Who was Evaristus? Was he a pope? Was he the fourth bishop of Rome after the Apostle Peter? Was he even a bishop?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Evaristus was the fifth pope (from allegedly 97-105 A.D.) and that all subsequent leaders of the true church passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 2). Is any of that correct?
This article (along with Appendix A) will refer to the Bible, historical records, and Roman Catholic sources to attempt to properly answer those questions.
A search of the term Evaristus that I made in four different translations of the Bible revealed no mention of an individual with that name in the entire Bible.
If Evaristus was the ruler of all Christendom during the time he was claimed to be, then it seems odd that the Apostle John failed to mention him or his future leadership in any of the books that he wrote during Evaristus's lifetime (the Gospel According to John, 1 John, 2 John, 3 John, and the Book of Revelation). Since John encouraged Christians to be faithful, it would seem that he would have somehow suggested that there would be a succession of faithful leaders to follow in Rome. Instead, he focused on the leadership of the church in the region of Asia Minor (Revelation 1-3).
John was the last of the original apostles to die and should have known who the leaders of the true church were around the time of his death (around 100 A.D.). And there is no reason to believe that he would have been at a lower status of Evaristus who was not ordained directly by Christ, nor (see Appendix A) a pope, and nor probably even a bishop.
Some Significant Roman Catholic Teachings About Evaristus
Here is some of what is claimed about Evaristus:
Yet The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches this about Evaristus:
5. EVARISTUS, ST. (97-105) Born in Jerusalem of Jewish parents who had him educated in Antioch and Greece...He also instituted a group of seven deacons who job it was to write down the popes utterances so as to avoid disputes about what he had said. The complete compendium of the truth had not yet been perfectly codified and there was constant need of corrections and rectifications. Evaristus was martyred in 105...(Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 2).
The earliest historical sources offer no authentic data about him...The martyrdom of Evaristus, though traditional, is not historically proven. His feast occurs 26 Oct. The two decretals ascribed to him by Pseudo-Isidore are forged (Kirsch J. P. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. Pope St. Evaristus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Copyright © 1909 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, May 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Thus, the Vatican should not be selling a book (which I purchased in Vatican city that is produced under the sponsorship of the Pontifical Administration) that declares that Evaristus was martyred and that he had seven recorders of his utterances as no certain recording has ever been found! It seems impossible that Evaristus could have appointed seven deacons as the church in Rome then was not large or did not have a major staff. Furthermore, if there were seven writing deacons who recorded the bishop's utterances, then at minimum one would think that they would have preserve at least who the original "bishops of Rome" were, however they apparently did not.
Any martyrdom of Evaristus is doubtful:
For between Nero and Domitian there is no mention of any persecution of the Roman Church; and Irenaeus (1. c., III, iv, 3) from among the early Roman bishops designates only Telesphorus as a glorious martyr (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. Pope St. Linus. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IX. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Perhaps I should add here that since there is no proof that the early bishops of Rome actually did anything that would be seen as Roman Catholic (like mass rules, holy water, priestly attire, etc.), I believe that it is possible that the early leaders in Rome through Evaristus (or maybe Alexander) may actually have been part of the true Church of God and did not consider themselves to be Roman Catholic in the sense that Roman Catholics now suggest them to be.
What do we actually know based upon the Bible and historical fact?
There may have been a person named Evaristus who someone recalled 50 years after his death. This person may or may not have a had a leadership role in the church in Rome. The Bible, itself, does not record that Evaristus was to be the future leader of all Christians.
Since (please see Appendix A for documentation) there were no Roman Catholic popes prior to Siricius (Lopes, P. 13) nor bishops prior to the mid-second century, Evaristus was neither a pope nor a bishop.
But either way, he was not the main successor for the true church according to the historical records that are now available.
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As scholars have pretty much come to the same conclusions about the lack of information on most of the early alleged bishops of Rome, this section is placed at the end so that the reader (who may have read the articles on Linus of Rome or What Does Rome Actually Teach About Early Church History) will not have to read redundant information). But it is also here so readers will understand that there is absolutely no early historical justification to consider that Evaristus was a pope or even an actual bishop--and that the early historical records support the concept that the early Christian church should be traced through Asia Minor and not Rome.
Dates of His "Reign"
There does not exist any actual evidence of the precise dates of any "reign" of those considered to have been early Roman Catholic leaders.
As at least one Catholic scholar has noted:
...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).
