bible blog post blog post

Considering Some of the Claims of Eastern Orthodoxy

NOTE: This is a working post. I update this regularly with new information and with edits. If you have information to add to this or responses/pushback to this, feel free to comment here or message me on Instagram. But just remember I’m just researching here, and trying to come to historically and biblically based conclusions.

I’ve had the opportunity to talk to a number of different Eastern Orthodox folk about their views of Jesus and salvation. In College and Seminary, I spoke to several Eastern Orthodox people I met at Church, as well as an Ethiopian Orthodox man at a restaurant, and one Eastern Orthodox woman in her Church about her view of the atonement. Recently, a friend of mine converted to Eastern Orthodoxy, which has given some grounds for discussion. I also have had what I consider an opportunity to speak to some Eastern Orthodox apologists online about their perspective on things. An incredible thing to me is that many of them are quite rude in their approach! I think it is because of their perspective that they are the One True Church, and that everyone else is essentially heterodox or heretics, and that they perceive discussion regarding this issue to be an attempt to avoid joining what is (to them) obviously the truth once and for all delivered to the saints. That said, one video that was recommended to me was this short lecture by Fr. Josiah Trenham. I want to write a post based on this video, not to attack the video or its author in any way, but simply as a starting point to investigate the claims of Eastern Orthodox apologists today.

In this video there are numerous assertions made by Fr. Josiah Trenham that I believe need some historical and biblical investigation. Again I’ll state that I have no interest in attacking the video or its author in any way, but simply want to examine his assertions as a starting point to investigate the claims of Eastern Orthodox apologists today. I want to use this as an opportunity to look into the early Church, and consider what was actually practiced and taught in the documents we have from it.

1. Assertion One:

An Eastern Orthodox believer could go anywhere in the early Church and find the services of worship and ecclesiastical structure to be the same as it is for them today.

He states that he regularly asks Protestants the question, “Can you go back through Church history and find a Church where you would fit doctrinally/practice?” The result of this, he claims is that Protestants cannot, but that the Eastern Orthodox can. 

The following considerations, however, lead to my investigation: What if, however, the Eastern Orthodox cannot do the same? What if the practices of the Eastern Orthodox Church today would be foreign to the Church in its first 200 or so years? If we examine the extant texts from the Fathers of the 1st-2nd centuries, what sort of results will we find? That’s what I want to look at below.

I want to do that by looking at Fr. Trenham’s second point. His second point is a claim about five additional ideas.  He claims that for the first 1100 years all believers: Confessed the Nicene Creed, had an altar as the center of worship, had a bishop and a priest appointed by him to be a shepherd of their souls, that all received the Eucharist as the climax of their worship experience, and that Protestant Reformers universally gave up the four marks of the Church (as expressed in the Nicene Creed). I want to break those down:

2. Assertion Two

“For the first 1100 years all believers…confessed the Nicene Creed.”

This second assertion is simply an anachronistic statement, at least when it is related to the first 300 years of new covenant Church history. This is because the Nicene Creed did not exist until 325 AD.  While the doctrines contained within the Nicene Creed might have been believed prior to its composition (as I believe the Church did believe), they certainly weren’t confessed prior to its existence! 

I’m also not sure of the point of this second assertion, other than perhaps that it may be an intended critique of some organizations that do not confess the Nicene Creed. But, at least coming from my own tradition, we regularly confess the Nicene Creed, so it is kind of a moot point.

3. Assertion Three

“For the first 1100 years all believers…had an altar as the center of worship.”

I haven’t done as much research on this topic at this point, however the first historic mention of the altar in Christian worship that I could find is by Ignatius of Antioch,

“Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

If his seven letters are genuine (not his spurious letters), as most scholars today believe they are, then this statement would have to be dated sometime within his lifetime (?-108/140AD). On the other hand, many scholars historically debated the authenticity of these letters. Consider Schaff’s editorial note on these letters,

The epistles ascribed to Ignatius have given rise to more controversy than any other documents connected with the primitive Church. As is evident to every reader on the very first glance at these writings, they contain numerous statements which bear on points of ecclesiastical order that have long divided the Christian world.

-Schaff (see this link to read his entire history of criticism)

If these letters were written at a later date, in which the altar was a fixed function, then it would make sense for an altar to be assumed within its composition.

~Insert More Here with More Research Later~

4. Assertion Four

“For the first 1100 years all believers…had a bishop and a priest appointed by him to be the shepherd of their souls.”

This assertion is false.  This is the case for several reasons.  First of all, because of the nature of the office of bishop in the early Church. Secondly, because of the nature of the office of priest.  Thirdly, because of the purported “appointment” of a singular priest by a bishop.

A. There Was Not Always a Distinct Office of Bishop in the Early Church

For one, all evidence I could find regarding the office of bishop is that it might have been mixed in the early Church.  In some instances, bishops were considered a distinct office from that of elders (presbyters), but in other instances, the term bishop was considered as just another term for elder, and in other cases, bishop was a term to describe an elder who had been elected by other elders to proceed as president over an assembly of elders.

i. Bishop considered a distinct office:

In some areas of the Church, it might have been that bishops and elders were treated as distinct offices, though two of the three sources that refer to this within the first 200 years are dubious.

