Book Review: Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity

51jsyfzry6l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Claudia Rapp, Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005. Pp. xii + 346.

Though as heirs of the Enlightenment we are accustomed to taking for granted the dichotomy between the secular and the religious, the world of Late Antiquity was not familiar with such a clear bifurcation, particularly as it related to the notion of authority. Claudia Rapp’s Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity: The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition aims to analyze the nature of episcopal leadership from the third to the sixth century, and sets out to challenge how much of previous scholarship has operated with this binary of the bishops’ religious and secular power.

The book is divided into two parts. The first (chapters 1–4) considers the nature of episcopal leadership in late antiquity. Rapp, in the first chapter of her book, introduces three categories of authority which were combined to varying extents by late antique bishops: spiritual, ascetic, and pragmatic. Using this model, she is able to set forth her book’s specific thesis, which is to identify “the importance of ascetic authority as the focal point at the intersection between spiritual and pragmatic authority” for late antique bishops (18). As such, the theme of holiness carries across each of the following chapters.

Starting with pragmatic authority (chapter 2), Rapp contends that the bishop’s ability to carry out his public pastoral ministry (that is, his pragmatic authority) was in fact dependent on him “set[ting] an example of moral and virtuous conduct to his congregation,” that is, his ascetic authority (24). Rapp traces the linking of the bishop’s pragmatic and ascetic authority back to Ignatius of Antioch, and then through various church orders and patristic writers, with particular attention to how 1 Timothy 3 is interpreted in each. The point is simply that a congregation “will accept a bishop’s guidance in spiritual and moral issues only if he shows himself to be of outstanding moral integrity” (41). The bishop’s ascetic authority thus justifies his pragmatic authority, as more explicitly presented in works such as John Chrysostom’s On the Priesthood.

Spiritual authority (chapter 3), which Rapp describes as “the authority that comes from the possession of the Holy Spirit,” is what is passively “received as a divine gift,” thus differentiating it from ascetic authority, which emphasizes “the individual’s active contribution” in preparing to receive and enhancing this gift (56). Rapp finds justification for making this distinction in some early Christians’ use of the terms pneumatophoroi to describe the former and christophoroi for the latter. Focusing here on the “spirit-bearers” as those who hold spiritual authority, Rapp identifies Spirit-inspired teaching and preaching as marks of this form of authority (60). Rapp focuses on the holy men of late antiquity as most clearly possessing spiritual authority, setting the stage for “a potential competition between monks and clergy over the possession and administration of the Spirit” (65). In light of the Spirit’s presence, those with spiritual authority were particularly noteworthy for their intercessory prayer (67), rooted in their spiritual perfection (84). As for the bishop, his spiritual authority lay primarily in his administration of penance (95). There was debate, however, on the issue of whether the bishop’s spiritual authority was grounded on the basis of his ascetic authority or his pragmatic authority, as seen, for instance, in the Donatist controversy, though “orthodoxy” would decide in favor of the latter, with ordination representing the irrevocable bestowal of the Spirit (98).

Those who held ascetic authority (chapter 4), characterized by “individual physical effort and its public recognition” (102), may be termed christophoroi on account of their following of Christ’s example, whether in life or in death. Their claim to spiritual authority rested not on their ordination, but rather came about as they “prepared themselves through a lifetime of asceticism and deprivation to become vessels of the Holy Spirit” (103). After an extensive survey of the role of the desert in early Christian monasticism, Rapp discusses how the figure of Moses became a prototype of the saintly bishop, with “the three phases in Moses’s life – education, contemplation, and ministry – provid[ing] a biographical pattern with which many bishops of the fourth and fifth centuries could identify” (133). Thus, for men such as Basil of Caesarea, a period of ascetic formation was seen as a “precondition” for ecclesiastical office” (136). Rapp thus sees a much greater overlap between monastic lifestyle and episcopal office than is often recognized.

