbyters are present at the council, because the final decision is conciliar (i.e., “is represented as the entire deliberative assembly’s decision”), and because the council includes representation from local congregations (i.e., Antioch, Jerusalem, outside Judaea, etc.). But each of those three reasons is fully compatible with, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under Catholic doctrine. Of course presbyters are present at councils; every Apostle is a presbyter, and every bishop is a presbyter. Likewise, the conciliar nature of council decisions is intrinsic to the very nature of councils; it is not something more likely under Presbyterian polity than under Catholic polity. And representation from various regions is fully compatible with, and no less likely under Catholic polity. So according to the ILD principle, the Acts 15 data is not evidence for Presbyterian polity over Catholic polity, and thus not evidence for Brandon’s thesis.

Regarding Acts 20:28 (“Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you bishops, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son.”), the First Vatican Council uses the language of this passage to describe the modern office of bishop, noting that “bishops, who have succeeded to the place of the Apostles by appointment of the Holy Spirit [episcopi, qui positi a Spiritu Sancto…; cf. Acts 20:28 Vulg.: vos Spiritus Sanctus posuit episcopos], tend and govern individually the particular flocks that have been assigned to them.”26 Here the Church has no difficulty understanding the “presbyters” of Acts 20 as being “bishops,” called together in a kind of regional synod to hear St. Paul’s farewell and final instruction.

In short, nothing in the passages from Acts conflicts with Catholic doctrine, or is non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under Catholic doctrine. Thus according to the ILD principle, the data to which Brandon appeals in the book of Acts does not support his thesis.

b. Pastorals


The Skull of St. Titus

In his section on the Pastorals, Brandon first appeals to the fact that St. Paul explains that he left St. Titus in Crete to appoint presbyters in every town (St. Titus 1:5), and then two verses later says, “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless … ” (St. Titus 1:7), as if this is a problem for Catholic doctrine. However, the use of the distinct terms already suggests two distinct offices, even if they conceptually overlap.27 As Paul Owen points out, it is possible here that by “καταστήσῃς κατὰ πόλιν πρεσβυτέρους” [katasteses kata polin presbyterous] in St. Titus 1:5 St. Paul means that St. Titus is to appoint presbyter-bishops, according to city, that is, [one] in each city.28 And for the reason already explained above, even if St. Titus appointed presbyter-bishops (plural) in every town in Crete, this is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine. Nothing about Christ founding the Catholic Church, and nothing about the truth of the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession requires that only one bishop be appointed in each town. If St. Titus ordained a plurality of bishops in each town, there are multiple ways he could have done this, as explained in the section above on the book of Acts. Among those theoretical possibilities St. Titus could have established one bishop with jurisdictional authority in each town, with other bishops serving as auxiliaries. Or he could have established multiple bishops in each town but withheld supreme jurisdictional authority from the bishops of each town and retained that authority to himself, thereby serving as the principle of unity among the congregations in the various towns of Crete until he could eventually select one bishop from each town, and give supreme jurisdictional authority to that bishop over the Church in his town. Or he could have given an equal share of supreme jurisdictional authority to each of the bishops in each town. Brandon assumes that St. Paul means the latter, and that there is no distinction between presbyter-bishop and mere presbyter. But again, because of the ILD principle, the data is not evidence for that assumption.

Brandon then points to 1 Timothy, writing:

A similar construction is found in 1 Timothy 3:1-2. Paul states that trustworthy saying that anyone who aspires to the office of “ἐπισκοπῆς,” an overseer, he desires a noble thing. He then goes on to explain that an “ἐπίσκοπον,” overseer, must meet the specified criteria. The use of the singular here could indicate that Timothy has in mind the office of bishop, but that becomes highly unlikely when considered with the instructions in 1 Timothy 5:17, “Let the πρεσβύτεροι who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.” Not only does the mention of a plurality of leaders show that the church was led by multiple presbyters, the same grammatical construction with the singular is used just two verses later, “Do not admit a charge ‘κατὰ πρεσβυτέρου’ against an elder.…” When talking about the presbyters corporately, we see the singular, πρεσβυτέρου, used to talk about a potential case of someone bringing a charge against one of the elders.

Here Brandon infers from the fact that St. Paul mentions a plurality of presbyters in 1 Timothy 5:17 to the conclusion that when St. Paul specifically refers to the “office of bishop” [ἐπισκοπῆς] in 1 Timothy 3:1, it is “highly unlikely” that St. Paul has in mind the “office of bishop.” But that is a non sequitur. Loaded into Brandon’s reasoning here is the assumption that “office of bishop” can mean only jurisdictional monepiscopacy. But because the “office of bishop” can refer to the third grade of Holy Orders, and because in one particular Church at the same time there can be multiple persons having the power to ordain, therefore the existence of a plurality of presbyters in a particular Church, whether these presbyters are all presbyter-bishops or a combination of presbyter-bishops and mere presbyters, is fully compatible with there being actually an “office of bishop.” For this reason Brandon’s conclusion does not follow from what St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17. Each of these possible polities is fully compatible with, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under the data of 1 Timothy 5:17. Thus because of the ILD principle, what St. Paul says in 1 Timothy 5:17 is not evidence that there is no “office of bishop” or that in 1 Timothy 3:1 St. Paul is not referring to the “office of bishop.” The mistake in the argument here is conceptually conflating the office of bishop with jurisdictional monepiscopacy.

Brandon’s last piece of evidence from the Pastorals is from 1 Timothy 4:14, wherein St. Paul urges St. Timothy not to neglect the gift he has, which was given to him by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on him. Brandon claims that this shows that ordination was not by a single bishop, but that “presbyters corporately ordained Timothy.” Tim Troutman has addressed this question in his section titled “g. A Refutation of Presbyterial Ordination,” in “Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood.”

Either the ordination being referred to in 1 Timothy 4:14 is to the [mere] presbyterate (i.e., the second grade of Holy Orders), or to the episcopate (i.e., the third grade of Holy Orders). If the ordination being referred to in 1 Timothy 4:14 is to the [mere] presbyterate but not to the sacramental episcopacy, then as St. Hippolytus of Rome records in AD 215 in his Apostolic Tradition:

When an elder is ordained, the bishop places his hand upon his head, along with the other elders . . . . Upon the elders, the other elders place their hands because of a common spirit and similar duty. Indeed, the elder has only the authority to receive this, but he has no authority to give it. Therefore he does not ordain the clergy.29

When a man is being ordained to the office of [mere] presbyter by the bishop, the other [mere] presbyters present also lay their hands on the one being ordained, not because they too can ordain, but in order to show their solidarity with the bishop and, as St. Hippolytus says, to indicate “a common spirit and similar duty” with the [mere] presbyter being ordained. If one attends any priestly ordination in the Latin Church to this present day, one will see the same thing, namely, all the other priests subsequently laying their hands on the one(s) whom the bishop has just ordained to the priesthood.

If, however, the ordination being referred to in 1 Timothy 4:14 is to the sacramental episcopacy, then the fact that bishops are also presbyters shows that the presbyters being referred to in 1 Timothy 4:14 could be presbyter-bishops, as distinct from mere presbyters. The ancient and modern Catholic practice regarding the ordination of bishops is for at least three bishops to participate in episcopal ordination.30

So whether the ordination in 1 Timothy 4:14 was to the [mere] presbyterate or to the sacramental episcopacy, either way, the fact that presbyters laid their hands on St. Timothy at his ordination does not show either that mere-presbyters can ordain, or that there can be no distinction between presbyter-bishops and mere presbyters. The data of 1 Timothy 4:14 is for these reasons fully compatible with, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under the truth of Catholic doctrine. For that reason, according to the ILD principle, the data of 1 Timothy 4:14 is not evidence for Presbyterian polity over Catholic polity.

Thus all the data from the Pastorals to which Brandon points in support of his thesis is fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under the truth of Catholic doctrine. For this reason, none of the data to which he appeals from the Pastorals is evidence for his position or his thesis. Brandon’s mistake here is treating data that has multiple possible explanations as though it has only one possible explanation, namely, his own position, or presuming in question-begging fashion that his own position is the best explanation for the data.

c. Catholic Epistles

Brandon suggests that the letter to the Hebrews was written to persons in Rome, and then claims that since “Hebrews 13:7 mentions a plurality of leaders in the city of Rome who minister the Word of God to the faithful,” this supports his thesis that there was a plurality of leaders in Rome at the time the epistle was written. The problem with claiming that this passage supports the non-existence in Rome of a jurisdictional monepiscopacy is, as explained above, that there being a plurality of leaders in the Church at Rome is fully compatible with a jurisdictional monepiscopacy wherein there are also other auxiliary bishops and/or mere presbyters serving as leaders of the Church in Rome. As explained above when describing the ILD principle, evidence that is fully compatible with, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under, contrary theses is not evidence for one of those theses, all other things being equal. So Hebrews 13:7 is not evidence in support of Brandon’s argument or his position.

Then Brandon turns to 1 Peter 5:1-4, and notes that there is a textual variant in verse 2 in which the elders referred to in verse 1 are exhorted to exercise oversight [ἐπισκοποῦντες] of the flock of God. From this he concludes that the Greek terms πρεσβύτερος [presbyteros] and ἐπίσκοπον [episkopos] were synonymous. However, that conclusion does not follow from the premise, because the truth of the premise is fully compatible with the conclusion being false. Moreover, given the ILD principle, the possibility that these presbyters were either all presbyter-bishops or that they were a mix of presbyter-bishop(s) and mere presbyters shows that this textual variant is no evidential support for Brandon’s argument or position over the alternative explanations. That is because the text is fully compatible with the falsity of his notion that there is no such thing as a distinction between presbyter-bishops and mere presbyters, and because the data in these verses is not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under these other possibilities.

Similarly, Brandon, drawing from St. Peter’s reference in 1 Peter 5:1 to himself as a “fellow elder,” writes:

Even Peter, the one who is supposedly the bishop in the city of Rome, identifies himself as an apostle and a fellow presbyter with others throughout the “dispersion.” This statement again reinforces the thesis of the article: Roman Christianity was led by a plurality of presbyter-bishops in the first century.

Brandon thinks that St. Peter’s reference to himself as a fellow elder “reinforces” the thesis of Brandon’s article, namely that in the first century the Church in Rome “was led by a plurality of presbyter-bishops.”31 As we have shown above, however, there are at least nine possible ways in which there can be a plurality of presbyters in a particular Church. Brandon treats 1 Peter 5:1 as evidence for one of those nine (i.e., his own position), even though at least eight other possible scenarios are equally compatible with, and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely than the data in 1 Peter 5:1, all other things being equal.32 Once again, for the reason of the ILD principle, 1 Peter 5:1 is not evidence for Brandon’s thesis or argument.

Brandon’s argument also entails that the Apostles Peter and Paul did not have authority over other presbyters. Here’s why. For Brandon, the fact that Sts. Peter and Paul could be identified as fellow elders proves his presbyterial thesis that there was no distinction among those men who were called “presbyter,” and that for this reason the presbyters shared supreme jurisdiction. Because Peter and Paul were called presbyters, this would entail that there was no difference in authority between them and other presbyters, and that the Apostles could not exercise jurisdiction apart from their presbytery. Yet that is contrary to the evidence, for how could St. Paul give orders to Sts. Timothy and Titus, and how could any apostle give orders to others, being “presbyters”? Nonetheless, that conclusion follows from the assumption that all presbyters are equal. What makes more sense of the behavior of the Apostles is seeing them as having been simultaneously both presbyters and having more authority than other presbyters. So it is possible to be called a presbyter and yet at the same time have jurisdictional authority superior to some other presbyter. This same point is confirmed also by the Apostle John, who refers to himself as “the elder” in 2 John 1:1, and in 3 John 1:1, and yet carried apostolic authority.

Peter being a fellow elder (1 Pet. 5:1), and holding an episcopal office (Acts 1:20) is important because it establishes that presbyters possessing distinct episcopē or authoritative oversight in a church, which episcopē the Apostles surely possessed and clearly exercised, is compatible with there being multiple presbyter-bishops in a given church. This indicates that there were at least three levels of ministry during the time of Apostles, namely, the Apostles themselves, presbyter-bishops, and deacons. This basic structure is preserved in the Church via the transition, in apostolic succession, from Apostles to monarchical bishops who assume the leadership role of the Apostles after the latter have passed from the scene. Note that this view, which is the one prevailing throughout Church history, preserves the original structure of the Church whereas Brandon’s view requires a substantial change in structure, which is, ironically, his exact criticism of Catholicism.

Thus, every piece of data Brandon draws from Scripture, including everything he draws from the book of Acts, from the Pastorals, and from the Catholic Epistles, is not evidence for his thesis, because in each case as shown above the data is fully compatible with and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely under explanations contrary to his thesis. This is true not only for the Scriptural data taken individually, but also taken together.

In the final paragraph of this section Brandon states that in Scripture, “There is no mention of a threefold office, much less a monarchical bishop,” as if this supports his thesis. This, however, is an argument from silence. As explained above, an argument from silence in a text carries evidential weight only when the conjunction of the four necessary conditions is met. But here we have no way of knowing a priori or independently that the intention of the authors (both human and divine) of the New Testament was to provide an exhaustive prescription for ecclesial polity. Moreover, such an assumption would beg the question against the Catholic Church’s claim that the apostolic deposit comes to us not only through Tradition as written but also through unwritten Tradition, as explained in the VIII. Scripture and Tradition section of our article titled “Sola Scriptura: A Dialogue Between Michael Horton and Bryan Cross.”

In the Catholic paradigm this unwritten Tradition was exemplified in the practice of the universal Church, which very quickly showed itself to be episcopal in polity. Moreover, because the texts of the New Testament were written to existing particular Churches, there was no absolute need to lay out Church polity in these texts, since each Church would have already received this polity at its founding.33 So we have some reason to believe that the New Testament authors would not seek to provide an exhaustive polity in the canonical works that were incorporated into the New Testament. Moreover, even if during the time of the Apostles, and thus during the time when the New Testament was written, there were no men who had been appointed by the Apostles to serve in jurisdictional monepiscopacies while the Apostles remained alive, it would not follow that the Apostles had not established a means by which those whom they had ordained to the third degree of Holy Order would fill jurisdictional monepiscopacies after the death of the Apostles in order to avoid strife and contention among the leadership. For that reason too, the absence of an explicitly laid out three-fold polity in the New Testament is not evidence that the Apostles intended no such thing. So Brandon’s appeal to silence here does not support his thesis, not only because it does not meet the conditions necessary for silence to carry evidential weight, but also because this follows from the ILD principle and there being multiple contrary and not non-question-beggingly and scrutably less likely explanations for that silence.