In his seven letters, Ignatius of Antioch (?-108/140AD) distinguishes between the bishop and the presbyters, without describing the manner in which the bishop is elected or his role.  He also calls Polycarp the “bishop of the Smyrnaeans”. Again, the veracity of his seven letters are uncertain. Though most contemporary scholarship regards these seven letters are genuine, there have been numerous historical challenges to their authenticity. Assuming that the letters are informative in some manner, I will include the relevant quotation. In regards to the authority of bishops, he states,

“What is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ Of God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counsellors and assessors of the bishop?”

In Clement of Alexandria’s Miscellanies (c.208AD)–a work that I can find no criticism of regarding its historicity–Clement states,

“Even here in the Church the gradations of bishops, presbyters, and deacons happen to be imitations, in my opinion, of the angelic glory and of that arrangement which, the scriptures say, awaits those who have followed in the footsteps of the apostles and who have lived in complete righteousness according to the gospel.”

Miscellanies 6:13:107:2

Hippolytus (c.175-c.235) (whose origin/locale is shrouded in mystery) distinguishes elders from bishops in The Apostolic Tradition  [c. 235 AD]. This work is considered genuine by most scholars, though we have only later manuscripts, and this author rejects it as authentic or a genuine description of the events of Rome in the 200’s AD. In The Apostolic Tradition the author states,

“On a presbyter, however, let the presbyters impose their hands because of the common and like Spirit of the clergy. Even so, the presbyter has only the power to receive [the Spirit], and not the power to give [the Spirit]. That is why a presbyter does not ordain the clergy; for at the ordaining of a presbyter, he but seals while the bishop ordains.”

-The Apostolic Tradition, 9

Though some doubt has been placed on the authorship of the Seven Letters of Ignatius and of The Apostolic Tradition, by 300 AD we have unquestioned sources that display that in some areas of the Church (at least) bishops were considered as distinct from elders. The Synod of Elvira convened in 300 AD, stating this,

“Bishops, presbyters, and deacons may not leave their own places for the sake of commerce, nor are they to be traveling about the provinces, frequenting the markets for their own profit. Certainly for the procuring of their own necessities they can send a boy or a freedman or a hireling or a friend or whomever, but, if they wish to engage in business, let them do so within the province” (Synod of Elvira, Canon 19).

Similarly, in 325 AD, the Council of Nicaea issued a canon (canon 4) which describes the manner in which a bishop is to be appointed. They state that only bishops are to appoint bishops, which is slightly different than the practice described in The Apostolic Tradition (above).

If either The Seven Letters of Ignatius or The Apostolic Tradition are genuine, then it is apparent that at least some areas of the Church distinguished between bishops and elders within the first 200 years of its existence. If they are not genuine, it is absolutely clear that by the year 300 AD, the Church did distinguish between bishops and elders. At the same time, however, there are numerous, unquestionably authentic, and earlier sources, that suggest that at least some areas of the Church viewed bishops as identical with elders.

ii. Bishop considered the same as elder:

Clement’s First Epistle (70-96AD) equates bishops with elders, and suggests that bishops/elders were appointed by “men of repute” (ie other bishops/elders) with the consent of the entire Church.  This is the structure that Presbyterians follow to this day.

1 And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would
be strife over the name of the bishop‘s office.
2 For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge,
they appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a
continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men
should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were
appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the
consent of the whole Church
, and have ministered unblamably to the
flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all
modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all these
men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration.
3 For it will be no light sin for us, if we thrust out those who have
offered the gifts of the bishop‘s office unblamably and holily.
4 Blessed are those presbyters who have gone before, seeing that their
departure was fruitful and ripe: for they have no fear lest any one
should remove them from their appointed place.”

-1 Clement 44:1-4

Polycarp also only mentions two offices in his Epistle to the Philippians (110-140AD). This is interesting because in the purported Seven Letters of Ignatius, the author refers to Polycarp as a bishop, and makes numerous statements distinguishing bishops and elders. It also interesting in that many manuscripts of Polycarp’s epistle, the epistle is titled, “Epistle of St. Polycarp, bishop”. However, Lightfoot and other translators exclude the term “bishop” from the title, purportedly because this is a later manuscript addition. Also, in Polycarp’s extant epistle itself, he does not refer to himself as a bishop, instead introducing himself as,

Polycarp, and the presbyters with him…

In addition to this, Polycarp also only refers to two different offices throughout the letter. Notice this statement,

“It is necessary to refrain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ.”

When this is compared to the supposed quote from Ignatius, which puts bishops as being the ones who we ought to show subjection to “as to God”, it could entail that Polycarp equates bishops and elders.

Similarly of note, the Didache (c. 100-200 AD) refers only to two offices as well: bishops and deacons. It states,

“Therefore, choose for yourselves bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord…”

Didache 15:1

Irenaeus also considers the bishops and elders as an equivalent title. In Against Heresies (180 AD) he states,

“That tradition which has come down from the apostles and is guarded by the successions of elders” …

-Against Heresies (III:2:2).

He then goes on to change terminology, and yet refer to the same office,

“…the tradition of the apostles, made clear in all the world, can be clearly seen in every Church by those who wish to behold the truth. We can enumerate those who were established by the apostles as bishops in the Churches and their successors down to our time”.