The second part of the book (chapters 5–9) focuses on the bishop’s pramatic authority with respect to his urban context. First examining “Bishops in Action” (chapter 5), Rapp argues that “the bishop’s role in practical matters was analogous to that of the patronus or public benefactor, whether he was a holy man or a prominent benefactor” (156). That is, the bishop could be an advocate or intercessor for others like a holy man, but worked on a scale and with means more like those of a very wealthy citizen. Turning next to “Social Contexts” (Chapter 6), Rapp examines “the patterns of episcopal recruitment from the various levels of society in order to show the increasing dependence of episcopal appointments on the social criteria of family background, education, and wealth” (173). The result was that “the social stratification of the episcopate thus corresponded to the social stratification of church membership, and eventually […] to the stratification of society as a whole” (195).

Turning next to “Cities” (chapter 7), Rapp considers how the bishop’s role within an urban context might be thought of as the intersection between pragmatic authority and ascetic authority. On the one hand, “the greatest distinction that separated the bishop from the holy man and placed him in proximity to the prominent citizen was his access to wealth,” which could be either his own or that of his church (211). On the other, though, it is noteworthy that “most of the bishop’s expenditures were motivated by the same spirit of charity that also moved holy men to intervene on behalf of the needy” (220). Expanding her horizons next to “Empire” (chapter 8), Rapp considers the figure of Constantine in some detail. Contrary to those who argue that the bishops’ pragmatic authority derived from an “imperial dispensation” of Constantine, Rapp concludes that “even those episcopal tasks that are regulated by imperial law […] have their origin in the pastoral care and spiritual leadership inherent in the ideal of the episcopate” (239). Constantine, in other words, was merely validating existing episcopal practices. Finally, in considering “The Bishop as a New Urban Functionary” (chapter 9), Rapp argues that “in the two centuries after Constantine, a new understanding of the episcopate developed that privileged the bishop’s pragmatic authority over his ascetic authority,” with matters of church and state finding their full union in the legal code of Justinian (274). In sum, “as the cities were increasingly Christianized, the roles of highest representative of the Christian community and of prominent leader of civic life fell into one” (289). A concluding epilogue then briefly ties together the major themes of the book by considering how bishops were commemorated after death.

Claudia Rapp’s Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity successfully demonstrates that a bishop’s pragmatic authority was rooted in both his spiritual and ascetic authority, and that the bishop could often, on the one hand, look a lot like a late antique holy man, and, on the other, at times also look very much like a model citizen. The three categories of authority are a helpful lens for thinking about episcopal authority, especially as we can measure the relative weight of each as it shifts over time. In particular, the notion that the bishop’s ascetic reputation was a foundational source of legitimating his authority throughout late antiquity is a helpful corrective to any view which seeks to divorce the secular and the sacred elements of the episcopal ministry.

Still, this book is not without a few shortcomings. In particular, I wonder about the extent of Rapp’s reliance on hagiographical accounts of bishops’ lives; rather than take these at face value, as she seems to often do, perhaps these are in some way an extension of how a bishop’s authority was constructed in Late Antiquity. Though not addressed in this book, a comparison with the rabbis of Late Antiquity might have proved to be an illuminating topic worthy of further exploration. Nevertheless, Rapp’s book is an extremely thorough, erudite contribution to the subject of episcopal authority in Late Antiquity, and would be most helpful for anyone else embarking on further research in this area.

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2016 Year in Review

2016 was a slow year on the blogging and publication fronts, with only my review of James McConnell’s recent monograph on divine testimony in Luke-Acts appearing in Review of Biblical Literature. But, behind the scenes, it was in fact a very productive year. Thanks to my incredible advisors, I was able to finish my dissertation, The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit: Prosopological Exegesis and the Development of Pre-Nicene Pneumatology, weighing in at just over 300 pages. The manuscript is currently working its way through external review; I’ve been told my defense will likely be scheduled for summer of this coming year at Radboud.

With that enormous task behind me, I’m looking to get a couple of spin-off articles to journals in the next month or so. The first examines the influence of Gnosticism on Irenaeus’ understanding of the Spirit’s role in the divine economy; the second looks at how this same topic is further developed by Tertullian in light of his Montanist inclinations. In both instances, we have interesting evidence of the “heretical” roots of “orthodox” pneumatology. Hopefully at least one of these will appear in print by the end of 2017. Beyond that, I might tackle a book review or two when I’m not working on revising my dissertation for publication and, you know, working my real job and helping raise two small children!

