Review of "From Paul to Valentinus"

Oxford Journals
The Journal of Theological Studies 2005 56(2):655-658; doi:10.1093/jts/fli169

From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries. By PETER LAMPE.
Pp. xviii + 525. London: T. & T. Clark (a Continuum imprint), 2003. ISBN 0 567 080501. N.p

AT last the long-awaited English translation of the second edition of Die stadtrömischen Christen in den ersten beiden Jahrhunderten (WUNT 18; Tübingen, 1989) has arrived! To read reviews of the first two German editions is to be met with commendations at every turn. This review will be no exception. “From Paul to Valentinus” is a breathtaking achievement that has already become a classic and will repay careful attention for decades to come from researchers of early Roman Christianity or those seeking a model for writing a social history for other centres of ancient Christianity. It is a book that demands much from its readers. Lampe's arguments are densely formulated, punctuated by lengthy digressions, continued in footnotes; sometimes the material is presented too clumsily by seriatim listings of information weighing in favour of or against a particular argument. In this regard the study continues to reveal its origin as a doctoral dissertation (University of Bern, 1983, under the direction of Ulrich Luz). Such stylistic considerations notwithstanding, however, the scholarly world owes a debt of gratitude to Lampe for presenting so thoroughly and rigorously the primary literature, archaeological data, and epigraphic material relating to ancient Roman Christianity, as well as distilling such a vast secondary literature on ancient Roman Christianity. Lampe shrewdly and expertly argues for his reconstruction of a socially diverse, theologically variegated Roman Christianity, non-centralized until the later second century, and bearing the marks of its domestic origins amongst the urban poor even as it progressively moved through the latter part of the second century into more élite circles.

Accounting for the arrival of Christianity in Rome via Puteoli from the east (p. 10), and the separation of nascent Christianities from Judaism as a consequence of the Claudian Edict (pp. 11–16), Lampe determines that Christianity took root and expanded primarily amongst the urban poor housed in the neighbourhoods of Trastevere and the area around the Porta Capena. This he sustains by noticing correlations of evidence which point to these areas from surviving local tradition, Christian burial sites, Jewish neighbourhoods, concentrations of tituli churches, and literary references to Christian businesses (pp. 19–66). Alongside these poor were also marginally higher-status people inhabiting the poorer areas of the Aventine valley and Mars Field. These topographical conclusions are then fleshed out more fully by reference to literary and archaeological evidence, the latter with reference to modifications of the tomb of St Peter and the fact that Christians were evidently not in a position financially to assure the grave would not be affected by pagan renovations surrounding it. Again the picture is predominantly one of the urban poor. That there was a degree of social stratification is attested by the dispute over right use of riches in The Shepherd of Hermas and evidence of higher-status Christians entering the community at the of the second century, with women Christians playing especially important roles of patronage (pp. 67–150). This conclusion is further supported by close analysis of prosopographical evidence contained in New Testament references and second-century literature (pp. 151–355). Especially significant is that prosopographical evidence shows a disproportionate number of names of Greek origin—representative of the disenfranchised immigrant population from which Christianity won the majority of its adeherents. As one progresses through the second into the third century increasingly higher-status profiles emerge, especially female ones, so that just at the time more philosophical (Justin) and esoteric (Valentinus) versions of Christianity appear we find evidence of Christians drawn from more élite circles. Particularly informative, though rather more hypothetical than Lampe seems prepared to admit, is the discussion of arguably Valentinian burial inscriptions discovered along the Via Latina, amidst the ruins of a Hadrianic period villa. 'This inscription probably hung in the suburban villa of a wealthy Valentinian man or woman', Lampe hastens to conclude (p. 310), making a rather enduring spring from a singular swallow. Still, this reconstruction, if the argument tends towards the circular, accords with the attraction of probably higher-status educated women sympathetic to Valentinian theology, like Flora (p. 296). Marcion similarly reflects a growth of Christianity amongst the wealthier. The argument, however, that capricious emperors demanding service for their military machines from imperial shipowners like Marcion, especially to battle against the Jewish uprising at the time of Trajan, furnish the imperial social context for the generation of Marcion's ideas of a warlike demiurge demanding obedience (pp. 246–9), while intriguing, seems rather too speculative if not reductive.

