DTK on the Puritan Board:
Perhaps the most scholarly treatment of the genesis of the earliest church structure in Rome is that of the work of Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
Peter Lampe: Thesis: 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. Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 397.
Peter Lampe: It was useful to assign to someone in Rome the work connected with eternal communication. Hermas knows such a person by the name of Clement. In The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3, Hermas prepares two copies of his small book and sends (πέμπω, within the city) one of them to Clement, who forwards it “to the cities outside, for he is entrusted with that task” (πέμψει Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται).
It is important to note that Hermas’s “minister of external affairs” is not a monarchical bishop. In the second next sentence, Hermas describes how he circulates his little book within the city. He makes it known “to this city together with the presbyters who preside over the church” (εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας). A plurality of presbyters leads Roman Christianity. This Christianity, conscious of spiritual fellowship with the city, is summed up under the concept “ecclesia,” but that changes nothing in regard to the plurality of those presiding over it. In Vis. 3.9.7, Hermas also calls them προηγούμενοι [ verb roughly trans. “leading,” but can function as a noun] or πρωτοκαθεδρίται. See Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 398.
Hermas: Therefore you will write two little books, and you will send one to Clement and one to Grapte. Then Clement will send it to the cities abroad, because that is his job. But Grapte will instruct the widows and orphans. But you yourself will read it to this city, along with the elders (i.e., presbyters, πρεσβυτέρων) who preside over the church. See J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, eds. And trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd Edition, The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3 (Grand Rapids: Babke Book House, 1992), pp. 345-347.
Greek text: Γράψεις οὖν δύο βιβλαρίδια καὶ πέμψεις ἓν Κλήμεντι καὶ ἓν Γραπτῇ. πέμψει οὖν Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται. Γραπτὴ δὲ νουθετήσει τὰς χήρας καὶ τοὺς ὀρφανούς. σὺ δὲ ἀναγνώσῃ εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας. Sancti Hermae Pastor, Liber I, Visio II, Caput IV, §3, PG 2:900.
The two following Jesuit scholars concur . . .
Klaus Schatz, S.J.: In fact, this “letter of Clement,” written around 95, is the first document indicating that the Roman community felt responsible for other churches. Its name is a subsequent addition, of course: according to Hegesippus’s list of bishops Clement was a bishop of Rome at that time, the third in succession. However, he is not named as the author of the letter; instead, the true sender is the Roman community. We probably cannot say for certain that there was a bishop of Rome at that time. It seems likely that the Roman church was governed by a group of presbyters from where there quickly emerged a presider or “first among equals” whose name was remembered and who was subsequently described as “bishop” after the mid-second century. Klaus Schatz, S.J., Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present, trans. John A. Otto and Linda M. Maloney (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996), p. 4.
Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.: There exists a broad concensus among scholars, including most Catholic ones, that such churches as those of Alexandria, Philippi, Corinth and Rome most probably continued to be led for some time by a college of presbyters, and that only during the course of the second century did the threefold structure become generally the rule, with a bishop, assisted by presbyters, presiding over each local church. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (New York: The Newman Press, 2001), p. 15.
Another Jesuit scholar expresses serious doubt (well, more than doubt) regarding the founding of the early Roman church by Peter . . .
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: If some of the Roman sojourners in Jerusalem were among the three thousand Jews converted to Christianity according to the Lucan account (Acts 2:10-11,41), they may have formed the nucleus of the Christian community in Rome on their return there. Thus the Roman Christian community would have had its matrix in the Jewish community, possibly as early as the 30s, and thus was made up at first of Jewish Christians and God-fearing Gentiles (or even of proselytoi, Acts 2:11, also mentioned in Roman Jewish funerary inscriptions), who had associated themselves with Jews of Rome. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 29.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: A more reliable tradition associated Paul with Peter as “founders” of the Roman community, not in the sense that they first brought Christian faith there, but because both of them eventually worked there and suffered martyrdom there (or in its immediate environs), and because their mortal remains were in possession of the Roman church (see Ignatius, Rom. 4.3; Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.1.1, 3.3.2 [SC 211.22-23, 32-33]). Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30.
Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: In any case, Paul never hints in Romans that he knows that Peter has worked in Rome or founded the Christian church there before his planned visit (cf. 15:20-23). If he refers indirectly to Peter as among the “superfine apostles” who worked in Corinth (2 Cor 11:4-5), he says nothing like that about Rome in this letter. Hence the beginnings of the Roman Christian community remain shrouded in mystery. Compare 1 Thess 3:2-5; 1 Cor 3:5-9; and Col 1:7 and 4:12-13 for more or less clear references to founding apostles of other locales. Hence there is no reason to think that Peter spent any major portion of time in Rome before Paul wrote his letter, or that he was the founder of the Roman church or the missionary who first brought Christianity to Rome. For it seems highly unlikely that Luke, if he knew that Peter had gone to Rome and evangelized that city, would have omitted all mention of it in Acts. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30.
