St. Jerome, Papacy, & Succession (vs. Gavin Ortlund)

St. Jerome, Papacy, & Succession (vs. Gavin Ortlund) January 20, 2024

Gavin Ortlund is a Reformed Baptist author, speaker, pastor, and apologist for the Christian faith. He has a Ph.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary in historical theology, and an M.Div from Covenant Theological Seminary. Gavin is the author of seven books as well as numerous academic and popular articles. For a list of publications, see his CV. He runs the YouTube channel Truth Unites, which seeks to provide an “irenic” voice on theology, apologetics, and the Christian life. See also his website, Truth Unites and his blog. His words will be in blue. St. Jerome’s words will be in green.


I’m responding to Gavin’s article, “Jerome On The Development Of The Monoepiscopacy” (Truth Unites, 8-13-23). Merriam-Webster, by the way, informs us that the word should be spelled “monepiscopacy.” He begins his article with this statement:

Jerome’s commentary on Titus 1:5 contains an important testimony about the development of the monoepiscopacy in the early church (in addition to various statements in his letters). Since this passage is not found easily in its entirety online, I want to produce it here for public record, as a supplement to my video on the topic (see my video below):

The video is “Does Jerome Undermine Apostolic Succession?” (Truth Unites YouTube channel, 8-14-23), where Gavin argues that “the testimony of Jerome opposes apostolic succession in its technical meaning.” I’d like to reply to  Gavin’s interpretation of a citation from St. Jerome: his commentary on Titus 1:5. Further below I’ll also make some comments on his video. He cited Jerome at length in his article above:

It is therefore the very same priest, who is a bishop, and before there existed men who are slanderers by instinct, [before] factions in the religion, and [before] it was said to the people, “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, but I am of Cephas,” the churches were governed by a common council of the priests. But after each one began to think that those whom he had baptized were his own and not Christ’s, it was decreed for the whole world that one of the priests should be elected to preside over the others, to whom the entire care of the church should pertain, and the seeds of schism would be removed.

If someone thinks that this is our opinion, but not that of the ­Scriptures—that bishop and priest are one, and that one is the title of age, the other of his duty—let him reread the apostle’s words to the Philippians when he says, “Paul and Timothy, slaves of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons, grace to you and peace,” and so on. Philippi is a single city in Macedonia, and at least in one city several were not able to be bishops, as they are now thought. But because at that time they called the same men bishops whom they also called priests, therefore he has spoken indifferently of bishops as if of priests.

This may still seem doubtful to someone unless it is proven by another testimony. In the Acts of the Apostles it is written that when the apostle came to Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the priests of that church to whom later he said among other things, “Watch yourselves, and the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit appointed you bishops to feed the church of God, which he acquired through his own blood.” And observe here very carefully how, by summoning the priests of the single city of Ephesus, later he has spoken of the same men as bishops.

If anyone wants to receive that epistle which is written in Paul’s name to the Hebrews, even there care for the church is shared equally by many. For indeed he writes to the people, “Obey your leaders, and be in subjection; for they are the ones who watch over your souls, as those who will give a reckoning. Let them not do this with sighing; for indeed this is advantageous to you.” And Peter, who received his name from the firmness of his faith, speaks in his own epistle and says, “As a fellow priest, then, I plead with the priests among you, and as a witness of Christ’s sufferings, I who am a companion also of his glory that is to be revealed in the future, tend the Lord’s flock that is among you, not as though by compulsion but voluntarily.”

These things [have been said] in order to show that to the men of old the same men who were the priests were also the bishops; but gradually, as the seed beds of dissensions were eradicated, all solicitude was conferred on one man. Therefore, just as the priests know that by the custom of the church they are subject to the one who was previously appointed over them, so the bishops know that they, more by custom than by the truth of the Lord’s arrangement, are greater than the priests. And they ought to rule the Church commonly, in imitation of Moses who, when he had under his authority to preside alone over the people of Israel, he chose the seventy by whom he could judge the people. (St. Jerome’s Commentaries on Galatians, Titus, and Philemon, trans. Thomas P. Scheck [University of Notre Dame Press, 2010], 289-290; my italics and bolding)

