American conservatives have it. The Constitution and the founders who wrote, debated, and ratified it are the key to American identity. If we can only go back there, America can return to its greatness. (If only we could get rid of the subsequent 37 states and occupy the geo-political significance of say, the Netherlands.)
Presbyterians have it. The Westminster Assembly is the beginning of all true Presbyterianism and if we only follow the Confession and Catechisms, Presbyterians will return to their greatness. (Never mind that the Westminster Assembly’s documents were never adopted by the English or that the Scots had just a bit of a struggle pulling off Presbyterianism in the British Isles.)
Roman Catholics have it. Rome is the church Jesus founded. Nuf said. Everyone else is a poser.
But that is not what Roman Catholic historians say. The Christian centuries; a new history of the Catholic Church by J. Danielou and H. Marrou does not start with Rome (surprise):
In this way the Church of Jerusalem assumed its own special structure. The Apostles were the witnesses of the resurrection and the trustees of the fullness of power, and Peter appeared as their head. At the beginning, they directly presided over and administered the Church of Jerusalem. But they took associates to work with them. At first there were the presbyters who looked after the Hebrews; they formed a college with James as president, and James shared in the apostolic powers to a special degree. The Apostles also instituted a similar organisation for the Hellenists in which the Seven corresponded to the Hebrew presbyters through it is diffcult to know whether Stephen was their equivalent of James. In any case the departure of the Hellenists was to make the college of presbyters the sole hierarchy in Jerusalem. (16)
So perhaps the best way to think about the church of Rome is as the Church of Jerusalem in exile and that for the claims of authenticity to ring true, the Bishop of Rome needs to take over the diocese of Jerusalem and govern from there (won’t that be a happy development in the Middle East).
When Danielou and Marrou finally get to Rome, it’s on page 51, Christ and the apostles are gone, and specifics are spotty:
For the Church of Rome, we have no information for the period following the persecution of Nero. It was probably then that Mark wrote down Peter’s catechesis. The list of the bishops of Rome given by Irenaeus shows, at this period, Linus and Cletus, who are mere names to us. Things change about 88, when Clement took charge of the Church. . . . So the structure of the Roman community appears very similar to that of the Church of Antioch. The bishop is both the first of the presbyters and the head of the deacons. Clement represents in Rome the same type of personality as Polycarp in Asia. Irenaeus tells us that he had know the Apostles; doubtless he is thinking chiefly of Peter and Paul. . . .
Little is known about events in the first two decades of the second century. Irenaeus’s list records that Evaristus and Alexander were bishops at that time. It was under the latter, about 115, that Ignatius wrote to the Romans and extolled the dignity of their Church. Under the pontificate of Sixtus (115-125) discussions took place in Rome between Christians of Asiatic origin and the rest about the date of the celebration of Easter. Again the complexity of the Church in Rome at this date is evident. (51, 52)
Not a lot in the historical record to substantiate the claims of the apologists who insist that Roman Catholicism was the communion that sprung up directly from Jesus and Mary. Neither knew Rome and it’s not very clear that Peter or Paul knew much of Rome beyond their chains. What is clear is that the original church in the history of the world was the Church of Jerusalem.
Apologists need not thank me for this free service of product evaluation. Just consider it one servant serving servers.