Who Holds the Keys? (Pope or Prophet)

Rebuttal to Steve Clifford's Opening Statement
by Barry Bickmore - Representing the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints'
Position on the "Restored Gospel"

Introduction - The State of the Argument

In preparation for this debate I had the privilege of reading several Roman Catholic defenses of the Papacy. From these and other books I tried to get an idea of what the Roman Catholics need to prove in order to justify the authority of the Popes, and the following list is the result:

  • (1) Jesus Christ established His earthly Church with a hierarchical structure, governed by the Apostles who passed on their authority to others via ordination.
  • (2) Peter was the chief Apostle who held the keys of the kingdom. The other Apostles participated in the operations of these keys, but only insofar as they were in communion with Peter.
  • (3) The Church, as Christ's earthly kingdom, was meant to be perpetuated until the end of the world, therefore any apostasy would not have been a complete apostasy.
  • (4) The Apostles specifically passed on their keys and prerogatives to the bishops as their successors.
  • (5) Peter passed possession of the keys of the kingdom to the bishops of Rome, so that the Pope has always been the chief bishop, just as Peter was the chief Apostle.
  • (6) The Roman Catholic Church, under the guidance of the Popes, has protected the Apostolic faith without essential changes or additions since the beginning.

Latter-day Saints have no problem essentially agreeing with the first two of these assertions, and I think Steve and I both provided ample evidence for these points. Steve also gave various arguments for assertions 3-6 in his opening statement, while I argued against assertions 3 and 4.

What do Latter-day Saints need to make their case? In addition to the first proposition above we must show that:

  • (1) A complete apostasy was predicted and occurred in the late first and early second centuries.
  • (2) A restoration of the Gospel, with an accompanying return of the prophets and Apostles was predicted to prepare the way for the Second Advent of Christ.
  • (3) The doctrines and practices restored by Joseph Smith were genuine early Christian doctrines and practices. Even if a complete loss of authority occurred, some Christians would most likely have held to variations of the original traditions, at least for a while.

In my opening statement I touched only on point number 1, and in this installment I'm going to not only rebut Steve's arguments, but also argue for point number 3 of the LDS case. I'll give further evidence for the predicted return of the prophets in the next round.

Did Jesus Promise the Earthly Church Would Continue?

If Jesus promised that the earthly Church would continue to the end, the debate is over. No matter how much circumstantial evidence I could gather to the contrary, it wouldn't matter. What are Steve's major points of evidence that Jesus promised this?

The Principle of Succession

In one section Steve appeals to the principle of succession, but who were the successors of the Apostles? Other Apostles! Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, James the Lord's brother, Philip, and probably others all received this succession, as I already pointed out. When the Church was in the process of shutting down for business, that succession was ended, but when the Church re-opened the Apostles Peter, James, and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery to ordain them. The question is not whether there is a succession in Apostolic authority, but who and when.

The Gates of Hell

The statement seemingly most harmful to the LDS case is Matthew 16:18. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." To interpret this passage we must first define terms.

First, what is "the Church" (Greek ekklesia = "assembly") that Jesus spoke of? Steve's interpretation suggests it was "the Church" in its manifestation as an earthly organization. However, in a broader sense, "the Church" is much more inclusive. Two of the earliest post-New Testament Christian writings, The Pastor of Hermas and 2 Clement (both early second century) claimed that God created the Church even before he created the world. "She was created first of all... and for her sake was the world made."1 "Moreover, the books and the apostles declare that the Church belongs not to the present, but existed from the beginning."2 Paul wrote, "He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." (Ephesians 1:3) The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews went on: "But we are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and in an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect." (Hebrews 12:22-23) The message here is clear. "The Church" is not just an earthly organization - it existed before the foundation of the world, and it exists with the saints of all ages, both those who are on the earth and those who have passed on. Therefore, even if the Church as an earthly organization disappears and reappears periodically, the Church will always survive!

But is there any reason to believe Jesus was speaking primarily of the earthly Church? On the contrary, the text says that "the gates of hell {Greek hades = "the world of the dead"} shall not prevail against it." What are "the gates of hades"? Hades is not hell - it is the underworld, and in early Christian and Jewish thought it was believed to be a place of waiting where the spirits of the dead, both the just and unjust, remained until the resurrection. (If Jesus had been speaking in Roman Catholic terms he might have said, "the gates of Purgatory shall not prevail against it.") Thus Tertullian (ca. 200 AD): "All souls, therefore; are shut up within Hades: do you admit this? (It is true, whether) you say yes or no...."3 The "gates of hades", then, represent the "powers of death", as Steve's quotation of the verse from the RSV indicates, and "the sting of death is sin". (1 Corinthians 15:56) Thus the text seems to be a promise of protection from the powers of death and sin for Christ's assembly (ekklesia) of believers. For this reason Michael M. Winter, former lecturer in Fundamental Theology at St. John's Seminary (Roman Catholic), in his excellent scholarly defense of the papacy, admits that "although some writers have applied the idea of immortality to the survival of the church, it seems preferable to see it as a promise of triumph over evil."4

Furthermore, there are numerous allusions in the early Christian literature to Christ, when he died and went to hades, breaking down the gates of Hades and leading out the faithful to glorious resurrection. For instance, Athanasius related the following tradition: "He burst open the gates of brass, He broke through the bolts of iron, and He took the souls which were in Amente {the Coptic equivalent of Hades} and carried them to His Father.... Now the souls He brought out of Amente, but the bodies He raised up on the earth...."5 Therefore it is clear what Jesus was talking about when he said "the gates of hades" would not prevail against the Church, and to apply this statement to the perpetuation of the earthly Church would make no sense.