I don’t see anything here that necessarily contradicts the Catholic view. Ecclesiology developed, just as every other doctrine developed over time. St. Jerome notes this (particularly in the word “gradually” above, which I have bolded), and Gavin acknowledges that Jerome recognized such development. I think Jerome’s words above can be interpreted as fully in harmony with Catholic ecclesiology, and I’ll try my best to do just that below. I submit that St. Jerome opposed neither apostolic succession nor the papacy. He wrote about the former:

Far be it from me to censure the successors of the apostles, who with holy words consecrate the body of Christ, and who make us Christians. Having the keys of the kingdom of heaven, they judge men to some extent before the day of judgment, and guard the chastity of the bride of Christ. (Letter 14 to the Monk Heliodorus, section 8 [A.D. 373 or 374]; my italics)

When subsequently one presbyter was chosen to preside over the rest, this was done to remedy schism and to prevent each individual from rending the church of Christ by drawing it to himself. For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function, excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles. . . .

In fact as if to tell us that the traditions handed down by the apostles were taken by them from the old testament, bishops, presbyters and deacons occupy in the church the same positions as those which were occupied by Aaron, his sons, and the Levites in the temple. (Letter 146 to Evangelus, sections 1 and 2, my italics; the entire letter elaborates upon the biblical fluidity of offices, similar to the commentary that Gavin cited, which I will discuss further below)

Philip Schaff, in his History of the Christian Church, Vol. III (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1974, from the fifth edition of 1910, 987) describes St. Jerome as “Romanizing in the doctrine of the church and tradition.” That would certainly include apostolic succession and the papacy.

What St. Jerome is talking about in this commentary and letter, I believe, is the fluidity of Church offices in the New Testament. I wrote about this in 1996 in my first book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism. I even mentioned Titus 1:5: the very passage that Gavin brought up as one that Jerome commented on, supposedly espousing a proto-Protestant or non-Catholic ecclesiology. Not so fast . . .  Here’s what I wrote:

The New Testament refers basically to three types of permanent offices in the Church (apostles and prophets were to cease): bishops (episkopos), elders (presbyteros, from which are derived Presbyterian and priest), and deacons (diakonos). Bishops are mentioned in Acts 1:20; 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-2; Titus 1:7; and 1 Peter 2:25. Presbyteros (usually elder) appears in passages such as Acts 15:2-6; 21:18; Hebrews 11:2; 1 Peter 5:1; and 1 Timothy 5:17. Protestants view these leaders as analogous to current-day pastors, while Catholics regard them as priests. Deacons (often, minister in English translations) are mentioned in the same fashion as Christian elders with similar frequency (e.g., 1 Cor. 3:5; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 3:2; and 1 Tim. 3:8-13).

As is often the case in theology and practice among the earliest Christians, there is some fluidity and overlapping of these three vocations (for example, compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7 with Titus 1:5-9). But this does not prove that three offices of ministry did not exist. For instance, St. Paul often referred to himself as a deacon or minister (1 Cor. 3:5; 4:1, 2 Cor. 3:6; 6:4; 11:23; Eph. 3:7; Col. 1:23-25), yet no one would assert that he was merely a deacon, and nothing else. Likewise, St. Peter calls himself a fellow elder (1 Pet. 5:1), whereas Jesus calls him the rock upon which he would build his Church, and gave him alone the keys of the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 16:18-19). These examples are usually indicative of a healthy humility, according to Christ’s injunctions of servanthood (Matt. 23:11-12; Mark 10:43-44).

Upon closer observation, clear distinctions of office appear, and the hierarchical nature of Church government in the New Testament emerges. Bishops are always referred to in the singular, while elders are usually mentioned plurally. The primary controversy among Christians has to do with the nature and functions of bishops and elders (deacons have largely the same duties among both Protestants and Catholics).

Catholics contend that the elders/presbyters in Scripture carry out all the functions of the Catholic priest: [I then provided 17 instances of this similarity, with tons of Scripture references] . . .

Bishops (episkopos) possess all the powers, duties, and jurisdiction of priests, with the following important additional responsibilities:

  • Jurisdiction over priests and local churches, and the power to ordain priests: Acts 14:22; 1 Timothy 5:22; 2 Timothy 1:6; Titus 1:5.
  • Special responsibility to defend the Faith: Acts 20:28-31; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Titus 1:9-10; 2 Peter 3:15-16.
  • Power to rebuke false doctrine and to excommunicate: Acts 8:14-24; 1 Corinthians 16:22; 1 Timothy 5:20; 2 Timothy 4:2; Titus 1:10-11.
  • Power to bestow Confirmation (the receiving of the indwelling Holy Spirit): Acts 8:14-17; 19:5-6.
  • Management of Church finances: 1 Timothy 3:3-4; 1 Peter 5:2.