2. Section IV. Extra-Canonical evidence

a. 1 Clement

Regarding the letter of St. Clement to the Corinthians, Brandon makes multiple claims. First he claims that “For Clement there are two orders, “επισκοπους και διακονους” (“bishops and deacons”).” Second he claims that for St. Clement the terms επισκοπης [“bishops”] and πρεσβυτεροι [“presbyters”] are equivalent. Third he claims that both terms are used throughout in the plural, and that there is no mention in the letter of a “monarchical bishop.” Fourth he notes that St. Clement himself does not identify himself as a monarchical bishop. From this he infers the following:

Instead, what we find is what is consistent with my thesis: the church of Rome (and it appears Corinth) was led by a plurality of leaders of whom the title “presbyter” or “bishop” could be used.

Here we examine each of Brandon’s four claims. Regarding Brandon’s first claim, he draws an inference from St. Clement’s description in c. 42 of what the Apostles did after preaching through countries and cities, namely, “they appointed the first fruits [of their labors], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.” From this statement Brandon infers that “For Clement there are two orders.” But that is too hasty, because the conclusion does not follow from the premise. Merely because St. Clement notes that the Apostles appointed bishops and deacons, it does not follow that St. Clement believed that there are only two grades of Holy Orders: the episcopate and the diaconate. That is because by the instructions of the Apostles, presbyter-bishops could subsequently ordain mere presbyters, and in this way the second grade of Orders was and is contained in the third grade of Orders. St. Jerome points this out when he says

In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also.34

The third grade of Orders includes two capacities the first grade of Orders does not have, namely, the capacity to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice and the capacity to ordain. For this reason the bishop can ordain a man to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice, without also conferring on him the capacity to ordain. In response to this statement by St. Jerome, Brandon writes:

This is a rather interesting way of putting it because typically it is stated in the reverse, bishops are presbyters. But Jerome’s argument (“unwittingly,” as Dolan puts it) shows that the distinction between presbyters and bishops wasn’t present from the earliest stages. If presbyters were bishops (and it has already been conceded that bishops are presbyters) then the distinction between the offices evaporates.35

If presbyter-bishops are bishops, and if bishops are presbyters, it does not follow that there is no difference between the office of bishop and the office of [mere] presbyter, i.e., between the third and second grades of Holy Orders. Brandon makes this mistaken inference because he does not conceive of the possibility of two types of presbyters. Brandon assumes that if bishops are presbyters, and presbyters are bishops, then there is no conceptual distinction between the meanings of the two terms. But that simply does not follow. Only if necessarily all bishops are presbyters, and all presbyters are bishops, would there be no semantic distinction between the two terms. If, however, all bishops are presbyters, and some presbyters are bishops, then there is a semantic and conceptual distinction between the two terms. And St. Jerome’s statement is supporting the thesis that some presbyters are bishops, not that all presbyters are bishops.

Brandon assumes that St. Jerome’s claim means that all presbyters ipso facto can ordain, and are thus bishops in that sense, and that it was only by some subsequent stipulated convention that by the time of St. Jerome some presbyters were allowed to ordain while others were not allowed to ordain, even though those not allowed to ordain retained the charism by which they could validly ordain others had they been permitted to do so by the Church. This is why Brandon thinks that there could be no development of the second office (i.e., mere presbyter), and thus that any later development of the episcopate, such that the distinction between bishop and mere presbyter became clearer is incompatible with the Catholic Church being the Church Christ founded. But St. Jerome’s statement is better explained by the early predominance of presbyter-bishops, as Tim Troutman explained in 2010 in “Holy Orders and the Sacramental Priesthood.” So in this way Brandon’s argument against the episcopal position is built on the assumption that there cannot be two ways of being a presbyter, and thus simply presupposes precisely what is in question.

Two chapters before, St. Clement had already shown his awareness not only of the three grades of Orders, but also of the unique relation between the second and third grades of Orders where he writes:

For his own peculiar services are assigned to the high priest, and their own proper place is prescribed to the priests, and their own special ministrations devolve on the Levites. The layman is bound by the laws that pertain to laymen. (c. 40)

St. Clement draws an analogy here between the high priest and the priest in the Old Covenant on the one hand, and the bishop and the mere presbyter in the New Covenant on the other hand. In the Old Covenant, the high priest is still a priest, just as in the New Covenant a bishop is still a presbyter. The high priest and the priests share in the one priesthood, while the high priest uniquely retains certain offices. The Levite assists the priests and the high priest, without having a role in the offering of sacrifice. Likewise, in the New Covenant the bishop and the mere presbyter share the priesthood, and thus are both presbyters. The deacon assists the bishop and mere presbyters, but does not offer the Eucharist. So the key distinction in the Old Covenant hierarchy is between Levites and priests, one of the latter being the high priest, just as in the New Covenant the key distinction is between deacon and presbyters.

This same typology of the sacrament of Holy Orders can be found in other early sources, such as the Apostolic Constitutions:

For these [the bishops] are your high priests, as the presbyters are your priests, and your present deacons instead of your Levites; as are also your readers, your singers, your porters, your deaconesses, your widows, your virgins, and your orphans: but He who is above all these is the High Priest.36

And St. Jerome says the same:

In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple.37

Likewise, the Scottish Catechism of Aberdeen reads:

Q. Was not the Christian Priesthood typified or prefigured by the Jewish?
A. Yes; the Bishop is the Christian High Priest, and the Presbyters and Deacons answer to the Priests and Levites.
Q. Whom does the Christian High Priest represent?
A. Jesus Christ, the invisible Bishop and Head of the whole Church.38

Brandon says in the comments that he has never encountered this in the literature.39 He also claims that this interpretation “stretches this passage further than [he] believe[s] the text warrants.”40 But simply stipulating the boundaries of warrant is easy, yet carries no evidential or argumentative weight, since any interlocutor could stipulate otherwise. Moreover, because stipulations are implicit appeals to the authority of the speaker, they are arguments from authority based on human reason, which is “the weakest” of all types of argumentation, as St. Thomas observes.41 And much has been written by scholars about the relation of the three-fold order under the Old Covenant and that of the New Covenant.42 The Didache hints at it when it says that the prophets are the people’s “high priests” (c. 13) presumably because these prophets approved by the Apostles oversaw in such cases even the presbyter-bishops in the particular Churches. This “high priestly” role would fall to one of the bishops in each particular Church after the prophets died. St. Hippolytus’s Apostolic Tradition written in AD 215 also explicitly relates the episcopate to the “high priesthood,” the [mere] presbyter to the elders Moses chose, and again refers to the “inheritance of the high priests” when describing ordination to the deaconate.43 This is also discussed in the third-century work titled Didascalia Apostolorum.44

Regarding this particular line from c. 42 of St. Clement’s letter, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Canon of the Mass says the following:

The high-priest [i.e., bishop] has his duties, a special place is appointed to the priests, and the Levites have their ministry” (xi). From this it is evident that at Rome the liturgy was celebrated according to fixed rules and definite order. Chap. xxxiv tells us that the Romans “gathered together in concord, and as it were with one mouth”, said the Sanctus from Isaiah 6:3, as we do.45

In laying out the three-fold order in the Old Covenant, St. Clement is subtly teaching what is part of the Tradition passed down in the Church Fathers, namely, that Christ the new Moses established in His New Covenant three different grades of Holy Orders: new high priests, new priests, and new Levites. And these refer to the three-fold division of bishop, priest, and deacon, with the bishop being the high priest of the Church in his city. So the data Brandon cites is not evidence that “For Clement there are [only] two orders,” not only because that conclusion does not follow from what St. Clement says, and not only because the second grade of Orders is contained in the third, but also because St. Clement himself alludes to there being three orders, and positive evidence trumps the argument from silence, as we explained above in our discussion of important preliminary principles of historical inquiry.

Regarding Brandon’s second claim that for St. Clement the terms επισκοπης (“bishops”) and πρεσβυτεροι (“presbyters”) are equivalent, Brandon says this because St. Clement writes:

For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those presbyters who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure [from this world] . . . (c. 44)

But because every bishop is a presbyter, it does not follow from St. Clement’s referring to bishops as presbyters that all presbyters are bishops, or that for St. Clement the two terms are semantically equivalent. For example, just because when speaking of humans we refer to ourselves as mammals, it does not follow that we believe that the term ‘human’ is equivalent to the term ‘mammal.’ Again on account of the ILD principle, the data is not evidence for Brandon’s claim.

Brandon’s third claim that both terms [i.e., επισκοπης and πρεσβυτεροι] are used throughout in the plural is misleading because there are multiple polity structures according to which what St. Clement says is true, and in which there is a monepiscopal bishop, as explained above. For example, every statement by St. Clement particularly about bishops, is fully compatible with there being a jurisdictional monepiscopate in Corinth along with auxiliary bishops. Moreover, nothing in his letter entails even the presence of multiple bishops in Corinth. Every statement in his letter is fully compatible with there being only one bishop in Corinth accompanied by multiple [mere] presbyters. And again, from the ILD principle, the data therefore is not evidence for Brandon’s thesis over and against an episcopal polity. Given only the data from 1 Clement, there may have been only presbyter-bishops all having equal jurisdictional authority in the Church in Corinth, but the data here is fully compatible with that being false. Nor are the likelihood differentials non-question-beggingly scrutable, and for this reason this data is not evidence that in Corinth the Apostles established Presbyterian polity and not episcopal polity.

What is doing all the argumentative work here, for Brandon, is an argument from silence, namely, that because St. Clement does not identify or name a single ruling bishop of the Church at Corinth, therefore, there was none, and all the Corinthian presbyter-bishops equally shared supreme jurisdictional authority, and the office of mere presbyter was not only not filled, it was not even possible. But that is not a good argument, not only because the conclusion does not follow from the premise, but also because as explained above, there are other possible scenarios that equally account for the data in the premise. It could be that there were multiple bishops all equally sharing jurisdictional authority, or that only one bishop possessed jurisdictional authority among other auxiliary bishops, or that the jurisdictional bishop had died and not been replaced, leaving only a group of bishops. It could also be that the presbyter-bishops had been until recently under the authority of a traveling apostle, a prophet having episcopal Orders, or a regional bishop like St. Titus or St. Timothy, the latter of which tradition claims to have remained bishop of Ephesus until the last decade of the first century, which is right around the most likely time St. Clement wrote his letter. Or it could be that presbyters consisted of one presbyter-bishop assisted by a number of mere presbyters. Because of the ILD principle, the data here is not evidence for Presbyterian polity over episcopal polity.

Regarding Brandon’s fourth claim, his appeal to there being no mention in the letter of a “monarchical bishop” is likewise an argument from silence. There being no mention of a monarchical bishop in the letter is not in itself evidence that there was none. We have no way of knowing independently whether or not St. Clement intended in his letter addressed to the laity of the Church at Corinth to pick out explicitly or by name that presbyter-bishop having jurisdictional authority, if one had presided over the Church at Corinth up to that time. Because there are many different possible explanations of the data, none independently more likely than the others given the data internal to the document, the data does not support the thesis that all presbyters are ipso facto presbyter-bishops, and thus that there is no such office as that of [mere] presbyter, or no such possible office as that of [mere] presbyter. For the very same reason, the data in 1 Clement is not evidence that Rome had no jurisdictional monepiscopate until the mid-second century.

Finally, Brandon claims that the “tone of the letter does not indicate . . . at all” that St. Clement shows the authority of the Roman Church over the Corinthian Church. Brandon’s argument here presupposes that the only tone possible for one having authority is one of forceful compulsion and demand. His argument presupposes that a gentle pastoral tone is impossible for one having authority. This is not a safe assumption, however, and thus the argument is not a good argument. St. Clement is aware that the brute appeal to authority would not be prudent with persons who have recently ejected their divinely appointed leaders. The whole point of the letter is rhetorically to demonstrate that humbly submitting to divinely established authorities is submitting to God, as one of us has argued elsewhere.46 St. Clement therefore recognizes the need for gentle persuasion over heavy-handedness, especially in a letter about humility. The schismatics have already shown that they will not accept authority, and so need to be reproved by a gentle, persuasive argument rather than an approach that places its primary emphasis on an appeal to the author’s authority.

Nevertheless, from one point of view the letter positively indicates self-consciousness of authority on the part of the sender both in the fact of his intervention from Rome, and in the judgment he lays down in the letter if the Corinthians should refuse to comply. For example, he writes:

But if certain people should disobey what has been said by him [God] through us, let them understand that they will entangle themselves in no small sin and danger. . . .

For you will give us great joy and gladness if you obey what we have written through the Holy Spirit and root out the unlawful anger of your jealousy, in accordance with the appeal for peace and harmony that we have made in this letter.47

St. Irenaeus speaks of St. Clement’s letter as a “most powerful epistle” that “exhorted them to peace.”48 Power is not necessarily manifest in force or compulsion. It can be manifest in love, virtue, and winsome revelation of the truth. Imagine the way, for example, Pope Francis might write a letter to the lay people of a diocese that had just ejected its bishop. It might not be strong-armed in tone. But that would not mean that Pope Francis does not have papal authority, or thinks he has no papal authority. So here too, again according to the ILD principle, the tone of the letter is not evidence that St. Clement did not have such authority.

Moreover, St. Clement provides us with additional indirect evidence that he is speaking of the monepiscopacy when he says:

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. (c. 44)

The very notion of strife for the episcopal office makes little sense if there is no non-arbitrary maximum number of persons simultaneously occupying it in the same particular Church. The unlimited number of potential presbyters in Presbyterian polity does not fit with the idea of a new presbyter being selected to succeed each one who dies. And when Presbyterian presbyters die, the remaining presbyters need only select men to replace them, which has little potential for intractable strife, since the persons having the authority in question are still present. The only strife would be among the remaining presbyters, insofar as they could not agree regarding who if anyone should replace the deceased presbyter. But St. Clement’s wording implies that he is speaking of an office that, upon the death of the person holding that office, no one with equal authority already holds, so as to make the decision regarding who to replace that person. Hence there would potentially be strife for the vacated office among those not holding that authority, unless a system of succession were established in advance.

Having examined each piece of data to which Brandon has appealed in St. Clement’s letter, we have shown that each is not only fully compatible with Catholic doctrine, and according to the ILD principle not evidence for Brandon’s thesis, but also that additional data in St. Clement’s points to a distinction between bishop and mere presbyter.

b. St. Ignatius of Antioch

In his treatment of St. Ignatius, Brandon notes that St. Ignatius says the following:

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.49

From this Brandon infers:

If we are to believe Ignatius, the threefold view of ministry is one that was divinely instituted *and* which had spread throughout the world.

The first thing to observe is that Brandon’s interpretation does not follow from St. Ignatius’s statement. In the statement in question, St. Ignatius does not say anything about the three-fold view of ministry. He says only that bishops are settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the earth. Brandon himself believes that bishops (i.e., presbyter-bishops) had been appointed by the Apostles, and that by the first decade of the second century had settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the world.