"Make Disciples of All Nations"

Finally, Steve quotes Jesus' commission to the Apostles after His Resurrection: "And Jesus came and said to them,... 'Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20 RSV) Steve comments:

"He then gives the apostles the commission to go teach all the nations, not just some of the nations, but ALL the nations. Finally, He promises that He will be with them always, even unto the end of the world, not just until they die, but ALWAYS. He knew that they would not be on the earth until the end of time, so His promise also applies to their successors. Otherwise He would be a liar."

Let's analyze Jesus' commission and its fulfillment. Did the Apostles "make disciples of all nations"? At the day of Pentecost the Acts record that Peter and the Apostles preached to a crowd consisting of men from "every nation under heaven". "And there were dwelling at Jerusalem Jews, devout men, out of every nation under heaven." (Acts 2:5) A large number of these men were converted, and when they went home they carried their new beliefs with them. Furthermore, traditions abound concerning the journeys of the Apostles to preach to every corner of the known world. One might argue that the Apostles really couldn't have made disciples of all nations (although a cursory reading of the Book of Mormon neutralizes this objection to a large extent), but the Biblical description of Pentecost clearly indicates that the Apostolic commission, as the Apostles understood it, was literally fulfilled. Finally, in John's Revelation he saw that immediately before the fall of "Babylon" (i.e. the wicked world), the Apostolic commission was to be renewed. "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people...." (Revelation 14:6) I'll examine this and other scriptures which foretold the Restoration in the next round, but for now it is enough to ask why angels would be sent to renew the Apostolic commission in the last days if the Roman Catholic Church has been fulfilling this commission all along? And even if it is granted that the first Apostles did not completely fulfill their commission in their lifetimes, the same commission, as Steve intimated, was passed on to the successors of the Apostles - the Apostles of the Restoration.

What did Jesus mean when he said he would be with His Apostles, "to the close of the age"? The word "age" here is the Greek aion, which Strong's defines in its Jewish usage as "a Messianic period".6 In my opening statement I provided ample evidence that the "age" or "Messianic period" the Apostles lived in drew to a close shortly after their deaths. Jesus was with them "to the end of the age". In the next round of the debate I will provide evidence that there have been a number of these "ages" or "dispensations" in the history of the world, so the idea that the Priesthood of the Son of God could not have been removed from the earth is born purely from prejudice, and not from the authentic, ancient Judaeo-Christian worldview.

This is essentially all the direct evidence Steve presents for the assertion that Jesus promised the earthly Church would be perpetuated, and we have seen that none of it really addresses this question at all! Why not? Why didn't Jesus just come out and say the Church would have a glorious future in the world, instead of promising death at the hands of the wicked world. Christ said repeatedly of Himself that he would suffer and be killed to condemn the wicked generation into which He was born. "But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation." (Luke 17:25) And it was the same story for Jesus' disciples. "They shall put you out of the synagogues: yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service." (John 16:2)

Were the Bishops the Successors of the Apostles?

Bishops vs. Apostles

In my opening statement I argued against the Roman Catholic claim that the Apostles passed on their office and authority to the bishops by showing that they ordained bishops during their lifetimes who were merely local Church officers. I also quoted Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 AD) saying he was not an Apostle. What evidence does Steve offer for his version of the story? He refers to Clement of Rome (ca. 96 AD) and Ignatius of Antioch, whom he claims wrote about the succession of bishops. What exactly did they say?

I am not aware that Ignatius said anything about the bishops being successors of the Apostles. In my opening statement I quoted and referenced several passages where he exhorted various Christian communities to follow their bishops instead of rebelling against them, but as I said before, he never equated the bishops with the apostles. In fact, in one passage he said, "Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria {i.e. his own church at Antioch}, which now has God for its shepherd, instead of me. Jesus Christ alone will oversee it...."7 This fits very nicely with the LDS theory that the Church was in the process of shutting down at the time, and the true "succession" was about to end, especially when one remembers that Ignatius insisted that "Apart from {the bishops, deacons, and presbyters}, there is no Church."8

Clement actually did talk about a succession of bishops: "Our apostles also knew... there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate.... For this reason... they appointed those [ministers]... and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry."9 Once again, Clement was condemning the Corinthians for kicking out their righteous bishop and elders! However, I don't have any problem admitting that there was a succession of bishops who held the true Priesthood authority after the Apostles started dying off. The questions to be answered are whether the bishops inherited the prerogatives of the Apostles (and Clement never said a thing about that) and whether this succession was to continue indefinitely.

In answer to the second question, let us think back to the passages from Hermas' visions I quoted in my opening statement, where the angel prophesied that the Church was almost finished building and would soon be replaced by an inferior institution. It turns out that Hermas lived in Rome, and he wrote this first part of his work, the "Visions", while Clement was still alive and bishop of Rome.10 In one passage Hermas was told to write a copy of his visions for Clement to authenticate and distribute to foreign Churches.11 (The early custom was for the bishops to authenticate religious books for foreign churches.)12 Therefore, it is not too much of a stretch to assume Clement knew very well the Church was about to be subverted, and he was simply trying his best (like Ignatius) to persuade Christians not to rebel against the Priesthood.