In the Septuagint, episkopos is used for “overseer” in various senses, for example: officers (Judg. 9:28; Isa. 60:17), supervisors of funds (2 Chron. 34:12, 17), overseers of priests and Levites (Neh. 11:9; 2 Kings 11:18), and of temple and tabernacle functions (Num. 4:16). God is called episkopos at Job 20:29, referring to his role as Judge, and Christ is an episkopos in 1 Peter 2:25 (RSV: “Shepherd and Guardian of your souls”). (Appendix Two: “The Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church,” pp. 251-254)

St. John Henry Cardinal Newman made an analysis of the fluidity and development of the early papacy that is consistent with the above argumentation:

Let us see how, on the principles which I have been laying down and defending, the evidence lies for the Pope’s supremacy.
As to this doctrine the question is this, whether there was not from the first a certain element at work, or in existence, divinely sanctioned, which, for certain reasons, did not at once show itself upon the surface of ecclesiastical affairs, and of which events in the fourth century are the development; and whether the evidence of its existence and operation, which does occur in the earlier centuries, be it much or little, is not just such as ought to occur upon such an hypothesis. . . .
While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope . . .
St. Peter’s prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. While Christians were “of one heart and soul,” it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws . . .
When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred. it is not a greater difficulty that St. Ignatius does not write to the Asian Greeks about Popes, than that St. Paul does not write to the Corinthians about Bishops. And it is a less difficulty that the Papal supremacy was not formally acknowledged in the second century, than that there was no formal acknowledgment on the part of the Church of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity till the fourth. No doctrine is defined till it is violated . . .
Moreover, an international bond and a common authority could not be consolidated, were it ever so certainly provided, while persecutions lasted. If the Imperial Power checked the development of Councils, it availed also for keeping back the power of the Papacy. The Creed, the Canon, in like manner, both remained undefined. The Creed, the Canon, the Papacy, Ecumenical Councils, all began to form, as soon as the Empire relaxed its tyrannous oppression of the Church. And as it was natural that her monarchical power should display itself when the Empire became Christian, so was it natural also that further developments of that power should take place when that Empire fell. Moreover, when the power of the Holy See began to exert itself, disturbance and collision would be the necessary consequence . . . as St. Paul had to plead, nay, to strive for his apostolic authority, and enjoined St. Timothy, as Bishop of Ephesus, to let no man despise him: so Popes too have not therefore been ambitious because they did not establish their authority without a struggle. It was natural that Polycrates should oppose St. Victor; and natural too that St. Cyprian should both extol the See of St. Peter, yet resist it when he thought it went beyond its province . . .
On the whole, supposing the power to be divinely bestowed, yet in the first instance more or less dormant, a history could not be traced out more probable, more suitable to that hypothesis, than the actual course of the controversy which took place age after age upon the Papal supremacy.
It will be said that all this is a theory. Certainly it is: it is a theory to account for facts as they lie in the history, to account for so much being told us about the Papal authority in early times, and not more; a theory to reconcile what is and what is not recorded about it; and, which is the principal point, a theory to connect the words and acts of the Ante-nicene Church with that antecedent probability of a monarchical principle in the Divine Scheme, and that actual exemplification of it in the fourth century, which forms their presumptive interpretation. All depends on the strength of that presumption. Supposing there be otherwise good reason for saying that the Papal Supremacy is part of Christianity, there is nothing in the early history of the Church to contradict it . . .
Moreover, all this must be viewed in the light of the general probability, so much insisted on above, that doctrine cannot but develop as time proceeds and need arises, and that its developments are parts of the Divine system, and that therefore it is lawful, or rather necessary, to interpret the words and deeds of the earlier Church by the determinate teaching of the later. (Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, 1878 edition, Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1989, pp. 148-155; Part 1, Chapter 4, Section 3)
St. Jerome’s views on the papacy are quite clear enough, too:
Since the East, shattered as it is by the long-standing feuds, subsisting between its peoples, is bit by bit tearing into shreds the seamless vest of the Lord, woven from the top throughout, John 19:23 since the foxes are destroying the vineyard of Christ, Song of Songs 2:15 and since among the broken cisterns that hold no water it is hard to discover the sealed fountain and the garden inclosed, Song of Songs 4:12 I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul. I appeal for spiritual food to the church whence I have received the garb of Christ. The wide space of sea and land that lies between us cannot deter me from searching for the pearl of great price. Matthew 13:46 Wheresoever the body is, there will the eagles be gathered together. Matthew 24:28 Evil children have squandered their patrimony; you alone keep your heritage intact. The fruitful soil of Rome, when it receives the pure seed of the Lord, bears fruit an hundredfold; but here the seed grain is choked in the furrows and nothing grows but darnel or oats. Matthew 13:22-23 In the West the Sun of righteousness Malachi 4:2 is even now rising; in the East, Lucifer, who fell from heaven, Luke 10:18 has once more set his throne above the stars. Isaiah 14:12 You are the light of the world, Matthew 5:14 you are the salt of the earth, Matthew 5:13 you are vessels of gold and of silver. Here are vessels of wood or of earth, 2 Timothy 2:20 which wait for the rod of iron, Revelation 2:27 and eternal fire.
