Third Century Opposition to Claims of Primacy by Stephen (d. 257) especially by Cyprian (d. 258)

On Catholic Answers, episode #6796, Dr. David Anders argued that in the third century Pope Stephen asserted the primacy of the Roman see and suggested that there was no contemporary opposition to this assertion of primacy, specifically claiming that those in the East never opposed Stephen’s assertion. That’s wrong.

Stephen (d. 257 – referred to as Pope Stephen I by the RCC today) was a bishop of Rome from 254 until his death. Thus, Stephen was a bishop of Rome during the aftermath of Decian persecution of 250-51. The lapse of certain people during the persecution raised questions about whether they should be permitted back into the church. Likewise, divisions over the issue of how to treat lapsed people itself lead to questions about whether schismatic baptisms were proper baptisms, because those who were very strict with the lapsed and those who were lax with the lapsed divided communion with one another. Stephen favored permitting the people back into communion and accepting schismatic or heretical baptisms, the positions that ultimately won the day.

As I mentioned, Stephen’s role as bishop took place after the Decian persecution. One of the victims of the Decian persecution was Fabian, bishop of Rome (aka Pope Fabianus), who was killed January 20, 250. The Roman church did not replace him during the next year of persecution (one of a myriad of breaks in the supposedly unbroken succession of bishops in Rome).

Upon the death of Emperor Decius in March of 251, there was a struggle for control of the Roman church. Cornelius and Novatian were the two competing claimants for the position of bishop, each claiming to have been chosen as the bishop by the Roman church. The main point of difference between Novatian and Cornelius was over whether the lapsed should be permitted to rejoin communion. Novatian was more rigorous and would have excluded such people.

Cornelius called a council in Italy that apparently excommunicated Novatian in October of 251, while other councils including a council in Carthage in May of 251, seem to have reached similar conclusions. Nevertheless, Novatian evidently continued to have a cadre of supporters.

Cornelius died in 253. Lucius I was chosen by those supporting Cornelius to be Cornelius’ replacement. Lucius died in 254. Stephen I was then chosen as bishop of Rome by those who had supported Cornelius and Lucius I.

Meanwhile, Novatian apparently continued living in Rome and being treated as the bishop of Rome by his supporters. Thus, he and other bishops who were in agreement with him were baptizing people during this period. This lead to a question about whether such baptisms were legitimate.

Cyprian of Carthage (d. 258) was critical of Novatian and supportive of Cornelius and Lucius and Stephen, with respect to viewing Novatian’s position as heretical. However, Cyprian did not view Novatian’s baptisms as legitimate. By contrast, Stephen viewed such baptisms as legitimate.

Stephen died in 257 and Novatian and Cyprian died in 258, apparently all under the persecution under Emperor Valerian I.

Firmilian was the Bishop of Caesarea (Caesarea Mazaca in Turkey) from about 232 to 369. Firmilian was another opponent of Novatian and his strict treatment of the lapsed. He agreed with Cyprian and against Stephen regarding the validity these baptisms.

Cyprian’s Ecclesiology

In order to persuade Cyprian to accept his views on baptism, Stephen apparently attempted to pull rank.  While Carthage (Cyprian’s city) was an important imperial city, Rome was even more important.  Stephen seems to have thought of himself as a sort of emperor of Christianity, although unfortunately we do not have Stephen’s own words on this subject.  Instead, we have Cyprian’s response, together with the other African bishops in council.  It should be noted that these are the words of the council, but they are the words of Cyprian, who was in charge of the council.

It remains that we severally declare our opinion on this same subject, judging no one, nor depriving any one of his right of communion, if he differ from us. For no one setteth himself up as a Bishop of Bishops, or by tyrannical terror forceth his Colleagues to a necessity of obeying; inasmuch as every Bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he can himself judge another. But we must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who alone has the power both of setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein.

(A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, The Judgments of Eighty-Seven Bishops in the Council of Carthage on the Question of Baptizing Heretics, pp. 286-287).

Here’s another translation of the same thing:

It remains, that upon this same matter each of us should bring forward what we think, judging no man, nor rejecting any one from the right of communion, if he should think differently from us. For neither does any one of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror does any compel his colleague to the necessity of obedience; since every bishop, according to the allowance of his liberty and power, has his own proper right of judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But let all of us wait for the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the only one that has the power both of preferring us in the government of His Church, and of judging us in our conduct there.

(Ante-Nicene Fathers (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1995), The Seventh Council of Carthage Under Cyprian, p. 565).

Those references to “bishop of bishops” is a reference to Stephen’s apparent claim of authority over other bishops, including Cyprian and other African bishops.  Cyprian and his colleagues roundly rejected such a position.

Cyprian’s reasons can be seen in part in his “On the Unity of Church”:

The Lord saith unto Peter, I say unto thee, (saith He,) that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven (Matt. 16:18-19). To him again, after His resurrection, He says, Feed My sheep. Upon him being one He builds His Church; and although He gives to all the Apostles an equal power, and says, As My Father sent Me, even so I send you; receive ye the Holy Ghost: whosoever sins ye remit, they shall be remitted to him, and whosoever sins ye shall retain, they shall be retained (John 20:21);—yet in order to manifest unity, He has by His own authority so placed the source of the same unity, as to begin from one. Certainly the other Apostles also were what Peter was, endued with an equal fellowship both of honour and power; but a commencement is made from unity, that the Church may be set before as one; which one Church, in the Son of Songs, doth the Holy Spirit design and name in the Person of our Lord: My dove, My spotless one, is but one; she is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her (Cant. 9:6).

(A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1842), Cyprian, On the Unity of the Church 3-4, pp. 133-135).

For Cyprian, therefore, while there was a unifying principle in the apostle Peter, all the apostles were of the same authority.  Thus, not even Peter himself would have been considered a “bishop of bishops” by Cyprian, and he did firmly oppose the idea that he had to do what Stephen said, simply by virtue of Stephen being the bishop of Rome.

Firmilian’s Response to Cyprian

Cyprian and the north African bishops were not the only ones who responded to Stephen. The Cappocian bishop, Firmillian, provided a response after receiving the proceedings of the council, referred to above.  Firmilian’s response to Cyprian is provided in the collection of Cyprian’s correspondence:

17. But how great his error, how exceeding his blindness, who says, that remission of sins can be given in the synagogues of heretics, and abideth not on the foundation of the one Church which was once fixed by Christ on a rock, may be hence learnt, that Christ said to Peter alone, Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven: and again in the Gospel, when Christ breathed on the Apostles only, saying, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained. The power then of remitting sins was given to the Apostles, and the Churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the Bishops who succeeded them by vicarious ordination. But the enemies of the one Catholic Church in which we are, and the adversaries of us who have succeeded the Apostles, claiming to themselves against us unlawful priesthoods, and setting up profane altars, what other are they than Corah, Dathan, and Abiram, guilty of like sacrilege, and, with those who consent to them, to meet the same punishment, as then also their partners and abettors perished by the like death?

18. And herein I am justly indignant at such open and manifest folly in Stephen, that he who boasts of the seat of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid, introduces many other rocks, and buildeth anew many Churches, in that by his authority he maintains baptism among them. For they who are baptized, without doubt fill up the number of the Church. But whoso approves their baptism, must needs also maintain of those baptized, that the Church also is with them. Nor does he perceive that he who thus betrays and abandons unity, casts into the shade, and in a manner effaces, the truth of the Christian Rock. Yet the Apostle acknowledges that the Jews, though blind through ignorance and bound through that most dreadful sin, have yet a zeal of God. Stephen, who proclaims that he occupies by succession the chair of Peter, is roused by no zeal against heretics, conceding to them no small but the very greatest power of grace, so far as to say and assert that through the Sacrament of Baptism they wash off the defilement of the old man, pardon the old deadly sins, make sons to God by heavenly regeneration, renew to eternal life by the sanctification of the Divine laver. He who concedes and assigns to heretics such great and heavenly privileges of the Church, what else does he than hold communion with them, for whom he maintains and claims so much grace? And in vain doth he any longer hesitate to consent and be partaker with them in the rest, to join in their assemblies, and mingle his prayers with them, and set up a common Altar and Sacrifice.

19. “But,” he saith, “the Name of Christ availeth much to faith and the sanctification of Baptism, so that whosoever is wheresoever baptized in the Name of Christ, forthwith obtains the grace of Christ;” whereas this argument may be briefly met and answered, that if baptism in the Name of Christ out of the Church could avail to cleanse a man, laying on of hands in the Name of the Same Christ could avail there also to receiving the Holy Ghost. And the rest also, which is done by heretics, will come to be accounted right and lawful, since they are done in the Name of Christ; as you have developed in your letter, that the Name of Christ can only avail in the Church, to which alone Christ has granted the power of heavenly grace.

20. But as to the refutation of the argument from custom, which they seem to oppose to the truth, who so foolish as to prefer custom to truth, or not to leave the darkness, when he sees the light? Unless indeed custom the most ancient, in any respect aid the Jews, that, when Christ, that is, the Truth, came, disregarding the new way of truth, they abode by what was old. And this you of Africa may say in answer to Stephen, that on discovering the truth you abandoned the error of custom. But we join custom to truth, and to the custom of the Romans we oppose custom, but that of truth; from the beginning holding that which was delivered by Christ and by His Apostles. Nor do we remember, that this ever had a beginning among us, since it has ever been observed here, that we know of none but the one Church of God, and account Holy Baptism to be of none but the Holy Church. Only, since some doubted of the baptism of those, who, though they receive the new Prophets, yet appear to acknowledge the same Father and Son with us, very many of us, meeting together at Iconium, examined the question most diligently; and we ratified, that every baptism whatsoever, which is set up without the Church, should be repudiated.

(A Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church (Oxford: Parker, 1844), The Epistles of St. Cyprian, Epistle LXXV. 17-20, pp. 279-281).

Firmilian’s scorching response shows that Stephen’s authority claim was not immediately accepted in Turkey, just as it was not accepted in Africa, even though Firmilian does not directly address the expression “bishop of bishops.”

William Webster has been kind of enough to demonstrate that this taken on Cyprian and Firmilian is one that is endorsed by a wide array of historians, not just “Protestant” or “Reformed” folks.  The following selections are in some cases expanded compared to what Webster provided, and in perhaps one case reduced:

Comments by Historians and Patrologists

Various historians and Patrologists have commented on the Cyprian vs. Stephen battle, including Roman Catholics, such as Robert Eno, Michael Winter, Johannes Quasten, and William Jurgens.  As you can see from these selections, the understanding that Cyprian resisted Stephen’s authority claim comes across very clearly.