The Signs of an Apostle

Paul reminisced about a former visit to Corinth, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds." (2 Corinthians 12:12) The online Catholic Encyclopedia article on the "Charismata", or gifts of the Spirit, has this to say: "The Apostolic office contains in itself a claim to all charismata, for the object of its ordinary working is identical with the object of these special gifts: the sanctification of souls by uniting them in Christ with God." Now, if the Catholic bishops still have the some "object" of their office as the Apostles, and are the "successors" of the Apostles, shouldn't their office have the same claim to the charismata as the Apostolate? If the Catholic bishops are really "successors of the Apostles", let us see some "signs of an apostle".

Do the Roman Catholic bishops exhibit these signs? What about the Pope? With reference to "Papal infallibility", Catholic Apologist David Goldstein admits, "It means not that the Pope is inspired...."13 The article on the "Charismata" says of the gift of prophecy, "In the course of time prophecy became less common, without, however, ever disappearing altogether." So apparently the prophetic gifts are still out there - just not with the Pope. Anywhere BUT with the Pope!

(Note: I don't mean to imply that no Catholic has ever received a God-given miracle. The Book of Mormon insists, "it is by faith that miracles are wrought;... wherefore, if these things have ceased wo be unto the children of men, for it is because of unbelief, and all is vain." {Moroni 7:37} It would be a sad day for the world if hundreds of millions of Roman Catholics couldn't muster a drop of faith! Neither do I intend to demand a sign before I will believe. My point is simply that the prevalence of the prophetic gifts dropped off sharply after the Apostles departed the scene, although one would expect their "successors" to have the same prerogatives of office.)

What Happened to the Gifts?

Let us look, for instance, at the history of the gift of prophecy - surely one of the distinctive marks of the Apostolate. In their classic work on the New Testament apocrypha, Hennecke and Schneemelcher report, "By the end of the 1st century prophecy has lost its original significance...", and show that this gift was considered heretical after the middle of the second century. 14 We can follow the decline by citing references to the gifts from the Early Christian Fathers. Justin Martyr (ca. 150 AD) claimed "the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time."15 A few decades later Irenaeus (ca. 180 AD), although he was bishop of Lyons, had only heard of the presence of these gifts: "We hear that many brethren in the Church possess prophetic gifts."16 In the middle of the third century, Origen could only point to traces of the gifts: "For {the Jews} have no longer prophets nor miracles, traces of which to a considerable extent are still found among Christians...."17 In a footnote to this passage, Roberts and Donaldson reveal, "The Fathers, while they refer to extraordinary divine agency going on in their own day, also with one consent represent miracles as having ceased since the Apostolic era."18 In the fourth century Eusebius quoted the above passage from Irenaeus in his History of the Church, and then noted, "So much in regard to the fact that various gifts remained among those who were worthy even until that time."19 In other words, Eusebius was attempting to show the Catholics had inherited the true apostolic tradition, and his evidence for this was that at least the prophetic gifts lasted in the Catholic tradition till the late second century! Why would the Fathers be so desperate to show a continuation of the gifts, even when they condemned every concrete instance of claimed prophecies (e.g. those of the Montanists and Gnostics)?

In the midst of the Catholic-Montanist conflict in the late second and early third centuries, the Catholic bishop Apolinarius of Hierapolis noted, "For the apostle thought it necessary that the prophetic gift should continue in all the Church until the final coming."20 He said this in opposition to the Montanists, who had not had any more of their pseudo-prophets for fourteen years, but the last bona fide example of a Catholic prophet he gave was that of Quadratus, who wrote an apology for the Christians during the reign of Hadrian (117-138 AD)21 But if the "apostle thought it necessary" that the "prophetic gift must continue in the whole Church until the final coming," how does this affect Catholic claims to spiritual authority? Tertullian (ca. 200 AD), an important early Christian writer who defected to the Montanist camp, rebuked Catholic officials for claiming apostolic authority to forgive sins, while having no gifts to back up their claims: "Exhibit therefore even now to me, apostolic sir, prophetic evidences, that I may recognize your divine virtue, and vindicate to yourself the power of remitting such sins!"22

The "Apostolic" Church ought to have "Apostolic" gifts. I have personally witnessed LDS general authorities prophesying things that came to pass. I have seen others given the gift of prophecy, and I have on a couple occasions received this gift myself. Now, I don't want to fill up these pages with anecdotal evidence for my claims.23 My point is simply that I can do better than Irenaeus, Apolinarius, Origen, and Eusebius. All I have seen from the Roman Catholics are wishy-washy references to prophetic gifts that are still around... somewhere. Therefore, I have to repeat Tertullian's challenge to the Catholic bishops: "Exhibit therefore even now to me, apostolic sir, prophetic evidences, that I may recognize your divine virtue, and vindicate to yourself the power of remitting such sins!"

Did Peter Pass on the Keys to the Bishop of Rome?

What Evidence?

