The Papacy

The Monarchial Episcopate

by Mark Bonocore


Mr. White then moves on to dispute the existence of monarchial presbyters (a.k.a. "bishops") in Scripture itself. In this, he begins by undermining his own anti-Catholic thesis, admitting that James the Just was the monarchial leader of the Jerusalem city-church. He writes:

"There is no question that James had a position of leadership in Jerusalem: but making Jerusalem normative for all churches, as Bonocore does, is utterly unwarranted."

Oh? And why is that, Mr. White? As I discussing above, in earliest times, Jerusalem was clearly the most important Christian city-church, and one that served as the model for all subsequent city-churches established by the Apostles. And so, if the Apostles appointed a leading presbyter for Jerusalem (St. James), why would they deviate from this custom and set up different (democratic?) systems of church government elsewhere? That simply makes no sense. Yet, White goes on to ask

"Where do we find Paul ordaining "arch-presbyters" in the churches?"

Where do we not, Mr. White? Truth be told, the Scriptures themselves are relatively silent when it comes to describing the 'practical mechanics' of 1st Century church government and how it was exercised among the presbyters. This is why we go with the oral witness of the ancient city-churches, which describes this for us in detail (e.g. St. Ireneaus), and presents us with consistent systems of leadership from one city-church to the next (i.e., the monarchial episcopate). It is only a modernist mentality which assumes (without warrant) that the presbyters ever operated according to some "proto-democratic" system. However, this was not the way the ancient synagogues operated; nor would the early churches have functioned this way. So, unless Mr. White wishes to present us with evidence for an ancient Christian "Thomas Jefferson," who brought "political equality" and "democracy" to the city-churches, we are forced to retain our organic view.

Mr. White also says...

"James' position was apostolic and unique: to extend his unique ministry in Jerusalem to the entirety of the church is as unwarranted as the conclusions drawn earlier from the words of Ignatius."

Oh? And how do you justify this assertion that James' position at Jerusalem was "unique," Mr. White? As we've already seen above, this was far from the case, since Scripture present Titus (on Crete) and Timothy (in Ephesus) holding the same kind of positions of monarchial leadership in their respective local churches. However, (surprise, surprise!), Mr. White disputes this as well, writing...

Is it a sound argument to note that Paul wrote a letter to a single elder (Timothy), and since he used singular personal pronouns in writing to him, this means Timothy was the only elder, or, held a position of priority over anyone else? Surely not! Such involves the same kind of leap in logic we have seen previously.

Does it really, Mr. White? Well, as long as we're making "leaps of logic" here, let me ask you why Paul would bother to write a letter to a single elder (presbyter) at all? …Unless of course that elder (presbyter) was someone in charge of the city-church itself. However, White has already "addressed" this problem, giving his solution as follows...

Paul is giving general instructions to Timothy (and through him to the entire church, knowing that Timothy, ministering in Ephesus as he did, would pass these truths along just as the gospel had gone forth from Ephesus into all of Asia Minor).

I see. So, Paul gave authoritative instruction to Timothy alone, and Timothy was responsible for passing this authoritative instruction along to the other presbyters of Ephesus. Uh-huh. And how does this make Timothy anything other than an authority himself, Mr. White? Clearly, Paul is not treating all the presbyters of Ephesus as "equals" when it comes to issuing these instructions, correct? What's more, in the passage I presented from his Epistle to Timothy (1 Tim 5:17-22), Paul does not tell his disciple to pass any instruction along at all. On the contrary, speaking in the you-singular, and thus addressing Timothy personally (as opposed to telling him what all the presbyters should do), he invests Timothy with singular authority **over the other presbyters of Ephesus**. As I said before, … It is Timothy himself who is to "accept (or reject) an accusation against a presbyter" (just like a modern Catholic bishop). It is Timothy himself who is to "publicly reprimand" a sinful presbyter (just like a modern Catholic bishop), so as to inspire pious "fear" in all the other presbyters. It is Timothy himself who must **personally** "keep these rules" and not show "prejudice" or "favoritism." And, it is for Timothy himself (just like a modern Catholic bishop) to "lay hands" upon a man so as to ordain him to the presbytery. And we see Paul investing his other disciple Titus with the very same power and authority (for the Church on Crete) in Titus 1:5ff. Thus, the position of James at Jerusalem was far from unique. As both the Scriptural witness and the patristic testimony illustrate quite clearly, whenever the Apostles moved on, or were unable to govern a city-church personally or directly, they always created a monarchial leader to preside in their stead over the other presbyters. This man would later come to be exclusively called the "bishop." And anyone who disputes this historical fact is the one guilty of anachronism, Mr. White.

As the celebrated Catholic scholar Henri de Lubac so eloquently put it:

"The history of the first Christian generations is full of obscurities for us. But the rare documents that do provide information about the situation of the churches towards the end of the first and the beginning of the second century, everywhere indicate the xistence of men exercising the office of bishop in full awareness that it was of Apostolic origin, and that it combined presidency over their own church and an active concern for the other churches. No one feels any need to justify this situation by any arguments. And nowhere, either in the early period or for long afterwards, is there the slightest perceptible trace of this state of affairs being disputed in any way." (Henri de Lubac, The Petrine Office and Particular Churches)

Ubi est episcopus, ibi est ecclesia.

Mark Bonocore
Catholic Apologist
September 10, 2002