The explanation of Brandon’s non sequitur here is his assumption that for St. Ignatius, the bishop is not also a presbyter. Only if the bishop were not also a presbyter, and the ubiquity of presbyters and deacons taken as a given, would it follow that St. Ignatius’s statement about bishops being settled everywhere around the world entails that the “three-fold view of ministry” had spread around the world. But if St. Ignatius believed that all bishops are presbyters, then it does not follow that he believed that there were both bishops and [mere] presbyters in all the particular Churches around the world. He may have believed that some particular Churches had no [mere] presbyters. Brandon’s assumption is made clear in when he writes:

There is nothing from the canonical or extra-canonical data that shows any evidence of a single presbyter-bishop presiding over a city.50

Of course Brandon is not unaware of St. Ignatius’s writings. So his comment reveals his question-begging presupposition that no bishop is a presbyter. And it is this presupposition that leads Brandon, in violation of the ILD principle, to construe mistakenly data indicating a plurality of presbyters in particular Churches as though it were evidence that there were no monarchical presbyter-bishops presiding over those Churches.

Then Brandon sets out to refute St. Ignatius’s claim. First he refers to a statement by St. Ignatius concerning those who act apart from their bishop:

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.51

From the fact that some people acknowledge the bishop’s title, but do all things apart from him, Brandon infers that the existence of opponents with a “difference of opinion” about the episcopacy indicates something about whether Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church or the episcopacy, and about the truthfulness of St. Ignatius’s statement about bishops being settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the earth. Hence Brandon says, “we do have reason to doubt the breadth of the episcopate at the time of Ignatius based on his own testimony . . . .”52 Brandon thus treats the existence of baptized persons who subsequently disregarded or rebelled against the authority of their bishop as evidence against St. Ignatius’s statement about bishops being settled everywhere to the utmost bounds of the earth by the will of Jesus Christ. Or, at least Brandon’s use of this passage as evidence against the truth of St. Ignatius’s statement about the ubiquity of bishops presupposes that the Christians doing all things apart from their bishop were not persons who were rebelling against the authority of their bishop. But that is not a safe assumption. From the very fact that some people acted apart from the bishop, it does not follow that “Ignatius is not trustworthy in terms of the scope of the episcopate.”53 That’s because it may have been the case that the persons acting apart from the bishop were schismatics or heretics.

Setting aside the problem of interpreting an author so as to make him out to be contradicting himself when a more charitable interpretation is available, there being persons who act apart from or against the authority of the bishop is fully compatible with Jesus Christ establishing the Catholic Church and the episcopate. St. Paul had his opponents, but this did not make his apostleship intrinsically doubtful. The heretic Cerinthus was also an opponent of the Apostle John, but that did not call into question the Apostle John’s authority or veracity.54 Moreover, the existence in a region of persons rebelling against their bishop does not entail or indicate that there is no rightful bishop in that region. The persons who acknowledge the title of the bishop, “but do all things without him” should not be interpreted as evidence that these persons who “do all things without him” were the original Presbyterians established by the Apostles, and from whom St. Ignatius, by arrogating to himself authority the Apostles gave to no one, was estranged, as though St. Ignatius was the false teacher here, and the ones who give lip service to the title of bishop but “do all things without him” were the true followers of Christ. The more charitable interpretation of what St. Ignatius is saying is the interpretation that does not make him out to be contradicting himself, and thereby make him out to be “not trustworthy.” And that interpretation is that these persons who acknowledge the title of ‘bishop’ but “do all things without him” are in rebellion against their divinely established ecclesial authority. So once again, the existence of an alternative explanation of the data, fully compatible with and no less likely than the one Brandon proposes, shows that this data is not evidence for his thesis.

It is also worth noting Brandon’s selective use of evidence here. Brandon treats this one statement from St. Ignatius’s letter to the Ephesians as trustworthy and reliable, but dismisses as untrustworthy and unreliable a great portion of what St. Ignatius says in the rest of his letters, namely, most everything St. Ignatius says is normative about bishops, the relation of bishops to [mere] presbyters, and the relation of the laity to bishops, etc., doctrines that we lay out in a section below.55 For example, St. Ignatius writes:

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. . . . 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. (Smyrn. 8:9)

Given Brandon’s interpretation of St. Ignatius, it would follow that St. Ignatius did not realize that by noting that some Christians acknowledge the bishop’s title, but wrongly “do all things without him,” he was undermining his own credibility regarding all the things he says are normative concerning the bishop. Otherwise, Brandon could not selectively affirm and utilize the truth of St. Ignatius’s claim that some Christians “do all things without [the bishop]” while rejecting the truth of St. Ignatius’s claim that Christians who act apart from the knowledge of the bishop “serve the devil.” If the “office of bishop” were only an innovation or optional, and not apostolic, St. Ignatius could not in good conscience say such a thing. But trusting a man’s word, as the premise by which to accuse him of being a liar, is self-contradictory. And interpreting him in such a way as to make him out to be contradicting himself, when an alternative interpretation is available that does not make him out to be contradicting himself, is uncharitable.

Selective use of data is revealed in various ways, one of which is biased language. For example, regarding St. Ignatius, Brandon writes:

Ignatius, who is fixated on the importance of the bishop, does not mention any leaders in Rome or the all-important office of bishop.

Brandon would not say that St. Paul was “fixated” on justification, or that St. John was “fixated” on love. But Brandon construes St. Ignatius’s teaching concerning the bishop as a “fixation,” and by using this biased language aimed at detracting from St. Ignatius’s trustworthiness, he seeks to dismiss all that St. Ignatius says is normative concerning the bishop. Why? Because Brandon does not agree with St. Ignatius. So St. Ignatius is “fixated.”56

As for Brandon’s claim about St. Ignatius’s silence regarding the bishop of Rome, to begin with, in his letter to the Church at Rome St. Ignatius does mention the office of bishop and the monarchical nature of the office in Syria. As Joe Heschmeyer has pointed out, St. Ignatius presents himself in his epistle To the Romans as “the bishop of Syria,” without any further explanation (Rom., 2:2).57 St. Ignatius expects the Christians of Rome to understand what ton episkopos Syrias (τον επισκοπον Συριας) is, which would not be the case if St. Ignatius believed that the episcopacy was a novelty. Later, St. Ignatius asks the Church in Rome to pray for the Church in Syria, which now “has God for its shepherd in my place [αντι εμου]. Jesus Christ alone will be its bishop [επισκοπησει]–as will your [the Roman Church’s] love.”58 Therefore, St. Ignatius does mention the office of bishop when writing to the Church at Rome.

Nevertheless, after observing that St. Ignatius does not mention the existence of the office of bishop in Rome when writing to the Church there, Brandon concludes that “the silence from Ignatius in his letter to the Romans speaks loudly about the church structure of the Roman church being led by one bishop as Ignatius elsewhere writes.” That is, Brandon holds that the silence of St. Ignatius regarding any bishop in Rome indicates that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome. Brandon claims that “Ignatius’s silence is actually a legitimate argument against the existence of an episcopate.”59

However, as others have already noted (including Paul Owen, David Albert Jones, OP, and Francis A. Sullivan, SJ), one might as well argue that the silence of St. Ignatius on the subject of Roman presbyters and deacons shows that there were no presbyters or deacons in Rome. Or one might likewise argue that because in 1 Peter 5 St. Peter does not mention the existence of presbyters in the Church in Rome, that therefore the Church in Rome had no presbyters.60 But Brandon would not accept those conclusions, and this indicates his selective use of silence, i.e., treating silence as “a legitimate argument” when that argument supports one’s own position, but ignoring silence when it opposes one’s own position.

Recall especially the fourth of the four conditions necessary for textual silence to carry evidential weight, discussed above, and how the context of the letter is relevant to those four conditions. Where exactly is St. Ignatius being taken? To Rome. Why? Because St. Ignatius, refusing to obey the Emperor Trajan’s command that the Christians should either sacrifice to idols or die, came forward on behalf of the Church of the Antiochians, and was thereby condemned by Trajan to be taken to Rome and fed to the wild beasts for the entertainment of the Roman people.61 So then, do we have good reason to believe that in writing to the Roman Christians, while bound to ten Roman soldiers,62 the author has no overriding reason for concealing the identity of Pope St. Alexander as the bishop of the Church at Rome? Obviously not. It would have been foolish, dangerous, and perhaps even immoral for St. Ignatius to identify openly Pope St. Alexander as the bishop of the Church at Rome. It would practically sentence Pope St. Alexander to death as well, for the very same reason St. Ignatius was being executed. Recall, for example, the discovery of Pope Sixtus II (AD 257-258) celebrating the Eucharist with four deacons and a crowd of laity on August 6, 258, in the catacomb of Praetextatus. While seated on his chair, addressing the flock, he was apprehended by a band of soldiers who beheaded him and the four deacons that same day.63 So this silence in St. Ignatius’s letter to the Romans concerning the existence and identity of the bishop (and presbyters) of Rome is not evidence that at this time the Church at Rome had no bishop, because the silence does not meet all four conditions necessary for silence to carry evidential weight.

The letters of St. Ignatius show both the presence of the monarchical episcopacy in Antioch and also that St. Ignatius expected the Roman Christians to understand what he meant in referring to himself as “the bishop of Syria.” And as we show below, the lists of St. Hegesippus and St. Irenaeus provide explicit evidence for the episcopal succession in Rome. These are “sounds” that break St. Ignatius’s silence when writing to the Church at Rome. Moreover, St. Ignatius’s humble approach to the Church of Rome would make no sense in conjunction with his addressing them as the bishop of Syria and with his explicit teaching concerning the superiority of the bishop over the mere presbyter, if he believed that the leadership of the Church at Rome was composed only of mere presbyters. The very act of referring to himself as the bishop of Syria, in view of his other statements about the authority of bishops in relation to mere presbyters, and his humble approach to the Church at Rome, implies that he believed that the Church in Rome had a bishop.

Brandon further says that the threefold office of Orders found in St. Ignatius is not compatible with the threefold office of Orders as it exists in the post-Tridentine Catholic Church. He writes:

Furthermore, James F. McCue demonstrates how the conception of the “presbyters” in Ignatius is distinct from subsequent developments of the office where the presbyter serves a “priestly” role. Highlighting this development, McCue points out that the Council of Trent (Session 23) and Ignatius (Smyrn. 8.) have competing concepts of priesthood. Ignatius believes that anyone can offer the Eucharist under the direction of the bishop (including the laity) while Trent dogmatically teaches that only a priest validly ordained can do so (article here).

However, what St. Ignatius says in Smyrn. 8:1 is entirely compatible with the Council of Trent and the Catholic tradition, because [mere] presbyters (i.e., “priests”) can be designated by the bishop to say Mass. This is, in fact, what the parish priest does: celebrates the Mass in union with the diocesan bishop. St. Ignatius does not say that the bishop may designate simply anyone to celebrate the Eucharist, as Brandon takes him to say, for St. Ignatius only says, “Consider that Eucharist valid which is under the authority of the bishop, or whomever he himself appoints [η ῳ αν αυτος επιτρεψῃ].”64 Nothing in this statement entails that anyone other than a bishop or a priest may celebrate Mass. Therefore, the Ignatian and Tridentine concepts of the priesthood are not “competing.” Hence Brandon’s inference, “Ignatius provides an example of a threefold ministry that exists but which does not possess the threefold office in the same manner as the Tridentine formula,” is a non sequitur because it does not follow from the text of St. Ignatius. An unspecified statement is not the same as an assertion of non-specificity. Brandon mistakenly treats St. Ignatius’s unspecified statement “whomever he himself appoints” as though it is an assertion of non-specificity, i.e., he may appoint anyone, even the laity as such, to offer the Eucharist.

Next, similar to his argument from silence regarding St. Ignatius’s epistle To the Romans, Brandon also argues that St. Ignatius’s view of the episcopacy was not shared or practiced by other parts of the Church at the beginning of the second century AD. Brandon bases his case in part on Patrick Burke’s argument from silence. That argument seeks to prove that there was no bishop in first-century Egypt from the fact that we have no mention of a bishop in Egypt. Brandon writes:

We should be cautious about extrapolating too much data from the silence, but as Burke notes, we would think that some mention of a bishop who was exerting that type of authority Ignatius speaks of would be mentioned (particular in the literary hotbed of Alexandria!), but we encounter silence.

As explained above, this silence would carry evidential weight only if the four necessary conditions were satisfied. Regarding the Church in first-century Egypt, the corpus of literary evidence is quite small, comprised of three documents of possible Alexandrine origin, none of which directly addresses the question of the sacrament of Orders and jurisdictional office. In fact, Protestant scholar Richard Bauckham believes the Apocalypse of Peter to be of Palestinian origin, from after the Bar Kokhba revolt (AD 132-35). But if Burke means the Coptic Apocalypse of Peter, one wonders why this should be admitted as evidence against the Catholic tradition, for that work is Gnostic and teaches a heretical Docetic Christology! In that work the true “Savior” does not die on the Cross, but only the physical Jesus. Regarding the Preaching (Kerygma) of Peter, which “survives only in a small number of quotations,” Bauckham says nothing about its origin.65 Regarding the epistle of Barnabas, Protestant scholar Michael Holmes says that a “lack of information renders difficult any determination regarding location,” though he thinks an origin in Alexandria is the most likely, given “its numerous affinities in hermeneutical style with Alexandrian Judaism and Christianity and because its earliest witness is Clement of Alexandria.”66 So basing ourselves on “scholarship,” only one of these three texts is probably from late first- or early second-century Alexandria.

That being said, here is Burke’s only substantive comment on the Church in Egypt, in its entirety:

With regard to the condition of the church in Egypt, we have three documents which probably originated in Egypt early in the second century: the Kerygma of Peter, the Apocalypse of Peter, and the Epistle of Barnabas. This constitutes the totality of our contemporary sources of information for that time, which is itself a most remarkable fact, considering the eminence of Alexandria as one of the chief cities of the Empire at that time. However not one of these documents deals with any matter of church structure, also a very interesting fact. The terms “episkopos,” “presbyteros,” “diakonos,” or “teacher” do not occur in any of them. The term “prophet” is used only in reference to the Old Testament.

We must say therefore that we simply do not possess any evidence whatever for the structure of the church in Egypt, except the argument from silence: a monarchical bishop would surely make his presence felt, and the first structural evidence we do have comes with such a person, Demetrius, at the end of the second century.67

In other words, these documents have absolutely nothing to say about the issue at hand. They provide no evidence for a bishop in Egypt; neither do they provide evidence for presbyters and deacons in Egypt. If silence about x were sufficient to establish ~x, and the ad hoc appeal to silence were recognized as intellectually dishonest, then Brandon would also have to say that there were no presbyters or deacons in Egypt during this time. Rather, Burke’s own admission is that of the three documents possibly coming out of Egypt at this time, “not one of these documents deals with any matter of church structure.” Therefore the conditions for a proper use of silence in abductive reasoning have not been fulfilled in this case, because the documents do not intend to address the sacrament of Holy Orders or supreme jurisdiction in the Egyptian Church. The silence of the textual history, composed of documents written in the first century about the first century Church in Egypt, is not an indication that there was no monarchical bishop in Egypt. On the contrary, the fact that we do hear of there being a bishop over the Egyptian Church later in the second century, with no mention of this being a radical change in ecclesial sacramental or jurisdictional order, provides yet another positive “sound” that fills in the picture left by the negative silence.

