To do this, he provided a series of "proof texts," texts from early writers suggest that "the plain meaning seems to be that their writer believed what we believe [about the papacy] at some point" (53).
He goes on formally to discuss the methodology, or how these discussions typically have played out over history:
We quote words of which the plain meaning seems to be that their writer believed what we believe, in some point. The opponent then tries to strip his words of this meaning; Catholic writers then have to refute his attempt. (53-54).Catholics, especially, should have some qualms about what the "plain meaning" of a text is. The Bible can't have "plain meaning"; that would be the Protestant doctrine of perspicuity. We need an "infallible magisterium" to provide the "proper" interpretation." But the church fathers, they can write perspicuously. In Catholic-speak, whenever Rome is mentioned by a church father, that can only be a full proof of a full-fledged papacy.
We won't point out that double standard here; it's been discussed many times.
* * *
Here's the first of Fortescue's four "theses to be proved": The Pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth.
From Fortescue's perspective, all of the quotes that he gives to support this thesis "can be understood naturally, supposing that their writers believed in the primacy of the Pope. If you do not admit that, you have to find a different, often a most tortuous, interpretation for each." Invoking a rule of logic, he says that "The rule of good reasoning is that one simple cause that accounts equally for all the phenomena is supposed to be the real one, unless proved false. Now, there is nothing that can be even reasonably suggested to show that the early Fathers did not believe in the [papal] primacy."
He's hedging again. If this is a "thesis to be proved," then beginning with the assumption that what he needs to prove really is just "a vicious circularity." And it's typical of "The Catholic Hermeneutic" that we've written about in the past.
One more qualifier. He says: "There is another general issue here. These early Fathers are witnesses of the belief of their time. Now, the value of evidence increases as it is multiplied. We must take the value, not of one text, but of all put together. Here we have a great number of texts that all make the same point. The fact that all do make for the same point suggests the reasonable interpretation of each. All can be understood naturally, supposing that their writers believed in the primacy of the Pope."
So the value of all these texts together -- whether they are related or not -- increases as more and more of them (supposedly) say the same thing.
At any rate, here is his first proof text for an early papacy:
We have in the first century two expressions of St. Ignatius, the Martyr-bishop of Antioch (d.c. 107). He speaks of "the presiding Church in the place of the land of the Romans," and he calls this Church "the President of the bond of love", meaning the whole body of Christians, if we accept Funk and Harnack's translation. (Fortescue 55).Keep in mind that Fortescue suggests that "the plain meaning" of these really bare-bones texts that he provides is that "the Pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth." Or at least, in the backward Catholic way of reasoning, this statement doesn't explicitly contradict that Ignatius believed in an early papal primacy, so it must not only be true, but it is a firm conviction in support of the papacy.
But that really is beside the point. It is possible to learn a great deal about what Ignatius believed from his letters.
Here is the translation given by Michael W. Holmes, "The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and Translations, Third Edition" Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, © 2007, pg 225, of that same prooftext that Fortescue provided:
Ignatius the Image-bearer to the church that has found mercy in the majesty of the Father Most High and Jesus Christ his only son, the church beloved and enlightened through the will of the one who willed all things that exist, in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus Christ our God, which also presides in the place of the district of Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and presiding over love, observing the law of Christ, bearing the name of the Father, which I also greet in the name of Jesus Christ, son of the Father; to those who are united in flesh and spirit to every commandment of his, who have been filled with the grace of God without wavering and filtered clear of every alien color: heartiest greetings blamelessly in Jesus Christ our God.It's clear that Ignatius thinks highly of the church that "presides in the place of the district of the Romans." But why? Is it to be assumed (or can it be inferred from the text) that "The Pope is the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth"? Or are there other reasons why he may be speaking highly of Rome? I will suggest the latter -- and none of these is "tortuous," and none of these also has anything to do with "papal primacy." These are just good, natural "interpretations" for what these various authors say, that will have nothing to do with "papal primacy."
