Catholic Scholars agree there was discontinuity

The Catholic historian Klaus Schatz, in his work on papal primacy, affirms that Catholic and non-Catholic Scholars agree that:
The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter's lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter's death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably "no."...

If we ask in addition whether the primitive Church was aware, after Peter's death, that his authority had passed to the next bishop of Rome, or in other words that the head of the community at Rome was now the successor of Peter, the Church's rock and hence the subject of the promise in Matthew 16:18-19, the question, put in those terms, must certainly be given a negative answer....

If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no.
Following on my earlier post from Peter Lampe, that "There was no "bishop" in Rome for nearly the first 200 years of the church’s existence," it should be clear that this statement is considered by most of the people who study this issue, to be a fairly accurate one.

Now, growing up Catholic, I was taught that there was a line of popes, extending back to Peter, and that this was the reason why the Catholic Church was the "one true Church." Even very recently, such figures as the theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and Archbishop Donald Wuerl speak of "Pope Clement" or "Pope St. Clement" as if this were a historical certainty.

Perhaps Balthasar can be excused for this anachronism in his 1974 work. He may not have been aware of work done by individuals such as Lampe and Schatz. However, for Bishop Wuerl, writing an educational work and citing "Pope Saint Clement of Rome" in his 2001 catechism "The Catholic Way," without so much as a hint of the recent (Catholic) historical studies which would "certainly" deny the existence of a "Pope Saint Clement," goes beyond disingenuity into actual dishonesty.

This dishonesty extends to what is known as "Catholic theology," which has learned not to rely on history in any meaningful way. I'll have more to say about this in future entries.


Historical discontinuity from the foundation

The following selection is from Peter Lampe, “From Paul to Valentinus” “Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries”. Lampe is a professor of New Testament Theology at the University of Heidelberg, Germany.

Lampe describes this work as, “a city-oriented historical study”. He uses a variety of material to give a historical picture of Christianity in the city of Rome during the first two centuries. These include literary materials, epigraphical and archaeological, which often become illuminating only in combination. Prominent here are Acts 28, Romans 15 and 16, the letters of 1 Clement, Ignatius to the Romans, and Shepherd of Hermas. All of these mention individuals in Rome (which he cross-references with other sources, including secular history and archaeology), practices, attitudes of the people there. The following is from Chapter 41, the conclusion of his book, “Fractionation, Monarchical Episcopacy, and Presbyterial Governance.”
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. It would be presumptuous here to wish to write again a history of the ecclesiastical offices that are mentioned especially in 1 Clement and Hermas. My concern is to describe the correlation between fractionation and one factor of ecclesiastical order, the monarchical episcopate. This bridge should be illuminated. What happens across the bridge in the field of history of ecclesiastical offices can only be here briefly sketched – and perhaps motivate one to further investigation.
The reason this is important is because of the historical claims of the papacy. In the document Dominus Iesus, Joseph Ratzinger, the present pope, wrote this
The Catholic faithful are required to profess that there is an historical continuity — rooted in the apostolic succession53 — 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).
Now, if we are talking about “all ages,” then this early age, from say, 60-180, there was no “monarchical bishop” in Rome. There was no "bishop" in Rome for nearly the first 200 years of the church’s existence.

Catholicism has various ways of dealing with this. But it is my contention that none of these meet the burden of proof necessary to substantiate the tremendous claims that the papacy has made about itself over the centuries. I will discuss these responses in future entries.

Here is what Vatican I said about the papacy:
We therefore teach and declare that, according to the testimony of the Gospel, the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to blessed Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord…
This is called “a clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Catholic Church...”

Remember the papacy is an “office” which is said to be "infallible" in its teaching on “faith and morals”. And this is certainly a matter of "faith". According to Dr. Ludwig Ott, in his work "Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma" (first published in 1952 and later republished in 1974), "According to Christ's ordinance, Peter is to have successors in his Primacy over the whole Church and for all time." This is a matter of dogma for Catholics to believe. "All time" includes "all times," including that first 200 years of the church.

This statement is not theological opinion. Catholic theology holds to a variety of levels of theological certainty. This particular belief has been held "de fide", which means it has been defined by a solemn judgment of the faith of the Pope or of a General Council.

There is a fundamental, foundational era in the Church, when this “primacy of jurisdiction” was not only unknown. The elements of it did not exist. Contrary to what Ratzinger said in Dominus Iesus, there was a clear historical discontinuity during the earliest years of the church.


A mixed bag; but the ultimate flaws are ultimate

What I've said just below should not be taken to mean that I think Roman Catholicism is totally bad. There are many good aspects, both historically, and today.

Just as a small personal example, I used to love to go and sit in an empty Catholic church and pray. The sense of worshipfulness was quite striking. Very much in Catholicism lends itself well to personal devotion.

Historically, the Catholic Church contributed much, first to the preservation of culture (following the fall of Rome), and later, to the development and growth of the culture that we know now. Universities, hospitals, our legal system -- in fact, many of the good aspects of western culture -- all were shaped in good ways by the Catholic Church. Today, as American Christians, whether you are a conservative Protestant or Catholic, you applaud the naming of Catholics like John Roberts or Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, for example.

However, I believe that Catholicism is flawed at a very fundamental level. Writing in the preface of his "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity," the Anglican bishop Paul Barnett says he was "surprise(d) at the degree to which the story of the New Testament can be recovered by standard methods of research and analysis." (pg. 10).

On the other hand, a close examination of such Catholic doctrines about such fundamentals as the papacy and Marian doctrines and dogmas do not support this kind of examination, and in fact, these doctrines, as expressed historically by the Catholic Church, are in full retreat.

Over the next several weeks and months, I hope to explore the kinds and extents of these various retreats in more detail.