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Church History Forum: Papal succession of early church

by Catherine Frakas 25 Dec 2001

Papal succession of early church QUESTION from Daniel Spinazzola June 27, 2001 Is there any secular historical evedince of pappal seccession in the early church.
ANSWER by Q & A Staff on July 2, 2001 Dear Daniel,
In general, Roman historians would not have had very much interest in the new Christian religion, so one would not expect them to write about it. The Jewish historian Josephus does mention Jesus Christ but he was writing at the end of the first century so there was not much time for papal sucession to be noted by the outside world.
We do note however that the enemies of orthodoxy often appealed to Rome for validation of their teachings. This would surely not be necesary if if papal claims (including papal successsion) were not recognized even among the schismatics! One example I can think of off hand is the incident where Pope Victor I (end of 2nd century) excommunicated the church in Asia Minor in regard to the date of Easter. No one questioned his authority to make this step. Also Pope Pius I (140-154): Marcion came to him for approval of his new ideas. Why? Obviously even the heretic Marcion recognized papal claims.
Most of the written evidence comes from ecclesiastical sources, for the reason given above. However, I have come up with the following secular findings:
The early Church historian Hegesippus (who to the best of my knowledge was not an ecclesiastic, but a convert from Judaism) wrote about 180 And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherius. (Quoted in Eusebius, Church History 4, 22, 2-3).
Also, the Edict of the Three Emperors Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius(issued on 28 Feb 380): [The Emperors demand that all people remain] 'in the religion which thee divine apostle Peter passed on to the Romans' [and which has flowered to this day of (Pope) Damasus]. Quoted in Stephen K. Ray Upon This Rock (Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 1999), page 217.
Also, the Poem against the Marcionites (Adversus Marcionem), written before 325 by an unknown author from Gaul: In this chair in which he himself had sat, Peter, In mighty Rome, commanded Linus, the first elected, to sit down. After him, Cletus too accepted the flock of the fold -quoted in Stephen K. Ray, ibid. page 191.
I will conclude by quoting a passage from The Dolorous Way of the Popes (Lafond (Warren, Dublin, 1862), page 11:
The power of the Popes had already begun to be felt at Rome, so as to excite the jealousy of the Emperor, who arrogated to himself the sovereign title of paganism, Pontifex Maximus. Thus St. Cyprian observes that Decius became indignant on seeing this rival power raised up, and dreaded the election of a Christian Pontiff more than the announcement of a competitor for the empire. (Note: Pope Fabian was the first martyr of the Decian persecution).
It should be noted also as a final remark that there is no refutation of papal claims by secular sources either, and that as seen above, papal claims were recognized from a very early stage.
God bless, .
P.S. We actually have a papal document still in existence from Pope Clement I, our fourth Pope who reigned from approximately 88-97 AD. The document that is still in existence is a letter to the Church in Corinth in which he exerts papal authority over them.
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