Yet, though your greatness terrifies me, your kindness attracts me. From the priest I demand the safe-keeping of the victim, from the shepherd the protection due to the sheep. Away with all that is overweening; let the state of Roman majesty withdraw. My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built! Matthew 16:18 This is the house where alone the paschal lamb can be rightly eaten. Exodus 12:22 This is the Ark of Noah, and he who is not found in it shall perish when the flood prevails. Genesis 7:23 But since by reason of my sins I have betaken myself to this desert which lies between Syria and the uncivilized waste, I cannot, owing to the great distance between us, always ask of your sanctity the holy thing of the Lord. Consequently I here follow the Egyptian confessors who share your faith, and anchor my frail craft under the shadow of their great argosies. I know nothing of Vitalis; I reject Meletius; I have nothing to do with Paulinus. He that gathers not with you scatters; Matthew 12:30 he that is not of Christ is of Antichrist. (Letter 15 to Pope Damasus, sections 1-2; from the year 376 or 377)
The untiring foe follows me closely, and the assaults that I suffer in the desert are severer than ever. For the Arian frenzy raves, and the powers of the world support it. The church is rent into three factions, and each of these is eager to seize me for its own. The influence of the monks is of long standing, and it is directed against me. I meantime keep crying: He who clings to the chair of Peter is accepted by me. Meletius, Vitalis, and Paulinus all profess to cleave to you, and I could believe the assertion if it were made by one of them only. As it is, either two of them or else all three are guilty of falsehood. Therefore I implore your blessedness, by our Lord’s cross and passion, those necessary glories of our faith, as you hold an apostolic office, to give an apostolic decision. (Letter 16 to Pope Damasus, section 2; from the year 377 or 378)
But you say, the Church was founded upon Peter: although elsewhere the same is attributed to all the Apostles, and they all receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the strength of the Church depends upon them all alike, yet one among the twelve is chosen so that when a head has been appointed, there may be no occasion for schism. (Against Jovinianus, Book I, 26; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)
If, then, the apostle Peter, upon whom the Lord has founded the Church, Matthew 16:18 has expressly said that the prophecy and promise of the Lord were then and there fulfilled, how can we claim another fulfilment for ourselves? (Letter 41 to Marcella, section 2; from the year 385)
[T]o Simon also, who believed in the rock Christ, He bestowed the name Peter; and according to the metaphor of a rock, it is rightly said of him “I will build my church upon thee.” (Commentary on Matthew III, 16, 18; from Michael Winter, St. Peter and the Popes, Baltimore: Helicon, 1960, 63)
This way of arguing is intricate and brings the simplicity which becomes the Church into the tangled thickets of philosophy. What has Paul to do with Aristotle? Or Peter with Plato? For as the latter was the prince of philosophers, so was the former chief of the Apostles: on him the Lord’s Church was firmly founded, and neither rushing flood nor storm can shake it. (Against the Pelagians, I, 14a. C.; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)
For more on St. Jerome and the papacy, see the extremely in-depth treatment, “St. Jerome and Rome,”  from Studies on the Early Papacy (1898), by Dom John Chapman. The same book (online) has sections on St. AugustineSt. CyprianSt. Athanasius, and St. John Chrysostom. See also: The Primitive Church and the See of Peter, by Luke Rivington (1894), and “The Primacy of Peter, the Papacy, and Apostolic Succession,” by Mark Bonocore.
Reply to Gavin’s Video 
As a matter of general policy, I don’t respond to videos. It’s too time-consuming and laborious (can’t cut-and-paste), and has far less content than writing, but I was curious about what else he had to say, so here we go:
6:51 ff.: “the testimony of Jerome is an undermining factor with respect to apostolic succession. . . . it’s a rebutting point to apostolic succession proper . . . Jerome is against apostolic succession in its common definitions.”
In the citation from Jerome that Gavin highlighted, Jerome didn’t disagree with the development that occurred. I italicized the portions that support our view on this. Jerome stated: “it was decreed for the whole world that one of the priests should be elected to preside over the others, to whom the entire care of the church should pertain.” Yes, and Jerome doesn’t say that this was wrong, or that it was an erroneous specimen of doctrinal development.
So all he is saying is the point I made in my first book some 27 years ago: that Church offices in the Bible and the earliest period of Church history were more fluid than they became over time. Jerome was writing from the vantage point of 300 years after St. Paul. A lot of development had occurred. And so he noted that “at that time [i.e., St. Paul’s time] they called the same men bishops whom they also called priests.” And again he writes, “gradually, as the seed beds of dissensions were eradicated, all solicitude was conferred on one man.” I submit, then, that the reply to Gavin’s claim about Jerome is answered by Jerome himself in the quotation that Gavin cites.
What St. Jerome says about bishops elsewhere absolutely proves that he has no problem with hierarchical government and the office of bishop, as distinct from elder or presbyter, and that he also casually cites the existence and authority of bishops of Rome (i.e., popes). He also provides quite explicit support for apostolic succession (as I note with bracketed comments):
[E]ach individual bishop of the Church has under him churches which are placed in his charge . . . many bishops in communion with me have ordained presbyters in my province . . . (Letter 51, sections 1 and 2)
. . . Clement [c. 35-99] afterwards bishop of the church at Rome, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 5)

