Monday, October 04, 2010

Ubi episcopus, ibi ecclesia: An Interaction with Chapter 41 of the Reverend Peter Lampe’s Book, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians in Rome in the First Two Centuries.

But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed?
And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard?
And how can they hear without someone to preach?
And how can people preach unless they are sent?
As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring
 (the) good news! (Rom. 10:14-15).

I.  Introduction.

Dear Lord, Grant to me keenness of mind, capacity to remember, skill in learning, subtlety to interpret, and eloquence to express my thoughts. Amen. (Prayer taken from the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas with slight modification).

Over the last couple of years, John Bugay, a fallen away Catholic, has been using the name of Peter Lampe, a Lutheran theologian and scholar, against Catholic apologists as often as Romanian witches use talismans to curse their victims. Recently, Mr. Bugay used this Lampesian talisman against myself (here, here, and here), my friend, David Waltz and fellow Catholic, Sean Patrick, one of the stalwarts at Called to Communion not to mention over on David Armstrong’s popular website, Biblical Evidence for Catholicism. In my case, Mr. Bugay saw fit to challenge me in a comm-box to interact with Chapter 41 from Lampe’s book, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2003), after I deconstructed Mr. Bugay’s misuse of quotes from Lampe’s book to attack the Catholic teaching on annulment which advances the following hypothesis:

The fractionation in Rome favored a collegial presbyterial system of governance and prevented for a long time, until the second half of the second century, the development of a monarchical episcopacy in the city. Victor ( c.. 189-99) was the first who, after faint-hearted attempts by Eleutherus ( c. 175-89), Soter ( c. 166-75), and Anicetus ( c. 155-66), energetically stepped forward as monarchical bishop and (at times, only because he was incited from the outside) attempted to place the different groups in the city under his supervision or, where that was not possible, to draw a line by means of excommunication. Before the second half of the second century there was in Rome no monarchical episcopacy for the circles mutually bound in fellowship (Pg. 397).
Mr. Bugay does not suggest how I should interact with Chapter 41 of Lampe’s book. However, from skimming the various occasions that Mr. Bugay has cited Lampe across the internet and on the Beggars All website that he posts on, it would appear that Mr. Bugay feels that Lampe’s book, an expansion of a sociology paper he wrote in graduate school, somehow refutes Catholic doctrine that the Bishops of Rome are the successors of St. Peter because, according to Lampe, there was no monarchical bishop for the Church at Rome until the latter half of the second century. On this basis, I will interact with Lampe’s book. Before doing so, I must offer the following necessary caveats:
1. I do not claim the mantle of a scholar nor do I play one on television. Thus, the reader should expect my analysis (if my rambles may be so considered) of Lampe’s work to be “all over the map” as one Protestant polemicist recently wrote about my style. I do not hope to refute Lampe’s work head-on because to put it bluntly, I do not have time or resources to do so and, perhaps more importantly in my view, there is little to disagree with up to part where he offers his conclusions based on the inferences he draws from the evidence he considers in the fifth part of his book. Rather, I intend to offer more modest fare-that is I intend to interpose a series of objections along with the grounds upon which I interpose such which will be more in line with my personal training as a meat-and-potatoes-type trial lawyer as opposed to anything that smacks of a systemic philosophical or scientific approach. That said, I do have an undergraduate degree in political science which essentially boils down to a study of how people wield and apportion authority in the context of governing themselves. Thus, while I do not have the alphabet soup before and after my name that Lampe sports, my particular educational background does offer me a slight measure of grounding on what to look for in analyzing the systems that Roman church put into place to govern itself.
2. I would note in passing that I seriously question the utility or the propriety of using an inductive scientific or sociological methodology to determine a question that is fundamentally a matter of faith. It is not the Catholic way of evaluating theological matters and I do not intend to stray to far from the path that Catholics should use in considering doctrinal matters. One’s faith in the doctrines and teaching of the Catholic Church shapes the inquiry rather than is shaped by the outcomes of such inquiry. I will explain this further later.
3. I am a lay Catholic writing here as a part of my lay apostolate. Nothing I write here should be considered as a part of the magisterial authority of what the Church holds and teaches, although I will zealously try to set before the reader in a persuasive manner my understanding of what the Church does permit its adherents to hold and profess and still call themselves Catholic. Please accept my apologies beforehand if I am not able to express the position of the Catholic Church accurately and definitively to the reader’s satisfaction. I would ask that you ascribe such failure to my personal limitations and not lay my deficiencies and failures at the feet of the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church. On the other hand, if the reader is edified and finds anything that I write here to be laudatory, please ascribe such to the Author rather than this most humble and useless of His styluses.
4. Nothing I write here should be considered as a criticism of Mr. Bugay’s character or of his integrity. I am addressing his opinions, conclusions, and arguments. I am assuredly not passing judgment on him as a person. Accordingly, interact with the material, not with the personalities. As it is, issues involving the papacy tend to annoy Protestants as much as deer flies annoy a moose. Unnecessary adjectives attached to people’s names or character will annoy unduly and detract rather than offer anything of benefit to the aims of discourse. I warn the reader in advance that this will be the first post that I will exercise my right to moderate comments if anyone takes the time to do so. If someone elsewhere chooses to attack me personally over this, I would have it be an occasion of shame to them rather than to me.