What specific evidence does Steve give that Peter passed on the keys to the bishop of Rome, in particular? He makes the following claims about Clement of Rome:

"Clement of Rome was a disciple of Peter. He was the fourth Bishop of Rome, which makes him the fourth Pope of the Catholic Church.... Clement was not an apostle, yet he wielded an authority that was unique as the Bishop of Rome.... He also talks about the primacy of the Roman Church. Since the Apostle John was still alive at the time, why did the Church in Corinth turn to Clement of Rome for answers to their problems?"

Actually, Clement never "talks about the primacy of the Roman Church". In fact, Clement never even identifies himself as the bishop of Rome, or even as Clement! The letter is from the Church at Rome to the Church at Corinth, and we only know who the writer was through tradition. In any case, I think it is valid to point out that Clement wrote his letter to the Corinthians while John was still alive. But did Clement act in an official capacity as Pope?

The tone of the letter seems commanding, but what authority does Clement claim for his commands? "Joy and gladness will ye afford us, if ye become obedient to the words written by us and through the Holy Spirit root out the lawless wrath of your jealousy according to the intercession which we have made for peace and unity in this letter."24 Thus, Clement claimed to be writing for the entire Roman congregation through the Holy Spirit. If John were unavailable at the time, Clement could have written his letter as one who was gifted with prophecy, and his words would have been respected since he was a disciple of Peter! Indeed, as we saw with Hermas' visions, one didn't need to be a Pope or even a bishop to prophesy, and Clement never said one word about having any "primacy" over other churches or having received any keys from Peter.

Steve also claims Clement was the "fourth bishop of Rome". Of course, this counts Peter in the line of succession, while the earliest extant lists of Roman bishops (those of Hegesippus and Irenaeus) list Clement as the third bishop and Peter and Paul clearly separate. Note Irenaeus' list: "The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate.... To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric."25 Peter isn't even listed as the sole founder, and Irenaeus could speak of the "Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul...."26 Indeed, the Apostolic Constitutions (fourth century) recorded that "Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus' death, the second, ordained by... Peter."27

Two more early witnesses claim Peter was still alive when Clement, the third bishop of Rome, was ordained. Tertullian (ca. 200 AD) noted that the Church of Rome in his time claimed Clement had been personally ordained by Peter. "For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter."28 Rufinus of Aquilea reported in the fourth century the same tradition:

"For some ask, Since Linus and Cletus were bishops in the city of Rome before this Clement, how could Clement himself, writing to James, say that the chair of teaching was handed over to him by Peter? Now of this we have heard this explanation, that Linus and Cletus were indeed bishops in the city of Rome before Clement, but during the lifetime of Peter: that is, that they undertook the care of the episcopate, and that he fulfilled the office of apostleship; as is found also to have been the case at Caesarea, where, when he himself was present, he yet had Zacchaeus, ordained by himself, as bishop." 29

If we can trust the earliest witnesses, then Rufinus' explanation must have been correct. Peter was not the first bishop of Rome, because there were two or three bishops of Rome during his lifetime.

Anything Else?

Just to be fair, I'll quickly run through some of the other early evidence Roman Catholics usually put forward for the Papacy. First, Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 110 AD) addressed the Roman church as "the church... which has the chief seat in the place of the district of the Romans...."30 But what did the Roman Church preside over? Catholic apologist Michael M. Winter gives us a clue: "It would appear that the Bishop of Rome was the only bishop in Italy until the middle of the second century."31 Also, "Rome enjoyed a position of special respect in the West, because it was the only Apostolic church there, and moreover it was the centre from which the whole of the West was ultimately evangelized."32 (Note: The "Apostolic churches" were those founded personally by the Apostles.) So it is obvious why the Roman Church had "the chief seat... in the district of the Romans." There are a few other miscellaneous historical facts which indicate that Rome was, indeed, respected as one of the greatest (and perhaps even the greatest) of the Apostolic Churches as early as the late second century, but there are no clear indications that Rome exercised any kind of jurisdictional authority over anyone else.

The first example of any attempt at Roman primacy was by Pope Victor (ca. 190 AD), who tried to force the Roman tradition of when to celebrate Easter (which purportedly came from Peter) on the churches of Asia Minor, who claimed to have received another tradition from the Apostle John. Roman Catholic Historian Funk-Hemmer notes that Victor's threats of excommunication didn't settle the matter, and it was considered again at the Council of Arles (314 AD), where the Roman tradition was settled upon. But alas, "The decree was not carried out." The same edict was enforced after the Council of Nicea (325 AD) with more success.33 But at least now we have a clear example of a Roman bishop trying to exert authority over foreign churches! The problem with this example is that this wasn't the first time the issue came up. Around the year 155 St. Polycarp of Smyrna journeyed to Rome to try and clear up the problem with bishop Anicetus. Both claimed apostolic warrant for their traditions, and neither would back down, so they decided to drop the issue.34 Now, if a man like St. Polycarp had any inkling that Anicetus held the keys of Peter, wouldn't he have gone to any length to conform to the Pontiff's ruling? And if Anicetus knew he had jurisdictional authority over Polycarp, and that the Bishop of Rome was supposed to be the supreme guardian of the Apostolic tradition, why did he let Polycarp get away with such a thing?

"Development" of the Papacy?