The picture that finally emerges from Lampe's analysis of surviving evidence is one he names 'the fractionation of Roman Christianity' (pp. 357–408). Not until the second half of the second century, under Anicetus, do we find compelling evidence for a monarchical episcopacy, and when it emerges, it is to manage relief shipments to dispersed Christians as well as social aid for the Roman poor (pp. 403–4). Before this period Roman Christians were 'fractionated' amongst dispersed house/tenement churches, each presided over by its own presbyter–bishop. This accounts for the evidence of social and theological diversity in second-century Roman Christianity, evidence of a degree of tolerance of theologically disparate groups without a single authority to regulate belief and practice, and the relatively late appearance of unambiguous representation of a single bishop over Rome. In reconstructing that picture of a series of domestic Christianities developing into a monarchical episcopacy Lampe problematically looks for support from the evidence of Traditio apostolica as testimony to mid-second century Roman Christianity under Hippolytus. The Roman provenance of this document, the dating of the multiple strands of tradition the document represents, even the identity of the Hippolytus with which the text is associated are topics of lively debate which Lampe completely ignores. He assumes what requires careful argumentation, and it is surely an exaggeration to write (p. 127, n. 1), 'Today this writing [Traditio apostolica] is, for the most part, acknowledged as original'. Nevertheless, he offers a compelling account of the development of a centralized and hierarchical authority-structure developing out of the social situation of a Roman church seeking to aid urban poor who from its earliest days comprised the majority of its members. This account of Roman fractionation attests to the versality and thoughtfulness of Lampe's social-historical reconstructions. He resists preserving the development of theology and spirituality free from societal considerations; on the other hand, he refuses to reduce them to epiphenomena of sociological conditions. Rather he insists upon a reciprocal interplay of the theological and the sociological and seeks models of communal formation that insist upon a dynamic dialectical formation. This is ably demonstrated, for example, in his account of Hermas offering through the forgiveness of post-baptismal sin and the limiting of wealthy Christians to one business a means of reintegrating higher-status Christians into the church and offering their wealth as a means of community-building, as opposed to a rigorist balkanization of rich and poor by refusing a second repentance. Here, the argument would have been strengthened had Lampe engaged the analysis of Carolyn Osiek (The Shepherd of Hermas [Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress, 1999]), a regrettable absence from an otherwise thorough bibliography (pp. 437–74). Since this work is so encyclopedic and detailed in its engagement with secondary studies, it is disappointing that there is no author index, especially because it will be the standard reference work on ancient Roman Christianity for the foreseeable future.

H. O. Maier
Vancouver, British Columbia


"Steady As You Go"

There is a new article up at the Reformation 21 site, "Steady As You Go," by Alistair Begg. It is his commencement address from May 2008, and his advice to these graduates is, "be prepared for the long haul." A couple of quotes, and a couple of comments (from within my self-imposed confinement of dealing with Roman Catholic issues here):
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage - with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.
A question now. How much of current Marian teaching is myth?
I have for you one word of exhortation: "Steady as You Go". You will see that this emerges from 2 Timothy 4:5. Paul exhorts Timothy to keep his head or to be steadfast. Paul issues a charge to his young lieutenant in the faith. He doesn't present him with an idea, nor a proposition, nor a suggestion; but he issues a charge. He issues a solemn and significant directive. What he is about to say to him is a matter of absolute necessity; a matter of pressing urgency. He makes his appeal, not on the strength of his apostleship, nor on the length of his service, now coming to an end; nor on account of the fact that he was Timothy's father in the faith. Instead he offers this charge in light of the fact of his passing. "I'm already be poured out like a drink offering and the time has come for my departure. The word Paul employs is the same as is used to describe oxen unyoked at the end of the day, like one who weighs anchor and heads for the final destination. Or an individual striking tent and heading home. In view of my passing, Timothy, I want you to do this." In view also of God's presence. It is in the presence of God that he issues this charge.
Here is a living example of "Apostolic Succession." Does Paul say, "keep the chain going"? No, he focuses on something called "the Word."
Let us ask five simple questions. The first question is: 1. What is God's servant to do? What is it that he's to do? He is to preach the Word. He is to proclaim the Gospel. That was the compulsion of Paul and that is the commission of Timothy. You remember Paul writes to the Corinthians, "Woe is me if I do not preach the Gospel." Now we may say to ourselves, well, we can move on very quickly from this, because after all we all know what the Gospel is. It's the Euangelion. It's the Good News. But not so quickly! To proclaim the Gospel means explaining what God has done in Christ on behalf of sinners. Making clear that Christ's obedience is reckoned to the sinner on the ground that the penalty of the sinner's disobedience has been borne in Christ - He died the Righteous for the unrighteous. It is only (as Goldsworthy reminds us) when we have made the Gospel plain that we can then go on to explain the benefits of receiving the Gospel and announce the perils of rejecting the Gospel. If you are to be Gospel men and women, whether in a pulpit or in a counseling context, it is the Gospel that we must affirm. Telling people about the sovereignty of God is not the Gospel. Pressing on people the nature of the new birth and the necessity of regeneration is not preaching the Gospel. Both of these things are related to it; both are involved in it, but they are not the essential message of salvation that needs to be believed. There is a great challenge in this in these days of which you must be aware as you prepare to go. Consider this quote from The Doctrine of the Atonement by Smeaton, (a good Scottish theologian of an earlier era). "To convert one sinner from his way is an event of greater importance than the deliverance of an entire kingdom from temporal evil." Are you convinced of this?
I am convinced, and have been convinced for a long time, that it has been my mission in life to stand and block in the face of those who would seek to move toward Catholicism; to point out the ways in which that institution falls short of "preaching the Gospel." In truth, that institution says a lot of things, most of which are not "the Gospel."