. . . as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias [c. 60-130], bishop of Hierapolis, record. . . . the bishops of Asia, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, sections 8-9)

Clement, of whom the apostle Paul writing to the Philippians says With Clement and others of my fellow-workers whose names are written in the book of life, the fourth bishop of Rome after Peter, if indeed the second was Linus [d. c. 76] and the third Anacletus [d. c. 92], although most of the Latins think that Clement was second after the apostle. He wrote, on the part of the church of Rome, an especially valuable Letter to the church of the Corinthians, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 15)

Ignatius [d. c. 108], third bishop of the church of Antioch after Peter the apostle, condemned to the wild beasts during the persecution of Trajan, was sent bound to Rome, and when he had come on his voyage as far as Smyrna, where Polycarp the pupil of John was bishop, he wrote one epistle To the Ephesians, another To the Magnesians, a third To the Trallians, a fourth To the Romans, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 16)

Polycarp [69-155] disciple of the apostle John and by him ordained bishop of Smyrna [explicit apostolic succession again . . .] was chief of all Asia, where he saw and had as teachers some of the apostles and of those who had seen the Lord. He, on account of certain questions concerning the day of the Passover, went to Rome in the time of the emperor Antoninus Pius while Anicetus ruled the church in that city. (De Viris Illustribus, section 17)

Papias, the pupil of John, bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 18)

Quadratus, disciple of the apostles, after Publius bishop of Athens . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 19)

Hegesippus [c. 110-c. 180] who lived at a period not far from the Apostolic age, . . . says that he went to Rome in the time of Anicetus [d. 168], the tenth bishop after Peter, and continued there till the time of Eleutherius [d. 185 or 193], bishop of the same city, who had been formerly deacon under Anicetus. (De Viris Illustribus, section 22)

Melito of Asia [d. c. 180], bishop of Sardis, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 24)

Theophilus [d. c. 183-185], sixth bishop of the church of Antioch, . . . (De Viris Illustribus, section 25)