5. At the end of this paper, I will provide the reader with a bibliography of the sources I drew upon in formulating my responses herein. I urge the reader to read these sources for themselves and draw their own conclusions on the soundness of what I write. However, nothing I write here should be construed or taken as an indication or suggestion that I disagree in any way, shape, or form with the de fide teachings of the Catholic Church and upon being shown that I have written anything that could be construed as such, I will correct same immediately. I would note though that I do not intend to withhold criticism of some of the positions certain Catholic scholars advance that are antithetical to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

PART ONE: A Book Review

Now before I get started on addressing the stated hypothesis of Mr. Bugay that the Bishops of Rome are not the successors of St. Peter for which he relies upon From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries as evidence, I will offer this short review of the book itself in case that was what Mr. Bugay was actually looking for when he asked me to interact with it.

From a Catholic layman’s perspective, Lampe’s book is an exemplar, good or ill, of how liberal Protestant and Catholic theologians apply modern-day social constructionist theories to endeavors touching upon theological subjects. Using a methodology that presupposes that archeology and secular history take precedence over Biblical historicity, Lampe’s notions mirror those of many of the Christian ecumenicists that litter the landscape these days minimizing the biblical basis for the authority of bishops and the importance of apostolic succession and for me are just as about as persuasive. Frankly, one could learn as much about the social conditions from whence the Church in Rome grew out of reading the historical novels, The Robe or Quo Vadis, or watching the large screen adaptations of same on DVD as from reading Lampe’s book and reading or watching same would be a tad less tedious. I do not expect Lampe’s book to be turned into a movie.

That said, as a scholarly endeavor, it is admirable how Lampe sorts through various groups of evidence to paint a more fuller picture of how early Christians lived, but like similar scientific endeavors, it overemphasizes how social interactions shape religious belief, but minimizes or even trivializes how religious belief shapes social interactions. One example of this is found on page 383 of the book. For Lampe, orthodoxy of religious views of Romans Christians in the first and second century are the result of social background and education of the majority of the Roman adherents at that time, thus making what was to be believed more of a majority decision than whether the beliefs that had been transmitted and taught (paradosis) and were truly apostolic in nature or not.

Additionally, the Reverend Lampe’s book is definitely not for laymen as he does not attempt to define important terminology. Terms, such as “monarchical episcopacy” and “fractionation,” are not defined. Lampe presupposes that his audience knows of these things, and perhaps they do, but since the book was made available to the general public, he should have foreseen that amateur Protestant apologists would misuse his work to attack Catholic doctrine and defining terms would have prevented such apologists from erroneously attempting to make square-blocked conclusions fit into round-hole arguments.