-Against Heresies (III:2:3)

Not only this, but even later in the Church, when the office of bishop had been thoroughly established as distinct from that of elder, we have men explaining how the later division of this one office into two is an innovation. In his Homilies on Philippians (402 AD), Chrysostom explains,

“[In Philippians 1:1 Paul says,] ‘To the co-bishops and deacons.’ What does this mean? Were there plural bishops of some city? Certainly not! It is the presbyters that [Paul] calls by this title; for these titles were then interchangeable, and the bishop is even called a deacon. That is why, when writing to Timothy, he says, ‘Fulfill your diaconate’ [2 Tim. 4:5], although Timothy was then a bishop. That he was in fact a bishop is clear when Paul says to him, ‘Lay hands on no man lightly’ [1 Tim. 5:22], and again, ‘Which was given you with the laying on of hands of the presbytery’ [1 Tim. 4:14], and presbyters would not have ordained a bishop”.

-Homilies on Philippians 1:1

We also find that Jerome believes the same to be the case, finding that in his letter 146 (c. 340s-420 AD). In this letter he argues,

“The apostle clearly teaches that the presbyters are the same as bishops”.

“Paul thus speaks to the priests (presbyters)…’the Holy Ghost has made you bishops’”.

“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.”

“Of the names presbyter and bishop the first denotes age, the second rank.  In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also.

 An early Lutheran commentator interprets Jerome,

“Now the fact that, afterward, ministers were distinguished from one another by degrees–this was a human contrivance for the sake of order. Jerome, in his letter to Evangelus, addresses this matter at length, arguing that priests and bishops are the same office; and that though afterward one was chosen to be above the rest, this was done to avoid schism, ‘Wherever there is a bishop, whether he be at Rome or at Engubium or at Constantinople or at Rhegium or at Alexandria or at Thanis, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the abundance of riches nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more or less a bishop; all alike are the successor of the apostles.’”

-David Chytraeus

iii. Bishop considered as an elected president:

In my research of the early sources, I also found one other common conception of the bishop and the presbyter. According to several texts, an elder was called a bishop when he was elected by other elders to be their president. For example, in Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ca. 150AD), he states that it was the common practice for the presbyter who presided over the service of worship to be called the “president”,

“But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president (i.e. presiding Presbyter) of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο (so be it). And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.”

I’ll quote Jerome, once again, where he points out that prior to his day, this was a typical proceeding in the Church. In his Letter 146 (340s-420AD) he states,

“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.”

Today, most Presbyterians call this president the Teaching elder or else the chair of the session of elders, but we retain the ancient meaning of a presiding Presbyter.

->My conclusion from this is that it is simply false to say that the early Church always had a bishop (as distinct from an elder).

B. There was Not a Priest in the Early Church

Secondly, from what I could find, the term priest (sacerdotes/hiereus) was not applied to elders, or applied to any office, until the 3rd century.  Schaff identifies the earliest dates in which elders (and bishops, and sometimes even deacons) are referred to as priests,

 “Tertullian [155-220AD] was the first who expressly and directly asserts sacerdotal claims on behalf of the Christian ministry, and calls it ‘sacerdotium,’ although he also strongly affirms the universal priesthood of all believers. Cyprian (d. 258) goes still further, and applies all the privileges, duties, and responsibilities of the Aaronic priesthood to the officers of the Christian church, and constantly calls them sacerdotes and sacerdotium. He may therefore be called the proper father of the sacerdotal conception of the Christian ministry as a mediating agency between God and the people. During the third century it became customary to apply the term “priest” directly and exclusively to the Christian ministers especially the bishops.”

-Schaff, History of the Christian Church

Also of note is his footnote regarding this topic. Regarding the earliest uses of the term “priest” in Christian literature, he says,

Sacerdos, also summus sacerdos (Tertullian, De Bapt. 7), and once pontifex maximus (De Pudic. 1, with ironical reference, it seems, to the Roman bishop); ordo sacerdotalis (De Exhort. Cast. 7); iJereuv” and sometimes ajrciereuv” (Apost. Const. II. 34, 35, 36, 57; III. 9; vi. 15, 18, etc.). Hippolytus calls his office an ajrcierateiva and didaskaliva (Ref. Haer. I. prooem.). Cyprian generally applies the term sacerdos to the bishop, and calls his colleagues consacerdotales.”

Tertullian appears to conceive of the priestly ministry as being paralleled in the Christian ministry. In his work On Baptism, he states,

For concluding our brief subject, it remains to put you in mind also of the due observance of giving and receiving baptism. Of giving it, the chief priest (who is the bishop) has the right: in the next place, the presbyters and deacons, yet not without the bishop’s authority, on account of the honour of the Church, which being preserved, peace is preserved. Beside these, even laymen have the right; for what is equally received can be equally given. Unless bishops, or priests, or deacons, be on the spot, other disciples are called i.e. to the work.

