Friday, June 9, 2017

The Historical Development Of Papal Authority

  • Introduction:
          -The most primitive Christian churches were governed by a plurality of bishops, not by an individual head, as is the case with the modern Church of Rome. It is also important to note that the New Testament Scriptures use the terms "presbyter," "elder," and "bishop" interchangeably. The Papacy has not been established since the first century by Jesus Christ, but is instead a gradual development in later church history. The three following excerpts were taken from this article by New Testament scholar Michael J. Kruger.
  • Testimony From The Didache: 
          -“And so, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved.” (15.1)
  • Testimony From 1 Clement: 
          -“And so, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are worthy of the Lord, gentle men who are not fond of money, who are true and approved.” (1 Clement 42:4)
  • Testimony From The Shepherd Of Hermas:
          -“you will read yours in this city, with the presbyters who lead the church.” (Vis. 8.3) 
  • The New American Bible Revised Edition Has This Commentary On Titus 1:5-9 On The Meaning Of The Terms Bishop And Presbyter:
          -"[1:5–9] This instruction on the selection and appointment of presbyters, substantially identical with that in 1 Tm 3:1–7 on a bishop (see note there), was aimed at strengthening the authority of Titus by apostolic mandate; cf. Ti 2:15. In Ti 1:5, 7 and Acts 20:17, 28, the terms episkopos and presbyteros (“bishop” and “presbyter”) refer to the same persons."
  • Basic Presentation On The Historical Development Of The Roman Catholic Hierarchy: 
          -In 150 AD, a difference was made between the offices of elder and bishop. This is when individual congregations started being governed by individual bishops. One bishop began to have authority over the other bishops, like a senior pastor amongst elders. This development was gradual in other churches and is attested to by Ignatius' epistles as first appearing in Asia Minor. 
          -"Caird notes that in the latter half of the first century three events occurred that altered the character of the church: (1) the final break between Christianity and Judaism, (2) the beginning of persecution by Rome, and (3) the death of many who had been principal leaders in the early church. The death of the apostles, the crumbling of the old covenant, outbreaks of persecution, and the prevalence of heresy and false prophecy led to the rise of the monarchical bishop. Caird suggests that the vigor with which Ignatius states his case for the bishop’s role implies that this new development had been “vigorously opposed” by many in the churches. In any case, the rise of the monarchical bishop is best understood as the expedient by which the early church asserted its right to condemn divergent views in the absence of the apostles. Cf. Caird, The Apostolic Age, 141–55 (esp. pp. 141, 151-52)." (Understanding the Church, by Joseph M. Vogl and John H. Fish III, p. 21)
          -Archbishops, who presided over a group of churches along with their respective assemblies of worship, moved up from the most prominent cities of their time. These men came to be known as the patriarchs.
          -Around the mid fifth and into the late sixth century, we see the five patriarchs, which were Jerusalem (officially recognized as such in the fifth century), Antioch (officially recognized as such in the first century), Rome (officially recognized as such in the first century), Constantinople (officially recognized as such in the fourth century), and Alexandria (officially recognized as such in the first century). Each patriarch governed itself. Though Rome and Constantinople were perceived as having equal authority, the Church of Rome was viewed in highest regard. Constantinople was the leading patriarch of the east. But neither of the two competing patriarchs at the time possessed universal authority over the rest of Christendom.
          -In the late sixth century leading into the seventh, there was a major, final struggle between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches for the title of Universal Bishop. In other words, the two most powerful patriarchs fought for jurisdiction over the entire Christian church. Although Constantinople was first to appoint its head as being the Universal Bishop of Christianity, the Roman Bishop Gregory condemned the usage of that title as being characteristic of an anti-Christ. He declared that no man, not even himself, was worthy of possessing such an arrogant title! In the end, the Church of Rome ended up being victorious in this battle for supreme authority when Gregory's successor Boniface III reserved it for himself. The head of the Roman Catholic Church still wields this title of absolute power. Thus, we see the historic origin of the Papal office in its current organizational structure.
  • Cyprian And Papal Supremacy: 
           -"Even Cyprian of Carthage, a church father considered by many to have favored an early form of the papacy, calls the bishop of Rome a “brother, fellow-Christian, and colleague in the episcopate,” thus showing that he did not have in view the kind of primacy that was later attributed to the pope." (Leonardo De Chirico, "Where Did the Pope Come From?")
  • An Excerpt From Canon Six Of The Council Of Nicea (Cited By Philip Schaff):
          -"The Bishop of Alexandria shall have jurisdiction over Egypt, Libya, and Pentapolis. As also the Roman bishop over those subject to Rome. So, too, the Bishop of Antioch and the rest over those who are under them."
  • Following Is An Excerpt From An Online Encyclopedia On Early Church Policy:
          -"One cannot speak with precision or certitude about ministry in the early church because it is difficult to date and evaluate the documentary evidence, including the New Testament writings, and because of differences of organization in the primitive local communities. At the conclusion of an eighty-year evolutionary process there emerged, apparently first at Antioch around 110 ce, a threefold hierarchical leadership that gradually became normative throughout the Christian world. The hierarchy (sacred rule) consisted of three grades: a single bishop charged with the "supervision or oversight" (episcopē ) of the community; a group of consultors called presbyters (elders); and a subordinate group of deacons, who assisted in the administration of property. Certain functions, such as presiding at the Eucharist, were ordinarily reserved to the bishop. The distinction was thus made between the people and their leaders, soon called "clergy," who were ordained; that is, set apart for the ministry by the imposition of the bishop's hands. The local church presided over by the bishop was in time known as a "diocese" or "eparchy."


  1. The development led to all sorts of contradictions as to papal authority, as well as abuse of selecting the new popes, etc:

  2. The plurality of elders and the autonomy of each assembly was cemented doctrine before the end of the Apostolic age. The weakness of the flesh always pursues efficiency, organization, and control in any group. God's plan for the government of the local assembly is nothing short of divine brilliance. It diffuses ambition, curtails pride, and distributes authority among the saints, with elders leading (never ruling) by example only.