I should add, this letter was one of seven letters written while Ignatius was under arrest, and being transported by 10 Roman soldiers, for the purpose of standing trial. It was his over-riding goal at this time to become a martyr. And his great fear was, with respect to the church at Rome, that they would somehow exercise their political connections and prevent his martyrdom.
The fact is, for the remainder of this letter of Ignatius to the Romans, for all of the advise that Ignatius is willing to give to other churches about the office of "Bishop," a "bishop" of Rome is not mentioned. But it is possible for a church to be without a bishop: "Remember in your prayers the church in Syria [Ignatius's home church], which has God for its shepherd in my place. Jesus Christ alone will be its bishop--as will your love." (9.1)
But while Rome's "bishop" is not in view at all, the political connections of the church at Rome are repeatedly in view.
1.1 For I am afraid of your love, in that it may do me wrong; for it is easy for you to do what you want, but it is difficult for me to reach God, unless you spare me. [There's that "love" that is, through its political connections, going to either save his life, or, if it holds its tongue, and fails to pull its political strings, along with Christ, going to be "bishop" of Antioch in his absence. So the place of love," which Fortescue considers to be "the whole body of Christians," really has a reference to Rome's political connections.]In this letter alone, Ignatius contradicts a vast range of current Roman Catholic teachings.
2.1 For I will never again have an opportunity such as this to reach God, nor can you, if you remain silent, be credited with a greater accomplishment. For if you remain silent and leave me alone, I will be a word of God, but if you love my flesh [and spare my life], then I will again be a mere voice. [There's that "love" again.]
2.2 Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the west, having summoned from the east.
3.1-2 You have never envied anyone; you taught others. [Many believe this is a reference to 1 Clement.] And my wish is that those instructions that you issue when teaching disciples will remain in force. Just pray that I will have strength both outwardly and inwardly so that I may not just talk about it but want to do it, so that I may not merely be called a Christian but actually prove to be one. [That is, "teach self-sacrifice," and in doing so, "my death will confirm your "teaching" "in force"?]
3.3 Nothing that is visible is good. [Did Ignatius believe in a "visible church"?] For our God Jesus Christ is more visible now that he is in the Father. The work is not a matter of persuasive rhetoric [1 Clement?]; rather, Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.
4.1 I am writing to all the churches and insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will--unless you hinder me [through your political connections]. I implore you; do not be unseasonably kind to me. Let me be food for the wild beasts; through whom I can reach God.
4.3 I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul: they were apostles, I am a convict; they were free, but I am even now still a slave. [It is important to note that here, as in other places, Ignatius does not see any kind of "succession" of apostolic authority. He acknowledges himself -- he has repeatedly said he is a bishop -- to be far, far less, in every way, than Peter and Paul.]
6.1 It is better for me to die for Jesus Christ than to rule over the ends of the earth. [Of course, the Roman government currently rules over the ends of the earth.]
6.2 Bear with me brothers and sisters: do not keep me from living; do not desire my death. Do not give to the world one who wants to belong to God or tempt him with material things.
7.1 The ruler of this age wants to take me captive and corrupt my godly intentions. Therefore none of you who are present must help him. [That is, you at Rome are eminently capable of doing the wrong thing.]
In this letter to the church at Rome, does Ignatius see even a bishop, much less someone who might be "the chief bishop, primate, and leader of the whole Church of Christ on earth? When a bishop is mentioned here, that bishop is Christ [And the "love" of the Romans that could either spare him the martyrdom he so desires, or confirm it, and so make Jesus Christ alone the bishop of Antioch.]
When a "visible church" is in view, "nothing that is visible is good." When "teaching" is in view, he fears the Romans will teach wrongly. When "apostles" are in view, there is no succession, but a great gulf between apostle and bishop.
This is the first, and the earliest "proof" that Fortescue gives of an early papacy. Have I tried to "strip Ignatius's words of their plain meaning"? Or have I rather let him speak about an early Roman primacy?
It is not a "Petrine primacy" that is in view in Rome. It is a political primacy. And this political primacy comes into view over and over again in the early church.