Not being one to shy away from controversy, I thought I'd bring up the letter from the Church in Gaul to Pope Eleutherius (or Eleutherus or Eleutheros) which even mentions the word itself. In my previous discussion, Finding the Papacy in the Early Centuries, we had a nearly heated discussion of the historicity of the papal roots in the early centuries. When I brought up the quote from Irenaeus showing that all Churches must agree with Rome because of her primacy, the counter argument was "yea but he doesn't mention any bishops so he's not thinking of the pope". So then (knowing it was futile) I provided the context for his quote - which any student of antiquity should know includes the oldest chronology of the popes we have (probably based on Hegesippus' lost work). So naturally the counter argument was "so what if he mentions bishops I didn't see him say pope". You can see how endless and pointless arguing with such stubborn logic can be. But if it's "pope" you want, it's "pope" you'll get; I bring up the following second century text:
We pray, father Eleutherus, that you may rejoice in God in all things and always. We have requested our brother and comrade Irenæus to carry this letter to you, and we ask you to hold him in esteem, as zealous for the covenant of Christ. For if we thought that office could confer righteousness upon any one, we should commend him among the first as a presbyter of the church, which is his position.It hasn't the word "pope" of course - they weren't speaking English. Pope comes from the Latin "papa" and of course they weren't speaking Latin either. They were speaking Greek. They use the Greek word father (someone translate for me it's been a long time since I studied any Greek). At any rate, "papa" is the Latin word for father and they used the Greek word for the same (whatever it was) *STOP THE PRESS - I found the word. Check it out*.
In this letter we see the Roman pontiff's paternal role. We needn't get hung up on words though. They didn't go around referring to "the pope" as we would today (to try and steer of some silly arguments that are doubtlessly coming anyway). But they did address the Roman Pontiff as father (or "Pope"). In other words, if one Laodicean Christian had said (speaking in Greek) to another "hey I wonder what the father's next encyclical is going to be about" his comrade would have been clueless. But in the context of a semi-autonomous Catholic Church in Gaul writing an official letter to the Roman pontiff and calling him "father", everyone would have understood what that meant.
To steer off another argument: it would be a mistake to think of this point as if it were akin to the anachronistic reading of "dynamite" back into the Greek "dunamas" which I've heard preachers do more than just a few times. This isn't what's happening here (although some failed to understand that in the previous post on the subject I have no reason to suspect they won't fail again). So here's why that is a bad argument:
First, dynamite is an invented word, pope is not; its an evolved word. In a sense, it is the same word just in a different language and in a different time. Pope is not just a word which is based on the Latin, it is the English way to say the Latin word. This point is clearer if you listen to the Italians say 'vive il papa'. They're not being anachronistic when they do so.
Second, this etymology is actually functioning more like a proper word because, well it has become a proper title. It is more akin to reading "Jesus" back into "Yeshua" or however you'd say it in Aramaic than it is to reading "dynamite" back into "dunamas". Reading proper nouns back into their variations in linguistic history is not anachronistic.
Third, (this ties in with the second) the connotations we have with a word like "pope" do not argue that reading it into the second century would be anachronistic. Using the previous example, the word "Jesus" has far more connotations now than the word "Yeshua" would have had to a first century Jew and yet we wouldn't hesitate (and we don't) to read "Jesus" back into "Yeshua" or even the Greek "Iesus". Therefore when reading the early references to "father" we should, as students of history, drop the connotations they wouldn't have had but be careful to understand which connotations they would have had.
All of this requires serious study in patristics and not merely counting the references to the Roman Pontiff as those who are of the same mind tend to do with the Scriptures - counting the references to Mary as proof of her unimportance. To learn the connotations of even a single word (especially one as important as this one) we would need to reconstruct the world in which it was spoken/written.
In closing, let me make one remark about fluency (both linguistic and cultural). It takes both to fully comprehend any text. That is one of the reasons why the early fathers are so important in properly understanding the New Testament - they lived and breathed this stuff. Our best scholars pale in comparison to even the average early exegetes. There is no way to compensate for linguistic and cultural fluency. A fluent reader/listener can discern clear and intended meaning not only by which words were used but by which words might have otherwise been used in its place. Word choice is a strong tool in conveying a lot of information indirectly (yet no less clear) without being extremely wordy or insulting the reader by explaining information he would be expected to know.
So on those lines - first we note that the Church (notice this isn't a casual letter but a carefully crafted one delivered by Saint Irenaeus in person) referred to him as "father" when they could have just as easily said "brother" (and in the Protestant world, this would have made much more sense). Calling another bishop "brother" would certainly not amount to Gaul denying the 'honorary primacy' of Rome (if one were to argue such a point). If there were no thought of primacy or even only a little thought of it, "brother" would have been highly appropriate. If not brother, then "venerable" or "blessed" or "most holy" or a number of titles would have been both honorary and appropriate. We must not ignore the word choice here.
Secondly, we should note that in this case (especially) and in many other early cases, the apologetics we are sometimes looking for simply wouldn't make sense in the context of the letters. So someone might object "Yea so he mentions the word father but he doesn't explain that the Pope is the successor of Peter and has jurisdiction over other episcopates etc...etc..." But why on earth would we expect him to say such a thing? This is the point at which we cross over from serious historical study to wishful thinking and pointless sophistry. For the Church at Gaul to explain the papacy, its foundation, and its authority to the Roman pontiff would have been far beyond insulting.
We acknowledge that the reason for the lack of apologetics in Paul's writings, the lack of reference to Christ's miracles and the lack of specific rubrics was not because Paul was unaware of these things or that he didn't believe in them. Rather, he was writing for a different purpose and writing with certain assumptions in place. Among those were the fact that the Christian communities he wrote to would have been well aware of these things. Likewise, if anyone was aware of the tradition regarding the papacy, the Roman pontiff was. He would be the last target for an explanation or defense of the papacy. Now Irenaeus was writing his aforementioned work to someone else who we would expect to be far less educated on the subject. We shouldn't have been surprised then to see him go into more detail on exactly why the Roman Church (and consequently her pontiff) held such primacy.
Now, anyone who wants to respond - keep it charitable. No condescending remarks. Do not begin sentences with a sarcastic "Uh,". Do not make a bad argument and then ask me "Understand?" and in general let's stay away from sophistry. It gets old real quick. Don't nit pick on silly details - stick with the brunt of what I'm saying.