Saturday, February 01, 2014

Bryan Cross versus the Evidence

Bryan Cross writes: "All the historical evidence Lampe cites in his book, even when taken together in aggregate, is fully compatible with there being a monarchical bishop in Rome. Twelve times zero is still zero; it isn’t greater than one times zero." (source) This response appears to combine sophistry and ignorance in a particularly insidious way.

In what way is the Evidence "Fully Compatible" with a Roman Monarchical Episcopate?
By "fully compatible" Bryan simply means that there is some possible way to view the evidence as fitting in with his hypothesis of a monarchical bishop in Rome. So, for example, when confronted with the Eusebius says he created a succession list when he came to Rome, Bryan speculates that Eusebius may have used a pre-existing list to make his own list.

Similarly, regarding the evidence of the role of presbyters in particular ancient Roman controversies, without reference to any monarchical bishop, Bryan argues: "This is an argument from silence, which is a fallacy when there is no objective standard by which to know the likelihood of non-silence given the truth of the hypothesis [e.g. that there was a monarchical bishop]." (bracketed material is Bryan's.)

In short, even if every historical account of first and early second century Rome is silent regarding any monarchical bishop there, and even if some of those accounts actually do make reference to an authority structure of presbyters/elders, Bryan is going to call this "fully compatible."

Why is Bryan's "Fully Compatible" Claim Absurd?
Put this in perspective: suppose my hypothesis is that Abraham Lincoln's identical twin brother delivered the Gettysburg Address. The fact there is no contemporary account of Lincoln having an identical twin brother is "fully compatible" with my hypothesis in exactly the same way that the absence of contemporary historical evidence of a monarchical bishop in Rome is "fully compatible" with such a bishop actually existing. In other words, the "fully compatible" bar as used by Bryan is such a low bar it permits all kinds of absurd hypotheses.

So, it is sophistical for Bryan to respond that the evidence is "fully compatible" (in such a sense) with his hypothesis.  Such a response suggests that the historical evidence is not problematic with respect to his hypothesis, when - in fact - it is devastating to his hypothesis.

What about the Twelve-Times-Zero Argument?
This argument seems to stem from Bryan's ignorance. When it comes to the question of whether the hypothesis of a monarchical bishop is true, the amount of inconsistent evidence matters. So, for example, if we had no contemporaneous accounts of Rome, the silence of such accounts on any particular issue would be of very little significance. It might be surprising that such information would be lost (had it existed), but that would be the extent of the problem.

On the other hand, when there is a positive account of Rome and it omits any mention of the supposed monarchical bishop of Rome, this is more problematic for the monarchical bishop in Rome hypothesis. When there are two or more such accounts and they all fail to mention this alleged bishop, the problem is increasingly worse. Obviously, if we had 10,000 such accounts and none mentioned the alleged bishop, well - that would be that much stronger.

The reason, of course, is that such "silence" is not a zero.

Furthermore, not all of the evidence is silence. For example, some of the evidence is evidence of the life of the church in Rome at the time. Rome was an enormous city by ancient standards. Furthermore, Rome was a city with a lot of immigrants. There is evidence that the Christians in Rome did not all meet together for worship, but instead that they met in different groups, in house churches. For example, Paul writes:
Romans 16:3-5
Greet Priscilla and Aquila my helpers in Christ Jesus: who have for my life laid down their own necks: unto whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Likewise greet the church that is in their house. Salute my well-beloved Epaenetus, who is the firstfruits of Achaia unto Christ.

and then again:

Romans 16:14 Salute Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermas, Patrobas, Hermes, and the brethren which are with them.

and again:

Romans 16:15 Salute Philologus, and Julia, Nereus, and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints which are with them.

(and, of course, Paul does not mention in his salutations any of the men set forth as purportedly the early monarchical bishops, but that brings us back to this silence that Bryan is trying hard to suppress)
Similarly, there is evidence that there was an absence of a central structure to the Roman church. Thus, for example, Onesiphorus could not easily locate Paul when he came to Rome:
2 Timothy 1:16-17
The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain: but, when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me.
In short there is evidence that the Christian groups were scattered around the city in various groups. It would have been administratively challenging for a single monarchical bishop to govern such scattered house churches. So, the very historical situation of the churches in Rome weighs against having such a mode of government in Rome.

Indeed, this evidence suggests that at least initially there probably was not a central authority of any kind in Rome - not just that there was no monarchical bishop, but that there was not necessarily even any well-established presbytery.  Rather individual churches were governed by presbyter/elders, as the apostles taught churches should be governed.

This kind of evidence is not a "Zero." On the contrary, it paints a picture of Rome in which Bryan's hypothesis becomes increasingly implausible and unfeasible.  In fact, there wasn't a single monarchical bishop of Rome in the first century or early second century.  Eventually there was such a bishop, but such a development required things like organization of the Roman churches.

Is Bryan Really Looking at the Evidence like an Historian?
No.  For a historian, the aggregation of historical evidence is used to paint a picture of what existed at the time.  Silence is important to historians.  Moreover, historians are also interested in historical context that lends credibility (or contrariwise) to historical claims.

The problem for Bryan is that Rome's historical claims are not historically credible.  On the contrary, history contradicts Rome's historical claims.  Not only was there no papacy from the beginning - there was not even a monarchical bishop of Rome from the beginning.

Keep in mind, historians are not infallible.  The only infallible writings we have are Scripture -- and Scripture is an even worse enemy of the papacy than history is.