Thus the lack of first- or early second-century documents mentioning a bishop in Egypt contemporary with St. Ignatius of Antioch is fully compatible with there being a bishop in Egypt contemporary with St. Ignatius. This silence is not evidence for the non-existence of a bishop in Egypt because the first condition for silence to carry evidential weight is not satisfied, namely, that we know by other means that the author of the text intended the text to provide an exhaustive list of the items or events of the sort to which the unstated entity would belong. We have no reason to believe that the authors of the documents in question intended to describe exhaustively the existing polity or leaders of the Church in Egypt, because they do not even address the general subject. Moreover, because the difference between the likelihoods of the available explanations of the direct data (i.e., silence in these three texts) is inscrutable without presupposing what is in question, this data is not evidence for one of these explanations over the other available explanations, all other things being equal.

In actuality, however, there is not silence regarding this question, because it is not the case that all other things are equal. We have an episcopal succession starting from St. Mark for the Patriarchs of Alexandria. This list has been handed down internally as part of the tradition of the particular Church in Egypt. I (Bryan) laid out some of that history up to the third century elsewhere.68 We discuss that also in one of the sections below.

How then does Brandon create the appearance of silence regarding the early Alexandrian succession? He does so by arbitrarily stipulating that only the text of documents written in the late first and early second centuries, and preserved to the present day, is allowed to count as evidence regarding the structure of the polity of the Alexandrian Church in the late first and early second centuries. This methodology implicitly presupposes that third and late second century documents have no evidential value regarding the question of late first- and early second-century polity, by presupposing discontinuity and disruption. But in examining Christianity, of which the Alexandrian Church is a part, we are examining a movement that not only began in the first century, and hence initially was relatively small, but also a movement that was widely and brutally persecuted during its first two hundred and fifty years of existence, limiting both the ordinary freedom of the documentary archive-keeping we experience in the modern West and the likelihood of preserving such documents. Stipulating that later data has no evidential value regarding underdetermined later first and early second century data violates the fourth principle laid out above in our section on preliminary principles, namely, that proximate data informs the interpretation of underdetermined data unless there is independent positive evidence of discontinuity of essence. And in this case there is no such evidence.69 Hence by that fourth principle, instead of treating the late second and early third century data as evidence of a corruption of earlier polity on the arbitrary presupposition of discontinuity, that data is rightly treated as informing and contextualizing the earlier underdetermined data.

We cannot justifiably assume that we are in a better position to know the early history of each particular Church than were the third and fourth century leaders of those particular Churches, leaders who were not only bishops, but who all testify that the episcopacy was instituted by the Apostles. No one in the third and fourth centuries claims that the Apostles instituted only [mere] presbyters and deacons, and that ambitious, power-hungry men later went beyond the teaching of the Apostles and established for themselves the episcopacy, which subsequently spread around the whole Christian world. History is entirely silent about such a transition and any protest or controversy regarding such a transition. Brandon, however, thinks that that silence does not count as evidence. He creates his argument by drawing a stipulated, question-begging, and methodologically loaded circle around only the silence he can use to tell a just-so story about how the Church went wrong, while ignoring or dismissing the silence that would falsify that story. Again, that is an example of the selective use of data.

Brandon also appeals to the Didache to refute St. Ignatius on the threefold office. For Brandon, this early Christian text is another piece of evidence for his presbyterial thesis and against there being a divinely-established episcopacy in the Church. He writes:

Of particular importance for the presbyterial position is that here we encounter another piece of evidence where there are two sources of leadership [in the Didache], the “bishops” and the “deacons.” There is no threefold understanding of the offices (contra Ignatius). This leadership rules in plurality and it is interesting that the laity seem to have the responsibility to make sure that things are carried out in an appropriate way (all the commands are in the second person plural).

While later responding to Paul Owen, Brandon also adds:

In #10 you are right to say that we should be careful to press the Didache too hard, but, it is simply another piece of evidence to show in the area of Asia Minor that the threefold office was not as widespread as Ignatius indicates at the end of the 1st century/beginning of the second century.70

Yet the portrait of the Didache does not count as evidence for the “presbyterial” thesis over and above the episcopal thesis, because the text is equally compatible with either thesis. There are a number of names for leaders in the text: apostles, prophets, teachers, bishops, and deacons. “Apostles” are “prophets” (11:3-7). Moreover, “prophets” are “high priests” (13:3), who are capable of settling in one town (13:1), and who are capable of celebrating the Eucharist (10:7; cf. 15:1). “Bishops and deacons” perform the “service” (λειτουργια, “liturgy”) of prophets and teachers: “for they too carry out for you the service [υμιν λειτουργουσι και αυτοι την λειτουργια] of the prophets and teachers” (15:1).

All this is compatible with there being a threefold order either in the “apostles and prophets,” “bishops,” and “deacons;” or in the “bishops” and “deacons,” with [mere] presbyters latent in the episcopal order; or in the “bishops” and “deacons,” with one bishop being over the college of other bishops.71 For these reasons, and the ILD principle, the silence about the presence of a presiding “bishop” is not evidence for a Presbyterian polity over against an episcopal polity. Moreover, the Didache may quite possibly have been written thirty years earlier than the letters of St. Ignatius, and thus may reflect the time period of transition between Church government under still-living apostles and prophets. By contrast, as we show below, St. Ignatius was the second bishop of Antioch after St. Evodius, and was writing after the Apostles had died. So it may be misguided to attempt to use the Didache to correct St. Ignatius, rather than allow them to complement each other by providing windows into transitional apostolic polity and post-apostolic polity.

c. St. Polycarp of Smyrna

In his article Brandon includes a section on St. Polycarp, presumably because Brandon thinks St. Polycarp’s writing supports Brandon’s Presbyterian thesis. Brandon notes that in his letter to the Philippians, St. Polycarp “introduces himself as “Polycarp and the presbyters with him.”72 Brandon does not say that this greeting is evidence that St. Polycarp was not a bishop. Brandon says only that it is “interesting,” thereby possibly hinting that St. Polycarp’s introduction is evidence for Brandon’s presbyterial thesis. However, the salutation of St. Polycarp’s letter, “Polycarp and the presbyters with him to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi,” is no evidence for the parity-of-presbyters position against the episcopacy position, because the salutation is entirely compatible with St. Polycarp being a bishop and having presbyters under him. Brandon’s source, Patrick Burke, admits this, writing: “While this [salutation] is, of course, compatible with the notion that Polycarp was a monarchical bishop, it is equally compatible with the idea that he was one member, though an outstanding one by virtue of his known saintliness and energy, of a college of elders.”73 In light of the ILD principle, this data is therefore not evidence against the Catholic position or for Brandon’s thesis.

Brandon next suggests that St. Polycarp’s silence about any bishop at Philippi indicates that there was not any bishop at Philippi, nor any empty episcopal office. Yet by the same ILD principle, even the overall silence of the letter on this point is not evidence that there was no episcopal office in Philippi. Moreover, when St. Polycarp’s letter is viewed as a whole, not only is it not evidence against the Catholic position, but it supports the existence and normativity of the episcopacy because St. Polycarp’s communication to the Philippians included St. Ignatius’ teaching on the monarchical bishop, passed along with commendation by St. Polycarp. At the end of his letter (Phil. 13:2), St. Polycarp says that he is responding to the Philippians’ request for St. Ignatius’ letters by attaching copies of those “that were sent to us by him together with any other that we have in our possession.” St. Polycarp commends these letters to the Philippians, for they [i.e., the Philippians] “will be able to receive great benefit from them, for they deal with faith and patient endurance and all building up that relates to our Lord.”74 Naturally, these letters contain precisely the doctrine of St. Ignatius on the monarchical episcopacy that Brandon is keen to show is an innovation.75 Since St. Polycarp passed along St. Ignatius’ teaching on the monarchical episcopacy by means of these copies of St. Ignatius’ own letters, and did so commending them, St. Polycarp’s To the Philippians does not count as evidence against the apostolic origin of the monarchical episcopacy, but in fact upholds the very thing on which, according to Brandon, St. Ignatius is “fixated.” If St. Polycarp believed the episcopate to be an innovation departing from the apostolic teaching, wouldn’t he have made sure to add that qualification to his letter? Brandon has simply selected the internal silence he wants to count as evidence, and ignored the internal silence he does not want to count as evidence. And again, that selective use of data is special pleading.


The Roman Ampitheater in Smyrna

But here too he is attempting to create silence by arbitrarily restricting the scope of what is allowed to count as evidence. Because “a single positive may overturn any number of negatives,” the other sources explicitly stating that St. Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna not only answer the question, but demonstrate the danger of attempting to argue from the silence of direct data, as Brandon does in attempting to argue from St. Polycarp’s not referring to himself as a bishop in his salutation to the Philippians. The other sources we have that mention St. Polycarp explicitly identify him as the “bishop” of Smyrna. So it is in the salutation of St. Ignatius to St. Polycarp in To Polycarp, which reads: “Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnæans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”76 Similarly, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, a second-century account, of which St. Irenaeus had a copy (cf. Chap. 22), includes the following which specifically designates St. Polycarp as the bishop of Smyrna:

At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. … and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna.77

Of his own article Brandon claims, “[T]he point of this article is to prove that the Church of Rome was ruled by presbyters (and not by a monarchical bishop) until c. 150 AD.”78 But when the eighty-six year old St. Polycarp came to Rome to visit Pope Anicetus in AD 155 to defend the tradition he had received from the Apostle John concerning the date on which to celebrate Easter, why did he entirely overlook what Brandon claims to be a novel and non-apostolic monepiscopacy in Rome?79 Of St. Polycarp’s visit to Rome, St. Irenaeus, as quoted by Eusebius, writes:

He [St. Polycarp] also was in Rome in the time of Anicetus and caused many to turn away from the above-mentioned heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received from the apostles this one and only system of truth which has been transmitted by the Church.80

The Gnostics in Rome (e.g. Cerdo, Valentinus, Marcion) had been claiming that the Church in Rome was not faithfully passing on what the Apostles had taught, but that the Gnostics had some secret knowledge that came from the Apostles. St. Polycarp, having himself conversed with the Apostles in his younger years, was able to refute this claim powerfully by testifying that he himself had known Apostles and been taught by them directly, and that what he had received from them was the one and only system of truth which they had transmitted to the Church, and which the Church presently taught. St. Irenaeus, who had known St. Polycarp personally, describes this:

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,— a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church.81

In this way he was able to cause many Gnostics to turn away from their heresy. St. Polycarp’s argument against the Gnostics in Rome would have been vitiated had any of the following been the case: (a) there had been some widespread debate within the Church about whether monepiscopacy was apostolic, or (b) there was a Presbyterian polity in the Church in Rome while all the Churches of Asia had a monepiscopacy, or (c) there was a newly formed monepiscopacy in the Church in Rome, departing thereby from a prior Presbyterian polity. He could not have argued successfully to the Gnostics that the Church had faithfully preserved the one and only system of truth from the Apostles if he believed that the Church in Rome had departed from the apostolic polity. If preserving the apostolic teaching concerning the date of Easter was important to him, a fortiori preserving apostolic teaching concerning Church polity was far more important. We therefore have reason to believe that had there been a monepiscopacy in Rome at the time of St. Polycarp’s visit, and had he believed this polity to be contrary to the teaching of the Apostles, he would have vigorously protested it. Instead, he celebrated the Eucharist with Pope Anicetus, as St. Irenaeus records.82

Thus the evidence that directly addresses the issue of the sacrament of Order and polity in relation to St. Polycarp testifies not only to there having been a monarchical bishop in Smyrna at the time of Ignatius, and that St. Polycarp was that bishop, but also that there was a bishop of Rome in St. Polycarp’s time, and that for St. Polycarp, there being a bishop of Rome was not a departure from the apostolic teaching. As explained above in discussing arguments from silence, “A single positive may overturn any number of negatives.”

As already noted, St. Polycarp’s salutation, “Polycarp and the presbyters with him,” is fully compatible with St. Polycarp being a monarchical bishop over the Smyrnaean Church. Nothing about the conjunctive grouping of monarchical bishop and college of presbyters proves otherwise. Even more problematic for Brandon’s argument is the fact that being a monarchical bishop and being a member of a college of presbyters are compatible ideas, because each Catholic diocesan bishop is the presiding presbyter in his Church. In fact, St. Ignatius exhorts the various Churches to cling to their respective bishop and his presbyters as their rulers. In the epistle to St. Polycarp’s Church in Smyrna, St. Ignatius exhorts the laity to “follow the bishop as Jesus Christ the Father, and the council of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as the commandment of God.”83 St. Ignatius exhorts them on the one hand to “follow” the bishop and presbyters, and on the other to “respect” the deacons. The bishops and presbyters are together the governors the laity are to follow. And this is entirely compatible with St. Polycarp being the monarchical bishop presiding over a college of presbyters. In To the Magnesians, St. Ignatius links the bishop and presbyters as the organ of governance from the perspective of the laity: “be united with the bishop and with those who lead” (Magn. 6:2), and “you must not do anything without the bishop and the presbyters” (Magn. 7:1).

Again, this is fully compatible with the bishop being the president of the college of presbyters, which is fully compatible with the truth of the Catholic position. To this day, the pastors of parishes in the Catholic Church rule their parishes only in communion with the pastor of the entire diocese, the monarchical (diocesan) bishop. A lay Catholic today should still “follow” the bishop and the presbyters, while understanding at the same time that the bishop holds supreme jurisdictional authority in the diocese. So none of the data Brandon points to in relation to St. Polycarp is evidence that St. Polycarp was not a bishop. On the contrary, not only the internal data indicating an unqualified endorsement of St. Ignatius’s teaching, but the external data as well indicates clearly that St. Polycarp was in fact a bishop, even the bishop of Smyrna. Moreover, the very attempt to try to make it seem that St. Polycarp was not a bishop, in light of the magnitude of positive evidence showing that he was a bishop, suggests an ideologically- or theologically-driven agenda.

d. Shepherd of Hermas

Brandon dates the Shepherd of Hermas to around AD 140 by relying primarily on the Muratorian Fragment. How does it show this date? Because, according to Brandon, it states that Hermas “had a brother named Pius who was allegedly the bishop of the city of Rome c. AD 142-155.” The complete line from the Muratorian Fragment reads:

The Pastor [i.e., the Shepherd], moreover, did Hermas write very recently in our times in the city of Rome, while his brother, the bishop Pius, sat in the [episcopal] chair of the Church of Rome. [Pastorem uero nuperrime temporibus nostris in Urbe Roma Hermas conscripsit, sedente cathedra Urbis Romae ecclesiae Pio Episcopo fratre eius.]84

Brandon adds “allegedly” because he does not believe that there was an episcopal chair [cathedra] in Rome occupied by Pope Pius in AD 142. Recall the aim of Brandon’s essay: “the point of this article is to prove that the Church of Rome was ruled by presbyters (and not by a monarchical bishop) until c. 150 AD.”85 The presence of an episcopal chair in Rome prior to AD 150 is therefore problematic for his thesis. But Brandon does think that the Muratorian Fragment supports his claim that the Shepherd of Hermas was written around AD 140. Brandon thus uses a text which claims that Hermas wrote “while bishop St. Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair of the Church of the city of Rome” in order to date the Shepherd earlier than AD 150. He then claims as evidence for the no-bishop-in-Rome thesis that Hermas never mentions a single leader in the Church at Rome. So Brandon uses the Muratorian Fragment’s claim that Hermas wrote the Shepherd while his brother Pius occupied the episcopal chair in Rome, to date the Shepherd to AD 140, in order to show from the Shepherd that at that time there was no episcopal chair in Rome.