How can the paucity of evidence for the Papacy from the first and second centuries (and even later, to a lesser extent) be explained? Michael Winter admits, "In the first place it appears, from the records which have survived, that of the thirteen bishops who ruled in Rome from the death of St. Peter until the end of the second century, only two of them exerted their authority outside the city in a manner which could be called papal."35 The two Popes referred to were Clement and Victor, but we have already seen that Clement claimed only the authority of the Holy Spirit, and the Asians paid no attention to Victor. Winter goes on, "In the face of this strong probability of a popedom, the events of the first two centuries present an unexpected enigma. It must be admitted that the activities of the early bishops of Rome do not harmonize with this expectation...."36 That is, it seems probable that if there were a central authority in the New Testament Church (Peter), there should have been one in the post-Apostolic Church, so the fact that no one exerted or even claimed such authority during this period is baffling.

But Winter doesn't stop there! "No contemporary [first, second, or early third century] record has survived expressing the theology of the papal power. As is natural, the exercise was ahead of the theory. Only at a later date, when their power had been challenged, did the bishops of Rome justify their rights."37 The "exercise" was ahead of the "theory"? In other words, the bishops of Rome began asserting jurisdictional authority before they knew why they were doing it? They had the keys and exercised them from time to time, but didn't know it?

How can this be explained? Winter appeals to John Henry Cardinal Newman's theory of "development", which he formulated to explain apparent changes in practice and doctrine through the first centuries after the apostles.

"A century ago Cardinal Newman realized the full import of this problem, not only for the doctrine of the papacy, but indeed for all the Christian dogmas. His famous treatise on The Development of Christian Doctrine is now regarded as the classical explanation of the way in which the teaching of Christian revelation undergoes apparent changes. It is presented in a fairly complete manner in the New Testament, is seen to be in a state of apparent regression in the documents of the infant church, and is thence exposed in the writings of the fourth and fifth centuries with an elaboration which surpasses in its precision and clarity even the New Testament.... The basic principle which influences the whole of Newman's treatment of the matter is the fact that the revealed doctrine is of such profundity and richness that it could not be assimilated fully by the first generation. The adequate expression of the church's doctrines could only be expected when the minds of Christians had pondered on the truths of faith to comprehend all that was implied and entailed in them...." 38

The authors of Jesus, Peter & the Keys reason, "Questions about certain aspects of the nature of Church leadership either did not arise or were never of such importance that they were addressed directly in writing."39 And Cardinal Newman himself explained, "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 one soul,' it would be suspended; love dispenses with laws."40

The standard explanation of Catholic apologists, therefore, seems to be that the question of a central authority and norm of doctrine in the Church just "never came up" for at least a century. Nobody ever mentioned the fact that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, and nobody happened to mention that he had passed on the keys of the kingdom to the subsequent Popes because the question never arose! The Church of the late first and second centuries was such an unbridled love-fest that a central authority wasn't needed. When Gnostic teachers were coming out of the woodwork, claiming secret revelations, the doctrine of the Papacy never came up. When important figures like Irenaeus and Ignatius were busy asserting the authority of the Church hierarchy against the claims of various heretics and schismatics, they just never thought it necessary to point out exactly where the keys of the Kingdom were!

Now, I believe the Roman Catholics have an excellent argument for the Papacy over against the claims of other Catholic traditions. They all talk about the equality of the college of bishops, but then they all have their Archbishops, Metropolitans, Patriarchs, etc., and when push comes to shove their primates will assert their authority over their fellow bishops. They all tacitly admit that a central authority is needed in the Church, and furthermore the New Testament is clear that the Church Christ founded had such an authority in Peter. Therefore, even though there was effectively no Papacy for at least a hundred years after the Apostles, clearly there should have been. On the other hand, to claim that the Papacy was not fully at work because it was not needed during an era known as "the age of heresy" is mind-numbingly ridiculous. There should have been a Papacy, but there wasn't! This is perhaps one of the most compelling arguments for the LDS belief about the apostasy, and it is freely admitted by Roman Catholic apologists.

Has Catholicism Preserved the "Apostolic Faith" Unchanged?

Steve asserts, "The Catholic Church sees the Fathers as the successors of the apostles, the closest source to the apostolic teaching and tradition, and therefore authoritative. These bishops taught distinctively Catholic doctrine. Not Protestant doctrines, not Mormon doctrines, but Catholic doctrines!" I find this view just a little naive. We have already seen that Cardinal Newman had to come up with his theory of "development" to account for all the "apparent changes" in doctrine over the centuries, and in 1865, when Newman was consulted by a friend regarding the founding of a Catholic historical review, he replied: "Nothing would be better than an Historical Review for Roman Catholics - but who would bear it? Unless one doctored all one's facts, one would be thought a bad Catholic."41

Steve mentions three of the "Apostolic Fathers" (Christian writers from the generation just following the Apostles), Ignatius, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp, and he refers to a number of statements by these men which he thinks imply Catholic doctrine. For instance, Steve makes much of the fact that Ignatius and an early account of Polycarp's martyrdom refer to the Church as "catholic", even though the word simply means "universal", and therefore anyone who believes their Church is the one true Church could speak in such terms. Also, some of these men wrote of "one God". Now, this case is a little more complicated to sort out, and certainly more important, so let's quickly examine the differences between the LDS and Roman Catholic doctrines of God, and then see which is closer to that of the earliest Christians.