Robert Eno:

Cyprian makes considerable use of the image of Peter’s cathedra or chair. Note however that it is important in his theology of the local church: “God is one and Christ is one: there is one Church and one chair founded, by the Lord’s authority, upon Peter. It is not possible that another altar can be set up, or that a new priesthood can be appointed, over and above this one altar and this one priesthood” (Ep. 43.5).
The cathedri Petri symbolism has been the source of much misunderstanding and dispute. Perhaps it can be understood more easily by looking at the special treatise he wrote to defend both his own position as sole lawful bishop of Carthage and that of Cornelius against Novatian, namely, the De unitate ecclesiae, or, as it was known in the Middle Ages, On the Simplicity of Prelates. The chapter of most interest is the fourth. Controversy has dogged this work because two versions of this chapter exist. Since the Reformation, acceptance of one version or the other has usually followed denominational lines.
Much of this has subsided in recent decades especially with the work of Fr. Maurice Bevenot, an English Jesuit, who devoted most of his scholarly life to this text. He championed the suggestion of the English Benedictine, John Chapman, that what we are dealing with here are two versions of a text, both of which were authored by Cyprian. This view has gained wide acceptance in recent decades. Not only did Cyprian write both but his theology of the Church is unchanged from the first to the second. He made textual changes because his earlier version was being misused.
The theology of the controverted passage sees in Peter the symbol of unity, not from his being given greater authority by Christ for, as he says in both versions, “…a like power is given to all the Apostles” and “…No doubt the others were all that Peter was.” Yet Peter was given the power first: “Thus it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair.” The Chair of Peter then belongs to each lawful bishop in his own see. Cyprian holds the Chair of Peter in Carthage and Cornelius in Rome over against Novatian the would–be usurper. You must hold to this unity if you are to remain in the Church. “You cannot have God for your Father, if you no longer have the Church for your mother.” (6) Extra ecclesiam, salus non est (Ep. 73.21), “He(Christ) put unanimity first; He gave precedence to peace and concord” (12).
Cyprian wants unity in the local church around the lawful bishop and unity among the bishops of the world who are “glued together” (Ep. 66.8). “Whereas, in truth, the Church forms one single whole; it is neither rent nor broken apart but is everywhere linked and banded together by the glue of the bishops sticking firmly to each other.” (Utique conexa et cohaerentium sibi invicem sacerdotum glutino copulata.) He is concerned that he and the other bishops in Africa be in communion and communication with the lawful bishops in other parts of the Church (cf. e.g. Ep. 45 and Ep. 68.1, the case of Marcian of Arles). Yet it appears that this hoped for unity is inevitably undermined and contradicted by Cyprian’s principle that “each bishop is responsible to God alone” (e.g., Ep. 30.1).
The African tradition relied heavily on the calling of councils and Cyprian’s practice greatly enhanced that role. He presided over several councils of Carthage. What was the obligation of each bishop in relation to the conciliar decrees? One sometimes get the impression that if a bishop did not agree with Cyprian, the better part of wisdom for him would be not to attend the council. Cyprian’s theory (or should we call it hope?) for unity among the bishops seems to bear within itself an intrinsic contradiction, one that comes to sad fruition in his clash with Stephen of Rome.
Apart from his good relations and harmony with Bishop Cornelius over the matter of the lapsed, what was Cyprian’s basic view of the role, not of Peter as symbol of unity, but of Rome in the contemporary Church? Given what we have said above, it is clear that he did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor, even though the lawful bishop of Rome also held the chair of Peter in an historical sense (Ep. 52.2). Another term frequently used by the Africans in speaking of the Church was “the root” (radix). Cyprian sometimes used the term in connection with Rome, leading some to assert that he regarded the Roman church as the “root.” But in fact, in Cyprian’s teaching, the Catholic Church as a whole is the root. So when he bade farewell to some Catholics travelling to Rome, he instructed them to be very careful about which group of Christians they contacted after their arrival in Rome. They must avoid schismatic groups like that of Novatian. They should contact and join the Church presided over by Cornelius because it alone is the Catholic Church in Rome. In other words, Cyprian exhorted “…them to discern the womb and root (matrix et radix) of the Catholic Church and to cleave to it” (Ep. 48.3).
On the other hand, there is at least one place where the symbolic role of Peter seems to meet and merge with the role of the contemporary bishop of Rome in the Church. This is in Ep. 59.14 from the year 252. Here Cyprian once again speaks of African visitors to Rome, only this time he is indignant because the travellers in question are some of the very trouble-makers who have been causing so many difficulties for Cyprian in Carthage. He writes apologetically to Cornelius:

… On the top of that they now have the audacity to sail off carrying letters from schismatics and outcasts from religion even to the chair of Peter, to the primordial church (ecclesia principalis) the very source of episcopal unity; and they do not stop to consider that they are carrying them to those same Romans whose faith was so praised and proclaimed by the Apostle, into whose company men without faith (perfidia) can, therefore, find no entry (Ep. 59.14).

He ends with a reference to Paul’s comment in Romans but goes beyond the commonplace uttered by Paul. Is there really something out of the ordinary about the faith of the Roman Christians?
More significant is the apparent extension of the cathedra Petri symbolism. As we have seen, from the oneness of Peter and his chair episcopal unity (as it does or should exist) is derived. Extrapolating from the symbolism, the historic see of Peter, Rome, becomes the Urkirche, the primordial church. The historical Peter, who is also the symbol of unity, is buried there and exercises his influence still. Where does the symbolism end? Does it end? Is the Roman see the symbolic embodiment of unity for the whole Church the way a bishop himself is for each local community? It is difficult to know what theological conclusions, if any, to draw from such musings.
From what immediately follows in the same letter, however, it is clear that in Cyprian’s mind, one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops. He asks what such dissidents hope to accomplish by their voyage.

For it was a resolution enacted by us all and it is eminently right and just–that a man’s case should be heard in the place where his offence was committed; and besides, each individual shepherd has been assigned a portion of the flock to rule and govern, knowing that one day he will be called upon to render an account to the Lord for this action. It is, therefore, totally improper that these men over whom we have charge should be tearing about, seeking to break up the harmony and concord that prevails among the bishops…. It is possible, I suppose, that this handful of desperate outlaws fancies that the authority of the bishops who have been appointed here in Africa is too slight to deal with their case (Ep. 59.14).

In other words, the Africans can take care of their own problems.

(Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 57-61.)

Robert Eno:

There was an asymmetry in the reciprocal demands. With his views on episcopal authority, Cyprian was in no position to tell the Roman church that it must adopt the African practices, Stephen, on the other hand, very clearly told the African practices. Stephen, on the other hand, very clearly told the Africans to stop doing what they were doing. A letter from an outsider, a Greek bishop, Firmilian of Caesarea in Cappadocia, climaxed the angry exchange (Ep. 75). As mentioned above, Asia Minor agreed with the African position and Firmilian’s letter gives an indication that Stephen had turned his attention to them as well (Ep. 75.25), just as Victor had done in the Quartodeciman controversy nearly sixty years earlier. Firmilian, who had spent some time in exile and had taken in Origen’s lectures at Caesarea in Palestine, was bitter and sarcastic in his tone of rejection of Stephen’s views. He remarked, for instance, that Stephen’s unkindness had at least the good result of bringing Cyprian and himself together. Stephen is “bold and insolent,” “manifestly stupid,” “a disgrace to Peter and Paul,” with a “slippery, fickle and uncertain mind.” Like Cyprian, he accused Stephen of conceding the reality of other churches by accepting their baptism. He finds it ironic that:

He who so glories in the place of his episcopate and contends that he has the succession from Peter on whom the foundation of the Church was established, should introduce many other rocks and constitute new buildings of many churches while he maintains by his authority that baptism is there (Ep. 75.15).

Since we do not have Stephen’s own letters, such a comment, however sarcastic, is precious insofar as it indicates Stephen’s own view of the source of his authority, the authority by which he directs not only Carthage but far distant Cappadocia to change their basic customs and conform to Roman ways. This is the first known appeal of a Roman bishop to Peter’s authority, indeed to the classical Petrine Gospel texts. But we must note as well that Firmilian not only does not accept the claim, he seems never to have heard of it before. He notes for example that in many liturgical customs, Rome differs from Jerusalem. There are variations from one church to another, “And yet, on account of this, there has been no withdrawal at all from the peace and unity of the Catholic Church.” “How can you live in communion with such a person?” Rome insists on uniformity but other bishops, such as Irenaeus and Firmilian, note that all have gotten along well up until now with varying customs.
It has often been asked whether a break was made between Roman and Carthage over this issue before Stephen’s death in 257. Most people have been reluctant to grant it. Augustine always argued against the Dontatists that Cyprian was a lover of unity who refused to break that unity. Yet some of the language of Firmilian’s letter is very harsh. He reports that Stephen had called Cyprian “a false Christ, a false Apostle and a treacherous laborer.” To which Firmilian replied: You (Stephen) are the one who is these things. He reports further that when Cyprian sent representatives to Rome in the hope of calming the dispute, not only would Stephen not see them, he directed the Roman Christians not to allow them into their homes, a serious breach in the tradition of Christian hospitality. One final sarcastic comment of Firmilian on this: “Such humility of mind and meekness!” (Ep. 75.25).
Such a sad state of affairs certainly seems like a schism. But Stephen died; in the persecution of Valerian, Cyprian was exiled (257) and then executed (258). The practices of rebaptism in both North African and Asia Minor continued unchanged into the fourth century, so that once more Roman demands for uniformity do not seem to have accomplished their purpose. This early assertion of Roman authority does not appear to have moved Firmilian, and its stated basis was unknown to him. Even Cyprian the westerner who honored the Roman see did not admit Rome’s authority to demand a change in the African practice. The council he presided over in Carthage in September 256 agreed with him on this issue. His own opening remarks sum up his views on this question of a world leadership for the Church:

For neither does any of us set himself up as a bishop of bishops, nor by tyrannical terror force his colleagues to a necessity of obeying; inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgment, and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. But we must all await the judgment of Our Lord Jesus Christ, who alone has the power both of setting us in the government of His Church, and of judging of our acts therein (Sententiae episcoporum).

(Robert Eno, The Rise of the Papacy (Wilmington: Michael Glazier, 1990), pp. 63-65).

Luther Historians agree:

According to Cyprian’s interpretation of Matthew 16:18, Jesus first conferred upon Peter the authority with which he subsequently endowed all the apostles. This, according to Cyprian, was to make clear the unity of the power that was being conferred and of the church that was being established. Cyprian frequently speaks of Peter as the foundation of the church, and his meaning seems to be that it was in Peter that Jesus first established all the church–building powers and responsibilities that would subsequently also be given to the other apostles and to the bishops.
Peter is the source of the church’s unity only in an exemplary or symbolic way…Peter himself seems, in Cyprian’s thought, to have had no authority over the other apostles, and consequently the church of Peter cannot reasonably claim to have any authority over the other churches.