Obviously Brandon cannot have it both ways. If the Muratorian Fragment is reliable as Brandon wants it to be to establish when the Shepherd was written, then it should be treated as reliable evidence regarding St. Pius being the bishop of Rome in the 140s, especially since the only way to use the Fragment to support the AD 140 date for the Shepherd is to rely on the other lists (e.g. that of St. Irenaeus) that tell us when St. Pius was bishop, lists that Brandon himself thinks are false. But if the Muratorian Fragment is unreliable, then it cannot support the thesis that there was no monepiscopacy in Rome in the 140s. This arbitrarily selective use of sources, and selective even within particular sources, is an example of the fallacy of special pleading.

Regarding the content of the Shepherd, the three main pieces of data Brandon wishes to use as evidence here are the silence regarding a “monarchical bishop,” the reference to a plurality of presbyters, and the fighting for prominence among the presbyters. Regarding the first point Brandon writes:

Hermas never mentions a single leader in the church but uses ἐπισκόποι and πρεσβύτεροι when discussing the leadership of the church

Here again Brandon is again attempting to use an argument from silence, which, in his section on St. Irenaeus he claims is “invalid.” More specifically, this case of silence does not satisfy the first and fourth conditions necessary for silence within a text to carry evidential weight. We have no evidence by other means that Hermas intends his text to provide the identity of the bishop sitting in the episcopal chair in Rome, or intends to provide a complete specification of the hierarchy in Rome. Nor do we have good reason to believe that the author has no overriding reason for concealing the entity or event. Identifying his brother as the bishop of Rome would likely get his brother killed.

Regarding Brandon’s second point relating to the Shepherd, Brandon is attempting to use Hermas’s reference to the plurality of presbyters as evidence that there was a presbyterial polity in Rome at the time. Recall what Brandon means by “presbyterian,” as he explains in his article:

By “presbyterian,” I am not thinking particularly of a current denomination or flavor of modern Presbyterianism (two office, three office, centralized power, “grass roots,” etc.) The meaning is broader and refers to the leadership of the church of a particular geographic area being led by a plurality of leaders (elders or presbyters). This definition would exclude a notion of a monarchical episcopate or the notion of a threefold office.

So according to Brandon, “presbyterianism” as he is using the term excludes “a threefold office.” But one problem for the attempt to use the Shepherd in defense of the claim that Rome was Presbyterian is that Hermas himself acknowledges the threefold office. Hermas writes:

Hear now with regard to the stones which are in the building. Those square white stones which fitted exactly into each other, are apostles, bishops, teachers, and deacons, who have lived in godly purity, and have acted as bishops and teachers and deacons chastely and reverently to the elect of God. Some of them have fallen asleep, and some still remain alive. And they have always agreed with each other, and been at peace among themselves, and listened to each other. On account of this, they join exactly into the building of the tower.86

Here we have a description of apostles, bishops, teachers and deacons. The term ‘apostle’ seems clearly to be a title limited to the first generation of persons, those who had seen and been sent by Christ directly, for the other three are also functions that apostles also performed. But bishop, teacher and deacon are offices that continue, while that of apostle does not. The term ‘teacher’ here seems to be used to refer to the activity of the office described elsewhere (e.g. in St. Ignatius) as [mere] presbyter, though that is not definitive. Hermas does not use the term ‘presbyter’ here, because both bishops and teachers are presbyters, and therefore using the term ‘presbyter’ would not distinguish them from each other. Bishops too are teachers, of course, so there would be no need to specify the office of ‘teacher’ as distinct from the office of bishop, unless it referred to an office in which one had the authority to teach, but was not a bishop, because it did not include the power to ordain. The only ecclesial office fitting that description is the [mere] presbyter office St. Ignatius describes.

Furthermore, the vision in which the threefold office is described is not said to pertain only to the Church of Rome, exclusive of the whole universal Church. If anything, the vision pertains more to the universal Church, the mystical body of all the faithful, both those no longer alive and those now living (“some have fallen asleep, while others are still living”).87 In the Visions of Hermas, he is visited by a lady under three forms, who later is revealed to be “the Church.”88 A young man tells Hermas that “she was created before all things; therefore she is elderly, and for her sake the world was formed.”89 Thus she is the one universal Church. Later in the next, third vision the lady identifies herself as the Church. This is the vision from which comes the quotation above about the threefold order after the apostles.

The lady takes Hermas to a field to observe the construction of a large tower built by six men out of stones from sea and land, with some stones rejected. The lady eventually reveals to Hermas what the tower is: “The tower that you see being built is I, the Church, who appeared to you now and previously.”90 The tower is built upon water, signifying baptism, and has the Name [of Jesus] for its foundation. The six young men building the tower are identified as “the holy angels of God who were created first of all, to whom the Lord committed all his creation to increase and build up, and to rule over all creation. Through them, therefore, the construction of the tower will be completed.”91 The tower is the Church, and the ones building her are the angels superior to all others, the angels who rule over all creation. Creation itself was identified as existing for the Church in the previous vision. So the mystical representation here seems not to be one particular Church, but rather the one, universal Church throughout creation.

Next, the lady reveals who the stones of the tower are. The stones are the “apostles and bishops and teachers and deacons.” Now the apostles are simply mentioned as one group, supporting the identification of the Church as the one, universal Church. The “bishops” therefore are not necessarily limited to the “bishops” of any particular Church, for it is a general grouping of bishops. The other stones out of which the tower was built represent other general groups of people with regard to the Church: “those who have suffered for the name of the Lord,” “those whom the Lord has approved because they walked in the uprightness of the Lord and rightly performed his commandments,” and “the young in faith, and faithful.”92 Stones that were rejected but not destroyed are “the ones who have sinned and wish to repent. Therefore they were not thrown far from the tower, because they will be useful for building if they repent.”93 Finally, stones that were not only rejected but destroyed are “the children of lawlessness; they believed hypocritically, and no wickedness escaped them….” The lady continues explaining whom the stones mystically represent through Vis. 3.7 [15]. Nothing in these visions requires us to find a presbyterial government (in Brandon’s sense) in Rome. In fact, their mystical character and the allegorical details of the visions point to the Church being the Church universal. And if that is the case, how can there be any surprise in Hermas’s reference to bishops in the plural? A plurality of bishops in the universal Church is obviously fully compatible with monepiscopacy in the universal Church.94

Later Hermas writes:

And from the tenth mountain, where were trees which overshadowed certain sheep, they who believed were the following: bishops given to hospitality, who always gladly received into their houses the servants of God, without dissimulation. And the bishops never failed to protect, by their service, the widows, and those who were in want, and always maintained a holy conversation. All these, accordingly, shall be protected by the Lord for ever.95

Here we see him describe good bishops of the Church, those given to hospitality and care for widows, and preserving holiness in their conversation. Overall, while Hermas does not provide us with a substantive or complete ecclesiology, he clearly recognizes an hierarchical authority structure in the Church. And he shows (implicitly) an awareness of apostolic succession in his description of the continuity between the apostles on the one hand and the bishops, teachers, and deacons who continue the apostles’ work.

Assuming a date of Hermas being c. AD 140 on Brandon’s premise that the Muratorian Fragment is a reliable historical document, and the fact that the visions pertain to the universal Church, the mention of a certain Clement in Vis. 2.4.3 [8:3] is not evidence for or against the establishment of a monarchical bishop in Rome. He is spoken of as someone alive during the time of Hermas’ writing. But as far as anyone can tell, St. Clement I died around the year AD 100. Thus, the identification of the Clement of Hermas remains a subject of scholarly debate. That the Clement of Hermas had as his job sending things “to the cities abroad” is no evidence against there being a monarchical bishop in Rome, for it is also fully compatible with there being at that time a monarchical bishop in Rome. Neither is the mention of “those who preside over the Church” in 2.4.3 incompatible with there being one presbyter-bishop who leads the college of the city’s presbyters, for reasons already explained above. Thus when Brandon says, “Such occurrences [e.g., the description of Clement’s job and what Grapte will do, along with the mention of “those who preside over the Church”] fit exactly what Lampe’s thesis of fractionation would expect,” he violates the ILD principle. The evidence can “fit exactly” either hypothesis, and the likelihood differential is inscrutably comparable without begging the question, all other things being equal. So Brandon begs the question by presuming that this data supports his thesis over and against the Catholic position.

Brandon then quotes Hermas’s criticism of those who “love the first seats” and writes, “Hermas is thus unequivocal that the leadership in the church should not seek to distinguish themselves from one another.” By “distinguish” Brandon means hold a rank over other leaders. Similarly, Brandon says elsewhere that according to Hermas, possessing a leadership rank higher than other leaders in the Church is negative. Hence Brandon says:

Hermas never mentions a single leader in the church but uses ἐπισκόποι and πρεσβύτεροι when discussing the leadership of the church and also calls them proistamenoi, προηγουμένοις, and πρωτοκαθεδρίταις. (Vis. 3.9.7.) This latter term is particularly interesting because it is not a neutral description but an insult. The English translations bear this out:

I now say to you who preside over the Church and love the first seats

The context here is those who are looking to put themselves over others and jealously keep their wealth to themselves.

First, Brandon gives no evidence that οι πρωτοκαθεδριται is an insult; he only asserts it. The verse is addressed “to those who preside over the Church and occupy the first seats” (Gk. τοις προηγουμενοις της εκκλησιας και τοις πρωτοκαθεδριταις). These men are acknowledged to preside over the Church and occupy the first seats, indicating that members of the presbyterate are in view. Whether these men are also coextensive with the rich remains to be proved, for the Greek signals a shift in subject: “now, therefore, I say to you who lead the Church and occupy the first seats…” (νυν ουν υμιν λεγω τοις προηγουμενοις της εκκλησιας και τοις πρωτοκαθεδριταις…). The general context of this verse is Hermas relaying an exhortation to various groups within the Church. First, Hermas is commanded to “show [these things about the seven women, Faith, Self-control, Sincerity, Innocence, Reverence, Knowledge, and Love] to everyone.”96 Then Hermas delivers the message to the “children” (3.9.1-10), including both “you rich” as well as “those who preside over the Church and occupy the first seats.” These groups could be overlapping sets of people, to be sure, but the distinct sets are addressed directly in different verses.

Further, the English translation of Vis. 3.9.7 provided by Brandon is inaccurate, for the verse says nothing about loving the first seats, but about “occupying the first seats” (Gk. τοις πρωτοκαθεδριταις). There is simply nothing in this sentence about “loving” the first seats. In the Gospels, the Lord Jesus excoriates the Pharisees for “loving” or “desiring” the first seats (Mt 23:6 [φιλουσιν]; Mk 12:39 [των θελοντων]; Lk 11:43 [αγαπατε]; 20:46 [φιλουντων]). Similarly, the “false prophet” mentioned by Hermas is not condemned for occupying the first seat, but for “desiring to have” (θελει … εχειν) the first seat. In Vis. 3.9.7, however, these men are not said to love the first seats, but to be in them. This difference is not any more sophistical than the difference between money being the root of all evil and the love of money being the root of all evil (1 Tim 6:10; cf. 2 Tim. 3:2). Hermas does not tell them to abandon the first seats but to avoid “these divisions of yours.” In fact, Hermas grants that these men are involved in the instruction of God’s elect.97 Brandon has not shown that Hermas is portraying negatively men who occupy the first seats, or the occupation of these seats.

Let us return to Brandon’s original comment about the negative connotation of possessing a higher leadership rank than other leaders. Here it is in context. Brandon writes:

This selfish tendency seems to have caught Hermas’s eye enough that he mentions it again to the leaders of the church in Similitude 8.7.4-6:

[A]s many as do not repent at all, but abide in their deeds, shall utterly perish. And they who gave in their branches green and cracked were always faithful and good, though emulous of each other about the foremost places, and about fame: now all these are foolish, in indulging in such a rivalry. Yet they also, being naturally good, on hearing my commandments, purified themselves, and soon repented. Their dwelling, accordingly, was in the tower. But if any one relapse into strife, he will be cast out of the tower, and will lose his life. Life is the possession of all who keep the commandments of the Lord; but in the commandments there is no rivalry in regard to the first places, or glory of any kind, but in regard to patience and personal humility. Among such persons, then, is the life of the Lord, but amongst the quarrelsome and transgressors, death.

Some of the teachers had repented of their rivalry and dissension, but Hermas reminds them that if they lapse back into their disputes about the “foremost places and about fame” then they will reap death. Hermas is thus unequivocal that the leadership in the church should not seek to distinguish themselves from one another.

Here Brandon infers from the sin of pridefully wanting and striving to be first and famous above others to the conclusion that there should be no hierarchy of authority among the Church’s leaders. But that is a non sequitur. From wanting pridefully to have more authority and fame than others have, it does not follow that all persons should have equal authority, or that presbyters and deacons should have equal authority, or that bishops and [mere] presbyters should have equal authority. Prideful coveting, strife, and ambition in relation to an hierarchy does not nullify the goodness and propriety of hierarchy itself. Brandon’s argument conflates disordered desires concerning first places in the hierarchy, with the hierarchy itself, and in this way wrongly infers from the wrongfulness of the former to the wrongfulness of the latter.

Hermas records his vision against these people for “having some zeal of one another concerning the first places and concerning some honor” (εχοντες δε ζηλον τινα εν αλληλοις περι πρωτειων και περι δοξης τινος). It cannot be the case that “distinction” is sinful, for then every presbyter in Rome (and any other particular Church) should have given up being a presbyter in distinction to being a layman. The issue is loving rank, honor, and one’s reputation for the very fact that they elevate one over others. This is the pride and double-mindedness that the Lord Jesus condemned in the Sermon on the Mount (St. Matthew 6). He also condemned it when He answered the request of the mother of the Sons of Thunder that her sons would have the honor of the first places at Jesus’ right and left. In response Jesus told the Twelve that if any were to be great, he should serve, and if any were to be first, he should be the slave of the rest (Mt 20:20-28). But Jesus did not then say that the Twelve were not the Twelve, or that Peter was not Peter. Quite the contrary! So the issue cannot be distinctions simpliciter, but a craving to be superior, a disordered desire for a station, office, or power that has not been entrusted to oneself. For this reason there is nothing incompatible in this text with there having been a monarchical bishop in the city of Rome. Nor is the condemnation of disordered desire for a hierarchical position of authority evidence against there being a hierarchy or a monepiscopacy.