Differences in Doctrine

When Latter-day Saints speak of God, it is perfectly acceptable to say there is one God... or three Gods... or many gods. When we speak of "one God", we are either speaking solely of the Father, who is the absolute monarch of the Universe, or we are speaking of the fact that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are perfectly "one" in harmony of purpose and will. This unity is so complete that in practical fact they are "one God". (See 2 Nephi 31:21) When we say there are "three Gods", we are referring to the fact that the Trinity consists of truly separate beings - distinct in essence, in body, and differing in rank and glory. When we say there are "many gods", we are referring to the fact that men can become like Jesus Christ, and be made gods. To us there is no contradiction here. Each statement is simply true in a different sense. Another distinctive of LDS doctrine is a startling doctrine about the physical nature of God. Joseph Smith preached that "if you were to see {God} today, you would see him like a man in form,"42 and that "the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man's; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit." (D&C 130:22)

Roman Catholics (and other mainstream Christians), on the other hand, never speak of more than one God. The members of the Trinity are distinct, yet they are "of one substance", meaning that they are a single Divine Being. The Vatican Council explained that God is "eternal, immense, incomprehensible,... who, being a unique spiritual substance by nature, absolutely simple and unchangeable, must be declared distinct from the world in fact and by essence...."43 This "unique spiritual substance" is "simple" in that it cannot be divided. It is "unchangeable" in that nothing can be added or taken away from it. And yet the members of the Trinity are separate "persons". Some have attempted to explain how three distinct "persons" can form such a metaphysical unity, sometimes saying that they are "three centers of consciousness" within the Divine Being, or something similar. However, all these explanations fall short of the mystery of the Trinity. In the end, Catholics simply affirm that this is the logical conclusion of Scripture and Tradition, although it is beyond human comprehension. Consistent with their concept God, Catholics reject the Latter-day Saint notion that God is a material being who has a human form, and do not recognize any differences in rank and glory between the persons of the Trinity.

One God?

What exactly did the Apostolic Fathers say about God? Clement said, "Do we not have one God, one Christ, and one Spirit of Grace poured out upon us?"44 Ignatius said, "For that reason they were persecuted, inspired as they were by His grace to convince the disobedient that there is one God, who manifested Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ...."45 (I couldn't find the passage Steve referred to from Polycarp.) Notice that whenever they said there is "one God", they were obviously referring to the Father. Likewise, Jesus called the Father "the only true God" (John 17:3), and Paul asserted that "to us there is but one God, the Father...." (1 Corinthians 8:6) This is not to say that these men did not believe in the deity of the Son and Spirit - all of them clearly did. However, their language serves to make clear the absolute monarchy of the Father, without denying the possibility of other gods.

This doctrine that the Son and Spirit are subordinate to the Father in rank and glory is known as "subordinationism", which directly contradicts Catholic orthodoxy. One early example of this is St. Justin Martyr (ca. 150 AD) Justin wrote that the "first-begotten," the Logos, is the "first force after the Father:" he is "a second God, second numerically but not in will," doing only the Father's pleasure.46 (See also John 17:21, which strongly implies unity of will rather than some strange metaphysical unity.) And he designated the Son as "this power which the prophetic word calls God... and Angel...."47 He also maintained that the Son is "in the second place, and the prophetic Spirit in the third...."48 In another passage Justin said, "We reverence and worship Him and the Son who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of other good angels who are about Him and are made quite like Him, and the Prophetic Spirit."49 What about the question of men becoming gods? "All men are deemed worthy of becoming 'gods,' and of having power to become sons of the Highest...."50 Now, these statements are perfectly acceptable to Latter-day Saints. We are quite comfortable saying that the Son is a "second God", who is "one" in will with the Father. It doesn't bother us a bit that the Son is called an Angel, because He is the Father's messenger of salvation, and when Justin speaks of the "other good angels" who are made "quite like" the Son, or that men can become "gods", we don't bat an eye because we see men, angels, and gods as a single race of beings who differ only in degree.

How do Catholics explain this type of language among the early Fathers? Father Jurgens admits that Justin "apparently [makes] insufficient distinction between Christ and the created Angels", and he advises that we simply admit Justin was a subordinationist. "There are theological difficulties in the above passage, no doubt. But we wonder if those who make a great deal of these difficulties do not demand of Justin a theological sophistication which a man of his time and background could not rightly be expected to have."51 So that's it! Justin just didn't live in a "theologically sophisticated" time. R.P.C. Hansen writes that "until Athanasius began writing, every single theologian, East and West, had postulated some form of Subordinationism. It could, about the year 300, have been described as a fixed part of catholic theology."52 Therefore, when later Catholic theologians insisted that the Father, Son, and Spirit must be equal, it was a "development" or an "apparent change", brought about because they became more "theologically sophisticated". It couldn't be a blatant contradiction... could it?