(Papal Primacy and the Universal Church, Edited by Paul Empie and Austin Murphy (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1974), Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue V, pp. 68-69)

Michael Winter:

Cyprian used the Petrine text of Matthew to defend episcopal authority, but many later theologians, influenced by the papal connexions of the text, have interpreted Cyprian in a pro-papal sense which was alien to his thought. It is in a sense unfortunate that the schism should have started in Rome. Cyprian would have used Matthew 16 to defend the authority of any bishop, but since he happened to employ it for the sake of the Bishop of Rome, it created the impression that he understood it as referring to papal authority. In Cyprian’s ecclesiology the unity of the church is secured by two means, the authority of the bishops, and the role of Peter at the beginning. With scriptural passages, among which is Matthew 16, he defends the one-ness of government in the local church. Since the local church is the microcosm of the universal church, the safegaurding of unity in the one will ensure it for the other.
The precise role which Peter played in securing the unity of the church even now disputed. Catholics as well as Protestants are now generally agreed that Cyprian did not attribute a superior authority to Peter. However, there is an almost equal division of opinion as to whether he saw Peter merely as a model of unity, or also as some kind of source of the unity which he exemplified. The ‘exemplar’ theory was defended consistently by H. Koch and has been followed by many eminent scholars, including the Catholics Batiffol and Bardy. Advocates of this opinion point out that Cyprian himself on more than one occasion says explicitly that the unity of the church is modelled on Peter. In the fourth chapter of De Unitate he enunciates the principle clearly ‘a primacy is given to Peter, and it is [thus] made clear (monstratur) that there is but one church and one chair’. Moreover it is alleged that for Cyprian a foundation is merely the first in a chronological series. Examples of this are seen in his other writings. Abraham is said to be the foundation of faith that is to say, he was the first believer. In much the same sense Cyprian speaks of the fear of God as the origin of religion, allegedly because it is the initial attitude of the soul to God.
This interpretation of Cyprian was challenged by Chapman, particularly on account of the reduction of a ‘foundation’ to the role of chronological priority. Indeed, it seems that there is much to commend Poschmann’s theory of Peter as the causal source of unity as well as the exemplar. Its principal merit is that it gives an adequate meaning to a series of expressions in Cyprian’s writings which describe Peter as being the model of unity, and something more. For example, in Letter 33 quoted above Cyprian cites Matthew 16 as the origin of episcopal authority, and then adds: ‘Thence through the passage of time, and the episcopal succession, the election of bishops and the external form of the church persevere, so that the church is built upon the bishops, and every item of its government is regulated by those same rulers.’ The same theory is to be seen in many of his other letters and it represents his definitive judgement on the matter.

(Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes (Baltimore: Helikon, 1960), pp. 47-48 – pp. 42-43 in the 1979 edition).

Karlfried Froehlich:

(p. 13) Cyprian understood him as symbolizing the unity of all bishops, the privileged officers of penance.[n28]
[n28]… Cyprian frequently used the phrase, “Petrus super quem aedificavit ecclesiam”; for him, the one Peter, the first to receive the penitential keys which all other bishops also exercise, was the biblical type of the one episcopate, which in turn guaranteed the unity of the church. The one Peter equalled the one body of bishops … .
(p. 36)Cyprian, of course, understood the biblical Peter as representative of the unified episcopate, not of the bishop of Rome.

(Karlfried Froehlich, Saint Peter, Papal Primacy, and the Exegetical Tradition, 1150-1300, pp. 13 and 36. Taken from The Religious Roles of the Papacy: Ideals and Realities, 1150-1300, ed. Christopher Ryan, Papers in Medieval Studies 8 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1989).

John Meyendorff:

If many Byzantine ecclesiastical writers writers follow Origen in recognizing this succession in each believer, others have a less individualistic view of Christianity; they understand that the faith can be fully realized only in the sacramental community, where the bishop fulfills, in a very particular way, Christ’s ministry of teaching and, thus, preserves the faith. In this sense, there is a definite relationship between Peter, called by Christ to “strengthen his brethren” (Lk 22:32), and the bishop, as guardian of the faith in his local church. The early Christian concept, best expressed in the third century by Cyprian of Carthage, according to which the “see of Peter” belongs, in each local church, to the bishop, remains the longstanding and obvious pattern for the Byzantines. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, can write that Jesus “through Peter gave to the bishops the keys of heavenly honors.” Pseudo–Dionysius when he mentions the “hierarchs”–i.e., the bishops of the early Church–refers immediately to the image of Peter. Examples taken from the later period, and quite independent of anti-Latin polemics, can easily be multiplied. Peter’s succession is seen wherever the right faith is preserved, and, as such, it cannot be localized geographically or monopolized by a single church or individual. It is only natural, therefore, that the Byzantine will fail to understand the developed medieval concept of Roman primacy. Thus, in the thirteenth century, shortly after the capture of Constantinople by the Crusaders (1204), we can read Nicholas Mesarites, addressing the Latins:

You try to present Peter as the teacher of Rome alone. While the divine Fathers spoke of the promise made to him by the Savior as having a catholic meaning and as referring to all those who believed and believe, you force yourself into a narrow and false interpretation, ascribing it to Rome alone. If this were true, it would be impossible for every church of the faithful, and not only that of Rome, to possess the Savior properly, and for each church to be founded on the rock, i.e., on the doctrine of Peter, in conformity with the promise.

(John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University, 1974), pp. 98-99).

John Meyendorff:

Cyprian’s view of Peter’s ‘chair’ (cathedri Petri) was that it belonged not only to the bishop of Rome but to every bishop within each community. Thus Cyprian used not the argument of Roman primacy but that of his own authority as ‘successor of Peter’ in Carthage…For Cyprian, the ‘chair of Peter’, was a sacramental concept, necessarily present in each local church: Peter was the example and model of each local bishop, who, within his community, presides over the Eucharist and possesses ‘the power of the keys’ to remit sins. And since the model is unique, unique also is the episcopate (episcopatus unus est) shared, in equal fullness (in solidum) by all bishops.

(John Meyendorff, Imperial Unity and Christian Divisions (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s, 1989), pp. 61, 152, as quoted by William Webster).

John Meyendorff:

For the whole patristic tradition, accepted also by the Byzantines, the succession of Peter depends on the confession of the true faith. The confession is entrusted to each Christian at his baptism, but a particular responsibility belongs, according to the doctrine of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, to those who occupy in each local church the very throne of Christ in apostolic succession, i.e. to the bishops. The responsibility belongs to every one of them, since each local church has the same fullness of grace. Thus the teaching of the Byzantine theologians agrees perfectly with the ecclesiology of St. Cyprian on the ‘Cathedri Petri’: there is no plurality of episcopal sees, there is but one, the chair of Peter, and all the bishops, within the communities of which they are presidents, are seated, each one for his part, on this very chair…Such is the essential notion of the succession of Peter in the Church in Orthodox ecclesiology.

(John Meyendorff, St. Peter in Byzantine Theology. Taken from The Primacy of Peter (London: Faith, 1963), quoted by William Webster, citing pp. 7-29).

Reinhold Seeberg:

5. Cyprian’s conception of the church embraces the following: …
(b) According to Matt. xvi. 18 f., the church is founded upon the bishop and its direction devolves upon him: “Hence through the changes of times and dynasties the ordination of bishops and the order of the church moves on, so that the church is constituted of bishops, and every act of the church is controlled by these leaders” ([Epistle] 33.1) “One in the church is for the time priest and for the time judge, in the stead of Christ” (ep. 59. 5.). How seriously these principles were accepted is evident from the controversy above noted. The bishop decides who belongs to the church and who shall be restored to her fellowship (16. 1; 41. 2; de laps. 18, 22, 29). He conducts the worship as the priest of God, who offers the sacrifice upon the altar (67. 1; Cyprian is the first to assert an actual priesthood of the clergy, based upon the sacrifice offered by them, vid. sub, p. 196), and cares for the poor. He defends the pure tradition against errorists (ep. 63. 17, 19; 74. 10). Cf. O. Ritschl, l. c., 216 ff. He is the leader (praepositus), whose office it is to rule the laity (laici, or plebs) by virtue of divine authority.
(c) The bishops constitute a college (collegium), the episcopate (episcopatus). The councils developed this conception. In them the bishops practically represented the unity of the church, as Cyprian now theoretically formulated it. Upon their unity rests the unity of the church. “The episcopate is one, a part of which taken separately is regarded as the whole: the church is one, which is ever more widely extended into a multitude by the increase of reproductive energy” (de unit. eccl. 5). “The church, which is one and catholic, is in a manner connected and joined together by the glue of the mutually cohering priests” (ep. 66. 8). In this connection it is said: “These are the church united (adunata) to the priest and the flock adhering to the pastor. Whence thou shouldst know that the bishop is in the church and the church in the bishop, and he who is not with the bishop is not in the church, and they flatter themselves in vain who, not having peace with the priests of God, deceive themselves and think that they may secretly hold fellowship with any persons whatsoever” (ib.). This unity of the episcopate rests upon the divine election and endowment which the bishops have in common as successors of the apostles, and finds expression in the same sense (e.g., 75. 3) in their united conferences and mutual recognition (cf. ep. 19. 2; 20. 3; 55. 1, 6, 7, 24, 30; cf. 75. 4, 45, etc.). This unity is manifest in the fact that the Lord in the first instance bestowed apostolic authority upon Peter: “Here the other apostles were also, to a certain extent, what Peter was, endowed with an equal share of both honor and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity, in order that the church of Christ may be shown to be one” (de un. eccl. 4). Accordingly, the Roman church is the “mother and root of the catholic church” (ep. 48. 3; cf. 59.14, etc.). The Roman bishop made practical application of these ideas (ep. 67. 5; esp. 68. 1-3; cf. also ep. 8; 71. 3; 75. 17; de aleatoribus I, as well as the ideas of Callistus, supra, p. 177). As understood by Cyprian, no higher significance was attached to them than by Irenaeus (supra, p. 137). In reality all the bishops—regarded dogmatically—stand upon the same level, and hence he maintained, in opposition to Stephanus of Rome, his right of independent opinion and action, and flatly repelled the latter’s appeal to his primacy (ep. 71. 3; 74; cf. Firmilian’s keen criticism, ep. 75. 2, 3, 17, 24 f.; see also 59. 2, 14; 67. 5). The bond which holds the church to unity is thus the episcopate.

