The Papacy

The Monarchial Episcopate

by Mark Bonocore


Mr. White then moves on to attack my understanding of St. Clement of Rome's Epistle to the Corinthians (a.k.a., 1 Clement to the Corinthians), which I also cited as evidence for the monarchial episcopate. In this, I asserted that St. Clement recognized the Traditional three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon" (as reflected in Ignatius' contemporary ecclesiology), in that he draws a parallel between 1st Century Christian ministry and the three-fold ministry of "High Priest / priest / Levite" in the Jewish Temple. Here, we must keep in mind that 1 Clement to the Corinthians was written to correct a schism in the Corinthian city-church, in which the legitimate presbyters (including their leader / "bishop" -whomever that may have been) were overthrown and cast out of the church. Clement writes to tell the Corinthians that such behavior is unacceptable, and that the Corinthian laity had no authority to overthrow its legitimate presbyters.

However, in attacking my thesis, White begins by implying that I am trying to deceive people by mislabeling and "cobbling together" different passages from Clement's epistle. He writes:

"But most troubling was the citation given of Clement's epistle to the Corinthians. I say this is troubling because this is not merely from section 44 of the epistle: it is actually cobbled together from a number of places in the epistle. It is hard for almost any reader to follow any flow or context when the only reference given is to the very last line of the quotation, nothing more."

Now, as even White himself admits, the Clementine quote(s) in question come from an informal email that I wrote which, somehow or other, ended up on a Catholic apologetics website. White clearly tells us:

"Now we should note at the very beginning that Mr. Bonocore's response is obviously little more than an e-mail (or possibly a post on a discussion board), so it may not be fair to look overly closely at it."

Ah! So, this being the case, I find it quite amusing how (in the very same breath) White then cleverly accuses me of 'unscholarly shenanigans'; implying that I intentionally "cobbled together" different sections of St. Clement's Epistle in order to apparently mislead people. Yet, I believe that Psychology has a word for that. It's called "transference." ;-)

As for my use of 1 Clement itself, White basically criticizes my equating of the author's reference to the Jewish three-fold ministry of "High priest / priest / Levite" with the Christian three-fold ministry of "bishop / presbyter / deacon." In this, he argues that I have wrenched Clement's words out of their intended context; and that Clement himself had no understanding of the three-fold Christian ministry, but recognized only two Christian ministerial offices -that of "presbyter/bishop" and that of "deacon."

Well, first of all, let me make it very clear to Mr. White that I agree wholeheartedly with his observation that 1 Clement is speaking of the **literal** High Priest, the **literal** priests, and the **literal** Levites of the Jewish temple in the passage in question. It was never my intention to formally argue that he is using the words "High Priest," "priest," and "Levite" to mean "bishop," "presbyter," and "deacon" respectively.

Rather, my argument rests on the very fact that Clement cites this three-fold Jewish ministry as a ***parallel example***, when he is arguing for the legitimacy, and Divinely-created character, of the Christian ministerial offices! In other words, why cite the three-fold Jewish ministry at all? …Unless, of course, it held some significance for his audience when it came to their understanding of the Christian ministerial offices.

However, White rejects all this, and quotes from J.B. Lightfoot in an attempt to refute my very valid observation. He says:

[Bonocore] bases this upon a misreading of the above text, focusing upon the Old Testament illustration used by Clement. However, as J.B. Lightfoot rightly commented on this passage, "Does the analogy then extend to three orders? The answer to this seems to be that...this epistle throughout only recognizes two orders, presbyters and deacons, existing at Corinth. …Later writers indeed did dwell on the analogy of the threefold ministry; but we cannot argue back from them to Clement, in whose epistle the very element of threefoldness which gives force to such a comparison, is wanting." (J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Clement, Volume 2, 123).

Well, first of all, let me express my boundless amusement when it comes to White's "sage blessing" of Lightfoot's position, as when he says, "Lightfoot **rightly** commended on this passage." ;-) I'm sure Dr. Lightfoot would take great comfort in knowing that Mr. White acknowledges his "rightness." However, this alone illustrates the nature of what we're dealing with here -mere conjecture and opinion. White does not see a parallel in 1 Clement for the simple reason that he does not wish to see a parallel. Now, if Mr. White possessed the overly-fastidious scholarly integrity of a J.B. Lightfoot, perhaps that could be excused. However, this is far from the case; and, as even his quote from Lightfoot tells us, many other scholars agree with me, and **do** see an analogy in Clement between the threefold Jewish ministry and the threefold Christian one.