-On Baptism, 7.17

And though he assigns a higher priestly authority to the bishop, he is appalled that the Roman bishop should ascribe to himself the title of bishop of bishops, and that this bishop should remit certain heinous sins. In Tertullian’s “On Modesty“, he mocks the declaration of the “victor”, or “bishop of bishops”,

In opposition to this (modesty), could I not have acted the dissembler?  I hear that there has even been an edict set forth, and a peremptory one too.  The Pontifex Maximus—that is, the bishop of bishops—issues an edict:  “I remit, to such as have discharged (the requirements of) repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.”  O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, “Good deed!”  And where shall this liberality be posted up?  On the very spot, I suppose, on the very gates of the sensual appetites, beneath the very titles of the sensual appetites.  There is the place for promulgating such repentance, where the delinquency itself shall haunt.  There is the place to read the pardon, where entrance shall be made under the hope thereof.  But it is in the church that this (edict) is read, and in the church that it is pronounced; and (the church) is a virgin!  Far, far from Christ’s betrothed be such a proclamation!  She, the true, the modest, the saintly, shall be free from stain even of her ears.  She has none to whom to make such a promise; and if she have had, she does not make it; since even the earthly temple of God can sooner have been called by the Lord a “den of robbers,” than of adulterers and fornicators.

While Tertullian conceives of all of the offices of the new covenant Church as priestly, he primarily compares the presbyter (elder) to the priest. In An Exhortation to Chastity, Tertullian considers the presbyter the same thing as the priest.

 There is a caution in Leviticus:  “My priests shall not pluralize marriages.”  I may affirm even that that is plural which is not once for all.  That which is not unity is number.  In short, after unity begins number.  Unity, moreover, is everything which is once for all.  But for Christ was reserved, as in all other points so in this also, the “fulfilling of the law.”  Thence, therefore, among us the prescript is more fully and more carefully laid down, that they who are chosen into the sacerdotal order must be men of one marriage; which rule is so rigidly observed, that I remember some removed from their office for digamy.  But you will say, “Then all others may (marry more than once), whom he excepts.”  Vain shall we be if we think that what is not lawful for priests [sacerdotibus] is lawful for laics.  Are not even we laics priests?  It is written:  “A kingdom also, and priests to His God and Father, hath He made us.”  It is the authority of the Church, and the honour which has acquired sanctity through the joint session of the Order, which has established the difference between the Order and the laity.  Accordingly, where there is no joint session of the ecclesiastical Order, you offer, and baptize, and are priest, alone for yourself.  But where three are, a church is, albeit they be laics.  For each individual lives by his own faith, nor is there exception of persons with God; since it is not hearers of the law who are justified by the Lord, but doers, according to what the apostle withal says.  Therefore, if you have the right of a priest in your own person, in cases of necessity, it behoves you to have likewise the discipline of a priest whenever it may be necessary to have the right of a priest.  If you are a digamist, do you baptize?  If you are a digamist, do you offer?  How much more capital (a crime) is it for a digamist laic to act as a priest, when the priest himself, if he turn digamist, is deprived of the power of acting the priest!  “But to necessity,” you say, “indulgence is granted.”  No necessity is excusable which is avoidable.  In a word, shun to be found guilty of digamy, and you do not expose yourself to the necessity of administering what a digamist may not lawfully administer.  God wills us all to be so conditioned, as to be ready at all times and places to undertake (the duties of) His sacraments.  There is “one God, one faith,” one discipline too.  So truly is this the case, that unless the laics as well observe the rules which are to guide the choice of presbyters, how will there be presbyters at all, who are chosen to that office from among the laics?  Hence we are bound to contend that the command to abstain from second marriage relates first to the laic; so long as no other can be a presbyter than a laic, provided he have been once for all a husband.

-Tertullian, An Exhortation to Chastity, 7.

For (in that case) the shame is double; inasmuch as, in second marriage, two wives beset the same husband—one in spirit, one in flesh.  For the first wife you cannot hate, for whom you retain an even more religious affection, as being already received into the Lord’s presence; for whose spirit you make request; for whom you render annual oblations.  Will you stand, then, before the Lord with as many wives as you commemorate in prayer; and will you offer for two; and will you commend those two (to God) by the ministry of a priest ordained (to his sacred office) on the score of monogamy, or else consecrated (thereto) on the score even of virginity, surrounded by widows married but to one husband?  And will your sacrifice ascend with unabashed front, and—among all the other (graces) of a good mind—will you request for yourself and for your wife chastity?

-Tertullian, An Exhortation to Chastity, 11.

In regards to other historic sources for this development in Ecclesiology, in a footnote on Eusebius’ “Ecclesiastical History”, the editor points out that presbyters were eventually denoted as “priests of the second order”, stating,

 Valesius remarks ad locum that presbyters were commonly called “priests of the second order,” as may be gathered from various authors. He refers among others to Jerome, who says in his Epitaph on the blessed Paula, “There were present the bishops of Jerusalem and other cities, and an innumerable company of priests and Levites of the lower order (inferioris gradus)”; and to Gregory Nazianzen (Carm. iambic. de vita sua, p. 6), who says, “the bishops in the church sat on a higher throne, the presbyters on lower seats on either side, while the deacons stood by in white garments.” Compare also Eusebius’ description of the arrangement of the seats in the church of Tyre (chap. 4, § 67, above), and for other references see Valesius’ note. Possibly the Latin phrase used by Constantine was similar to that employed by Jerome: secundi gradus.