(Reinhold Seeberg, Text-Book of the History of Doctrines (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1952), Volume I, p. 180 & 182-183 – same pagination in 1904 edition published by Lutheran Publication Society, Philadelphia, PA).

Karl Morrison:

Stephen had condemned Cyprian as ‘false Christ, false apostle, and practicer of deceit,’ because he advocated re–baptism; and the Bishop of Carthage reciprocated in kind. Since the headship which Stephen claimed was unwarranted, by the example of St. Peter, he could not force his brethren to accept his views. Even worse, his judgment opposed the authentic tradition of the Church. The bishop of Rome, wrote Cyprian, had confounded human tradition and divine precepts; he insisted on a practice which was mere custom, and ‘custom without truth is the antiquity of error.’ Whence came the ‘tradition’ on which Stephen insisted? Cyprian answered that it came from human presumption. Subverting the Church from within, Stephen wished the Church to follow the practices of heretics by accepting their baptisms, and to hold that those who were not born in the Church could be sons of God. And finally, Cyprian urged that bishops (Stephen was meant) lay aside the love of presumption and obstinacy which had led them to prefer custom to tradition and, abandoning their evil and false arguments, return to the divine precepts, to evangelical and apostolic tradition, whence arose their order and their very origin.
In a letter to Cyprian, Firmilian endorsed everything the bishop of Carthage had said and added a few strokes of his own…Recalling the earlier dispute about the date of Easter, he upheld the practice of Asia Minor by commenting that, in the celebration of Easter and in many other matters, the Romans did not observe the practices established in the age of the Apostles, though they vainly claimed apostolic authority for their aberrant forms. The decree of Stephen was the most recent instance of such audacity, an instance so grave that Firmilian ranked Stephen among heretics and blasphemers and compared his doctrines and discipline with the perfidy of Judas. The Apostles did not command as Stephen commanded, Firmilian wrote, nor did Christ establish the primacy which he claimed…To the Roman custom, Firmilian, like Cyprian, opposed the custom of truth, ‘holding from the beginning that which was delivered by Christ and the Apostles.’ And, Firmilian argued, by his violence and obstinacy, Stephen had apostacized from the communion of ecclesiastical unity; far from cutting heretics off from his communion, he had cut himself off from the orthodox and made himself ‘a stranger in all respects from his brethren, rebelling against the sacrament and the faith with the madness of contumacious discord. With such a man can there be one Spirit and one Body, in whom perhaps there is not even one mind, slippery, shifting, and uncertain as it is?’

(Karl Morrison, Tradition and Authority in the Western Church (Princeton: Princeton University, 1969), pp. 31-32, as quoted by William Webster).

William Jurgens:

Although Cyprian was on excellent terms with Pope St. Cornelius (regn. A.D. 251-253), he fell out sharply with Cornelius’ successor, Pope St. Stephen (regn. A.D. 254-256), on the question of the re-baptizing of converted heretics. It was the immemorial custom of the African Church to regard Baptism conferred by heretics as invalid, and in spite of Stephen’s severe warnings, Cyprian never yielded. His attitude was simply that every bishop is responsible for his own actions, answerable to God alone.

(William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 216-217)

William Jurgens:

A variant reading of certain manuscripts makes the phrase read as a bishop of bishops. Probably it is not the technically correct reading, but it is clearly the sense of the passage: no bishop sets himself up as a bishop with authority over other bishops. The term episcopus episcoporum, as in the variant, is known as a title of grandeur occasionally accorded to various persons of authority as early as the 4th century; and according to Lucifer and Calaris, it was given by the Arians to Constantius. Except for the manuscript variant in question, we have not seen it in the third century. It was not at this time a special title assigned to the Bishop of Rome; and the attitude expressed in regard to the jurisdictional autonomy of individual bishops is Cyprian’s constant attitude, not much stronger in expression here than in certain passages of his letters as early as the year 250 A.D. Yet, in the context of the present question of opposition between Rome and Carthage, it is impossible to believe that in committing himself to the words of the present address, Cyprian did not have Stephen in mind.

(William Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers (Collegeville: Liturgical, 1970), Volume I, p. 241).

W. H. C. Frend:

Meantime (the precise date of Firmilian’s letter is unknown), Cyprian had received support from the church in Cappadocia, for Firmilian had acted similarly towards converted Montanists and had been supported by councils at Synnada and Iconium in Phrygia. He had little patience with Stephen and his follies. Custom was no answer to truth. Stephen, too, had been actively threatening excommunication to bishops in the East if they listened to Cyprian. There was general alarm. The Alexandrian church tried to mediate, and its task was made easier by Stephen’s death on 2 August 257. His successor, Sixtus II, was more equable character. Schism was averted. From Dionysius’s letter to Sixtus, it is clear that, like Cyprian, he regarded the sacrament as an indissoluble unity and the acceptance of heretical baptism as heinous. Nonetheless, Dionysius’s predecessor Heracles had received heretics with laying on of hands, and degrees in heresy might be allowed for. One had at times to temper the strict law. What of someone who had accepted such baptism years ago in a moment of folly? Was he to be regarded as forever outside? For Dionysius baptism was illumination, the gateway to further progress towards perfection (rather than the exclusive connotation implied in the term “seal”), and there could accordingly be greater and lesser degrees of defect. The Council of Nicaea was to agree. Dionysius inclined towards Sixtus’s and the Roman view that Novatianist baptism having being given in the name of the Trinity need not be repeated. Reintegration into the church could be through penance followed by laying on of hands. His mediation was interupted by the Valerianic persecution. It shows, however, how the worldwide character of the church was allowing opinions to be sounded among those not directly involved in a dispute between two major communities. In the informality of this procedure lay its strength. By 260 the Christian leaders were showing powers of statesmanship as well as of survival.
For the next forty years Rome and Carthage remained at peace. Their bishops were relatively obscure men who left little mark on history, but neither see abandoned its position.

(W.H.C. Frend, The Rise of Christianity (Philadelphia: Augsburg, 1984), pp. 356-57).

Johannes Quasten:

To defend ecclesiastical unity, when it was threatened by schisms, Cyprian wrote De unitate ecclesiae and many of his letters, founding it, so far as the members of the Church are concerned, on adherence to the bishop. ‘You should understand that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and that whoever is not with the bishop is not in the Church’ (Epist. 66.8). Thus the ordinary is the visible authority around which the congregation is centered.
The solidarity of the universal Church rests in turn on that of the bishops, who act as a sort of senate. They are the successors of the apostles and the apostles were the bishops of old. ‘The Lord chose the apostles, that is, the bishops and rulers’ (Epist. 3.3). The Church is built upon them. Thus Cyprian interprets the Tu es Petrus (You are Peter) as follows:

“Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: ‘I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not preval against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.’ Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers. Since then this order has been established by divine decree, I am amazed that some individuals have had the bold effrontery to write me and send letters in the name of the Church, seeing that the Church is composed of the bishop and the clergy and all who are steadfast’ (Cyprian, Epistle XXXIII, 1).

Thus he understands Matth. 16:18 of the whole episcopate, the various members of which, attached to one another by the laws of charity and concord (Epist. 54.1; 68.5), thus render the Church universal a single body. ‘The Church, which is catholic and one, is not split asunder nor divided but is truly bound and joined together by the cement of its priests, who hold fast one to another’ (Epist. 66.8).

The Primacy of Rome

Cyprian is convinced that the bishop answers to God alone. ‘So long as the bond of friendship is maintained and the sacred unity of the Catholic Church is preserved, each bishop is master of his own conduct, conscious that he must one day render an account of himself to the Lord’ (Epist. 55.21). In his controversy with Pope Stephen on the rebaptism of heretics he voices as the president of the African synod of September 256 his opinion as follows:

“No one among us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or by tyranny and terror forces his colleagues to compulsory obedience, seeing that every bishop in the freedom of his liberty and power possesses the right to his own mind and can no more be judged by another than he himself can judge another. We must all await the judgment of our Lord Jesus Chirst, who singly and alone has power both to appoint us to the government of his Church and to judge our acts therein’ (CSEL 3, 1, 436).

From these words it is evident that Cyprian does not recognize a primacy of jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over his colleagues. Nor does he think Peter was given power over the other apostles because he states: hoc erant et ceteri apostoli quod fuit Petrus, pari consortio praediti et honoris et potestatis (De unit. 4). No more did Peter claim it: ‘Even Peter, whom the Lord first chose and upon whom He built His Church, when Paul later disputed with him over circumcision, did not claim insolently any prerogative for himself, nor make any arrogant assumptions nor say that he had the primacy and ought to be obeyed’ (Epist. 71, 3).”

On the other hand, it is the same Cyprian who gives the highest praise to the church of Rome on account of its importance for ecclesiastical unity and faith, when he complains of heretics ‘who dare to set sail and carry letters from schismatic and blasphemous persons to the see of Peter and the leading church, whence the unity of the priesthood took its rise, not realizing that the Romans, whose faith was proclaimed and praised by the apostle, are men into whose company no perversion of faith can enter’ (Epist. 59, 14). Thus the cathedra Petri is to him the ecclesia principalis and the point of origin of the unitas sacerdotalis. However, even in this letter he makes it quite clear that he does not concede to Rome any higher right to legislate for other sees because he expects her not to interfere in his own diocese ‘since to each separate shepherd has been assigned one portion of the flock to direct and govern and render hereafter an account of his ministry to the Lord’ (Epist. 59, 14)…If he refuses to the bishop of Rome any higher power to maintain by legislation the solidarity of which he is the centre, it must be because he regards the primacy as one of honor and the bishop of Rome as primus inter pares.

(Johannes Quasten, Patrology (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1983), Volume II, pp. 374-378).

Returning to Anders’ Claim
Around 17:30 in the program linked above, Anders claims “As soon as the question of Rome’s bishop is raised explicitly, say like Pope Stephen in the 250s, who explicitly claims to derive his authority from Petrine succession, you don’t get a hint of opposition to that idea in the east.” At best, this is misleading. There was immediate western opposition to his claim, as explained above and that western opposition was supported in Cappadocia in the east.

And why would the east react beyond that? Was Stephen fighting with them?  We don’t have evidence of letters from Stephen making similar claims of authority with respect to eastern bishops.

It’s hard to see any reason for Anders’ apparent expectation that in the midst of a time of persecution, Eastern bishops would be focused on correcting things that Cyprian had already corrected, particularly when the central issue was the (re?)baptism of heretics and schismatics.  That Stephen’s authority claim was not accepted can most clearly be seen from the fact that the baptismal customs continued despite Stephen’s opposition to them.

William Webster previously discussed this issue with Steve Ray, and his more detailed articles are available at the linked pages (Part 1 (see especially the “third misrepresentation” and “sixth misrepresentation” sections), Part 2, Part 3 – see page for subparts, Part 4).