Finally, Brandon’s comments about the negative image of being in leadership is overturned by the one positive example of Vis. 3.5, in which text the Lady commends those who have ruled well. Also, that some clerics jockeyed with other clerics for honor is likewise compatible with, and not evidence against, the presence of a monarchical bishop in Rome. St. Jerome wrote ep. 146 because deacons were jockeying for honor over presbyters. Of course everyone knows that there was a monarchical bishop in Rome at the time St. Jerome wrote.

e. St. Justin Martyr

In his brief section on St. Justin Martyr, Brandon appeals to two pieces of data in support of his thesis: (a) silence regarding the existence of a monarchical bishop in Rome, and (b) fractionation. We have addressed the fractionation issue in a subsequent section below. As for Brandon’s argument from silence in St. Justin, anyone who has read the entirety of St. Justin’s existing works will be aware that in the whole of his work, about the only opportunity St. Justin would have to mention a bishop of Rome is in the paragraph Brandon cites. That’s because the topic of St. Justin’s writings is not the polity of the Church, or the present leaders of any particular Church, but an apologetic of defending Christianity in general against the pagans. So this argument fails to meet the first condition necessary for silence to have evidential weight; it has not shown independently that the author intends to address the subject, and so in an exhaustive way such that if there was a bishop of Rome at the time, he would be mentioned in St. Justin’s writings, all other things being equal.

Moreover, the nature of the document to which Brandon is appealing in his argument from silence regarding St. Justin’s not mentioning the bishop of Rome, is relevant to Brandon’s argument. Brandon is appealing to what might rightly be called a trial transcript, titled “The Martyrdom of Justin,” which ends as follows:

Rusticus the [Roman] prefect pronounced sentence, saying, Let those who have refused to sacrifice to the gods and to yield to the command of the emperor be scourged, and led away to suffer the punishment of decapitation, according to the laws. The holy martyrs having glorified God, and having gone forth to the accustomed place, were beheaded, and perfected their testimony in the confession of the Saviour. And some of the faithful having secretly removed their bodies, laid them in a suitable place, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ having wrought along with them, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.

S. Giovanni Battista Church in Sacrofano
S. Giovanni Battista Church in Sacrofano

Note the words ‘decapitation’ and ‘beheaded.’ Recall also from above the fourth criterion for silence within a text to carry evidential weight, namely, that we have good reason to believe that the author has no overriding reason for concealing the entity or event in question. Seeing that in this text St. Justin foresees his immediate decapitation for being a Christian and refusing to sacrifice to the gods, do we have good reason to believe that St. Justin has no overriding reason for concealing the identity of the leader of the Church at Rome? It seems to us that the answer to that question is “no.” In his trial before the Roman prefect, and facing immediate beheading for being a Christian, St. Justin would likely refrain from mentioning the existence or identity of St. Anicetus as the bishop of the Church at Rome, just as approximately fifty-eight years earlier St. Ignatius, while on his way to be eaten by wild beasts in Rome had a very good reason in his letter to the Christians in Rome not to refer to or identify the bishop of Rome, as we have explained above. Therefore, for the same reason here too Brandon’s argument from silence carries no evidential weight, because the data to which he refers does not satisfy one of the necessary conditions for silence to carry evidential weight.

3. Section V. Hegesippus and Irenaeus

a. St. Hegesippus

Here Brandon responds to the following quotation from St. Hegesippus, preserved by Eusebius:

καὶ ἐπέμενεν ἡ ἐκκλησία ἡ Κορινθίων ἐν τῷ ὀρθῷ λόγῳ μέχρι Πρίμου ἐπισκοπεύοντος ἐν Κορίνθῳ· οἷς συνέμιξα πλέων εἰς Ῥώμην καὶ συνδιέτριψα τοῖς Κορινθίοις ἡμέρας ἱκανάς, ἐν αἷς συνανεπάημεν τῷ ὀρθῷ λόγῳ· γενόμενος δὲ ἐν Ῥώμῃ, διαδοχὴν ἐποιησάμην μέχρις Ἀνικήτου· οὗ διάκονος ἦν Ἐλεύθερος, καὶ παρὰ Ἀνικήτου διαδέχεται Σωτήρ, μεθ᾿ ὃν Ἐλεύθερος. ἐν ἑκάστῃ δὲ διαδοχῇ καὶ ἐν ἑκάστῃ πόλει οὕτως έχει ὡς ὁ νόμος κηρύσσει καὶ οἱ προφῆται καὶ ὁ κύριος. (Εκκλησιαστική Ιστορία, IV.22)

In English this reads:

And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop [ἐπισκοπεύοντος] in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I pieced together the succession [διαδοχὴν ἐποιησάμην] until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherius. And Anicetus was succeeded [διαδέχεται] by Soter, and he by Eleutherius. In every succession [διαδοχῇ], and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.

To this Brandon writes:

The import of this writing is that Hegesippus is talking about the “succession,” but the word “ἐπίσκοπος,” or “bishops” is not in the Greek text. Instead, Hegesippus states that he drew up for himself a succession of διαδοχην, or teaching.

Here again, Brandon uses an argument from silence, claiming that because St. Hegesippus does not use the word “ἐπίσκοπος,” [i.e., bishop] in the immediate statements about succession, therefore St. Hegesippus is not talking about a succession of bishops, but rather a succession of teaching. However, not only does that conclusion not follow from that premise, and not only is it an argument from silence, but it also presupposes a false dichotomy between continuity of teaching on the one hand, and succession of bishops on the other hand as if concern for one precludes concern for the other. The term “διαδοχην” means succession. And when Brandon writes, “a succession of διαδοχην” he is literally saying “a succession of succession,” which is already unintelligible. In claiming “he drew up for himself a succession of διαδοχην, or teaching,” Brandon is apparently mistaking the word διαδοχην [which means ‘succession’] with the word διδαχη or διδασκαλία, both of which mean teaching. Brandon’s additional claim that St. Hegesippus is talking about a succession of doctrine would require St. Hegesippus to switch in three sentences from speaking of a succession of doctrine, to a succession of three bishops, back to a succession of doctrine. Nothing justifies forcing that hermeneutic onto the text.

In this passage St. Hegesippus is referring to the succession of bishops, as can be shown by his use of the verbal form of the term to say that Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and Soter succeeded by Eleutherius. The term ‘διαδοχην’ is the same word used a few sentences earlier when St. Hegesippus says that when he arrived in Rome, he made for himself a succession [list] “down to Anicetus.” He says this right after saying that he had been refreshed with the “true doctrine.” It would make no sense to talk about making a succession if by ‘succession’ he meant ‘teaching’ given that he had just finished saying that he already had the true doctrine. Nor would it make sense to piece together a succession of doctrine from prior times in the Church at Rome, as if there were records of the earlier doctrines, against which he (but, apparently not the Church in Rome) could compare the present teaching of the Church at Rome. St. Hegesippus’s broader project was comparing doctrine across the particular Churches to discover their agreement and thereby confirm their apostolicity, not making lists of doctrinal successions. A problem for Brandon’s claim is that we have no existing record of any such doctrinal succession lists, so if silence about prior bishop lists means there were no successions of bishops, then the present non-existence of first century “doctrinal succession” lists means that they didn’t exist either. But Brandon proposes them anyway. This is another example of selective, ad hoc use of silence.

It is worth considering what St. Hegesippus is doing in Rome and why. He is searching out the succession of bishops in order to determine to whom he should look to know what is the apostolic teaching. In the last sentence of the quotation St. Hegesippus states that in his travels he has found that ἐν ἑκάστῃ δὲ διαδοχῇ καὶ ἐν ἑκάστῃ πόλει [“in every succession and in every city”] the same doctrine is preached. This implies that every city (πόλει) has a succession (διαδοχῇ) of bishops. St. Hegesippus treats the universality of episcopal successions as an uncontroversial given, as he notes that in every succession of bishops, in every city, the same thing is held that is proclaimed by the law and the prophets and the Lord. Thus he is taking the same approach St. Irenaeus takes in response to the Gnostics, in both looking to and pointing to the succession of bishops in the Apostolic Churches as the standard by which the apostolic tradition is to be located, and against which any teaching is to be measured. If one claims that St. Hegesippus is simply making up a line of episcopal succession for the Church in Rome, where previously there had been only groups of presbyters all having equal authority, one has to claim that St. Hegesippus is fabricating such lines for all the cities through which he has travelled, not just for Rome.

Then Brandon, following T.C.G. Thornton, proposes that St. Hegesippus’s

proximity to Judaism … caused him to view succession lists similarly to the Jewish disputes over the proper successor of the high priest…. For Thornton, the argument of Hegesippus is unique, but it is not mechanically tied to the succession of bishops. Hegesippus’s argument is instead wed to the tradition of the Apostolic teaching being passed down publicly in the Church.

The first statement is mere speculation. Nothing about St. Hegesippus’s proximity to Judaism entails that his commitment to truth is lacking, or that he is willing to lie about the succession of bishops of the Church at Rome or anywhere. The word “instead” in Brandon’s statement is a subtle and sophistical way of attacking St. Hegesippus’s moral character. It asserts without any substantiating evidence that although St. Hegesippus is concerned about the truth of apostolic teaching, he is not only not concerned about the truth regarding the succession of bishops, but is even willing to make up falsehoods regarding the succession of bishops, as if a person can be deeply committed to the “Apostolic teaching” and yet be willing to lie about history. Intentionally misrepresenting history is not compatible with being committed to the “Apostolic teaching,” which includes love for the truth (and Christ who is the Truth), and teaches that liars end up in the lake of fire (Rev. 21:8). Couching and juxtaposing this personal attack against St. Hegesippus directly beside a positive claim affirming his concern for and commitment to the apostolic tradition, sophistically hides the personal attack the way honey hides the bad taste of medicine. Brandon then uses his unsubstantiated attack on St. Hegesippus’s character to discredit his testimony concerning the succession of bishops, even though Brandon said above that St. Hegesippus was not talking about a succession of bishops, but only a succession of doctrine.

What justification does Brandon give for this personal attack against St. Hegesippus? In his article he writes:

For Thornton, the argument of Hegesippus is unique, but it is not mechanically tied to the succession of bishops. Hegesippus’s argument is instead wed to the tradition of the Apostolic teaching being passed down publicly in the Church. The fact that his list is limited in its scope and in determining the identity of a bishop (let alone that there was a monarchical bishop) are reasons to avoid concluding that Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome.

St. Hegesippus never says that the doctrine of the Apostles is not necessarily joined to the episcopal succession from the Apostles, as though the Apostolic doctrine could be lost from all the successors of the Apostles. Nor does anything he says entail this. So already Thorton’s claim that for St. Hegesippus the doctrine of the Apostles is not necessarily joined to the episcopal succession from the Apostles by being preserved within that succession is mere speculation. Moreover, everything in St. Hegesippus’s method of inquiry suggests he believed at least in His own time (without making any speculation about whether he believed that necessarily, until Christ returned in glory, the Apostolic doctrine would remain in the succession of bishops from the Apostles), the way to find out what was the doctrine of the Apostles was to consult the successions of bishops from the Apostles.

But from Thorton’s speculative assumption that for St. Hegesippus the doctrine of the Apostles is not necessarily preserved within the succession of bishop from the Apostles, Brandon infers that St. Hegesippus is concerned only with the Apostolic doctrine, and is not writing about the existence in Rome of an episcopate connected to St. Peter in Rome. That conclusion, however, does not follow from that premise. Even if it were true that St. Hegesippus either did not have any opinion about whether the succession of bishops would preserve the Apostolic doctrine until Christ returns, or even if he believed they would not preserve that doctrine until Christ returns, neither of which is entailed by anything St. Hegesippus actually says, it would not follow that when St. Hegesippus writes down in every city its succession of bishops, and explicitly writes that he does so in Rome as well, that when doing so he is not “writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome,” or that when doing so he is not concerned about truthfully reporting the succession of bishops, let alone that he is willing to falsify Church records and make up a false list of bishops. So Brandon’s conclusion that St. Hegesippus was not “writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome” is a non sequitur built on an unsupported assumption.

In the comments following his article Brandon says more about how he justified his conclusion concerning St. Hegesippus. He writes:

My argument is that the use of succession lists did not occur from the earliest times but originated in the second century (most likely from Jewish lists) when Hegesippus first used that methodology. His methodology was not confined to Rome because he did the same thing in Corinth. In tracing the Apostolic teaching through the bearers of tradition, Hegesippus utilized a methodology which later Christians would use as well taking their current ecclesiastical context (a monarchical episcopate) and assuming that the church had always had such a figure.98

First of all, Hegesippus is writing not about bishops, but about the succession of doctrine. He mentions an individual named Anicetus whose deacon was Eleutherus, but Hegesippus is not concerned with bishop lists back to the Apostles (He only lists contemporary “bishops”), he is concerned with the continued teaching of the Apostolic teaching. This becomes significant because Hegesippus is reported as a former Jew (there is some contention about the specifics of his background, but Eusebius tells us that he was a Jew and knew Hebrew) and the Jewish arguments against Gentiles applied this same type of argument for the antiquity (and superiority) of Jewish beliefs. The Jewish argument was typically tied to a bearer of tradition like a High Priest, but the priority is always given to the passing down of the true doctrine. Along those same lines Hegesippus is looking for bearers of the apostolic tradition and does not mention a monarchical bishop at all, as Lampe notes. The list itself also does not stretch back to the Apostles and only speaks to the contemporary time of Hegesippus (The alleged textual problems here could also greatly impact the meaning. It would be either “I took up residence in Rome until Anicetus” or “I made up a ‘succession’ until Anicetus”.) In addition, while I didn’t mention it in my article it is interesting (though not determinative) that Hegesippus writes in the middle/passive that he “made for himself” a succession. This would match with other considerations that Hegesippus does not have access to a pre-existent list. He creates the list himself.99

Here he gives four fundamental reasons. First he claims that St. Hegesippus was the first Christian to make use of succession lists, particularly in an apologetic context. This seems to contradict Brandon’s other claim that St. Hegesippus is not writing about successions of bishops, but only about successions of doctrine. Surely Brandon is not claiming that St. Hegesippus was the first Christian apologist to claim that the doctrine taught in and by the Church is the doctrine received by the Apostles! But that self-contradiction problem aside, do we know that St. Hegesippus was the first to use episcopal succession lists in apologetics? No we do not. Given the historical evidence that has survived from the first and second centuries, his use of them is the first such instance preserved in that historical data. But that does not entail that he was the first to do so.100

Let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that St. Hegesippus was the first Christian to use episcopal succession lists in apologetical arguments. From that premise, Brandon arrives at the conclusion that St. Hegesippus made up a false succession list. But again, that conclusion does not follow from that premise, and is thus a non sequitur. From St. Hegesippus being the first to use episcopal succession lists in apologetics, it does not follow either that these lists are false or that St. Hegesippus made false lists. Otherwise, no one could be the first to make a true historical list.