Footnote 2950

–>My conclusion, then, is that it is simply false to say that there were always priests in Christian ministry.

C. Bishops Did Not Appoint Priests in the Early Church

 Third, the conception of a singular priest appointed by a bishop is entirely absent from the works of the earliest Fathers. As was pointed out in the previous point, the term priest is not employed until Tertullian uses it around 200AD. Even then, it is one thing to call a bishop or an elder or a deacon a priest, and it is another thing to conceive of the role of a priest as a private and solo “shepherd of the soul” who is appointed by a bishop.

There are two things that I looked for here: one, priests (one or many) ordained by the bishop specifically as priests, and two, a singular priest ordained by the bishop. The evidence I have found is that the manner of ordination and appointment developed from its original practice in the early Church, and once it did develop, the practice appears to have differed in different areas:

  • Prior to presbyters being called “priests”, in the early Church, a body of elders ordained new elders to serve with other elders in a local congregation.

    Evidence: the Scriptures, 4aii and 4aiii above.
  • Prior to presbyters being called “priests”, in the early Church (but later), bishops (as a distinct office) ordained other bishops, and also ordained elders to minister as a coalition of elders together in local churches.

    The Apostolic Tradition (2.1) states that the bishop is chosen by the people.
    The Apostolic Tradition (2.3,5) states that the people gather with the elders and bishops, and the bishops lay hands on the newly appointed bishop.
    The Apostolic Tradition (7.1, 9) states that the bishops and elders lay hands on a newly appointed elder for ordination (though bishops “ordain” and elders “seal”).

“When a deacon is to be ordained, he is chosen after the fashion of those things said above, the bishop alone in like manner imposing his hands upon him as we have prescribed. In the ordaining of a deacon, this is the reason why the bishop alone is to impose his hands upon him: he is not ordained to the priesthood, but to serve the bishop and to fulfill the bishop’s command. He has no part in the council of the clergy, but is to attend to his own duties and is to acquaint the bishop with such matters as are needful. . . .On a presbyter, however, let the presbyters impose their hands because of the common and like Spirit of the clergy. Even so, the presbyter has only the power to receive [the Spirit], and not the power to give [the Spirit]. That is why a presbyter does not ordain the clergy; for at the ordaining of a presbyter, he but seals while the bishop ordains.”

-The Apostolic Tradition 9 (215 AD)
  • Eventually, bishops appointed some elders to serve as confessor-priests in local churches.

Evidence: 250 AD is the earliest date I could find for presbyters being ordained distinctly as priests, and it is in relation to the shift that occurred in Church discipline. Prior to this, the entire Church, represented by all the presbyters, received public confession of blatant sin. But in this work the editor points out a useful timeline for the development of a priest as one who receives confession in private, rather than the public confession to elders. He states,

1. A grave presbyter was appointed to receive and examine voluntary penitents as the Penitentiary of a diocese, and to suspend or reconcile them with due solemnities—circa a.d. 250.

2. This plan also became encumbered with difficulties and was abolished in the East, circa a.d. 400.

4.  Particular, but voluntary confessions were now made in the East and West, but with widely various acceptance under local systems of discipline. The absolutions were precatory: “may God absolve Thee.” This lasted, even in the West, till the compulsory system of the Lateran Council, a.d. 1215.

5. Since this date, so far as the West is concerned, the whole system of corrupt casuistry and enforced confession adopted in the West has utterly destroyed the Primitive doctrine and discipline as to sin and its remedy wherever it prevails. In the East, private confession exists in a system wholly different and one which maintains the Primitive Theology and the Scriptural principle. (1) It is voluntary; (2) it is free from the corrupt system of the casuists; (3) it distinguishes between Ecclesiastical Absolution and that of Him who alone “seeth in secret;” (4) it admits no compromise with attrition, but exacts the contrite heart and the firm resolve to go and sin no more, and (5) finally, it employs a most guarded and Evangelical formula of remission, of which see Elucidation IV.

Editorial Introduction

While this is the case, not even the Council of Nicaea acknowledges the existence of priests–and yes, the translation of this matters. The Council does not use the Greek or Latin word for “priest”, instead using the terms for elder/presbyter. Though they certainly were knowledgable of the existence of this new office, they focus upon the primary offices of the Church–bishops, elders, and deacons.

It has come to the knowledge of the holy and great synod that, in some districts and cities, the deacons administer the Eucharist to the presbyters, whereas neither canon nor custom permits that they who have no right to offer [the Eucharistic sacrifice] should give the Body of Christ to them that do offer [it]. And this also has been made known, that certain deacons now touch the Eucharist even before the bishops. Let all such practices be utterly done away, and let the deacons remain within their own bounds, knowing that they are the ministers of the bishop and the inferiors of the presbyters. Let them receive the Eucharist according to their order, after the presbyters, and let either the bishop or the presbyter administer to them.”

-Council of Nicaea I, Canon 18

In addition, Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD) 2.4-2.5 and Apostolic Constitutions 47 are very specific about the manner of ordination, and of what is appropriate for bishops and priests. It does not explain if a singular priest was ordained to a congregation, or if a multitude were ordained. But it does assume that there are numerous presbyters in each congregation, out of which one is chosen distinctly as a priest. The AC also reduces the Nicaean canons (325 AD) on ordination of bishops from the exception to the rule. Nicaea stated that a whole region of bishops should ordain a bishop, unless it is impossible and then you can use only three to ordain. But the Apostolic Constitutions makes this exception the final principle.

