Tuesday, September 7, 2010

My $0.02 Peter Lampe and St Irenaeus

CtC has yet another good discussion going. It centers around the scholarship of Peter Lampe and a few others who have suggested that there was no single leader in the Roman church. There are many details being discussed and some tangents as well. I wanted to comment on a few things.

Fist of all, it really illustrates how protestants need to be argue for and against this type of modern, hyper-skeptical scholarship. They want to discredit the historical basis for the papacy but they don't want to discredit the historical basis for the scriptures. So they quote Lampe as an authority when talking about the church but when he used the same scholarly tools to reject several of Paul's epistles then they turn around and make the same arguments Catholics make against guys like Lampe. 

In the case of the gospel of Matthew it is even more striking. What is the oldest and best evidence that Matthew wrote the first book of the New Testament. St Irenaeus' say he did in his book Against Heresies. It is not just the same guy they dismiss when he lists all the bishops of Rome but it is actually the same document. I can see Lampe arguing that Against Heresies might not be a good source of historical information. I don't think his reasons are good but that is a consistent position to take. I don't see how it can be unreliable and reliable at the same time. That is where protestants have to go. St Irenaeus made up the line of succession he gives for the Bishop of Rome yet he definitely would not make up the idea that Matthew wrote that gospel.

The other problem is Lampe's actual reason for dismissing St Irenaeus' list. What he says is that St Irenaeus was arguing a doctrinal point and manufactured a fictional history to fit his doctrine. But Lampe does not understand incarnational theology. That the word became flesh. That the God of doctrine is also the God of history. So Lampe is making the assumption that the two would not line up. Of course, they could only line up by some supernatural force managing history and  making them line up. But that is precisely what Christianity claims. The death and resurrection of Jesus is a lesson in doctrine but it is also historical. No Christian is going to think that history must be falsified to make it match Christian teaching. They believe that accurately documented Christian history will teach the truth of Christian doctrine.

What Lampe essentially does is dismiss Irenaeus because he is a Christian. The thinking is that he has an agenda and that truth is secondary. Modern scholars really think they have no agenda. They think they are being coldly rational and just following the evidence where it leads. So they feel qualified to sit above St Irenaeus and decide whether to take what he says seriously or not. Protestants are similar. They accept scripture but they often don't admit they are guided by a tradition. They think they are being coldly rational. The truth is they are so embedded in their way of thinking they don't even realize there are other ways to think.

One thing one must realize is that Irenaeus has opponents. That he could not get aways with what Lampe suggests because the gnostics, the Arians and even the Romans would call him on it. This was the second century so the church did not have the ability to intimidate or silence opponents. Not that they did a lot of that when they could but certainly Irenaeus has no such power. He had to rely on the strength of his arguments. Making assertions his opponents could show to be false would be a pretty bad tactic. I doubt his writings would have become as respected as they were if they didn't pass the scrutiny of debate.

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