This means that dates assigned to any particular person are quite arbitrary. Although this is more true in relation to the first century listed Roman rulers--Ireneaus essentially states (circa 180) the list, without any dates, is based upon tradition (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses, Book III, Chapter 3, Verses 2,3). Whereas the first list claimed to have been composed by Hegesippus around 155 A.D., and we have no copy of that preserved until Epiphanius claimed to have cited Hegesippus (Epiphanius. Haer., xxvii, 6). But even Hegesippus' list contained no dates.
The "Apostolic Fathers"
The term "apostolic fathers" is used by Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike to describe writings believed to have been written by those who knew personally or nearly personally, one or more of the original apostles. These writings probably begin after John finished with the Book of Revelation, and continued through about 156 A.D. (the last document probably being the letter of The Martyrdom of Polycarp or the Epistle to Diognetus--which could have been much later). These documents essentially were preserved by supporters of the Roman Catholic Church and it is unclear if they are exactly as originally written.Here is what the Roman Church teaches about them:
The Apostolic Fathers Christian writers of the first and second centuries who are known, or are considered, to have had personal relations with some of the Apostles, or to have been so influenced by them that their writings may be held as echoes of genuine Apostolic teaching. Though restricted by some to those who were actually disciples of the Apostles, the term applies by extension to certain writers who were previously believed to have been such, and virtually embraces all the remains of primitive Christian literature antedating the great apologies of the second century, and forming the link of tradition that binds these latter writings to those of the New Testament...The period of time covered by these writings extends from the last two decades of the first century for the Didache (80-100), Clement (c. 97), and probably Pseudo-Barnabas (96-98), through the first half of the second century, the approximate chronology being Ignatius, 110-117; Polycarp, 110-120; Hermas, in its present form, c.150; Papias, c.150. Geographically, Rome is represented by Clement and Hermas; Polycarp wrote from Smyrna, whence also Ignatius sent four of the seven epistles which he wrote on his way from Antioch through Asia Minor; Papias was Bishop of Hierapolis in Phrygia; the Didache was written in Egypt or Syria; the letter of Barnabas in Alexandria (Peterson J.B. Transcribed by Nicolette Ormsbee.The Apostolic Fathers. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I. Copyright © 1907 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
What is most interesting is that although the letter often ascribed to Clement mentions Apollos and Cephas (Peter, Chapter 47--which only says that Paul wrote about Cephas and Apollos), Paul (many times), and some messengers (Chapter 65), he never mentions Linus, Evaristus, or anyone who became known as "the bishop of Rome" after him.
Although Ignatius mentions some local bishops in his letters, he also never mentions Linus, Evaristus, or anyone who became "the bishop of Rome"--and his most praise is for Polycarp of Smyrna (see Ignatius' Letter to Polycarp).
In Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, he mentions Ignatius (in a positive light), but also Valens (who was a leader who Polycarp states left the faith, probably in Rome). Polycarp also never mentions Linus, Evaristus, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome. The letter titled The Martyrdom of Polycarp is basically all about Polycarp, and it too never mentions Linus, Evaristus, or anyone who became the bishop of Rome.
The Didache (otherwise known as The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles) mentions that deacons and bishops are to be appointed (15:1), but again it never mentions Linus, Evaristus, or anyone who became the "bishop of Rome".
There is simply no direct, nor indirect, reference to Evaristus in any of the writings of the so-called Apostolic Fathers. Evaristus, according to his complete omission from the writings of the "Apostolic Fathers" (circa 100-160 A.D.) simply did not have a major leadership role in the Church.
Was Irenaeus' Apostolic Tradition Accurate?
The generally touted Catholic position is that Evaristus was the fifth pope, that he was the successor to Linus, and that all other leaders passed through him (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 2).
That position is based, to a great degree, upon the writings of Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus was perhaps the first Roman Catholic supporter to write much about Church History. Here is everything he wrote about Evaristus:
To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses (Book III, Chapter 3, Verses 3). Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).
The fact is that the Bible itself mentions nothing about the Church of Rome in terms of any leadership significance for the true church. Other than Paul’s letter to those in Rome and his imprisonment there, only three other, non-related, times does the New Testament use the word ‘Rome’. The first mentions that Jews from Rome and other areas of the world were in Jerusalem around Pentecost (Acts 2:10); the second that Claudius had the Jews depart from Rome (Acts 18:2); and the third that involves Onesiphorus who visited Paul in Rome and later in Ephesus (2 Timothy 1:16-18). (While some writers believe that Peter was in Rome when he mentioned this in his first epistle--“The Church saluteth you, that is in Babylon, coelect,” 1 Peter 5:13--this was not a clear reference to Rome (as there was a Babylon in the Asia Minor region at the time), but even if it is referring to Rome, this does not prove that Rome was of central significance to the church--it only suggests that Peter may have once been in contact with Christians from Rome.