This latter point becomes particularly relevant once we recall the semantic tendency (already discussed) in which the earliest Christians spoke of their leading presbyter (later termed their "bishop") **as part of** the body of presbyters itself. If we approach 1 Clement from this **terminological** perspective, then of course the ancient author only recognized two (nominal) church ministries: "presbyter/bishop" and "deacon." This is because he was still utilizing the New Testament-period semantic, in which "presbyter" and "bishop" were interchangeable terms; and so a city-church's bishop was presented as one of the presbyters (all-be-he the leading presbyter). However, from a **practical**, **ministerial**, and **personal** perspective, the author of 1 Clement would also have distinguished between the man serving as Corinth's leading presbyter (e.g. the "High Priest") and the other presbyters among him (e.g. "the priests"), because this individual leading presbyter would have had special duties within the college of Corinthian presbyters that made his ministry special and unique; and thus the fitting analogy to the Jewish "high priest," whose priestly ministry was ontologically identical to that of the other Jewish priests, save for special privileges and duties (per James in Jerusalem, Timothy in Ephesus, and Titus on Crete).

So, in the case of 1 Clement, we come full circle and return to the observation that the late 1st Century Church (especially in the West) was still using the **terms** "presbyter" and "bishop" interchangeably. Yet, there is **nothing** in 1 Clement, or in any other patristic source, which in any way suggests that these city-churches did not possess a leading presbyter who presided over the other presbyters, or that these presbyters operated according to some "democratic" system, in which "all presbyters were created equal." While the latter notion may be particularly attractive to the **very-American** Evangelical Protestant mind, it is also the height of anachronism and does not speak to the reality of the early Church itself, which based its form of government upon the Jewish synagogue system.

Mr. White thereafter attacks a quote I presented comparing the 1 Clement analogy to a much later comment from St. Athanasius, which reads:

"You shall see the ***Levites (i.e., deacons)*** bringing loaves and a cup of wine, and placing them on the table. So long as the prayers of supplication and entreaties have not been made, there is only bread and wine. But after the great and wonderful prayers have been completed, then the bread is become the Body, and the wine the Blood, of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Athanasius, "Sermon to the Newly Baptized," c. 373 A.D.)

In response to this quote, White writes …

Bonocore then provides more anachronistic eisegesis of the text in Clement by moving more then two centuries into the future, and a thousand miles away geographically, to a quotation by Athanasius, where Athanasius does use the term "Levite" of a deacon. Are we to conclude that because one writer in the fourth century uses "Levite" of "deacon" that every writer in all preceding centuries followed the same path? Surely not

Here, Mr. White both misses the significance of the quote I presented; and again puts his own rhetorical "spin" on the wide-spread ancient Christian custom of calling deacons "Levites." Here, Athanasius is by no means an isolated example, in that countless patristic sources (in particular those of the Eastern Church) speak of deacons as "Levites"; and this custom continues in Eastern Orthodox Greece and Russia to this very day. So, my point in presenting the quote from Athanasius was to illustrate the profound connection in Traditional Christian ecclesiology, in which the sacrifices of the Jewish Temple were equated with the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Church, and in which the **sacrificing** ministerial offices of the Jewish Temple were equated with the **sacrificing** ministerial offices of the Church. For both Clement and Athanasius after him, this was something organic and second-nature to their ancient Christian faith.

Mr. White, however, who likes to "play the skeptic" (and disguise his anti-Catholic bigotry by feigning "scholarly prudence") wishes his audience to completely ignore the unanimous and consistent witness of the Church fathers (from the 1st Century on) in which the Christian Eucharistic celebration (a.k.a. the Lord's Supper) is presented and understood as **a Sacrifice**, mirroring (and prefigured by) the Temple sacrifices under the Old Covenant. However, once one comes to appreciate the fact that the entire early Church viewed Eucharistic service in this way, the connection between the mentality of St. Athanasius and that of St. Clement is obvious. In other words, given that Christian ministry centered around the **Sacrificial** celebration of the Eucharist, both Clement and Athanasius (along with untold numbers of other ancient fathers) saw a clear parallel with the Jewish three-fold office of "High Priest / Priest / Levite". This is why Athanasius calls deacons "Levites" and this is why Clement presents his analogy to the Jewish temple ministry when arguing for the legitimacy of Christian ministers. In other words, the Christian cultural understanding was always there, just as when St. Paul (a generation **before** Clement) made reference to the same Sacrificial mystery of the Eucharist and compared it to the Jewish altar in 1 Corinthians 10:16-22, writing:

"The Cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a **participation** in the Blood of Christ? The Bread that we break, is it not a **participation** in Body of Christ? ...Look at ISRAEL ACCORDING TO THE FLESH; are not those who eat the SACRIFICES **participants** in the altar? So, what am I saying? That meat SACRIFICED to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they (the pagans) SACRIFICE they SACRIFICE to demons, NOT TO GOD, and I do not what you to become **participants** with demons. You cannot drink of the Cup of the Lord AND ALSO of the cup of demons. You cannot PARTAKE of the Table of the Lord AND ALSO of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger?"

Here, we must not forget that both St. Paul and St. Clement are writing to the **same** Corinthian church (and within the living memories of Clement's audience). So, the sensitivity to the Eucharist as Sacrifice was there; and the ministerial parallel would have held profound meaning for Clement's readers.

Mark Bonocore
Catholic Apologist
August 19, 2002