Moreover, even if St. Hegesippus were the first to use such lists apologetically, it would not follow that each particular Church did not keep a record of its bishops, or that there were no monepiscopal bishops in Rome or in the other particular Churches. The apologetic use of such lists would entirely backfire if the lists were false, because those persons to whom in response St. Hegesippus made apologetic use of these lists could have undercut that apologetic simply by pointing out that the lists were “fictive constructions.” So the very making of such lists for apologetic purposes methodologically presupposes that the one making and using them not only believes them to be true, but believes that his interlocutors either also believe them to be true, or can find out that they are true, and cannot show them to be false.

Moreover, there is a natural reason why this issue began to arise in the middle of the second century, and it has nothing do with making up fictive lists of episcopal successions. This was the time period during which the last of the auditors of the apostles were dying. St. Polycarp was one of the last persons who had talked with an apostle, and when he visited Rome (c. AD 155), he was for this very reason able to win back many who had been led astray by the gnostics, as we discussed above in our section on St. Polycarp. Persons like St. Polycarp had an authoritative trump card: “I talked with apostles.”101 Naturally, when the last of these persons had died, the question regarding the authoritative locus of the Apostolic doctrine would arise. And right around this time we find St. Hegesippus traveling from city to city, writing down in each city the list of its succession of bishops. So the time between the death of the last apostle c. AD 100), and the first surviving historical evidence of the apologetic use of episcopal succession lists (AD 155-166) does not imply either that there were no such successions of bishops during that 50-65 year time period. Even if we were to grant the positivist notion that the absence of surviving historical evidence of the apologetic use of succession lists during that period shows that there was no apologetic use of succession lists during that period, there are other possible factors, all fully compatible with there being actual episcopal successions during this time period, that can explain why there was no need to use such lists apologetically during this time period. And hence, not only does this data not show that St. Hegessipus’s lists are false, but by the ILD principle this data is not evidence for the claim that St. Hegesippus’s lists are in some way false.

The second reason Brandon gives for justifying his conclusion concerning St. Hegesippus is that St. Hegesippus “is writing not about bishops, but about the succession of doctrine.” We have already shown above that this claim is false. St. Hegesippus is indeed writing about a succession of bishops, while at the same time writing about the “true doctrine.”

The third reason Brandon gives for justifying his conclusion concerning St. Hegesippus is that St. Hegesippus was Jewish, and Jewish apologetic arguments against the Gentiles used this same appeal to successions of high priests.102 Here again, even if this premise is true, Brandon’s conclusion does not follow from his premise. That is, even if as a Christian St. Hegesippus was using the same appeal to successions that Jewish apologetic arguments used, it would not follow that St. Hegesippus’s lists are false, or that St. Hegesippus made up “fictive constructions.” St. Hegesippus’s being Jewish and using a type of apologetic argument used also by Jewish apologists is fully compatible with everything St. Hegesippus says being true, and according to the ILD principle is not evidence for anything St. Hegesippus says being false.

In order to infer justifiably from St. Hegesippus using this same type of apologetic argument used also by Jews to the conclusion that St. Hegesippus constructed and made apologetic use of false succession lists, one would have to know both that the Jews who composed such lists typically and knowingly made false lists, and that St. Hegesippus knew and endorsed the making of false succession lists for apologetic purposes. But we have no evidence that the Jews made false lists, knowingly made false lists, or that St. Hegesippus knew and endorsed the making of false succession lists. On the contrary, everything we know about St. Hegesippus’s character indicates that he was a person who feared God, and loved the truth.

The very line of reasoning that goes from St. Hegesippus being a former Jew, to the conclusion that St. Hegesippus’s list is false, is troubling because of its implicit anti-Semitic presupposition. That’s because the only way justifiably to reach the conclusion that St. Hegesippus’s list is false from the given premises is for the argument to be an enthymeme in which the hidden premise is some sort of claim that Jews are not truthful, not trustworthy, or are willing to falsify history in order to defend their beliefs. Otherwise, if the Jewish succession lists were truthful, then nothing about St. Hegesippus’s being formerly Jewish, and doing something similar to what Jews did when making succession lists, would be evidence that St. Hegesippus too is anything less than perfectly truthful and reliable regarding what he says concerning episcopal successions in the Catholic Church. Even if it were true that some Jews created false histories, we would still not be justified in inferring from the conjunction of St. Hegesippus being a former Jew and using the same type of appeal to successions also used by Jewish apologists to the conclusion that St. Hegesippus’s lists were false and contrived. That would be a non sequitur.103

As is, Brandon’s conclusion does not follow from his premises. Just because St. Hegesippus was a “former Jew,” and just because Jews kept track of succession lists, it does not follow that St. Hegesippus simply made up the successions of bishops of the cities he visited, or distorted the truth in any way concerning those lists. What if, because Jesus and the early Church were entirely Jewish, the whole notion of episcopal successions came from the Jewish Messiah and His Jewish Apostles, and each city therefore kept track of its succession of bishops?104 Brandon presumes that that could not have been the case, and that therefore St. Hegesippus must have made up the succession lists. But that assumption is not only not substantiated, it is not justified. Nor, according to the ILD principle, is it evidence that St. Hegesippus’s list is not true.

Brandon’s fourth reason for justifying his conclusion concerning St. Hegesippus is that:

Hegesippus writes in the middle/passive that he “made for himself” a succession. This would match with other considerations that Hegesippus does not have access to a pre-existent list. He creates the list himself.105

I addressed this previously when I wrote:

This term [ἐποιησάμην] is a first person, aorist middle, and means that he made for himself something, in this case a succession (διαδοχὴν) [list]. The verb does not in itself mean “creating where nothing existed before.” A person who makes something for himself may be doing so where nothing of that sort existed before. But the verb form itself does not demand that. It surely suggests that he himself did not already have a list of the succession of bishops at Rome. But what he says here is fully compatible with his wanting such a list for himself, and so making one for himself upon arriving at Rome, even possibly by using existing lists already present in Rome at the time.106

Nothing at all about the middle/passive implies that St. Hegesippus did not have access to a pre-existing list in Rome. The data is fully compatible with, and its likelihood differential inscrutable under either thesis, i.e. that he did not have access in Rome to a pre-existing list, or that he did have access in Rome to a pre-existing list. For this reason, according to the ILD principle, St. Hegesippus’s use of the middle/passive is not evidence either that St. Hegesippus had no access in Rome to a pre-existing list, or that no such list already existed, or that St. Hegesippus made a false list.

From these four reasons, Brandon then concludes that St. Hegesippus was the first Christian to use succession lists in apologetics. Setting aside once more Brandon’s self-contradiction problem of St. Hegesippus being the first to use something St. Hegesippus is not writing about, even if it is true that St. Hegesippus was the first Christian to use episcopal succession lists in apologetics, this would not entail or imply that there had been no such successions, or that St. Hegesippus in any way falsified history. Again, that inference would be a non sequitur. So, in light of the ILD principle, not a single piece of data cites in relation to St. Hegesippus is evidence that St. Hegisippus’s list is false or contrived.

But undermining St. Hegesippus’s credibility is crucial to Brandon’s argument, because Brandon builds his case against St. Irenaeus’s list on the claim that St. Irenaeus wrongly trusted the list of St. Hegesippus. Brandon writes:

Irenaeus actually believes that the information as passed along via episcopal succession (from Peter and Paul). He uses a list composed c. 180 AD to trace the passing of the apostolic doctrine in the apostolically established episcopate.107

Irenaeus’s list is composed c. 180 AD and is based off of the list of Hegesippus who is writing about the succession of doctrine and does not provide an exhaustive list of “bishops.”108

With Hegesippus being the “innovator” we see Irenaeus as the “developer.”109

But as we have just shown, no data or conjunction of data Brandon cites regarding St. Hegesippus is evidence that what he said concerning the succession of bishops is untruthful or untrustworthy. And Brandon’s repeated claim that St. Hegesippus is concerned with doctrine and not with the succession is, as we have shown, an entirely unjustified personal attack against St. Hegesippus.

Brandon’s reply to this is that St. Hegesippus presumably did not intentionally deceive anyone. St. Hegesippus made up a list of prominent presbyters in the history of the Church at Rome by talking to Christians in the Church at Rome and simply read back into that list the monepiscopal polity he saw around him both in the Church at Rome in the time of St. Anicetus and in the other particular Churches he had visited in his journeys. But this is still a just-so story, with no evidence to support it.110 It presupposes either:

(n) that all the Christians in Rome with whom St. Hegesippus consulted concerning the succession were ignorant of and could not remember the transition from a plurality of presbyters each sharing equally in jurisdictional authority and none having any more authority than the others, to the monarchical episcopacy St. Hegesippus could see in bishop St. Anicetus, and still all these Christians in Rome gave to St. Hegesippus the same succession list or

(o) the Christians in Rome with whom St. Hegesippus consulted concerning the succession knew about this transition but all lied to hide the fact that it had happened, and conspired together among themselves to come up with the list they gave to St. Hegesippus, so that they would not give him many different incompatible lists, or

(p) the Christians in Rome with whom St. Hegesippus consulted concerning the succession told the truth to St. Hegesippus, and then St. Hegesippus lied.

The only reason to believe (p) would be the anti-Semitism we discussed above; St. Hegesippus was Jewish, therefore we may justifiably suppose that he lied. So (p) is not justified. Nor do we have any justifying reason to believe that the Christians in Rome conspired together to lie about their own history, so (o) is not justified. That leaves (n). But if there were any Christians in Rome who had been Christians all their lives, had lived their whole lives in Rome, and were over sixty years old, then this Presbyterian-to-episcopal transition would have had to occur prior to AD 115; otherwise they would have remembered it. If there were any such Christians over eighty years old, this tradition would have had to occur prior to AD 95. And here we are required to presuppose that their parents all failed to tell them about this transition, and instead all told them this same succession list. And that simply pushes the problem back a generation, i.e., either these parents lied, or they too were ignorant of the transition, and that again pushes the problem back to the AD 70s. But recall Brandon’s claim that “[T]he point of this article is to prove that the Church of Rome was ruled by presbyters (and not by a monarchical bishop) until c. 150 AD.” So how can it be that even if St. Hegesippus were making his inquiry in AD 166, i.e., the very last year of the episcopate of St. Anicetus and thus the latest year possible for St. Hegesippus to arrive in Rome, that none of the Christians of Rome whom St. Hegesippus consulted could even remember the transition just sixteen years earlier? So (n) is also not justified. But (n), (o), and (p) are the only available ways to discredit St. Hegesippus’s testimony. Therefore, there is no good reason available to justify claiming that St. Hegesippus made up a list of prominent presbyters in the history of the Church at Rome by talking to Christians in the Church at Rome, and simply read back into that list the monepiscopal polity he saw around him both in the Church at Rome in the time of St. Anicetus and in the other particular Churches he had visited.

Brandon then writes:

The fact that his list is limited in its scope and in determining the identity of a bishop (let alone that there was a monarchical bishop) are reasons to avoid concluding that Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome.

Brandon is here claiming that there are two reasons not to conclude that St. Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to St. Peter in Rome. The first reason is that St. Hegesippus’s list is limited in scope; it does not list the succession of bishops all the way back to St. Peter. That’s not a good reason not to conclude that this list is about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to St. Peter in Rome, because that conclusion does not follow from that premise. In the section of St. Hegesippus’s writing Eusebius is quoting here, St. Hegesippus is not attempting to present the entirety of the list to his readers. He is telling a story. On his way to Rome he stayed in Corinth and was mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. Then when he arrived in Rome he pieced together a succession list up until St. Anicetus, who was the present bishop of Rome. Subsequent to his arrival in Rome, St. Anicetus was succeeded by St. Soter, and St. Soter by St. Eleutherius, who had been the deacon of St. Anicetus. That’s the narrative. The point of the narrative excerpt is not to lay out for the reader the historical succession of bishops prior to St. Anicetus. But that does not entail that the succession list St. Hegesippus drew up when he arrived in Rome was not about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to St. Peter in Rome. If I tell you the names in order of the Presidents of the United States that have been in office since I was born, that does not give you a reason not to conclude that the list I’ve just provided is about the existence of a presidential office connected to George Washington. When someone gives part of a list, and states that it is part of a larger list (as St. Hegesippus does in stating that he drew up a succession up to Anicetus, but then only gives the names of those bishops from Anicetus onward), that is no reason at all to think either that the part is not a part of a greater whole, or that the greater whole is incomplete.

The second reason Brandon gives as a reason to avoid concluding that St. Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to St. Peter in Rome is that St. Hegesippus’s list is limited “in determining the identity of a bishop (let alone that there was a monarchical bishop).” Again, however, just because the list I give you of U. S. Presidents who served during my lifetime is limited in its capacity to help you determine the identity of any president who served prior to my birth, that does not give you a reason to avoid concluding that there were U. S. Presidents prior to my birth, or to avoid concluding that the line of U. S. Presidents began with George Washington. Here again, Brandon is attempting to use an argument from silence to do positive evidential work, i.e., St. Hegesippus does not give a complete list in the excerpt quoted by Eusebius, therefore we have a reason to “avoid concluding that Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome.” But the data does not support avoiding or denying that conclusion, just as my listing only the U. S. Presidents who served since I was born does not support avoiding or denying the conclusion that the line of U. S. Presidents extends back to George Washington. In short, nothing here in any way discredits the veracity of St. Hegesippus’s list.

What is notable in St. Hegesippus’s testimony is first that he arrives in Rome and immediately puts together the succession of bishops of the Church at Rome, leading up to St. Anicetus. St. Hegesippus does this, apparently, because he knows from his travel experience that every Church keeps a succession list. The matter-of-fact ordinariness of his putting together the list at Rome, of not noticing any evidence of some turbulent ecclesiastical revolution all around the world as individual bishops in each particular Church took power to themselves, and subordinated all other presbyter-bishops who originally equally shared supreme jurisdictional authority, suggests that the episcopal situation in Rome during the time of Anicetus (AD 155 – 166) was not only very much like it was throughout the rest of the world, but was also as it had been since St. Hegesippus had been investigating the question, and since anyone with whom St. Hegesippus talked could remember. How else could St. Hegesippus say, “In every succession, and in every city, that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord,” if there were or in living memory had been some kind of universal turmoil in the Church concerning whether the Apostles had taught presbyterial or episcopal polity? St. Hegesippus is saying that the Churches were in agreement regarding the “true faith,” thus implying that there was no such turmoil concerning presbyterial or episcopal polity.

That is supported by something Eusebius says about what St. Hegesippus records in his five books. Eusebius writes:

In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops [πλείστοις ἐπισκόποις], and that he received the same doctrine from all.111

The Greek term πλείστοις is a superlative and is rightly translated as “great many.” Hence St. Hegesippus claimed that on his way to Rome, during which journey he stayed for some time in the Church at Corinth, not only did he meet a great many bishops, he received the same doctrine from them all. Had there been some disagreement regarding polity, such as that between contemporary Presbyterians and Catholics, St. Hegesippus would not have observed what he claims to have observed.