Apollinaris [2nd c.], bishop of Hierapolis in Asia, . . . (Ibid., 26)

Dionysius [fl. 171], bishop of the church of Corinth, was of so great eloquence and industry that he taught not only the people of his own city and province but also those of other provinces and cities by his letters. Of these one is To the Lacedæmonians, . . . a sixth To the Gnosians and to Pinytus bishop of the same city, a seventh To the Romans, addressed to Soter their bishop, . . . (Ibid., 27)

Pinytus of Crete [d. c. 180], bishop of the city of Gnosus, wrote to Dionysius, bishop of the Corinthians, . . . (Ibid., 28)

Philip bishop of Crete [d. 180], that is of the city of Gortina, . . . (Ibid., 30)

Victor, thirteenth bishop of Rome [d. 199], wrote, On the Paschal Controversy and some other small works. He ruled the church for ten years in the reign of the Emperor Severus. (Ibid., 34)

Irenæus [c. 130-c. 202], a presbyter under Pothinus the bishop who ruled the church of Lyons in Gaul, . . . (Ibid., 35)

. . . Demetrius bishop of Alexandria [d. 232], . . . (Ibid., 36)

Clemens, presbyter of the Alexandrian church [St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150-c. 215], . . . is the author of notable volumes, full of eloquence and learning, both in sacred Scripture and in secular literature; . . . one book which he addressed to Alexander bishop of Jerusalem. (Ibid., 38)

Serapion [d. 211], ordained bishop of Antioch . . . (Ibid., 41)

Theophilus [d. 195], bishop of Cæsarea in Palestine, the city formerly called Turris Stratonis, in the reign of the emperor Severus wrote, in conjunction with other bishops, a synodical letter of great utility against those who celebrated the passover with the Jews on the fourteenth day of the month. (Ibid., 43)

106 additional and similar uses of “bishop” occur in this one work alone. Some show the contrast between bishop and presbyter (the former being a higher office); for example:

[Origen, c. 185-c. 253] having been ordained presbyter by Theoctistus and Alexander, bishops of Cæsarea and Jerusalem . . . (Ibid., 54)

Pierius, presbyter of the church at Alexandria in the reign of Carus and Diocletian, at the time when Theonas [d. 300] ruled as bishop in the same church, taught the people with great success . . . (Ibid., 76)

Apollinarus [d. 382], bishop of Laodicea, in Syria, the son of a presbyter, . . . (Ibid., 104)

Evagrius [d. 392], bishop of Antioch, a man of remarkably keen mind, while he was yet presbyter read me various treatises on various topics, which he had not yet published. (Ibid., 125)

14:26: “All of his [Jerome’s] prooftexts for the synonymy of presbyter and bishop are after 1 Corinthians. So if Jerome thought that the change to the monoepiscopacy had happened around 50 AD, he wouldn’t cite evidence against that model from the 60s.”

I deny that he believed the offices were all the same, per the above. Jerome’s point is that they developed into the monepiscopacy. So now the question is: when did he think this happened? Well, we have strong evidence from Jerome himself:

James, who is called the brother of the Lord, surnamed the Just, the son of Joseph by another wife, as some think, but, as appears to me, the son of Mary sister of the mother of our Lord of whom John makes mention in his book, after our Lord’s passion at once ordained by the apostles bishop of Jerusalem [this is explicit apostolic succession], . . . Hegesippus, who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James, says “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem.” . . . And so he ruled the church of Jerusalem thirty years, . . .  (De Viris Illustribus, section 2)

Note here that James was made bishop of Jerusalem “after our Lord’s passion.” It’s believed that he was martyred in 62 or 69 AD. Thus, thirty years as the bishop of Jerusalem means that he assumed that role between 32 and 39 AD, and that Jerome believed this. This alone pretty much sinks Gavin’s case. But there is more. Jerome says about St. Peter:

Simon Peter . . .  himself chief of the apostles, after having been bishop of the church of Antioch . . . pushed on to Rome . . . and held the sacerdotal chair there for twenty-five years until the last, that is the fourteenth, year of Nero. (De Viris Illustribus [On Illustrious Men], section 1)

Nero is thought to have died in 68 AD (his reign began in 54). Thus according to St. Jerome, Peter was bishop in Rome from 43 AD until 68 AD. Case closed. Jerome believed that sole bishops of cities were present in the 30s (James in Jerusalem) and 40s (Peter in Rome). Now, of course that doesn’t mean all cities, but at least some major ones had bishops in those times.

