I stumbled across this article a few weeks ago which was listed as the current "featured article" on Triablogue. It's an older article, but seeing as how they wished to "feature" it, (it is no longer the "featured" article) I figured it would be good to answer it.
John Bugay on Catholicism: What was the ancient church in Rome like?
Some time ago, I spent some time summarizing what some of the major commentators have been saying about the people and the network of house churches found in early Rome in the first century. This is the Rome to which Peter supposedly traveled, where it is thought that he may have died (though historically, there is practically no mention of him at all being in Rome; when Irenaeus talks about “…the church that is greatest, most ancient, and known to all, founded and set up by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul at Rome …” this is the reality to which he was referring, and it is this reality of which we can say he was not an entirely accurate reporter of history).I find it interesting that these Protestant apologists can't see the forest for the trees. All we need point to is Scripture in this regard. Jesus gave to St. Peter, alone, the authority to bind and loose whatsoever he chose in Matthew 16:18-19. In John 21:15-17, just before Jesus ascends - in threefold manner He commands St. Peter to take care of His sheep. The Good Shepherd was passing the reins to His Vicar. We must say, Scripture is a "credible historical account of (the papacy) origins."
There is a reason why I’m going into such detail on this. Recently, I’ve been citing from the James Puglisi work How Can the Petrine Ministry Be a Service to the Unity of the Universal Church? In that work, I’ve quoted Herman Pottmeyer saying that “anyone who wishes to come to an understanding of the papal ministry cannot avoid dealing with the history of this ministry. The historical facts are not disputed...” In an earlier article from that same work, John P. Meier, a leading Catholic Biblical scholar, pointed out, “A papacy that cannot give a credible historical account of its own origins can hardly hope to be a catalyst for unity among divided Christians.” So the implication is that, until this point, the papacy has not given a “credible historical account of its own origins.”
The recent book The End of Christianity begins (Chapter 1) with this little but bold proclamation:Wow! In reality, the Catholic Faith does not begin with Jesus Christ and the Apostles, for it was born out of Judaism. If one takes, even a little time, to study Jewish culture and religion, and objectively looks at the culture of Catholicism - he/she would be astounded at how similar the two faiths are in many ways. We must remember, ALL the Apostles and Jesus Christ Himself were all Jews. They did not totally abandon Judaism when they became Christians - that would be foolish! Our foundations are deeply rooted in Judaism.
The end of Christianity is not some far-off dream, nor is it on the verge of occurring. Instead, it happened two thousand years ago—in fact, Christianity never even began; it was stillborn….there is no such thing as the religion of Christianity; at best it is a multitude of related but distinct and often-enough opposed traditions, shifting and swaying with the winds of local culture and passing history … (Dr. David Eller, “Christianity Evolving: On the Origin of Christian Species”, Chapter 1 in Loftus, ed., ©2011“The End of Christianity”: Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, pg. 23.)
There’s no need to fear Eller. With this statement he immediately shows himself to be a hack, given that the life of Christ and the origins of Christianity are extraordinarily well attested in history.
But on the other hand, it is the Roman Catholic church and its constant protestations of its own authority, which are extraordinarily poorly attested in history, which give individuals like Eller the kind of toe-hold they need to bloviate and sell books. Eller’s statement is true about Roman Catholicism. Roman Catholicism was stillborn. That’s what Eller and the others can attack freely; it’s the falseness of Roman Catholicism that gives people like Eller the opportunities they have to attack Christ and Christianity.
My wife and I took a course in Judaism, taught by a rabbi, at our local college. At one point, after five straight weeks of Torah readings after Passover about how God desired His place of worship to be (the altar, candlesticks on the altar, angels on either side, incense, even the vestments of the priests) and my wife commented, "Wow, that's SO Catholic!" Rabbi responded, "Where do you think you got it from?!" It would appear that Eller and Bugay are attacking that which they really know little about.
But again, the historical work that is being done on the earliest church is going to be immensely helpful in sorting out fact from fiction. This historical work is going to be like Trigonometry and Calculus: these things will always be taught, so long as the subject is taught. But the question going forward will be, will anyone care to understand them?And that is precisely MY point! I do not believe folks like Bugay really understands what he's attacking. The Trig and Calc (historicity) of the Christian (Catholic) faith has brought many great anti-Catholics TO the Catholic Faith - not away from it! John Cardinal Newman, for one, comes to mind who fought against the Catholic Church and was looking for historic justification to remain Protestant - and one of his famous quotes is: "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant."
Introduction and SummaryIn this article, Bugay links to yet another one where he refers to the papacy as "dishonest." I find it interesting that one of the "scholars" he cites is none other than "Raymond Brown." That would be "Fr. Raymond Brown, who was a bit of a dissenter and revisionist - OK, more than just a bit. Bugay doesn't really demonstrate the "nonexistence" he claims - he pretty much just claims it.
The nonexistent early papacy
I would not deny that early celebrations of the Mass took place in people's homes. They also took place in the Catacombs. Just a brief and objective look at history is all it takes to remind us - for the first 300 years of Christendom, the Church was under near constant persecution (with brief periods of "peace").
Households in Ancient RomeAgain, we do not deny that even into the 4th century that the meeting place for Mass was often in people's homes. As mentioned earlier too - they also met in the catacombs where they buried so many Christian martyrs. In those catacombs they had places of worship literally carved into the walls. I've been to one of those sites, the Catacombs of St. Callixtus. The catacombs became places of worship as early as the 2nd century - long before Rome converted to Christianity in the 4th century.
Part 1: Households in Ancient Rome: An Introduction
Part 2: Christians and Jews in First Century Rome
Part 3: Commerce and Household Communities
Part 4: Household Leadership as Church Leadership
Part 5: Patronage and Leadership
The People of Romans 16
Aquila, Priscilla, Acts 18:2 and the Edict of Claudius
“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, διάκονον and προστάτις”
Andronikos and Junia, Part 1
Andronikos and Junia, Part 2
What the early Catholics had to go through to find places to worship is quite a testimony to their dedication to Christ. Within those catacombs too there were poisonous gases coming in through the walls, poisonous due to volcanic activity (we're not too far from Pompeii and Mt. Vesuvius) so much so that one could not stay inside the catacombs for much more than an hour. Even with better ventilation, to this day, they have to monitor and not permit visitors to stay inside for extended periods. It's actually amazing just how much work they did to create the catacombs and incorporate places of worship within them in light of the fact that they could only stay inside them for short periods of time. Anyway, this is what the early Church in Rome REALLY looked like - and we can still visit sites like this to this day.
Moving forward, my hope is, Lord willing, to continue to expand on this list and this material, and to make it available in an easy to digest form. In the same way that the printing press aided Martin Luther and helped the Reformation sweep across Europe, the Internet and its ability to make accurate information available immediately around the world, is only going to help to clarify the misunderstandings about Christianity and what it means to have faith in Christ.While I agree, the printing press helped aid Luther's spread what he was teaching, what he taught was dissent, disrespect and counter to what has preceded him from some 1500 years. The Internet, while it can be used to make accurate information available - like Luther and the dawning of the printing press, it also makes it easier to spread falsehood and lies. As folks like Bugay "moves forward" I will continue to present counter-arguments in hopes to shed some light on what they say, and hopefully, one day, bring them home to the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Faith. I do thank Bugay for this opportunity to share how the Early Church did indeed worship. While undeniable that some of that worship took place in private homes - it also took place semi-publicly in the catacombs.