Thanks again to all who have provided love, support, and encouragement in 2016! Here’s to a great 2017.



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An Essential Bibliography: Irenaeus of Lyons

Over the course of writing my Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit (TTS), I have had the opportunity (pleasure? trouble?) of reading almost everything under the sun related to Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. As a service to others embarking on their own research into these ante-Nicene Fathers, I’ve made a list of what I have found to be the most helpful works for each of these figures. Please note that this is NOT by any means meant to be a comprehensive bibliography; I’ve only selected works that I think would be a good place for other researchers to start from (accordingly, I’ve focused almost exclusively on English-language monographs in this and subsequent bibliographies). Happy researching!

IRENAEUS OF LYONSirenauesoflyons

John Behr, Irenaeus of Lyons: Identifying Christianity  (CTC; Oxford: OUP, 2013). Behr has the most recent introduction to the life and theology of Irenaeus, though other recent introductory works by Minns (2010), Osborn (2001), and Grant (1997) should be consulted for different emphases and overall approaches.

Anthony BriggmanIrenaeus of Lyons and the Theology of the Holy Spirit (OECS; Oxford: OUP, 2012). This is the first monograph devoted to Irenaeus’ pneumatology since the German-language work of Jaschke (1976). Briggman, a student of Michel Barnes at Marquette, follows in Barnes’ paradigm of emphasizing the Jewish influence on Irenaeus’ pneumatology. A very well-argued and illuminating volume, though (as I argue in TTS) more attention could be shown to non-Jewish influence, such as Gnosticism or the Greco-Roman reading method of prosopological exegesis.

Jackson Lashier, Irenaeus on the Trinity (VCSup 127; Leiden: Brill, 2014). Also based on a recent Marquette dissertation, I found this volume particularly helpful for its up-to-date overview of critical issues in Irenaean studies.

Paul Foster and Sara Parvis, eds. Irenaeus: Life, Scripture, Legacy  (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2012). The collection of essays in this volume are of varying quality, but the short essay by Presley on Irenaeus’ use of prosopological exegesis was particularly important for my project.

Heidi Marx-Wolf, Spiritual Taxonomies and Ritual Authority: Platonists, Priests, and Gnostics in the Third Century C.E. (Divinations; Philadelphia: UPenn, 2016). Though a broad study on religion in Late Antiquity, the chapter on Irenaeus and the Gnostics was particularly helpful in formulating my argument in TTS. See also the work of Blowers (2012) on contextualizing Irenaeus’ notion of the divine economy.

M. C. Steenberg, Irenaeus on Creation: The Cosmic Christ and the Saga of Redemption (VCSup 91; Leiden: Brill, 2008). See also the new work by Presley (2015) on Irenaeus’s intertextual use of Genesis 1-3. Also drawing extensively on Irenaeus’ reading of Genesis are works by Behr (2000) and Holsinger-Friesen (2009).

**A word on texts and translations: for critical editions, I prefer Rousseau on Against Heresies (SC; 1965-1982) and on the Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching (SC; 1995). For English translations, start with Unger et al for Against Heresies Books 1-3 (1992-2012) and Behr for the Demonstration (PPS; 1997).

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An Essential Bibliography: Justin Martyr

Over the course of writing my Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit, I have had the opportunity (pleasure? trouble?) of reading almost everything under the sun related to Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian. As a service to others embarking on their own research into these ante-Nicene Fathers, I’ve made a list of what I have found to be the most helpful works for each of these figures. Please note that this is NOT by any means meant to be a comprehensive bibliography; I’ve only selected works that I think would be a good place for other researchers to start from (accordingly, I’ve focused almost exclusively on English-language monographs in this and subsequent bibliographies). Happy researching!



Craig D. AllertRevelation, Truth, Canon and Interpretation: Studies in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (VCSup 64; Leiden: Brill, 2002). Allert covers a lot of diverse ground in this one volume; I found it most helpful in considering Justin’s indebtedness to Middle Platonism.

Judith M. LieuMarcion and the Making of a Heretic: God and Scripture in the Second Century (Cambridge: CUP, 2015). This helpful new book gives a lot of insight into how Justin’s polemic is constructing, and not simply objectively reporting, the views of his opponents (in the case of this study, Marcion) and his own brand of Christianity.