Another problem as I see it, is that Lampe ignores the catholicity of the Catholic Church in the first and second centuries AD. Because he used inductive reasoning as opposed to deductive analysis, that is arguing from the specific to the general instead of from the general to the specific, he ignores or understates the import of the wider pool of Christian and non-Christian sources. His sparse interaction with the Scriptures, the Didache and St. Ignatius of Antioch’s letters to the other churches besides Rome on the issue of the authority of the leaders of the Church seems to me designed to limit the definition of bishop to that of an anachronism that equates the term bishop to mean a single person having jurisdiction over the church in one geographical area (I will expand on this argument further). To be fair, this may be more of a quibble with how Mr. Bugay uses Lampe’s claim as opposed to the work itself. However, I would note that when Mr. Bugay is making his argument against the papacy, he often makes sure to let the reader know that the Reverend Lampe dissented from a joint Catholic/Lutheran understanding on justification so as to lead the reader to the conclusion that the Reverend Lampe’s argument is contra-Catholic just like his.

Finally, the biggest flaw I see in the Reverend Lampe’s book is his dismissal of the historicity of the succession lists of Hegesippus, Irenaeus and Eusebius as “fictive constructions” (Pg. 406) which smacks more of wishful thinking than any actual argument. While the reader of today find such lists as contained in the Bible to be boring verbiage to be skipped over during most systemic devotional reading, such lists to ancient peoples were powerful pieces of evidence and served as important testimony to the validity and credibility to the witness being given by the inspired writers that Jesus was both the Messiah and the Son of God (Mt. 1:1-17; Luke 3:23-38). The succession lists of Hegesippus, Irenaeus and Eusebius held similar evidentiary value for the early Church in combating the Gnostic heresies. If these lists were fictive accounts as Lampe opines (based on embarrassingly little evidence), the Gnostic leaders would have easily been able to exploit the falsity of such and would have used their falsity of such lists to counter the credibility such lists gave to the arguments of Irenaeus and Hegesippus on how apostolic succession ensured the orthodoxy and truth of the doctrines held by the Catholic Church. Further, given that less than a hundred years transpired between the age of the apostles and the rise of the gnostic heresiarchs, Marcion (140 AD) and Valentinus (160AD), there should have probably been at least some individuals alive during those times who would have known and/or remembered whether Linus, Anencletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, Xystus, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, and Soter, all of whom were listed by Irenaeus as the successors of Peter in his treatise Adversus Haereticos 3:3 before Eleutherus became the Bishop of Rome in 175 AD, were truly the Bishops of Rome or not. Apparently, either Marcion, Valentinus and their followers never thought to ask any of those folks or perhaps the heretical groups did not dispute the succession lists because most likely they happened to be true and accurate historically. As an attorney who understands the notion of onus probandi, it much more probable that the latter is true. Unfortunately, the Reverend Lampe does not share with us why we should consider his conclusions more trustworthy than the paucity of objections to these “fictive” bishops by their Gnostic opponents. Reliance on an argument from silence in the manner that Lampe does is not as persuasive as he would like the reader to believe and in my view does not meet the burden of proof to show that Irenaeus, Hegesippus and Eusebius were liars.

I will acknowledge that Rev. Lampe makes an argument that is similar to some Catholic writers.  Moreover, I am certain that Reverend Lampe never intended his work to be misused as a polemic weapon by American Protestant e-pologists against their Catholic foemen as the work was more in nature of a historical survey designed to encourage other scholars to conduct more intense studies on the issues he raised therein. And for what it is worth, I found many of the conclusions he made on social stratification and status of the early Christians to be both highly informative and corroborative of other works that I had read on the subject. That being said, I found Bernard Green’s Christianity in Ancient Rome: The First Three Centuries [London: T & T Clark International (2010)] and Fr. William Moran’s doctoral thesis, The Government of the Church in the First Century [NY: Benziger Brothers (1913)] provided more insightful and in-depth treatment of the issues for which Mr. Bugay is artlessly using From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries.

In closing, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries is a book that I would check out of the library or even purchase it if I came across it at a thrift store, but it is not one that I spend my money to purchase new.

I will try to have the rest of my argument up later this week.  God bless!

Posted on the Memorial of St. Francis of Assisi, 2010.