I don’t know the reason for Dr. Anders to so badly misrepresent church history.  I think it is due to his ignorance of history, not a desire to misrepresent it.  While his claims were made confidently, so where other of his claims, some of which are easily demonstrated to be false.

For example, around 29:30 in the same program, Dr. Anders hastily dismisses a caller’s comment about saving virgins during the conquest of Canaan (“nothing about virgin girls”), whereas Scripture says:

Number 31:15-18
And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? Behold, these caused the children of Israel, through the counsel of Balaam, to commit trespass against the Lord in the matter of Peor, and there was a plague among the congregation of the Lord. Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

Thus, I’m inclined to attribute Dr. Anders’ mistaken or misleading historical assertion to ignorance rather than intentional deception. Patrick Coffin makes the same erroneous assertion about the book of Numbers around 36 minutes in, although more tentatively than Dr. Anders.

Interestingly, in the very next hour when chapter and verse are provided (about 15 minutes into #6797), Tim Staples alleges that the Scriptures were just recording the fact in Numbers 31:31-40, not saying this was from God.  That too is baffling, since Moses in the passage I provided above is providing a command, not merely recording a fact.  Tim’s only option here would be to say that Moses was giving this command on his own initiative, and that it did not come from God, which seems untenable.

By way of caveat, I would note that you can see from the selections above that those who favored rebaptizing those who had been baptized by schismatics and/or heretics justified this on a seeming belief that baptism itself remitted sins.  We can rightly reject that position, even while also rejecting Stephen’s authority claims for the reasons they give on that point.  In other words, just because we agree with them that Stephen was not a “bishop of bishops” does not mean we have to agree with them about the nature of baptism.

Asking the “Mother of Mercy” to Have Mercy

I was a little surprised to read Roman Catholic John Thayer Jensen suggesting that Roman Catholics don’t ask Mary for Mercy, they only ask her to pray for them. He wrote:

It is worth noting the many Catholic litanies which begin with things like ‘Lamb of God, have mercy on us’ and ‘Holy Spirit have mercy on us’ – but never proceed to ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, have mercy on us.’ Rather, when they get to her and to the saints the response is ‘pray for us.’

Many RC litanies do follow the pattern that JTJ described. Still, it didn’t take long to find an example of one that explicitly asks Mary for Mercy:

God the Father of heaven Have mercy on us
God the Son, redeemer of the world Have mercy on us
God the Holy Spirit Have mercy on us
Holy Trinity, one God Have mercy on us
Holy Mary Have mercy on us
Holy mother of God Have mercy on us
Holy Virgin of virgins Have mercy on us
Mother of Christ Have mercy on us
Mother of the Church Have mercy on us
Mother of divine grace Have mercy on us
Mother most pure Have mercy on us
Mother most chaste Have mercy on us
Mother inviolate Have mercy on us
Mother undefiled Have mercy on us
Mother immaculate Have mercy on us
Mother most amiable Have mercy on us
Mother most admirable Have mercy on us
Mother of good counsel Have mercy on us
Mother of our Creator Have mercy on us
Mother of our Savior Have mercy on us

(Litany of the Blessed Virgin) There are numerous additional titles of Mary provided in that particular litany.

Furthermore, this is not an isolated case. The current edition of the Salve Maria Regina Bulletin provides an article on “Titles of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto,” including this account:

In the old apocryphal book of “The Passing of Mary,” which goes back to the fifth century, there is this passage: “Often here in Rome, She appears to the people who confess Her in prayer, for She has appeared here on the sea when it was troubled and raised itself and was going to destroy the ship in which they were sailing.” And the sailors called out, “O Lady Mercy, Mother of God, have mercy on us, and straightway She rose upon them like the sun and delivered the ships, 92 of them, and rescued them from destruction, and none of them perished.” And in like manner Mary has saved the Bark of Peter many times when it seemed threatened with destruction. Many of Her Feasts have been instituted, many of Her devotions established, or approved, and indulgenced in commemoration of the manifestation of the power of Her arm.

(link to article)

The Catechism of the Catholic Church endorses prayer to Mary explicitly at 2675-79, for example: “Mary is the perfect Orans … When we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sends his Son to save all men. … We can pray with and to her.” (CCC 2679) The title “Mother of Mercy” is endorsed at CCC 2677.

Finally, while the wording is not exactly what was proposed by JTJ, perhaps he should listen to the Alma Redemptoris Mater:

O loving Mother of our Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more.
Thou who brought forth thy holy Creator, all creation wond’ring,
Yet remainest ever Virgin, taking from Gabriel’s lips
that joyful “Hail!”: be merciful to us sinners.


Perhaps JTJ was just unaware of this, and will now rebuff the mariolatry present in Roman Catholicism. One would hope that such would be the case. It is not right to pray to Mary for Mercy, even if one also prayers to the Holy Trinity for mercy. Such prayer ought only to be offered to God through the intercession of the Son, who is to be our only mediator.

Dating the Sub Tuum Praesidium – Is Marian Veneration Apostolic?

Despite the eagerness of Roman Catholic apologists to establish that their veneration of Mary has ancient precedent, marian veneration is a merely human tradition, one that begin to flourish in the fourth century and expanded significantly after the term “Theotokos” was used at the Council of Ephesus to describe Mary as the “God-Bearer,” which she really was in the sense of carrying in her womb one who is both God and man in two distinct natures and one person.

To try to push the date of marian veneration back into the third century, some Roman Catholic apologists (some examples appear below) have appealed to the Sub Tuum Praesidium. That’s an early prayer to Mary. A few scholars have dated this prayer to the mid third century, based on the handwriting. Other scholars have noted that there are two major problems with this idea: (1) the prayer uses the term “Theotokos,” which became popular after the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) and wasn’t very popular before then; and (2) the idea of praying to Mary is unknown amongst orthodox Christians in the 3rd century.

Depending on the source, one can find this issue identified in scholarly works that cite this papyrus. For example, The Cult of the Mother of God in Byzantium: Texts and Images, Leslie Brubaker and Mary B. Cunningham editors, “Melkite Syriac Hymns to the Mother of God (9th-11th centuries): Manuscripts, Language and Imagery,” by Nataliaa Smelova (section author), p. 118:

Arguably the earliest and certainly one of the most famous Marian hymns, ‘Υπὁ τἡν σἠν εὐσπλαγχνίαν’ is found in the fourth century (?) papyrus 470 from the John Rylands Library (University of Manchester) as well as in the papyrus P. Vindobon. G 17944, dated to the sixth or seventh century, from the Austrian National Library in Vienna.[fn 3]

[3 C.H. Roberts, Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester (4 vols, Manchester, 1911-52), vol. 3 (1938): Theological and Literary texts (nos. 457-551), 46-7, pl. 1; K. Treu and J.M. Diethart, Griechische literarische Papyri Christlichen Inhaltes, Mitteilungen aus der Papyrusssammlung der Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek, n.s. 2 (Vienna, 1993), 56, pl. 16.]

Similarly, Empress and Handmaid: On Nature and Gender in the Cult of the Virgin Mary, by Sarah Jane Boss, Note 1 at page 41:

1. The prayer is written in Greek on a fragment of Egyptian papyrus which is now in the possession of the John Rylands Library, Manchester. (C.H. Roberts (ed.), Catalogue of the Greek and Latin Papyri in the John Rylands Library, Manchester vol. III, Theological and Literary texts (Nos. 457-551) (1938) no. 470. It is a Greek version of the prayer which occurs in Latin as the Sub tuum praesidium. The papyrus dates from the fourth or fifth century, and may be reconstructed to yield the following translation: ‘Beneath your compassion we take refuge, Mother of God. Do not ignore our supplications in our necessities, but deliver us from danger: alone chaste, alone blessed.’
See Th. Koehler, ‘Maternité spirituelle, maternité mystique’ in Hubert du Manoir (ed.), Maria tom. VI (1961), pp. 571-2, n. 77; Michael O’Carroll, Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1982), p. 336.

As you can see from these examples C.H. Roberts’ work is the primary reference. He was a lecturer in papyrology in the University of Oxford and fellow of St. John’s college, and is the one who published this papyrus. The entry for papyrus 470 in his catalog is as follows:

Aquired in 1917. 18 x 9.4 cm. ? Fourth century.
This prayer, written in brown ink on a small sheet of papyrus (the verso is blank), is probably a private copy ; there are no indications that it was intended for liturgical use. The hand, tall, upright, and pointed, with small blobs at the top and bottom of vertical strokes, is of a peculiar type to which I know no exact parallel. The α is of a kind more common in inscriptions than in papyri, and Dr. Bell suggests that the peculiarity of the script might be explained on the ground that it was a model for an engraver.
Mr. Lobel has pointed out to me that the hand resembles somewhat that of the letter of Subatianus Aquila (Schubart, Papyri Graecae Berolinenses, 35; cf. id. Paeleographie, p. 73) with its large and narrow characters; the ο, ι, and to a less extent the ε, are similar in both texts, but the peculiar [hand drawing of character] found in 470 is missing in the other, which on the whole is less decorative. Lobel would be unwilling to place 470 later than the third century. But such individual hands are hard to date, and it is almost incredible that a prayer addressed directly to the Virgin in these terms could be written in the third century. The Virgin was spoken of as Θεοτόκος by Athanasius ; but there is no evidence even for private prayer addressed to her (cf. Greg. Naz. Orat. xxiv. II) before the latter part of the fourth century, and I find it difficult to think that our text was written earlier than that (cf. art. ‘Mary’ in Hastings, Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics).

(Rylands Library Catologue of Greek and Latin Papyri – Entry 470, including the text transcription, a photo of the manuscript, and some notes on the text)

Likewise, in “An exhibition of Greek and Latin papyri in the John Rylands University Library of Manchester: arranged on the occasion of the XIV International Congress of Papyrologists,” (Compiled by Frank Taylor, Glenise A. Matheson) (John Rylands Library, 1974):

Greek. 18 x 9.4 cm. Probably fourth century.
This fragment (No. 470), which cannot be later than the 5th century and is most probably 4th, is the earliest example of a prayer addressed to the Virgin and the oldest text of the famous prayer “Sub tuum praesidium”.

In short, the dating to 250 we sometimes see RC apologists use, is based on Lobel’s comparison of the handwriting to that of the letter of Subatianus Aquila, but Roberts (himself a papyrologist) rejects that dating, and points out that the term Θεοτόκος wasn’t widely used in that time period and orthodox prayers to Mary were unknown in that time period (the Kollyridians might be mentioned as an early heretical sect who worshiped Mary, although it seems unlikely that they would have used the term Θεοτόκος).