Fitzmyer gives his view of the probable origin of the Church at Rome and then states that “we know nothing of its evangelization by an apostle, even though a later tradition associated that with Mark the evangelist (Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 2.16.1).” Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30.
Fitzmyer then goes on to cite the anonymous early church writer whom Erasmus designated as Ambrosiaster . . .
Ambrosiaster (fl. c. 366-384) stated that the Romans “have embraced the faith of Christ, albeit according to the Jewish rite, without seeing any sign of mighty works, or any of the apostles.” In Epistolam Ad Romanos, Prologus, PL 17:46.
Now then, Notice Jerome’s comments regarding presbyters and bishops . . .
Jerome (347-420): For when the apostle clearly teaches that presbyters are the same as bishops, must not a mere server of tables and of widows be insane to set himself up arrogantly over men through whose prayers the body and blood of Christ are produced? Do you ask for proof of what I say? Listen to this passage: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Do you wish for another instance? In the Acts of the Apostles Paul thus speaks to the priests of a single church: “Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock, in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops, to feed the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” And lest any should in a spirit of contention argue that there must then have been more bishops than one in a single church, there is the following passage which clearly proves a bishop and a presbyter to be the same. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 146 – To Evangelus, §1.
Jerome (347-420): Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank. 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. Again when a man is promoted it is from a lower place to a higher. Either then a presbyter should be ordained a deacon, from the lesser office, that is, to the more important, to prove that a presbyter is inferior to a deacon; or if on the other hand it is the deacon that is ordained presbyter, this latter should recognize that, although he may be less highly paid than a deacon, he is superior to him in virtue of his priesthood. 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. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 146 – To Evangelus, §2.
Jerome (347-420): In both epistles [i.e., 1 Timothy & Titus] commandment is given that only monogamists should, be chosen for the clerical office whether as bishops or as presbyters. Indeed with the ancients these names were synonymous, one alluding to the office, the other to the age of the clergy. NPNF2: Vol. VI, The Letters of St. Jerome, Letter 69 – To Oceanus, §3.
Jerome (347-420): And I do not say this because I have anything to blame in the mission itself, except certain partialities which beget suspicion, but because you ought rather to clear yourself in the actual presence of your questioners. You begin with the words, “You have sent a most devoted servant of God, the presbyter Isidore, a man of influence no less from the dignity of his very gait and dress than from that of his divine understanding, to heal those whose souls are grievously sick; would that they had any sense of their illness! A man of God sends a man of God.” No difference is made between a priest and a bishop (presbyterum et episcopum); the same dignity belongs to the sender and the sent; this is lame enough; the ship, as the saying goes; is wrecked in harbor. NPNF2: Vol. VI, To Pammachius Against John of Jerusalem, §37. See Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum, §37, PL 23:390.
Latin text: Nec hoc dico, quod praeter amicitias, quae suspicionem generant, quidquam in legatione reprehendam; sed quia apud interrogantes magis et praesentes te purgare debueris. “Misisti religiosissimum hominem Dei Isidorum presbyterum, virum potentem tam ex ipsa incessus et habitus dignitate, quam divinae intelligentiae, curare etiam eos, qui animo vehementer aegrotant; si tamen sensum sui languoris habeant. Homo Dei mittit hominem Dei.” Nihil interest inter presbyterum et episcopum; eadem dignitas mittentis et missi: hoc satis imperite: in portu, ut dicitur, naufragium. Contra Joannem Hierosolymitanum, §37, PL 23:390.
Jerome (347-420): Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person.
Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained. John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164. Cf. also
Thomas P. Scheck, trans., St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus, and Philemon (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2010), p. 290.
Latin text: Haec propterea, ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos: paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem sollicitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex Ecclesiae consuetudine ei qui sibi praepositus fuerit, esse subjectos: ita episcopi noverint se magis consuetudine, quam dispositionis Dominicae veritate, presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere Ecclesiam regere, imitantes Moysen, qui cum haberet in potestate solum praeesse populo Israel, septuaginta elegit, cum quibus populum judicaret. Videamus igitur qualis presbyter, sive episcopus ordinandus sit. Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563.
J. N. D. Kelly: Particularly interesting is his [i.e., Jerome, examples given above] view that in the apostolic age the terms ‘bishop’ and ‘presbyter’ were synonymous, each church being governed by a committee of coequal presbyters. The emergence of the episcopate proper, he argues (much to the embarrassment of Catholics down the centuries), was due, not to any ordinance of the Lord, but to ecclesiastical custom, with the object of excluding divisions. J. N. D. Kelly, Jerome: His Life, Writings, and Controversies (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 2000), p. 147.
“The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community. . . Without doubt it is the duty of the presbyters to bear in mind that by the discipline of the Church they are subordinated to him who has been given them as their head, but it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord” (Jerome, Commentary on Titus 1:7)