No Roman Popes Prior to the 4th Century, No Roman Bishops Prior to the 2nd Century
By not referring to Evaristus as either a pope or a bishop in this paper, I am not being disrespectful to his memory, but historically accurate.
It needs to be understood that the title pope for the bishop of Rome was NOT taken until the late fourth century as nearly all Catholic sources acknowledge. The following are two such sources:
SIRICIUS, ST. (384-399)...was the first to assume the title of pope from the Greek papa meaning father (Lopes A. The Popes: The lives of the pontiffs through 2000 years of history. Futura Edizoni, Roma, 1997, p. 13).
The title pope (papa)...It was apparently in the fourth century that it began to become a distinctive title of the Roman Pontiff. Pope Siricius (d. 398) seems so to use it (Ep. vi in P. L., XIII, 1164) (Joyce G. H. Transcribed by Gerard Haffner. The Pope. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XII. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).
Therefore, any person wishing to be accurate would never refer to Evaristus as a pope or pontiff.
But what about bishop?
While there were bishops in the first century in Jerusalem, and at the latest, by the early 2nd century in Asia Minor, this was not the case in Rome.
When Ignatius of Antioch wrote eight epistles just prior to his martyrdom, he mentioned bishops in many areas--the bishop of Smyrna (Polycarp) mentioned the most. His style was to address his letters to the leaders of the various areas, and in areas that had bishops, he mentioned them. However, unlike most of his letters, his Epistle to the Romans never mentions a bishop in Rome by either name nor title. Since Ignatius is believed to have written these epistles in the early second century (circa 108 A.D.) while Evaristus was alive, this provides strong evidence that there was not a bishop of Rome at that time.
Catholic scholars understand that the New Testament provides no support for the idea that one of the apostles appointed someone to be "bishop of Rome", as the shown in the following quote:
We must conclude that the New Testament provides no basis for the notion that before the apostles died, they ordained one man for each of the churches they founded..."Was there a Bishop of Rome in the First Century?"...the available evidence indicates that the church in Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than by a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century (Sullivan F.A. From Apostles to Bishops: the development of the episcopacy in the early church. Newman Press, Mahwah (NJ), 2001, p. 80,221-222).
The above admission by the above scholar (who happens to be a professor emeritus at the Gregorian University in Rome) demonstrates the historical accuracy of my position.
Another Catholic scholar, A. Van Hove, wrote this about early bishops:
In other words, Roman Catholic scholars admit that although there were bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor in the first and second centuries, there is no mention of a monarchic episcopate (a bishopric) in other places, like Rome, until about the middle of the second century.
Various Catholic writings state that Hegesippus came to Rome in the mid-2nd century and asked about its early leaders. In some of his writings, F.A. Sullivan suggests that those Romans apparently mentioned names of leaders they had heard of (as most would have had no direct contact with any from the first century) as there were no early records with names. Because there was, at the time of Hegesippus' visit, a bishop of Rome and there had long been bishops in Jerusalem and Asia Minor, F.a. Sullivan also suggests that Hegesippus and later writers presumed that the early Roman leaders were also monarchical bishops, even though that is not considered to have been likely.
There were probably a lot of elders in Rome in the first 80 or so years after Paul's death. Since no one was necessarily a bishop that early, it seems that the early succession lists are simply an attempt to put an order of some possible elders that served in the church in Rome.
It is true that beginning sometime in the second century that there were truly individuals that could be described as bishops of Rome. But history is clear that there were no early popes in Rome and the idea of an unbroken list of pontiffs (actually bishops) beginning with Peter simply does not have any historical justification prior to sometime in the second century--over a century after Christ died.
Hence it should be clear to any who are interested in the truth, that Evaristus was not a pope nor a bishop.
Was Evaristus Peter's Spiritual Successor?
While I believe that the records of early church history show that Polycarp of Smyrna was the true and most influential leader of the Church of God after the last apostle (John) died, most who claim to be Roman Catholic believe that Linus, then eventually Evaristus, was the actual successor.
This poses quite a few problems as, even according to Roman Catholic sources, the Apostle John was alive for over three decades after Peter died.
Since Evaristus was NOT an apostle, NOT a pope, and NOT even a bishop, it makes no sense that he would be over the Apostle John in rank and spiritual authority.
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Thiel B. Evaristus of Rome. www.cogwriter.com (c) 2006/2007 0810
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