Furthermore, the later dating is what was maintained at Rylands when dealing with papyrologists, despite the obvious incentive Rylands would have for asserting an earlier date. That is not to say that other scholars always follow the later dating, merely that the later dating is better.

Even Maxwell E. Johnson, who is critical of the argument based on the usage of “Theotokos,” acknowledges: “But even if the text of the Sub tuum praesidium is no older than the early fourth century, it remains the earliest marian prayer in existence ….” (Praying and Believing in Early Christianity: The Interplay Between Christian Worship and Doctrine, pp. 79-80; see also “Sub Tuum Praesidium: The Theotokos in Christian Life and Worship and Worship before Ephesus,” in The Place of Christ in Liturgical Prayer: Christology, Trinity, and Liturgical Theology, pp. 243-67, by the same author saying the same thing in virtually identical words) Similarly, Luigi Gambero in “Mary and the Fathers of the Church,” acknowledges “It was in Egypt that the first Marian prayer known to us was composed, in the third century.” (p. 69)

Moreover, note carefully what Roberts points out about the handwriting: it is unique. There is some speculation about why it might have the shape it does, but the fact that the writing is unique makes paleographic dating less reliable. It’s one reason for doubting that a mid third century dating is wrong, and when coupled with the content, suggests a significantly later date.

Furthermore, regardless of whether it is third or fourth century, it is the first such example of prayer to Mary. From this, we can reasonable infer that prayer to Mary is not an apostolic tradition – it is a human tradition that arose centuries after Christ’s resurrection.

Examples of Advocates/Apologists Relying on this Papyrus
– Fred Noltie at Called to Communion (link to his post)(does not mention dating issues, and links to a now dead page at “Catholic Concepts” which likewise doesn’t mention the controversy over the date)
– “Fr. Seraphim Beshoner,” a Franciscan priest and history professor at University of Stubenville, on the Catholic Under the Hood podcast (link to podcast)(misrepresents the controversial status of the dating, apparently based on relying on an article he read by Henri de Villiers, as per his accompanying blog post)
– William Albrecht (in his recent debate on the Immaculate Conception)

Review of Devin Rose’s “The Protestant’s Dilemma”

Devin Rose’s book, “The Protestant’s Dilemma,” is one of Catholic Answer’s latest attempts at advancing Roman Catholicism. If this is the best they can muster, perhaps this explains why there have been so few debates by Catholic Answers apologists in the last few years.


Overall, the book tends to treat truth as a post-modernist: truth needs to be defined by community. The book suggests that Protestantism lacks a sufficiently unified community to provide any definitive truth. The book then argues that the alternatives are therefore either every man defining his own truth or relying on the Roman Catholic community defined truth.

The post-modern premise to Mr. Rose’s book is wrong. Truth is an objective reality. While an individual can benefit from a community and from God-ordained leaders in that community, such as parents, elders, and teachers, an individual is ultimately responsible to God on an individual basis. Accordingly, an individual has responsibility for judging the truth of doctrines, accepting what is right and rejecting what is wrong.

The Bible is not written from a post-modern perspective, but from the perspective of objective truth. The Scriptures are, as they claim, God’s self-revelation. “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.” (Psalm 19:7) Furthermore, the Scriptures were not written merely as a tool for the community but for the benefit, conversion, and comfort of individuals:

John 20:30-31
And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.

1 Corinthians 10:11
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.

1 John 5:13
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.

Rose’s book is organized into thirty-four chapters on various topics, grouped into four categories: the Church of Christ, the Bible and Tradition, the Sacraments and Salvation, and Christian History and Practice. Since Mr. Rose has described these as thirty-four arguments, it makes sense to refer to them that way in this review/response.

The book begins on a hopeful note, with reference to the need for “dialogue.” Little dialogue follows, sadly.

Argument 1 is “Divine Authority”

“If Protestantism is true, Christ revoked the authority that he gave to the Church when he founded it.”

No, Christ gave authority to the apostles not “to the Church.” The fault in Devin’s argument arises from a faulty assumption about the recipient of Christ’s authority. The apostles taught authoritatively, and left behind them Scriptures, not more apostles.

Matthew 28:16-20
Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them. And when they saw him, they worshipped him: but some doubted. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Argument 2 is “The Papacy”

“If Protestantism is true, after centuries of its existence, God decided to eradicate the office of the papacy.”

No, God never established the office of the papacy. The papacy was an office that men created – one that gradually developed. Instead, the head of the church is Christ:

Ephesians 1:17-23
That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and set him at his own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come: and hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

We don’t have a “papa” or “holy father” on earth, but instead we have one father in heaven:

Matthew 23:1-12
Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: all therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, and love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
But be not ye called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.
And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.
Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.

Argument 3 is “Ecumenical Councils”

“If Protestantism is true, ecumenical councils somehow no longer have the authority they used to have.”

No, the authority of ecumenical councils has not changed. They were never infallible. Nicaea was right – not infallible. Ariminum was a larger council than Nicaea, but it was wrong.

Augustine (354-430 AD) put it well:

The Father and the Son are, then, of one and the same substance. This is the meaning of that “homoousios” that was confirmed against the Arian heretics in the Council of Nicaea by the Catholic fathers with the authority of the truth and the truth of authority. Afterward, in the Council of Ariminum it was understood less than it should have been because of the novelty of the word, even though the ancient faith had given rise to it. There the impiety of the heretics under the heretical Emperor Constantius tried to weaken its force, when many were deceived by the fraudulence of a few. But not long after that, the freedom of the Catholic faith prevailed, and after the meaning of the word was understood as it should be, that “homoousios” was defended far and wide by the soundness of the Catholic faith. After all, what does “homoousios” mean but “of one and the same substance”? What does “homoousios” mean, I ask, but the Father and I are one (Jn 10:30)? I should not, however, introduce the Council of Nicaea to prejudice the case in my favor, nor should you introduce the Council of Ariminum that way. I am not bound by the authority of Ariminum, and you are not bound by that of Nicaea. By the authority of the scriptures that are not the property of anyone, but the common witnesses for both of us, let position do battle with position, case with case, reason with reason.

John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., ed., The Works of Saint Augustine, Part 1, Vol. 18, trans. Roland J. Teske, S.J., Answer to Maximinus, Book II, XIV – On the Sameness of Substance in the Trinity, Section 3 (New York: New City Press, 1995), pp. 281-82.

Argument 4 is “The Four Marks of the Church”

“If Protestantism is true, the meaning of the four marks of the Church fundamentally changed during the Reformation.”

Devin is referring to the expression, “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” That statement refers to a church defined by faith, not walls. That sense did not change during the Reformation.  Jerome said the same thing:

The Church does not consist in walls, but in the truths of her teachings. The Church is there where there is true faith. As a matter of fact, fifteen and twenty years ago, all the church buildings belonged to heretics, for heretics twenty years ago were in possession of them; but the true Church was there where the true faith was.

Fathers of the Church, Vol. 48, The Homilies of St. Jerome: Vol. 1, On the Psalms, Homily 46 (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1964), p. 344.

Argument 5 is “Protestantism’s View of the Catholic Church”

“If Protestantism is true, Catholics are at best in serious error, and at worst non-Christian cultists.”

Roman Catholicism teaches another gospel. Those who follow any other gospel are as lost as “cultists.” Thankfully, people may be in the Roman Catholic church without following what Rome teaches.

Galatians 1:8-9
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.

Those were just Judaizers who wanted to add the Mosaic law to the gospel. Rome not only insists on works, but adds idolatry in the form of worship of God through images and in the form of religious worship to created things and to non-existent things.

Argument 6 is “Doctrinal Reliability”

“If Protestantism is true, we’re stuck without a trustworthy guide to Christian truth.”

On the contrary, we have the guidance of the Spirit:

Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. (John 16:13)

Ephesians 1:15-17 (more quoted above)
Wherefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus, and love unto all the saints, cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers; that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him:

“Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day.” (Psalm 25:5)

“The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.” (Psalm 25:9)

“For thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me.” (Psalm 31:3)

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye.” (Psalm 32:8)

“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.” (Psalm 48:14)

“Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory.” (Psalm 73:24)

“For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. To day if ye will hear his voice,” (Psalm 95:7)

“To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.” (John 10:3)

“And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

“My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:” (John 10:27)

We have the Scriptures.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.” (Psalm 119:99)

Furthermore, there are other trustworthy guides. Of course, they are not infallible, but something fallible can still be trustworthy.

Argument 7 is “Martin Luther and the Canon”

“If Protestantism is true, it’s okay to remove books from the New Testament canon if you judge them to be non-inspired.”

Why does Devin think that the Shepherd of Hermas and 1 Clement aren’t in the New Testament? They’re not in it because they’re not inspired. Reformation Protestantism doesn’t say that we create the reality of inspiration, but rather that we recognize it. There may be some postmodernists who think that canon is the product of community, but that’s not the Reformed view of the canon.

James Swan has previously addressed issues related to Martin Luther and the canon and so I would direct the readers to a more complete discussion of that issue, as addressed by him.

Argument 8 is “The Deuterocanonical Books”

“If Protestantism is true, God allowed the early Church to put seven books in the Bible that didn’t belong there.”

Some early Christians mistakenly put the Shepherd of Hermas and 1 Clement in the New Testament where they didn’t belong, and others mistakenly put in not only the books that Rome puts in, but also other books like 1 Enoch. So, it plainly did happen that God let some people in the early church get the Old Testament canon wrong. On the other hand, folks like Jerome recognized the non-inspiration of the Apocrypha and opposed them.

Argument 9 is “The Self-Authenticating Canon”

“If Protestantism is true, the canon of Scripture is subject to every Christian’s personal discernment.”

This is more or less a re-hash of argument 7, and has the same false premise of post-modernism. While each Christian may need to exercise discernment regarding the canon, the canon is an objective fact. Either Christians recognize it or they do not, but the canon is the 66 books God inspired, whether anyone else but God recognizes it.

Argument 10 is “Identifying the Canon”

“If Protestantism is true, the Bible is a ‘fallible collection of infallible books.'”

The collection process was fallible, certainly – and many Christians did fail, as noted above. Indeed, Devin has to concede this point, unless he wants to agree with Jerome and us that the Old Testament canon should be that of the Hebrew, not the longer canon that Rome adopts, or the still longer canon that some other churches adopt.

Devin clearly likes Trent’s allegedly infallible definition of the canon of Scripture. Yet Devin doesn’t seem to recognize that the Bible was useful as the Bible before Trent. The Bible didn’t suddenly become useful after 1500 years, just because Trent claimed to infallible say which books and parts are to be included in the canon. The Bible was functional as a rule of faith long before then.