19:14 Jerome seems to think it’s [monepiscopacy] in the mid-3rd century; that’s his view. . . . but it’s certainly not 50 AD.”

I don’t see how we can hold that Jerome thought this happened in the 3rd century (around 250) , seeing that he wrote that James and Peter were sole bishops of Jerusalem and Rome in the 30s and 40s: over 200 years earlier.

Gavin brings up the fact that Jerome referred to presbyters electing bishops. This is neither here nor there. It’s not necessarily how they are elected, but the fact that the very notion of a bishop above presbyters is upheld. Catholic cardinals, of course, vote on decrees of ecumenical councils, and they vote for popes. It doesn’t follow that there are no such decrees or popes because votes were taken to establish them.

I think a big part of the problem is that Gavin wrongly dichotomizes “apostolic” and “development of doctrine.” For example:

27:46: “This is why, when people defend episcopal Church government and apostolic succession, they often do so as a Holy Spirit-led development, rather than something that’s literally apostolic, like the apostles themselves commanded it.” 

His use of “rather” proves that he is drawing this false dichotomy here. But they’re not separate or in conflict at all. Apostolic doctrines develop and they remain the same in essence, by definition, when they do so. The Catholic view is that bishops are the successors of the apostles. There are various biblical arguments for that (see my Church web page under “Apostolic Succession”). How they are elected or appointed is a separate and non-essential question that doesn’t work against apostolic succession. Gavin seems to mistakenly think that it does. By analogy, a US Senator in American government remained the same legitimate political office, even though at one time they were appointed by governors, and then they started being elected by the public.

Things also develop at different rates in different places. Jerusalem and Rome had sole bishops very early on. Other regions took longer. This is altogether expected and poses no problem for the Catholic position. Gavin thinks all these factors pose a problem for Catholic and Orthodox ecclesiology. They do not, and I have explained why they do not. It’s simply a basic misunderstanding of development of doctrine, which is endemic in Protestant contra-Catholic apologetics. None of what I am arguing for is contrary to the scholars that Gavin cites. They believe in development; so do I.

22:46 “apostolic succession requires ordination from a bishop.”

I’m not sure this is necessarily the case in all times and places, for the doctrine to be true. The doctrine is that bishops are successors of the apostles in authority. Ordination is itself a doctrine, and, we believe, a sacrament. So it developed as well. In the early centuries it was still developing, so we would expect to see different applications and even some disagreements. Some folks simply got things wrong. We don’t hold individual Church fathers to be infallible. But St. Jerome believed that St. James was ordained bishop of Jerusalem by the apostles, which is certainly a pretty full “episcopal” and Catholic view because it exactly illustrates apostolic succession: apostles to bishops. In Peter’s case, he was an apostle, so assuming the role of bishop not just in Rome, but in Antioch even earlier than that, is another strong — and early – proof of our view (apostolic authority develops into the episcopal authority of bishops).

Gavin mentions “oddities” in the course of the development of episcopacy and that later it “congeals.” Yes, of course! We would always expect to see those. This is nothing new and nothing against the Catholic position. Many people partially understand the way that legitimate development is proceeding, and many get it outright wrong. Cardinal Newman’s description above, of how the papacy developed, shows this as well.

30:42: “The recognition that apostolic succession is not of divine institution, but rather, represents a gradual development in the Church, need not entail that there’s anything necessarily wrong with episcopal Church government . . .”

Once again, his use of the word “rather” creates the false dichotomy. In Catholic thinking, the development is simply the way in which the divine institution unfolds. It’s always misunderstood by some in earlier stages, and increasingly understood as time goes on. This is true in all cases of development of all doctrines.

Lastly, we can say that Jerome was simply wrong about whether episcopacy was mere “custom” over against being of divine institution. The Church decides which doctrines are true and false, not individual Church fathers. In any event, he bears witness to sole bishops in cities (an major cities) in the 30s and 40s of the first century.

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Photo credit: Gavin Ortlund, from his BioLogos page.

Summary: Reformed Baptist scholar Gavin Ortlund argues that St. Jerome rejected apostolic succession and the papacy. Doctrinal development proves the contrary.


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