Eric F. OsbornJustin Martyr (BHT 47; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1973). A little dated, but a great one-volume introduction to Justin’s life and thought; for other early introductions to Justin, consider those by Barnard (1967) and Goodenough (1923).

Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, eds. Justin Martyr and His Worlds (Minneapolis, Fortress, 2007). The collection of essays in this volume are of varying quality, but the introduction by Michael Slusser to Justin scholarship is particularly helpful for getting the lay of the land.

David RokeahJustin Martyr and the Jews (JCP 5; Leiden: Brill, 2002). Like Allert, this book focuses on the Dialogue with Trypho, but considers the extent of Justin’s indebtedness to rabbinic Judaism. On Justin and Judaism, see also the contributions of Boyarin (2004) and Horner (2001), though I find the latter to be much less persuasive.

Oskar SkarsauneThe Proof from Prophecy: A Study in Justin Martyr’s Proof-Text Tradition—Text-Type, Provenance, Theological Profile (NovTSup 56; Leiden: Brill, 1987). Truly worth of being called “magisterial,” Skarsaune’s impossibly thorough work is the gold standard for investigating Justin’s sources. Albl (1999) gives a nice summary of the most important points and connects Skarsaune’s work with a broader study of testimonia collections. For an earlier study on this topic, see the work of Prigent (1964).

Demetrius C. TrakatellisThe Pre-Existence of Christ in the Writings of Justin Martyr (HDR 6; Missoula: Scholars, 1976). Building to some extent upon the previous work of Kominiak (1948), I found this to be a helpful guide to understanding Justin’s reading of the Old Testament theophanies.

**A word on texts and translations: for critical editions, I prefer Marcovich on the Dialogue (1997) and Minns and Parvis on the Apologies (2009). For English translations, start with Falls et al for the Dialogue (2003) and the aforementioned Minns and Parvis for the Apologies.


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2015 Year in Review

Another year over…and so much to be thankful for! I’m especially grateful that my family is settling well in Atlanta and that my teaching position allows me the time and flexibility to keep making progress on my PhD. In 2015, I was able to complete my prospectus and the first two chapters of my dissertation/book (appx. 110 pages, or 40% of the whole). Lord willing, I’ll be able to finish the entire book, tentatively titled The Trinitarian Testimony of the Spirit, by the end of 2016. My supervisors, Jan van der Watt (Nijmegen) and Chris de Wet (Unisa), have been enormously helpful in elevating the quality of my work, and I’m so grateful for their encouragement and advice.

In other news, my initial article exploring the nature of the Spirit’s prosopological speech has seen the light of day in the year’s final issue of Vigiliae Christianae, which you can read on this site. I presented on the Spirit and eschatology in the Epistle of Barnabas at SBL Atlanta, but that’s probably the end of the road for that project. Finally, I wrote an invited review for RBL of James McConnell’s The topos of Divine Testimony in Luke-Acts that should be out some time next year.

In all, then, it was a busy year academically beyond being a year of transition for our family, but above all as 2015 draws to a close I just wanted to be able to express my gratitude to all of you who have encouraged me in this journey and let you know what I’m up to. Happy 2016!

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“The Spirit Speaks” in VigC

7584I’m excited to share that my second published article, three years in the making, has at last seen the light of day! Thanks to everyone who has helped and encouraged me in this project, which I am continuing to pursue as a full-length monograph (because, you know, the royalties will be out of this world). The article, Kyle R. Hughes, “The Spirit Speaks: Pneumatological Innovation in the Scriptural Exegesis of Justin and Tertullian,” Vigiliae Christianae 69.5 (2015): 463-483, has been posted on the “Academic Archive” tab.

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SBL Atlanta: The Eschatology of Barnabas

It’s always nice to have SBL meet in your own backyard, and so I’m very excited that this year’s Annual Meeting is just a few miles down the highway from home. I’ll be presenting on the Epistle of Barnabas, a (more or less) early second-century Christian text that has long been a source of interest to me. If you’ll be at SBL and want to check it my presentation, I think there will be some good papers in this group:

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Hope to see you in Atlanta!

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