Argument 11 is “Sola Scriptura and Christian Unity”

“If Protestantism is true, Protestants should be united in their interpretations of the Bible.”

Devin is mistaken. Nothing about Sola Scriptura promises that all believers (much less all Protestants) will be united in all their interpretations of everything in the Bible. Nor does it even promise that there will be a general consensus on most things in the Bible. Instead, as Chrysostom expressed it, what Sola Scriptura teaches is:

Chrysostom (349-407):

Tell me then, I beseech you, if now, when we are all present some one entered, having a golden girdle, and drawing himself up, and with an air of consequence said that he was sent by the king that is on the earth, and that he brought letters to the whole city concerning matters of importance; would you not then be all turned towards him? Would you not, without any command from a deacon, observe a profound silence? Truly I think so. For I have often heard letters from kings read here. Then if any one comes from a king, you all attend; and does a Prophet come from God, and speak from heaven, and no one attend? Or do you not believe that these things are messages from God? These are letters sent from God; therefore let us enter with becoming reverence into the Churches, and let us hearken with fear to the things here said.
What do I come in for, you say, if I do not hear some one discoursing? This is the ruin and destruction of all. For what need of a person to discourse? This necessity arises from our sloth. Wherefore any necessity for a homily? All things are clear and open that are in the divine Scriptures; the necessary things are all plain. But because ye are hearers for pleasure’s sake, for that reason also you seek these things. For tell me, with what pomp of words did Paul speak? and yet he converted the world. Or with what the unlettered Peter? But I know not, you say, the things that are contained in the Scriptures. Why? For are they spoken in Hebrew? Are they in Latin, or in foreign tongues? Are they not in Greek? But they are expressed obscurely, you say: What is it that is obscure? Tell me. Are there not histories? For (of course) you know the plain parts, in that you enquire about the obscure. There are numberless histories in the Scriptures. Tell me one of these. But you cannot. These things are an excuse, and mere words. Every day, you say, one hears the same things. Tell me, then, do you not hear the same things in the theaters? Do you not see the same things in the race-course? Are not all things the same? Is it not always the same sun that rises? Is it not the same food that we use? I should like to ask you, since you say that you every day hear the same things; tell me, from what Prophet was the passage that was read? from what Apostle, or what Epistle? But you cannot tell me—you seem to hear strange things. When therefore you wish to be slothful, you say that they are the same things. But when you are questioned, you are in the case of one who never heard them. If they are the same, you ought to know them. But you are ignorant of them.

NPNF1: Vol. XIII, Homilies on the Second Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, Homily III, Comments on 2 Thessalonians 1:9, 10.

Argument 12 is “the Principle of Individual Judgment”

“If Protestantism is true, we all decide for ourselves what God’s revelation means.”

Again, Reformed Protestantism is not postmodern. While we may each seek the truth of God’s revelation it’s not as though we get to “decide for ourselves” in some other sense.

Argument 13 is “Interpretive Authority”

“If Protestantism is true, all we have is fallible opinions about infallible books.”

We are still fallible human beings, whether we have Scripture alone or Scripture plus allegedly infallible “Tradition.”

Argument 14 is “Misinterpreting the Great Commission”

“If Protestantism is true, today’s Protestant missionaries are misinterpreting the Great Commission.”

Devin’s argument here needs some explanation. He claims that the Reformers were opposed to missions, and thought that only the apostles were called to be foreign missionaries. It may be that the Reformers thought that the Great Commission was uniquely to the apostles, but the Reformers were active in missions work and taught the need for the gospel to be preached to the nations.

Calvin’s commentary (Vol. 3 of the Harmony of the Gospels, at Matthew 28:20) states:

Teach all nations. Here Christ, by removing the distinction, makes the Gentiles equal to the Jews, and admits both, indiscriminately to a participation in the covenant. Such is also the import of the term: go out; for the prophets under the law had limits assigned to them, but now, the wall of partition having been broken down, (Ephesians 2:14,) the Lord commands the ministers of the gospel to go to a distance, in order to spread the doctrine of salvation in every part of the world. For though, as we have lately suggested, the right of the first-born at the very commencement of the gospel, remained among the Jews, still the inheritance of life was common to the Gentiles. Thus was fulfilled that prediction of Isaiah, (49:6,) and others of a similar nature, that Christ was given for a light of the Gentiles, that he might be the salvation of God to the end of the earth.

Moreover, it should be evident that the Reformers made effort to reach those beyond the walls of their home towns. Giovanni Diodati, for example, translated the Bible into Italian from Hebrew and Greek in 1607, not out of idle curiosity, but to spread the gospel in Italy.

James Good’s “Famous Missionaries of the Reformed Church” documents Reformed missionaries, beginning with a trip by Reformed ministers to the New World in 1555 (Peter Richer and William Chartier) (here’s an excerpt discussing the point). So, while the Great Commission may indeed have been specifically for the apostles, and not necessarily applicable in the same sense to all Christians or to all Christian ministers, the early Reformers were pro-missions.

Argument 15 is “the Closure of Public Revelation”

“If Protestantism is true, there’s no reason to believe that public revelation ended with the death of the last apostle.”

Actually, there are great reasons to think that special revelation ended – not just “public” but also “private.” Paul prophesied that the extraordinary gifts would cease:

1 Corinthians 13:8-10
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

Likewise, the anonymous author of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the final revelation:

Hebrews 1:1-2
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;

Hebrews 2:2-4
Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?

Notice that in the second passage, the confirmation signs and wonders are already past (“was confirmed”), helping to demonstrate this apostolic age is already passing.

Moreover, it is important to understand the purpose of revelation. Once one understands that the purpose of New Testament revelation was to form the New Testament church, it becomes understandable that when the first generation was past, the revelation would cease. In other words, when we realize that revelation is not just a cool magic trick, but actually a part of a providentially arranged history of redemption, then we see that its purpose is served once the New Testament is delivered.

Argument 16 is “the Role of History and Tradition”

“If Protestantism is true, Christians have zero need to understand even their own history or tradition.”

What a curious criticism from a person whose religion’s commands are chiefly to hear Mass on Sundays and Holy Days (Compendium of the CCC 289); to fast during Lent; to go to confession once a year (Compendium of the CCC 305); to receive Holy Communion at Easter (Compendium of the CCC 290); and to provide material support to the church. Study of history and tradition are not even particularly commended in the Catechism of the Catholic Church in its discussion of the “lay faithful” (CCC 897-913 and 940-43). Indeed, the compendium puts it this way:

432. What are the precepts of the Church?
They are: 1) to attend Mass on Sundays and other holy days of obligation and to refrain from work and activities which could impede the sanctification of those days; 2) to confess one’s sins, receiving the sacrament of Reconciliation at least once each year; 3) to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season; 4) to abstain from eating meat and to observe the days of fasting established by the Church; and 5) to help to provide for the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.

In any event, while the study of history and tradition is not necessary for salvation, we do commend the study of history and tradition. It is useful and beneficial for Christians to know about church history. This very post demonstrates one use: to respond to false accusations from enemies of the faith!

Argument 17 is “Doing what the Bible Says”

“If Protestantism is true, Christians must follow even the seemingly absurd commands of Scripture.”

Yes. The alternative is what, exactly? Ignoring or disobeying the seemingly absurd commands? It is interesting that amongst the “seemingly absurd” commands Devin identifies are the use of headcoverings by women in worship, generosity to the poor, and issues of divorce and remarriage. Devin seems to be arguing that many Protestants don’t actually obey these commands, but doesn’t seem to view them as seemingly absurd.

Argument 18 is “the Communion of Saints”

“If Protestantism is true, asking for the prayers of the saints in heaven is a sort of idolatry.”

More precisely, it’s a combination of superstition since the people being asked are passed on and consequently cannot hear, necromancy as an attempt to communicate with the deceased, and first commandment idolatry in that it involves religious veneration of a creature rather than the creator. We have communion and fellowship amongst the saints we see. We bear one another’s burdens and pray for one another. We lose that reciprocal relation at death, but look forward to its restoration when we join them in heaven or in the final resurrection if that comes first.

Argument 19 is “Baptismal Regeneration”

“If Protestantism is true, the purpose and meaning of baptism are anyone’s guess.”

There is an objective truth as to what the purpose and meaning of baptism is. “Protestantism” is such a broad category that it includes a variety of different views on what the purpose and meaning of baptism is. That doesn’t mean all of the views are equally valid, or that the issue is not worth studying. It just means that calling it “anyone’s guess” is misleading.

Argument 20 is “Infant Baptism”

“If Protestantism is true, we don’t know for sure whether infants should be baptized– not only dividing churches potentially imperiling millions of souls.”

This is essentially a rehash of number 19. If Protestantism is defined by “Sola Fide” though, then the salvation of millions is not in the balance because justification is by the instrument faith not the instrument of baptism. So, while there may be some groups classified as “Protestant” on other grounds that would insist that unbaptized people are unsaved people, that charge doesn’t really apply to the historic “five solas” protestants.

Argument 21 is “Sanctification and Purgatory”

“If Protestantism is true, when we die, God waves a magic sanctification wand over us wretched, filthy sinners to make us suddenly fit for heaven.”

The expression “magic sanctification wand” is obviously mocking, but yes – we believe that the souls of believers are made perfectly righteous by God at their death. While this glorification (as it is called) is very wonderful, calling it “magic” just seems so bizarre for a Roman Catholic who thinks that Baptism infuses justifying and sanctifying graces or that bread becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Christ. It’s the sort of objection one might expect from an atheist, not a professed supernaturalist.

Argument 22 is “Marriage as a Sacrament”

“If Protestantism is true, marriage is not an outward sign of an inward grace wrought by God, even though Protestants sometimes act like it is.”

Right. While marriage does provide an illustration of Christ and the church, marriage is for both believers and unbelievers (though not to each other). While marriage is a great blessing from God, and while marriage is ordained by God, and while marriage can help people develop maturity, marriage is not a sacrament of the new covenant, just as it was not a sacrament of the old covenant.

Argument 23 is “Anointing of the Sick”

“If Protestantism is true, the anointing of the sick is not a sacrament, even though the Bible attests to it in multiple places.”

The Bible attests to the practice of anointing the sick, but does not describe it as a sacrament. Protestant ministers continue to visit the sick, despite Devin’s claims that “the Reformers ended this practice.”

Argument 24 is “the Eucharist”

“If Protestantism is true, Christ may be present somehow in the Eucharist, or it may be a purely symbolic and even optional ritual. Or it may be a demonic form of idolatry.”

The options are really only the first two – either it is purely symbolic or Christ is somehow present. The idea that it is “optional” doesn’t smell of Protestantism. The point regarding “idolatry” is not that the Eucharist itself is idolatry, but that the Roman Catholic practice of worshiping the bread and wine is giving the worship due to God to a created thing.