But why the change? What could be wrong with the assertion that the Son is subjected to the Father - a "second God" of a different rank and glory - when Jesus Himself said "My Father is greater than I" (John 14:28), and He asserted that the He does not know the hour of His Second Coming - only the Father knows? (Matthew 24:36) Paul wrote that the Father is "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Romans 15:6, NEB), and revealed that after the resurrection Jesus will "be subject unto him [the Father] that put all things under him, that God may be all in all." (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) The answer is that the concept of a God who is an indivisible, unique, unchangeable, absolutely "simple", and uncomposite "Divine Substance" precludes subordinationism. If God the Father is a separate being from the Son and Spirit, the Son and Spirit cannot be the same type of beings as the Father because the Divine Substance is unique. There can be no diversity of rank and glory within the Divine Substance because it is "simple". Therefore, if the Son and Spirit were to be thought of as "fully God", as the New Testament teaches (see Colossians 2:9; Philippians 2:6), subordinationism had to be done away with.

But where did the Fathers get the idea that God was a "Divine Substance"? The Bible says nothing about any such thing, and neither do the Apostolic Fathers like Clement of Rome, Ignatius, and Polycarp. With the "Apologists" - mid-second century writers like Justin, Athenagoras, Tatian, and others - the situation changed. Starting about the year 130 AD53, these converted philosophers began importing the ideas of the Greek philosophers into Christian theology. Harry Wolfson of Harvard University gives three reasons for the rise of this "philosophized Christianity":

"First, it came about through the conversion to Christianity of pagans who had been trained in philosophy.... Second, philosophy was used by Christians as a help in their defense against accusations brought against them {by the pagans}.... Third, philosophy... was found to be of still greater usefulness as an immunization or an antidote against the heresy of Gnosticism. The Gnostics happened to have done what Paul said he was not going to do: they adorned the faith of the New Testament with 'persuasive words of wisdom'.... {Therefore, some of the Fathers} undertook to set up a new Christian philosophy in opposition to that of the Gnostics...." 54

It turns out that the description of God as the "Divine Substance" comes directly from the Greek philosophers. I could go on and on comparing the descriptions of the philosophers with those of the Fathers from the Apologists on, but to save space I'll simply quote Tertullian (ca. 200 AD), who admitted that "Whatever attributes therefore you require as worthy of God, must be found in the Father, who is invisible and unapproachable, and placid, and (so to speak) the God of the philosophers...."55

But what did the "God of the philosophers" replace? Was it an anthropomorphic God with a body in human shape like the Latter-day Saints worship? The New Testament only hints at this when it says Stephen saw Jesus "standing on the right hand of God". (Acts 7:56) We can certainly assume that the Christian God was originally the same as the Jewish God, but what did the Jews believe about God? The great Christian thinker Origen (third century) stated the following: "The Jews indeed, but also some of our people, supposed that God should be understood as a man, that is, adorned with human members and human appearance. But the philosophers despise these stories as fabulous and formed in the likeness of poetic fictions."56 Here we have all the information we need. The Jews believed in an anthropomorphic God, some Christians still believed in an anthropomorphic God, and Origen rejected this doctrine, not because the scriptures or unanimous Christian tradition specifically rejected it, but because "the philosophers despise these stories".

I can provide many more statements by early Christian writers to the effect that Jesus was thought of as a "second God", and the Trinity is "one" in the sense of unity of will. I can provide more indications of a widespread early Christian belief in an anthropomorphic God, and that the "Fathers" adopted the God of the philosophers. Also, the early Fathers made countless statements to the effect that men can become gods. Therefore, I have no qualms about saying that the idea that the early Church taught "Catholic doctrine... not Mormon doctrines..." is demonstrably false, and not just in the area of theology. All the Catholic apologists can do is either ignore the sources or postulate Cardinal Newman's theory of "development" to explain all the "apparent contradictions". Now, I don't have a problem with doctrinal development, as long as it is guided by the revelations of God, but the early Fathers who perpetrated these innovations always claimed they were simply preserving what had gone before, and claimed no revelation. The only early Christian writers I'm aware of who admitted any innovations (e.g. Origen, who said the Apostles seemed "somewhat dull in regard to the investigation of divine knowledge")57 were later excommunicated by the Catholic Church.


I think it should be clear from the foregoing that Jesus did not predict the perpetuation of the earthly Church and there is no persuasive evidence that the bishops inherited the Apostolic office or that Peter passed on the primacy to the bishop of Rome. Furthermore, the idea that the early Church taught exclusively Catholic doctrines, not Mormon doctrines, is demonstrably false, while the proposition that Christianity progressed from doctrines similar to those of the Latter-day Saints toward modern Catholic doctrines is seen to be entirely plausible. In the next phase of this debate I will continue the discussion by showing that the return of the prophets before the Second Advent of our Lord was predicted by the ancient prophets.


1 The Pastor of Hermas, Vis. 2:4, in Roberts, A., and Donaldson, J., eds., The Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols., (Buffalo: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1885-1896,) 2:12. (Hereafter cited as ANF.)

2 2 Clement 14:2, in Grant, R.M., ed., The Apostolic Fathers, 6 vols., (New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1964-1968,) 2:126.

3 Tertullian, On the Soul 58, in ANF 3:234-235.

4 Winter, M. M., Saint Peter and the Popes, (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1960,) p. 17.

5 Discourse of Apa Athanasius Concerning the Soul and the Body, in Budge, EAW, Coptic Homilies, (London, Longmans and Co., 1910), pp. 271-272.

6 Strong, J., The New Strong's Complete Dictionary of Bible Words, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1996,) p. 571.

7 Ignatius, Romans 9, in ANF 1:77.

8 Ignatius, Trallians 3, in ANF 1:67.]

9 1 Clement 44, in ANF 1:17.