Not only that, but the first historic description I could find of the process is in Socrates’, “Church History” (c. 439). He describes how the office of an individual confessor-priest was established. He states,

The bishops added to the ecclesiastical canon a presbyter of penitence in order that those who had sinned after baptism might confess their sins in the presence of the presbyter thus appointed.

Church History, 5.19
  • Later, this practice was abandoned, though it was again picked up by some.


In Socrates, “Church History” (c. 439), he recounts how this office was abolished, saying,

Eudæmon a presbyter of the church, by birth an Alexandrian, persuaded Nectarius the bishop to abolish the office of penitentiary presbyter, and to leave every one to his own conscience with regard to the participation of the sacred mysteries: for thus only, in his judgment, could the Church be preserved from obloquy.

Another historian, Sozomen, relied heavily on Socrates’ history, albeit with his own look at first-hand sources, and with his own reflections on the events of the day. In his “Ecclesiastical History” (c. 440-443), he describes how presbyters were eventually appointed to “preside over the imposition of penance”. Now, in his description, he does not state when this first occurred. His focus is more on how this practice was abruptly halted because of abuses within this system. But Sozomen does go on to recount his own “take” on how this practice came into being. He states,

 Various accounts have been given of the nature, the origin, and the cause of the abolition of this office. I shall state my own views on the subject. Impeccability is a Divine attribute, and belongs not to human nature; therefore God has decreed that pardon should be extended to the penitent, even after many transgressions. As in supplicating for pardon, it is requisite to confess the sin, it seems probable that the priests, from the beginning, considered it irksome to make this confession in public, before the whole assembly of the people. They therefore appointed a presbyter, of the utmost sanctity, and the most undoubted prudence, to act on these occasions; the penitents went to him, and confessed their transgressions; and it was his office to indicate the kind of penance adapted to each sin, and then when satisfaction had been made, to pronounce absolution.

Ecclesiastical History, Ch. 16

Sozomen goes on to explain his “take” on his current situation, in which this position has been abolished. He argues that the ancient system of public confession was better. He says,

Under the ancient system, I think, offences were of rarer occurrence; for people were deterred from their commission, by the dread of confessing them, and of exposing them to the scrutiny of a severe judge.

Martin Bucer, the early Reformer, has a lengthy explication of the history of pastoral discipline. In his wonderful book, “Concerning the True Care of Souls” he details the way the original nature of Church discipline as being public and before a coalition devolved to its form of private confession before a singular priest. I wish that I had a copy of the book with me (mine is in storage), but the best I can do for now is to point the reader to this link. It discusses Bucer’s concern for pastoral care, and summarizes his thoughts, stating,

Guilty sinners have to prove their repentance. The public confession and repentance had its development there. Bucer refers to Tertullian, Cyprian and explains the example of bishop Ambrose of Milan (339-397) dealings with the Roman Emperor Theodosius I (379-
95) after his massacre of Thessalonica. Church discipline did not arise from the papal tyranny, which Bucer shows by his detailed description of historical evidence. God has ordered this kind of repentance and it did not develop by man.

Indeed, in this historical overview of Church history, the author points out that this private confession of sin was a development out of the public practice of Church discipline.

To save the Church from disorder and to maintain her purity four orders of penitents were recognised as early, probably, as the middle of the third century. These were known among the Latins as flentes or weepers; audientes, or hearers; substrati or kneelers; and consistentes or co-standers.

p. 381 (Cites Basil and Ambrose)

At the beginning of the fourth century the Oriental church appointed a special presbyter to regulate the conduct of penitential discipline (presbyter pœnitentiarius). But on account of the continuous restiveness felt by the private members, in their public life, and through the interference of the state, this special office was abrogated near the close of the fourth century.

p. 382

Also in the West, under like general conditions and at about the same time, the system was so modified that only for more open and public crimes was public penance imposed, while for other offences a private confession to the clergy was judged sufficient

p. 382

Alterations in the practice of Church discipline appears, ultimately, to be the origin of appointing a singular and private priest.

–>My conclusion is thus that bishops did not begin ordaining priests until approximately 250 AD.

5. Assertion Five

“For the first 1100 years all believers…received Eucharist as the climax of their worship experience.”

From what liturgies we possess, this may be true. The Eucharist appears to be a normal part of the service of worship, as well as several other elements.

Questions to research:
Was it celebrated each time they met?
Was it celebrated as the climax of the meeting?

And a Question this raises for me:
What does this statement of his prove? Most Reformed Church I know of desire to or do observe the Lord’s Supper at each service of worship.

1 Cor. 11:23-27

Other apostolic creeds

Last Supper in Gospels

Extra Biblical:

Passover Seder (with sermon as haggadah) and Greco-Roman Symposium

Didache (100-200AD)
Includes baptism, ideally with cold, running water (or still with 3 sprinklings, or with hot if necessary); includes chrismation, includes the Lord’s Supper


Pliny Epistle 96 (111-113AD)

“They assert that this is the whole of their fault or error, that they were accustomed on a certain day to meet together before daybreak and to sing a hymn alternately to Christ as a god, and that they bound themselves by an oath (sacramento) not to do any crime, but only not to commit theft nor robbery nor adultery, not to break their word nor to refuse to give up a deposit. When they had done this, it was their custom to depart, but to meet again to eat food – ordinary and harmless food however.”