A second point of observation is that according to J. B. Lightfoot, we do have the entirety of St. Hegesippus’s list of bishops of Rome, preserved in the works of St. Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 310 – 403), who utilized St. Hegesippus’s list.112 St. Epiphanius writes:

In any case, the succession of the bishops at Rome runs in this order: Peter and Paul, Linus and Cletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, Xystus, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius, and Anicetus, whom I mentioned above, on the list.113

If that is in fact the preserved list from St. Hegesippus, then his list is not, as Brandon claims, “limited in its scope and in determining the identity of a bishop,” and thus these are not “reasons to avoid concluding that Hegesippus is writing about the existence of a monarchical episcopate connected to Peter in Rome.” In sum, none of the data Brandon points to here is in any way evidence that St. Hegesippus’s list is anything less than entirely truthful.

b. St. Irenaeus

(1.) Brandon’s two mistakes

Brandon’s treatment of St. Irenaeus’s list of bishops of the Church in Rome is informed primarily by the Lutheran minister and theologian Peter Lampe. Brandon writes:

First, Lampe mentions the section from Irenaeus where he states, “Eleutherus does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles” as evidence that the number twelve–the Apostolic number–is an essential element of the list. The twelve apostles are followed by the twelve bearers of tradition. Lampe notes that the list could have as easily started with Peter (or Paul, which we will address momentarily), but that would interrupt the symmetry of the list and so it begins with Linus. Second, Lampe points out that the sixth member on the list happens to be named “Sixtus.” What is even more interesting about this is that the note concerning Sixtus, that he was the “sixth appointed” is in the present tense and is a constituent part of the list prior to Irenaeus. What does this mean? Because the number twelve is an essential feature to the list and because the mention of “Sixtus” as the halfway marker is also a constituent component of the list Irenaeus is using, that means that list could not have been composed prior to the bishopric of Eleutherus.

Brandon’s argument here goes like this:

(1) St. Irenaeus says that Eleutherius (the bishop of Rome at the time St. Irenaeus was writing) is “in the twelfth place from the apostles.”

(2) The number twelve is an essential element in St. Irenaeus’s list.

(3) The list could have begun with Peter, but that would interrupt the symmetry of the list, so the author had it begin with Linus.

(4) The sixth member of the list is named “Sixtus,” and the verb used here specifying that he was the “sixth appointed” is in the present tense.

(5) Sixtus’s being the sixth is a “constituent part” of the list.

Therefore,

(6) The list “could not have been composed prior to the bishopric of Eleutherus.”

Then Brandon assures his readers that this does not mean that St. Irenaeus was “intentionally lying.” Hidden between the conclusion of the argument and the subsequent reassurance that this does not mean that St. Irenaeus was “intentionally lying” is the very clear implication that the list is false, but not intentionally false; it is merely a “fictive construction.”114

But that conclusion (i.e., that the list is false) does not follow from the conclusion of the argument, i.e., from line (6). Here is the way to see that.115 Imagine for the sake of argument that the list is entirely and completely accurate. Now, why could the list not have existed before St. Eleutherius became bishop of Rome? The answer is this: only because the list includes the name Eleutherius. There is no a priori reason why the sixth bishop in Rome after St. Peter could not have been called Sixtus, or why the list could not use the present tense in saying that Sixtus was the sixth bishop established. Eusebius, for example, says of the succession in Antioch, “Theophilus was well known as the sixth from the apostles.”116 If St. Irenaeus possessed an already existing list of bishops in the Church at Rome, and just before the name Sixtus he added the words ἔκτος ἀπὸ τῶν ἀποστόλων καθίσταται [is established sixth from the Apostles], this would in no way imply that the list itself was contrived. In other words, even if St. Irenaeus added the words highlighting Sixtus being the sixth from the Apostles, nevertheless, because of the ILD principle this would not be evidence that St. Irenaeus made up the list, or that the list is false.

Nor is there any a priori reason why if the sixth bishop has the name Sixtus, there cannot subsequently be a twelfth bishop, for the same reason that John Quincy Adams being the sixth U. S. President did not prevent Zachary Taylor from being the twelfth U. S. President. Nor is there any reason why a truthful list of successive bishops cannot be made while the twelfth bishop is in office, just as nothing prevented people from making a complete and truthful list of U. S. Presidents while Zachary Taylor was in office. Therefore the only reason the list could not have existed before St. Eleutherius became bishop of Rome is that the list includes the name Eleutherius.

Brandon makes two mistakes here. First, he treats the sixth person’s name being ‘Sixtus’ as evidence that the list is false. This is a mistake for two reasons: first, Lampe does not place any significance on the sixth bishop being named “Sixtus;” second, “Sixtus” does not mean “sixth” in Latin, but is the Latin transliteration of a Greek name, Xystos (Ξυστος). (See also St. Hegesippus’s list above, where the spelling is Xystus.) So first, Lampe does not place any significance on the name Sixtus, because his purpose is simply to note that St. Irenaeus mentions any name at the “half-way mark” of sixth. Here is all that Lampe says on that point: “Also, that with S[ixtus] the ‘half-way mark’ is noted (“as sixth, S[ixtus] is appointed”) shows the framework of twelve members to be intentional, already in the composition of the list before Irenaeus.”117 Lampe does not say that Sixtus’s own name is significant, but rather that he is one of two bishops explicitly identified by number in the list, and that Sixtus’s number is half the number of Eleutherius (“als sechster wird Sixtus eingesetzt”).118 When Lampe summarizes his argument against the authenticity of Irenaeus’s list on the following page of his book, he does not mention Sixtus’s name at all, but only the significance of the list containing twelve names and ending with Eleutherius.119 We respond to this argument below.

The Crypt under Église St-Irénée
The Crypt under Église St-Irénée, Lyon

The second reason why Brandon’s emphasis on the name of “Sixtus” is mistaken is that the name does not even mean “sixth.” The Latin word for sixth is of course sextus. In contrast, “Sixtus” is simply one way to transliterate the Greek name Xystos (Ξυστος) into Latin. In fact the majority of manuscripts of Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses testify to a reading other than Sixtus: “xustus” (Claromontanus [C]), “xystus” (Claromontanus, later correction), and “syxtus” (Arundelianus [A], Salamanticensis [S]). Only the youngest manuscript has “sixtus” (Vossianus [V]). Strangely, the manuscript Vaticanus (Q) has “sextus,” perhaps a copying mistaken attributable to the scribe seeing the ordinal in the same sentence.120 “Sextus” was in fact an ancient Roman name. There was, for example, a Sextus Pompeianus (Cic. Att. 12.37.4) and a Sextus Amerinus (Cic. Rosc. Am. 6.15).121 The variant form was “Sestus.” But when “Sestus/Sextus” was transliterated into Greek, it was spelled Sestos or Sextos (Σεστος, Σεξτος).122 In contrast, the actual Greek spelling of Sixtus’s name is preserved in the Greek fragment of St. Irenaeus’s Adversus Haereses 3.3.3 from Eusebius of Caesarea’s Historia Ecclesiastica 5.6. Eusebius also witnesses to the Greek name of the sixth bishop of Rome at HE 4.4 and 5, and 5.25. In each case, the sixth bishop of Rome is Xystos (Ξυστος).123 The name in Greek can perhaps mean “polished” or “shaved,” but not “sixth,” which in Greek is simply hectos (εκτος).

The Greek provenance of the name of the sixth bishop of Rome helps us make sense of two facts. The first fact is that subsequent popes continued to take the name Sixtus, for how much sense does it make to be named “Sixth the Second,” “Sixth the Third,” and “Sixth the Fourth?” Instead, Sixtus II, III, and IV were taking the Greek name of the sixth bishop of Rome after St. Peter. The second fact is that the Greek initial “x” in Xystus’ name was preserved in the memory of the Latin-speaking part of the Church. Two ancient lists of martyrs are included in the Roman Canon of the Latin Rite. One of these lists includes Sixtus, which is actually a reference to Pope St. Sixtus II, who died a martyr in AD 258.124 Obviously, Sixtus II took the same name as Sixtus I. Though the modern English translation of the Roman Canon spells the name as “Sixtus,” the Latin of both the 1962 (Tridentine) and 1970 (Novus Ordo) Roman Missals is Xystus. Going even further back, the 1570 Roman Missal spells it Xistus.125 The Martyrologium Romanum, the Church’s official list of feast days for the saints, spells the name of the first three popes with the name “Sixtus” — all of them saints — as Xystus.126 Other evidence points to an awareness in the Catholic tradition of the Greek origin of the name. At least seven inscriptions originating during the pontificate of Sixtus IV (d. 1484) spell his name as Xystus or Xistus.127 In sum, the name is originally Greek and does not mean “sixth.”128

The second mistake Brandon makes here is confusing intentional accidents of the list with essential elements of the list, and thus treating these intentional accidents as essential to the order between all the members of the list. The emphasis on the sixth and twelfth members of the list by someone contemporary with St. Eleutherius does not make the numbers six and twelve essential to the order existing between all the members of the list, such that the list could not have been made from a list of the eleven bishops preceding St. Eleutherius, or could not subsequently be added to later when in AD 189 St. Victor became the next bishop of Rome. In other words, the relation between six and twelve may have been essential to the emphasis intended by the person compiling the list in the time of St. Eleutherius, but it was not essential to the order between all the members of the list. And this is why St. Irenaeus’s list could have been compiled from a previously existing list of the eleven bishops from St. Linus to St. Soter, and the emphasis on the sixth and twelfth bishops is not evidence that the list is false or a “fictive construction.”

So the false inference in Brandon’s argument regarding St. Irenaeus’s list of bishops of Rome is from the fact that a list that includes St. Eleutherius as bishop of Rome could not have existed before St. Eleutherius became bishop of Rome, to the conclusion that the rest of the list could not have existed as a list before St. Eleutherius became bishop of Rome, and therefore must have been made up by St. Irenaeus or a contemporary of St. Irenaeus. That’s the inferential mistake. Otherwise, since the list of U. S. Presidents including President Obama could not have existed before President Obama became President, it would follow that the earlier part of the list of presidents would be false, but not intentionally false. That, however, is clearly not a truth-preserving inference, and neither is Brandon’s inference from (6) to the implied conclusion that St. Irenaeus was lying (just not “intentionally lying”) or speaking falsehood. The premises of the argument do not entail that conclusion. Nor are they evidence for the truth of the conclusion, because they are fully compatible with the falsity of the conclusion, and no less likely given the falsehood of the conclusion and thus because of the ILD principle explained above.

(2.) Selective arguments from silence

Next Brandon writes:

One may conceivably respond by claiming that the list Irenaeus used c. AD 180 could have used other ancient sources which originated from apostolic times, making the list a construction from 180 while maintaining its first century sources. Such a response, however, is unlikely and is an invalid argument from silence.

After having repeatedly made use of arguments from silence earlier in his essay, here Brandon disallows an objection on the basis that it is an argument from silence, and is thus “invalid.” But proposing some explanation or event behind what is stated is not an argument from silence. An argument from silence uses silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of something. Of course a proposed explanation or event behind what is stated can be false or unjustified, but it is not an argument from silence. Proposing what lies behind an historical silence is not the same as arguing to the non-existence of x on the basis of silence. For this reason, because speculating about what St. Irenaeus may have depended on is not using silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of anything, it is not an argument from silence.

Why is it “unlikely,” according to Brandon, that St. Irenaeus was relying on older lists or records? Because, he writes, “we do not possess any succession lists with this specificity [from] the first or early second century.” In other words, if we presently do not have any succession lists preserved from the first or early second centuries, then, reasons Brandon, neither could St. Irenaeus. The problem with that line of reasoning is that the conclusion does not follow from the premise. There are many ancient works that no longer exist, simply because they were not preserved. But their not being preserved does not entail that they never existed, or that subsequent generations did not have have copies of these ancient works. Again, that would be a kind of argument from silence.129

When one of us pointed out in Comment #30 under Brandon’s post that Brandon’s thesis proposes that St. Irenaeus commits a “grand mistake” embraced by the whole Christian world with nary a protest, Brandon replied:

First of all, we don’t know what level of protest Irenaeus’s list was meet with.130

So when silence serves Brandon’s purpose, he treats it as counting as evidence, but when silence does not serve Brandon’s purpose, he dismisses it as not showing the non-existence of the thing in question, in this case a worldwide protest over the novelty introduced by St. Irenaeus and imposed on the whole world. That’s an example of ad hoc special pleading.

Regarding Brandon’s claim that we do not possess any [previous] “succession lists” with that specificity, we actually do. We have part of St. Hegesippus’s list in Eusebius, and, if Lightfoot is correct, the whole list preserved in Epiphanius. Brandon discounts that list as “concerned [only] with the succession of doctrine.” But as we have explained above, Brandon’s claim that St. Hegisippus’s bishop list is untrustworthy is unjustified. So we have one example prior to St. Irenaeus of a person around AD 165 making a list of the succession of bishops in Rome up to Pope Anicetus.

So do we have any reason to believe that either St. Hegesippus’s or St. Irenaeus’s account of the list of bishops in Rome is untrustworthy? No, as we have shown by going through each piece of data to which Brandon has pointed, we do not. Brandon is treating these lists as untrustworthy, while at the same time treating other Church Fathers and sources as reliable (e.g. St. Clement, Hermas, St. Justin, Didache). As shown above, for example, Brandon relies on the Muratorian Fragment which he claims is “c. AD 170-400 though it certainly appears to be closer to 170 than 400,” to show that the Shepherd was written around AD 140, while at the same rejecting the lists of Sts. Hegesippus and Irenaeus. He presumes the historical reliability of St. Clement and Hermas while discrediting St. Ignatius as “fixated on the importance of the bishop.” In essence, what Brandon is doing here is simply stipulating that St. Irenaeus and St. Hegesippus are untrustworthy sources regarding the succession of bishops in Rome, because what they say does not fit Brandon’s theology. And that is both ad hoc special pleading, and unjustified.

(3.) St. Irenaeus’s two ‘mistakes’

Brandon attempts to justify disbelieving St. Irenaeus’s list by pointing to two alleged mistakes St. Irenaeus made: first, according to Brandon, St. Irenaeus mistakenly believed that Christ “lived to be past his fifties while the Gospels tell us that Jesus was in his thirties,” and second, St. Irenaeus mistakenly believed that Sts. Peter and Paul founded the Church in Rome. Regarding the first claim, as I (Bryan) have pointed out elsewhere:

A person’s credibility regarding the Apostolic Tradition does not depend on being infallible about all the details of Christ’s life, including His age at death. … [St. Irenaeus] never says that Jesus was fifty [or older] when He died. If you look at what at what he actually says, you won’t find a statement that is false, unless you read into it what he does not say. He is making a theological argument, based on the fact that Jesus exceeded