10 This is the interpretation given by Roman Catholic patristics scholar, Johannes Quasten in his Patrology, (Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, Inc., 1984,) 1:92-93.

11 Pastor of Hermas, Vision 2:4, in ANF 2:12.

12 See ANF 2:12 footnote 9.

13 Goldstein, D., What Say You?, (St. Paul, MN: Radio Replies, 1945,) p. 236.

14 Hennecke, E., and Schneemelcher, W., New Testament Apocrypha, 2 vols., (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1963,) 2:607.

15 Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 82, in ANF 1:240.

16 Irenaeus, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5:7, in Schaff, P., and Wace, H., eds., The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series 2, 14 vols., (New York: The Christian Literature Publishing Company, 1890-1900,) 1:222. (Hereafter cited as NPNF Series 2.)

17 Origen, Against Celsus 2:8, in ANF 4:433.

18 ANF 4:433.

19 Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5:7, in NPNF Series 2, 1:222.

20 Apolinarius of Hierapolis, quoted in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5:17, in NPNF Series 2, 1:234.

21 Hippolytus, at least, claimed the presence of the gift of healing at the turn of the third century. (See Hippolytus, The Apostolic Tradition 15, p. 22.)

22 Tertullian, On Modesty 21, in ANF 4:99-100.

23 For many concrete examples of prophecies by Joseph Smith, see Crowther, D.S., The Prophecies of Joseph Smith, (Bountiful, UT: Horizon Publishers, 1983).

24 1 Clement 63, in ANF 10:248.

25 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:3:3, in ANF 1:416.

26 Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3:3:2, in ANF 1:415.

27 Apostolic Constitutions 7:46, in ANF 7:478.

28 Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics 32, in ANF 3:258.

29 Rufinus, Introduction to the Clementine Recognitions, in ANF 8:76.

30 Ignatius, Romans (introduction), in Bettenson, The Early Christian Fathers, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1956,) p. 45.

31 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, p. 134.

32 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, p. 135.

33 Funk-Hemmer, Histoire de l'Eglise, (Paris, 1904), 1:294, 194; translated in Barker, The Divine Church, (Salt Lake City, UT: The Deseret News Press, 1951,) 1:170.

34 Funk-Hemmer, Histoire de l'Eglise, 1:108-109; translated in Barker, The Divine Church, 1:170.

35 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, p. 113.

36 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, p. 116.

37 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, p. 132.

38 Winter, Saint Peter and the Popes, pp. 115-116.

39 Butler, Dahlgren, and Hess, Jesus, Peter & the Keys, p. 360.

40 Newman, J.H., An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, (New York: Longmans, Green and Co., 1949,) p. 139.

41 John Henry Cardinal Newman, quoted in Coulton, G.C., "Catholicism and Civilization," Hibbert Journal 19 (1921), p. 336.

42 Joseph Smith, in Smith, J.F., ed., Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976,) p. 345.

43 Brantl, G., Catholicism, (New York: George Braziller, 1962,) p. 41.

44 1 Clement 46:6, in Jurgens, W.A., The Faith of the Early Fathers, (Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1970,) 1:11.

45 Ignatius, Magnesians 8:1, in Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:19.

46 Hatch, Edwin, The Influence of Greek Ideas and Usages Upon the Christian Church, (London: Williams and Norgate, 1914,) p. 268. "Then I replied, 'I shall attempt to persuade you, since you have understood the Scriptures,[of the truth] of what I say, that there is, and that there is said to be, another God and Lord subject to the Maker of all things; who is also called an Angel, because He announces to men whatsoever the Maker of all things--above whom there is no other God--wishes to announce to them.... I shall endeavour to persuade you, that He who is said to have appeared to Abraham, and to Jacob, and to Moses, and who is called God, is distinct from Him who made all things,--numerically, I mean, not[distinct] in will.'" (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 56, in ANF 1:223.)

47 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 127, in ANF 1:263.

48 Justin Martyr, First Apology 13, ANF 1:167.

49 Justin Martyr, First Apology 6, in Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:51.

50 Justin Martyr, Dialogue With Trypho 124, in ANF 1:262.

51 Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:56, n. 1.

52 Hansen, R., "The Achievement of Orthodoxy in the Fourth Century AD", in Williams, R., ed., The Making of Orthodoxy: Essays in honour of Henry Chadwick, (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989,) p. 153.

53 Harnack, A. von, tr. Saunders, T.B., What is Christianity?, (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957,) p. 201.

54 Wolfson, H.A., The Philosophy of the Church Fathers, volume 1: Faith, Trinity, Incarnation, (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964,) 1:11-14.

55 Tertullian, Against Marcion 2:27, in ANF 3:319.

56 Origen, Homilies on Genesis 3:1, in Origen, Homilies on Genesis and Exodus (Fathers of the Church 71), tr. Heine, R.E., (Washington D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1982,) p. 89.

57 Origen, De Principiis 1:Preface:3, in Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 1:190.

Back Arrow Back to the Index

[Back to the Previous Page]

[HOME] * [Catholicism] * [Mormonism] * [Apologetics]
[Search] * [About TIS] * [Feedback] * [Photo Gallery] * [Links]

© 2009 Transporter Info Services, All Rights Reserved.