The Ongoing Reformation

In the last few days, I have spent quite a bit of time, responding to a certain group of Catholic claims, beginning here in response to this , and following up here and here and in some of the more recent posts. I have also begun interacting with the initial Bryan Cross post here.

I'm not sure how all that got started, I think someone saw the Robert Godfrey photo, (either Mike Brown or Jason Stellman), and they decided to check it out further, possibly out of some loyalty to the Westminster Seminary in California.

Mike Brown mentioned, in a private email, that he was continuing to address Bryan Cross on his blog, "if you guys aren't yet burnt out on this topic." What follows is pretty much my response to him.

I have spent my whole life wrestling with this topic, and trying to understand it.
Not only am I not burned out, but I am honored that individuals with the qualifications and background that Mike and Jason bring, have decided to take a look at this struggle. On another discussion board, A Southern Baptist -turned-Lutheran, who recently completed a PhD, told me, in effect, "John Bugay, can't you lighten up?" I said, "I want to make this my life's work." He said, "then your life's work will be a waste." I did not believe him for a moment -- that kind of criticism flows off, like water off a duck's back -- but that is the kind of response I get, for having the kind of zeal that I have on this topic.

The Catholic Church (and, if I may say, "Catholicism") is like a water balloon, or worse, like that "ooze" that kids used to play with -- squeeze it in one place, and it oozes out somewhere else. Or, it is like an octopus, with many tentacles flailing around. Many hands are required just to get a handle on it.

I don't know if anyone will follow through all of the discussions in the comments threads. I believe I have addressed every claim some of the Catholics there have made on behalf of Rome. When I would answer one thing, their response would be, "oh yeah, but what about this?" We have gone around and around on dozens of topics.

In this regard, the Internet has been like a big candy store for me (followed closely by Amazon.com's used book sales.) Over the years, I have seen virtually all of the "oh yeah, what about this" moments that Catholics typically bring out, and I have looked them all squarely in the face. And I have been able to look into them, deeply, historically, and honestly, and respond, honestly, and I have completely satisfied myself in the face of Roman authority, and in the face of the Roman curse (CCC 846), that neither I nor my family are in any danger from that curse. That was a long process.

The Roman Catholic Church is something with tentacles that burrow themselves deep into your life, at every point -- baptism, communion, confirmation, marriage, (and then they have you repeat the same for your kids), and last rites. It wants everything and it wants to consume.

I do see the papacy backing off. I've mentioned that down below, and I'll bring it up again. And as Jesus said, "strike the shepherd, scatter the sheep." There aren't enough nails for this coffin, for my liking.

My opinion is that Protestants (especially Reformed Protestants) need to continue to press the Reformation. That's the rationale behind this blog, and the "Reformation 500" site and URL. I do see Reformed churches as providing the true shelter where these "lost Catholics," or maybe I should say, "saved Catholics" can run.