Epistle of the Apostles v. 15 (ca. 150AD)

“After I return to my Father you are to remember my death whenever Pascha comes about. Then will one of you be thrown into prison on account of my name, and will be in trouble and sorrow because he is in prison while you are keeping Pascha, and he is not keeping the festivity. For I shall send my power in the form of my angel and the gates of the prison shall be opened. He will come out and will watch with you and remain until the cock crows, when you will have completed my agape and my commemoration, and he will be thrown once again into prison as witness to me, until he comes out and proclaims as I have commanded. So we said to him: “Lord, have you not fulfilled the Pascha? Is it necessary that we should take the cup and drink it again?” He replied “It is indeed necessary, until I return with those who died for me.”

Justin Martyr’s First Apology (ca. 150AD)

“But we, after we have thus washed him who has been convinced and has assented to our teaching, bring him to the place where those who are called brethren are assembled, in order that we may offer hearty prayers in common for ourselves and for the baptized person, and for all others in every place, that we may be counted worthy, now that we have learned the truth, by our works also to be found good citizens and keepers of the commandments, so that we may be saved with an everlasting salvation. Having ended the prayers, we salute one another with a kiss. There is then brought to the president (i.e. presiding Presbyter) of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to γένοιτο (so be it). And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.”

And we afterwards continually remind each other of these things. And the wealthy among us help the needy; and we always keep together; and for all things wherewith we are supplied, we bless the Maker of all through His Son Jesus Christ, and through the Holy Ghost. And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration.

Justin Martyr’s First Apology, ch. 67

Melito of Sardis, “On Pascha, Peri Pascha” (165AD)

Eusebius mentions in his Historia Ecclesia that Melito observed the Pascha on the fourteenth of Nissan rather than the Sunday following, and was thus a Quartodeciman.

Irenaeus’ statements in Against Heresies regarding Lord’s Supper (180AD)

The Quartodeciman Pascha (ca. 189-199AD)

Controversy over the calendar, and the proper date of the observance of the Pascha.  

Polycrates of Ephesus in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 5.24 (ca. late 2nd cent. AD)

Tertullian, “De Bapt. 19” (?)

Origen, “Against Celcus 8.22” (?)

Clement of Alexandria, “Stromateis 1.21.145” (?)

Tertullian (maybe) “Adversus Iudaeos” (?)

Chrysostom’s (maybe) “Latin Tractate”

Epiphanius “Haer. 50.1.6” (?)

“The Anaphora of the Apostolic Tradition” (3rd century; maybe Hippolytus)

“Sub tuum praesidium” in Coptic liturgy (250AD)

Liturgy of St. Mark the Evangelist (claimed to be by Mark, 1st century AD)

Liturgy of St. James history? (claimed to be by Christ’s brother)

Liturgy of St. Cyril history?

Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom history
Liturgy of St. Basil history?

Liturgy of St. Gregory

–>My working hypothesis is that this is PROBABLY true, at least given my knowledge of early liturgy.  I’m not sure if it was practiced every time they assembled, though.  I also don’t think it does justice to the role of preaching in the early Church. In addition, it doesn’t really do what it seems to do in that most Reformed Churches aspire to serve the Lord’s Supper at each service of worship.

6. Assertion Six

“Protestant Reformers universally gave up the four marks of the Church (as expressed in the Nicene Creed).”

Related to this, in his explanation of his sixth assertion, he suggests that Protestants innovated the doctrine of the invisible Church rather than maintaining the marks of the Church. He argues that the doctrine of the invisible Church was concocted to explain what constitutes the Church, while the true Church is really derived from apostolic succession and the holy canons of the “things Christians have always believed”.

The questions to ask regarding these claims are:
~What is the oldest conception of the “invisible Church”?
~Is this distinction between a successive Church and an invisible Church a false dichotomy?
Augustine’s doctrine of the Church contains both.

~Is the true Church really derived by apostolic succession and the holy canons?
Research the doctrine of apostolic succession’s origin/age.
Research the history of the holy canons (I’m assuming this means consensus of the fathers and councils).

Comparison to Reformed Doctrine on the Church:
The Church may err–it is not perfect as Christ is perfect, even though the Church has the Spirit.
The councils of the Church may err.
The individual members of the Church, in all of their offices, may err.
The Scriptures are all that do no err.
There is not an additional Tradition of liturgical practice, iconography, and teaching (consensus of the fathers, councils) in addition to the Scriptures that constitute our infallible rule of faith.
Since the Church may err, it must continually regulate itself by the commands of God, not of men.

~Did the Reformers universally give up the four marks of the Church (one, holy, apostolic, catholic)?