Argument 25 is “Confession”

“If Protestantism is true, the power that Jesus gave men to forgive sins died with the apostles.”

No, the power to proclaim forgiveness of sins in the gospel of Jesus Christ continues. It was always only in the power of God to forgive sins in the sense that Rome means, but the gospel that Jesus gave the apostles, they passed on to us in Scripture.

Argument 26 is “Holy Orders and Apostolic Succession”

“If Protestantism is true, anyone who accurately interprets and teaches from the Bible has authority in Christ’s Church.”

Not exactly. Both parental authority and authority within the church do not depend strictly on whether the parent or elder is correct. An elder is an overseer even when the elder is wrong, just as a father is a father even when he errs. The Scriptures, however, are the supreme authority in the matters they address. Thus, when obeying the Bible and obeying a parent or elder comes into conflict, we have to obey God, rather than man.

Argument 27 is “Sexual Morality”

“If Protestantism is true, sexual morality is culturally conditioned and thus subject to change.”

That’s certainly not a tenet of Protestantism. There may be “Protestant” churches that hold to such an idea, but it should be plain that many would reject that idea.

Argument 28 is “Other Moral Issues”

“If Protestantism is true, Christian moral teachings are subject to change based on a majority vote.”

Actually, that sounds more like Roman Catholicism, in which conciliar decisions are a matter of majority vote. This is just another case of Devin treating Protestantism as though it is equivalent to post-modernism, in which communities define truth, rather than truth being an objective external reality. Devin is wrong to equate post-modernism with Protestantism.

Argument 29 is “the Disintegration of Mainline Protestantism”

“If Protestantism is true, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a church based on your tastes and interests rather than God’s truth.”

Again, Devin has seized on a slice of “Protestantism” and read it into “Protestantism” as a whole. This is an invalid approach. I would point out to Devin that these days RCs do the same thing with respect to their selection of parishes, particularly in urban areas where there are many options. Devin may see a difference between selecting amongst parishes and selecting amongst different “affinity group” churches, but the perception by these church shoppers is the same – they don’t see a doctrinal difference between the two.

Argument 30 is “Pastoral Authority”

“If Protestantism is true, you never know which leaders, if any, have true authority.”

Devin seems to associate “true authority” with the threat of consequences for contravening the authority of the leaders. In some “Protestant” churches there may not be any elders or church discipline. If so, that’s very sad. In the Reformed churches, however, the elders are overseers and do discipline the flock. Can people find ways around their authority? Certainly – but that only shows that they have relatively weak power, not that their authority is not real.

Argument 31 is “the Missing Saints”

“If Protestantism is true, most of Christianity’s saints believed in a corrupted gospel.”

On the contrary, if Protestantism is true, those who followed another gospel were not saints at all. What Devin is implying is that the gospel followed by Christians of the patristic era is the same gospel as Rome proclaims today. We don’t agree with his historical claim.

Argument 32 is “Martin Luther’s Virtue”

“If Protestantism is true, you wouldn’t expect Martin Luther, the father of the Reformation, to have been an anti-Semite and polygamy supporter.”

The claim that Luther was a “polygamy supporter” is one that James Swan has ably rebutted (link to discussion).

The claim that Luther was an anti-Semite is an interesting charge. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) had a number of canons that would be considered “anti-Semitic” today. Moreover, they were allegedly an infallible ecumenical council, not a merely fallible and sinful man. Lateran IV:

Summary. Jews should be compelled to make satisfaction for the tithes and offerings e churches, which the Christians supplied before their properties fell into of the Jews.

Text. The more the Christians are restrained from the practice of usury, the more are they oppressed in this matter by the treachery of the Jews, so that in a short time they exhaust the resources of the Christians. Wishing, therefore, in this matter to protect the Christians against cruel oppression by the Jews, we ordain in this decree that if in the future under any pretext Jews extort from Christians oppressive and immoderate interest, the partnership of the Christians shall be denied them till they have made suitable satisfaction for their excesses. The Christians also, every appeal being set aside, shall, if necessary, be compelled by ecclesiastical censure to abstain from all commercial intercourse with them. We command the princes not to be hostile to the Christians on this account, but rather to strive to hinder the Jews from practicing such excesses. Lastly, we decree that the Jews be compelled by the same punishment (avoidance of commercial intercourse) to make satisfaction for the tithes and offerings due to the churches, which the Christians were accustomed to supply from their houses and other possessions before these properties, under whatever title, fell into the hands of the Jews, that thus the churches may be safeguarded against loss.

Summary. Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province must be distinguished from the Christian by a difference of dress. On Passion Sunday and the last three days of Holy Week they may not appear in public.

Text: In some provinces a difference in dress distinguishes the Jews or Saracens from the Christians, but in certain others such a confusion has grown up that they cannot be distinguished by any difference. Thus it happens at times that through error Christians have relations with the women of Jews or Saracens, and Jews and Saracens with Christian women. Therefore, that they may not, under pretext of error of this sort, excuse themselves in the future for the excesses of such prohibited intercourse, we decree that such Jews and Saracens of both sexes in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off in the eyes of the public from other peoples through the character of their dress. Particularly, since it may be read in the writings of Moses [Numbers 15:37-41], that this very law has been enjoined upon them.

Moreover, during the last three days before Easter and especially on Good Friday, they shall not go forth in public at all, for the reason that some of them on these very days, as we hear, do not blush to go forth better dressed and are not afraid to mock the Christians who maintain the memory of the most holy Passion by wearing signs of mourning.

This, however, we forbid most severely, that any one should presume at all to break forth in insult to the Redeemer. And since we ought not to ignore any insult to Him who blotted out our disgraceful deeds, we command that such impudent fellows be checked by the secular princes by imposing them proper punishment so that they shall not at all presume to blaspheme Him who was crucified for us.

[Note by Schroeder: In 581 the Synod of Macon enacted in canon 14 that from Thursday in Holy Week until Easter Sunday, .Jews may not in accordance with a decision of King Childebert appear in the streets and in public places. Mansi, IX, 934; Hefele-Leclercq, 111, 204. In 1227 the Synod of Narbonne in canon 3 ruled: “That Jews may be distinguished from others, we decree and emphatically command that in the center of the breast (of their garments) they shall wear an oval badge, the measure of one finger in width and one half a palm in height. We forbid them moreover, to work publicly on Sundays and on festivals. And lest they scandalize Christians or be scandalized by Christians, we wish and ordain that during Holy Week they shall not leave their houses at all except in case of urgent necessity, and the prelates shall during that week especially have them guarded from vexation by the Christians.” Mansi, XXIII, 22; Hefele-Leclercq V 1453. Many decrees similar to these in content were issued by synods before and after this Lateran Council. Hefele-Leclercq, V and VI; Grayzel, The Church and the Jews in the XIIIth Century, Philadelphia, 1933.]

Summary. Jews are not to be given public offices. Anyone instrumental in doing this is to be punished. A Jewish official is to be denied all intercourse with Christians.

Text. Since it is absurd that a blasphemer of Christ exercise authority over Christians, we on account of the boldness of transgressors renew in this general council what the Synod of Toledo (589) wisely enacted in this matter, prohibiting Jews from being given preference in the matter of public offices, since in such capacity they are most troublesome to the Christians. But if anyone should commit such an office to them, let him, after previous warning, be restrained by such punishment as seems proper by the provincial synod which we command to be celebrated every year. The official, however, shall be denied the commercial and other intercourse of the Christians, till in the judgment of the bishop all that he acquired from the Christians from the time he assumed office be restored for the needs of the Christian poor, and the office that he irreverently assumed let him lose with shame. The same we extend also to pagans. [Mansi, IX, 995; Hefele-Leclercq, III, 7.27. This canon 14 of Toledo was frequently renewed.]

Summary. Jews who have received baptism are to be restrained by the prelates from returning to their former rite.

Text. Some (Jews), we understand, who voluntarily approached the waters of holy baptism, do not entirely cast off the old man that they may more perfectly put on the new one, because, retaining remnants of the former rite, they obscure by such a mixture the beauty of the Christian religion. But since it is written: “Accursed is the man that goeth on the two ways” (Ecclus. 2:14), and “a garment that is woven together of woolen and linen” (Deut. 22: ii) ought not to be put on, we decree that such persons be in every way restrained b the prelates from the observance of the former rite, that, having given themselves of their own free will to the Christian religion, salutary coercive action may preserve them in its observance, since not to know the way of the Lord is a lesser evil than to retrace one’s steps after it is known.


But Luther made some very insulting and offensive comments about Jewish people. Perhaps actually actively persecuting the Jews is worse than what Luther is alleged to have done.

And should we set Luther’s virtue alongside that of the late medieval popes to provide a basis for comparison?   Pope Alexander VI was pope from 1492 to 1503.  He was so notoriously bad that his immediate successors denounced him.  Machiavelli in, “The Prince,” uses Alexander VI as an illustration of the worst of the worst of the papacy – a pope who reigned by the use of money and force and who was a deceiver like no other.

Argument 33 is “Ongoing Reform”

“If Protestantism is true, nothing can stop a new ‘Reformation’ from overturning traditional Protestant doctrines.”

This question seems to have the same post-modern core premise we’ve seen in a lot of the other questions. Still – think about it — if Roman Catholicism is true, what’s to stop yet another Reformation from breaking out? It didn’t stop it in the 1500s, did it? And if the Reformation was not the “fault” of Roman Catholicism, why would this hypothetical “new Reformation” be the fault of the Reformation? It’s just not logical.

Argument 34 is “the Corruption of Celibacy”

“If Protestantism is true, the ancient practice of celibacy meant the Church was corrupted from the very beginning.”

Yes, there were ascetic influences that negatively affected the early church. The asceticism didn’t always go to the heart of the gospel, but it certainly did have negative effects. That’s why from the very beginning, Paul warned Timothy against this asceticism:

1 Timothy 4:1-5
Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.


Mr. Rose’s arguments are far from compelling. Most of them appear to be a misrepresentation of Protestantism, typically based on assuming “Protestantism” is post-modern and truth is to be determined by community, rather than simply revealed by God in Scripture. Reformed Christians have ready answers to these arguments, as illustrated above.

Christ the Center Episode 366

Episode 366 of Christ the Center addresses Chapter 7 of Geerhardus Vos’ Biblical Theology, “Revelation in the Patriarchal Period,” pp. 66-72. The episode makes good points about the importance of holding to holding to the historical Adam, and the fact that one really has no basis to deny the historical Adam while affirming a historical Jesus. There was some interesting discussion of the difference between theophany and incarnation as well.