The Papacy

The Monarchial Episcopate

by Mark Bonocore


Now... Let's assume for a moment that Mr. White is correct. Let's assume that the Apostles themselves did not appoint monarchial bishops, but that they were a later, 2nd Century development; and that they were still unknown in Rome and the West at the time when St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp were writing (c. 107 A.D.). This being the case, one can only conclude that St. Ireneaus (and several of his associates, like his senior predecessor St. Hegessipus) were fabricating history in order to craft their anti-Gnostic arguments. This would of course mean that Ireneaus and several of his contemporaries were lying, and thus not saints at all (for, as 2 Corinth 6:14-18 says, 'righteousness and lawlessness have no partnership with each other'). Thus, Ireneaus must have been "pulling a fast one" by presenting something that "developed" in his parents' and grandparents' generation as something that went all the way back to the Apostles (a generation before).

Okay. Even if we were to accept Mr. White's apparent premise, and assume that Ireneaus and his associates were bold-face liars, this still fails to explain the effectiveness of their anti-Gnostic argument! For goodness sake, if the succession of one-man monarchial bishops presented by Ireneaus (and others) was not something that could be verified historically, then his entire argument would have blown up in his face, and he certainly would have known this! Indeed, Ireneaus was not merely arguing history for history's sake, but was basing the very integrity of orthodox Christian doctrine on the fact that there were always monarchial bishops (in all the city-churches) from Apostolic times! If this was not true, then Ireneaus was not only dishonest, but also stupid; and his Gnostic opponents were even stupider still, since they never questioned the monarchial episcopate's Apostolic origins or unbroken successions, but were totally silenced by Ireneaus' argument. Mr. White needs to explain how this could be. If Ireneaus fabricated history, passing off a very recent "development" as something stretching back to the lifetimes of the Apostles, why didn't any of his Gnostic opponents expose this obvious "crack in his armor"? Unless, of course, they weren't able to, because Ireneaus was presenting true and verifiable historical information.

So, with all this said, let me address Mr. White's silly criticisms point-by-point. For starters, he writes:

The first assertion Bonocore makes is that since Ignatius uses episkopos in the monarchical sense, when he speaks of bishops who are "settled everywhere" (Eph. 3) that this somehow means that Rome must have had a monarchical episcopate as well. But the idea that Ignatius is saying something about the organization of the church at Rome by his comment is unfounded.

Is it, Mr. White? Says who? As I already presented above, in Chapter III of his Epistle to the Ephesians, Ignatius says that bishops are settled "EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth" - and not merely by 'ecclesial development' or by accident, but rather "by the will of Jesus Christ." As I've also established ad nausiam, whenever Ignatius uses the term "bishop" he always means the one-man (monarchial) leader of a city-church; and here in Ephesians, Ignatius clearly says that this one-man (monarchial) office of church leadership is established "EVERYWHERE," even to the "UTMOST BOUNDS of the earth." Now, Rome *would* be considered a place within the "utmost bounds of the earth," would it not, Mr. White? Therefore, if you wish to say that Ignatius knew that Rome (and other Western city-churches) did not possess monarchial bishops, you must explain why he would make such an "outlandish" and "indefensible" statement, and even attribute his claim to the will of the Lord Jesus Himself! Wouldn't that amount to blasphemy on the part of Ignatius?

Upon what basis is this assumption made? We are not told.

Okay, well I'll tell you now, Mr. White. 1) Upon the fact Ignatius always uses the term "bishop" to mean the monarchial leader of a city-church. 2) Upon the fact that Rome is certainly within the "utmost bounds of the earth." And 3) Upon the fact that Ignatius clearly and unambiguously states:

"...and also BISHOPS, settled EVERYWHERE, to the UTMOST BOUNDS OF THE EARTH, are so by THE WILL OF JESUS CHRIST." (Ignatius to the Ephesians, Chapter III)

Find a way of out this if you can, Mr. White.

When Ignatius wrote to the church at Rome, did he address this monarchical bishop? No. In fact, his letter to the Romans is the only one where he does not address the bishop by name.

No, that is untrue. As I also illustrated above, he also fails to name the Bishop of Philadelphia; although he certainly does address him (albeit indirectly).

As for why he does not directly address the bishop of Rome, I explained this is great detail above. However, the question remains for Mr. White - If Rome was governed by a "plurality of presbyters" (as Mr. White claims) why, pray tell, doesn't Ignatius address them either? Why doesn't he address ANY presiding authority for the church of Rome? The naked truth is obvious, Mr. White -Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans is simply a different kind of epistle than his other, earlier ones. Rather than being an instructive homily on orthodox Christian doctrine and ecclesiology, it is merely a general request for the Roman Christians not to interfere with his martyrdom and a heart-felt _expression of his personal spiritual struggles. Indeed, if we are to make any assumptions about the presiding authority of the Roman city-church based on the Ignatian epistle itself, the most honest and simple conclusion is that the Roman city-church HAD NO presiding authority whatsoever, since Ignatius never addresses any. :-) Yet, no sensible person would ever conclude that. Rather, in all honesty, the only authoritative information that we can gather from Ignatius' Epistle to the Romans is that the Roman church itself held a presiding primacy among the other churches and that it had a reputation for teaching other churches as far away as Ignatius' church of Antioch in Syria:

"Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the Church that "presides in the chief place in the Roman territory; a church worthy of God, worthy of honor - presiding in love, maintaining the law of Christ..." (Ignatius, To the Romans Chapter I)

"You have never envied anyone, you have taught others. Now I desire that those things may be confirmed, which in your instructions you enjoin [on others]. (Ignatius to the Romans, Chap. III)

Aside from this, Ignatius tells us nothing about Roman authority or the structure of its local church government.

Mark Bonocore
Catholic Apologist
August 7, 2002