The Reformers doctrine and practice did not give up the four marks. They were baptized and ordained as members of the one, holy, apostolic, and catholic Church. Romanists anathamatized the gospel message, and repudiated the Church, while the Reformers remained as members of the Church. Positionally, the Church is all of these things: one, holy, apostolic, and catholic. The Reformers never denied this. But they pointed out that realism means we must see the Church for what it is currently. Though it is one, there is often schism. Though she is holy, there is often sin. Though apostolic, constantly fighting false teaching. Though catholic, yet still in need of reclaiming lost sheep. The Reformers all distinctly taught that the Church would never perish, and that it had not perished, even under the reign of carnal Popery.

–> My running hypothesis is that this is simply false.

Additional Thoughts

Numerous issues raised in discussion that were not mentioned in the above video:

1. Iconography

Notes for later:
in this essay, which examines the entire corpus of known iconography, p. 510 he points out that 1st century iconography was design/ornamental.

2. Unity

The purported unity of the Eastern Church (as opposed to the Romanist schisms, and the Protestant denominations) is not what it is claimed to be. The Western Rite organizations within the EO communion, the Old Calendarists vs. the New Calendarists, the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch (and other purportedly autocephalous congregations within the EO communion), display a lack of the unity that supposedly does not exist.

3. The Tradition

There is also the claim that the apostles handed down not only the Scriptures, but also a distinct Tradition that is equally authoritative.

“It is necessary to make use of Tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the Scriptures, other things in Tradition.” -Epiphanius of Salamis, c. 370 AD.

2 Thessalonians 2:15–the apostle’s taught traditions in word, as well as writing.
John 20:30 (Jesus did other signs not written in Scripture)

Protestants believe it is obvious that many, many things were done by Christ and the apostles that were not inscripturated. We also believe that many of Christ and the apostle’s acts, sermons, and practices were not immediately inscripturated, but were later written down. Of those things that were never included in Scripture, or were included later, we believe that they do not contradict Scripture, nor are they different in character from Scripture. So, for instance, the purported Traditions of invocation of the various saints, of the chrism, of lighting of candles, of incense, of private confession before a singular priest, of titular claims (such as papa or pope, immaculate, etc.), of magisterial authority of the Church (whether by council or particular office), of infallible interpretations (either by a magisterium or by an overarching consensus of the fathers), of various doctrines (such as baptismal regeneration, theosis, energies of God, hesychasm, monastic meditation and order, and transubstantiation), we deny that these are part of any supposed, separate Tradition, nor are they necessarily deduced from the Scriptures.

Alongside this claim are several other arguments. One is the argument that the Scriptures were “canonized” by the Church, and that the Church’s authority is therefore one different than that conceived of by Protestants.

Another is the argument that the early Church was in “development”, and that its ecclesiological structure was not codified until a later date. As such, when a Protestant points out that the early Church did not bear the characteristics claimed about it by EO and RC apologists, many respond by saying, “it was developing”. They suggest that just as the Scriptures were not codified until later, so too the Church’s structure was not ‘codified’ until later.


A good list of extant works of the fathers.

List of historical works and figures that provide information regarding early Christianity:

The Scriptures (as canon)
First Epistle of Clement (70-96 AD)
Seven letters of Ignatius (c. 108 AD)
Martyrdom of Ignatius (c. ??)
The Didache (c. 100-200 AD)
Pliny’s epistles [not a Christian] (111-113 AD)
Papius’ Fragments (110-140 AD)
Polycarp to the Phillippians (c. 130’s-140’s AD)
Epistle of Barnabas (c. 70-132 AD)
Second Epistle of Clement (c. 95-140 AD)
The Epistle of the Apostles (c. 150 AD)
Justin Martyr (First Apology c. 150 AD, Second Apology, Dialogue with Trypho, Discourse to the Greeks, Hortatory Address to the Greeks, On the Sole Government of God, Fragments on the Resurrection, Other Fragments from Martyr’s Lost Writings)
Martyrdom of Polycarp (c. 150-160 AD)
Martyrdom of Justin Martyr (c. ? AD)
Melito of Sardis (fragments, homilies) (On Pascha c. 165 AD)
Irenaeus of Lyon (Against Heresies, c. 180 AD, Lost Writings)
Tatian (Address to the Greeks, c. 120-180 AD)

The Shepherd/Pastor of Hermas (late 2nd cent. AD)
Caius, presbyter of Rome (extant works, c. early 200’s AD)
Clement of Alexandria (Stromateis, c. 208 AD)
Tertullian (On Baptism, On Modesty, An Exhortation to Chastity c. 155-220 AD)
Hippolytus (attr. The Apostolic Tradition, c. 235 AD)
Dionysius of Corinth
Mathetes (epistle to Diognetus) (130AD-late 2nd cent. AD)
Commodianus (poetic works, c. 250 AD)
Origen (c. 184-253 AD)
“Sub tuum praesidium” (first extant copy of a prayer to Mary c. 200-300 AD)
Cyprian of Carthage
Eusebius (Ecclesiastical History 290-300 AD)
Synod of Elvira (305-306 AD)
Edict of Milan (legalizes Christianity, 313 AD)
Synod of Arles (314 AD)
Synod of Ancyra (314 AD)
Council of Nicaea and its acts and canons (325 AD)
Apostolic Constitutions (375-380 AD)
Ecclesiastical History of Socrates (c. 439 AD)
Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen (c. 400-450 AD)

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