Although the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics generally only recognize 5 primary (there are a couple of minor ones that are also semi-accepted) locations as “apostolic sees”, there was a sixth that they used to recognize: Ephesus of Asia Minor.
Ephesus of Asia Minor had what they tend to call “apostolic succession”. And this succession was accepted by early Roman Catholic supporters such as Irenaeus and Tertullian. It was recognized as actually one of only two specified groups that allegedly had “apostolic succession” towards the end of the third century (the other “sees” kind of were put together after the fact and even the Church of Rome has no actual proof that it had the type of succession that it now claims prior to the mid-second century).
Here is a list of early, apparently faithful leaders:
Peter/Paul/James through death circa 64-68 (mainly oversaw churches from Asia Minor and Jerusalem)
John through death circa 95-100 (oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor)
Polycarp through death circa 155-156 (oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor)
Thraseas through death circa 160 (oversaw the churches from Eumenia, but died in Smyrna)
Sagaris through death circa 166-167 (died in Laodicea of Asia Minor)
Papirius through death circa 170 (oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor THIS DATE IS APPROXIMATE AND BASED ON THE LOGIC THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA USED FOR THRASEAS)
Melito through death circa 177-180 (oversaw churches from Sardis of Asia Minor)
Polycrates through death circa 200 (oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor)
*Apollonius of Ephesus through death circa 210 (oversaw churches from Ephesus of Asia Minor).
*Camerius of Smyrna through death circa 220 (possibly oversaw churches from Smyrna of Asia Minor).
So what happened to change its influence?
In the first century, apparently a false apostle, who is now called Mark, preached an allegorical interpretation of scripture in Alexandria. Alexandria was one of the most important intellectual centers of the Roman Empire in ancient times and had much influence in the Greco-Roman world. The falsely titled “Epistle of Barnabus” came from Alexandria in the early second century and also preached allegorical interpretation of scripture (see its chapter 10:2). The second century Gnostic heretics Valentinus and Basilides were Alexandrian.
Within the Roman Empire the religion of Mithraism was increasing in popularity while versions of Christianity also were. Some considered that the two religions were in competition with each other (though that was really only the case with the compromisers and the followers of Mithras). Mithras was a pagan sun-god. Many beliefs and practices associated with Mithraism started to rub-off on many who professed Christ in the second through fourth centuries.
According to the 18th century historian E. Gibbon, around 135 A.D., many who professed Christ in Jerusalem chose to be led by a Latin leader who urged them to compromise with God’s law (which Gibbon calls “the Mosaic law”, see article on the Ephesus Church era) in order to be tolerated by the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Certain compromises in Rome apparently occurred around the same time, apparently for the same reason (see articles Arab Nazarenes and Passover).
The acceptance of some of the doctrines held by other heretics (such as Simon Magus, Marcion, and Montanus) spread to many who professed Christ. Various allegorical heretics, such as Valentinus, went from Alexandria to Rome and elsewhere and began spreading various Gnostic and semi-gnostic teachings. And while history shows that second century leaders from Asia Minor opposed these heretics and their teachings, many of them were tolerated, at least for decades, by the main churches in Rome and Alexandria.
Part of the reason for that acceptance of certain Gnostic teachings was that it greatly increased the number of Gentiles into those churches. Notice what one historian wrote:
The Gnostics blended with the faith of Christ many sublime but obscure tenets … the Gnostics were imperceptibly divided into more than fifty particular sects, of whom the most celebrated appear to have been the Basilidians, the Valentinians, the Marcionites… Each of these sects could boast of its bishops and congregations, of its doctors and martyrs; and, instead of the Four Gospels adopted by the church the heretics produced a multitude of histories in which the actions and discourses of Christ and of his apostles were adapted to their respective tenets. The success of the Gnostics was rapid and extensive. They covered Asia and Egypt, established themselves in Rome, and sometimes penetrated into the provinces of the West. For the most part they arose in the second century…
The Gentile converts, whose strongest objections and prejudices were directed against the law of Moses, could find admission into many Christian societies, which required not from their untutored mind any belief of an antecedent revelation. Their faith was insensibly fortified and enlarged, and the church was ultimately benefited by the conquests of its most inveterate enemies (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Chapter XXVII. ca. 1776-1788).
While I do not agree with Gibbon that the true church “ultimately benefited” from this compromise as he indicated, this compromise did allow the mainstream Greco-Roman churches to “enlarge” as Gibbon wrote and become the majority of those who professed Christ.
In the second century, one or more semi-gnostic schools developed in Alexandria, including the one headed by the semi-gnostic Clement of Alexandria and then Origen, whose teachings greatly influenced professing Christians in the Greco-Roman world. However, many of the teachings of the main school there have been condemned as heretical, even by Catholic and Protestant sources.
Notice what Dr. John Walvoord, who taught at the Dallas Theological Seminary for fifty years wrote about it:
In the last ten years of the second century and in the third century the heretical school of theology at Alexandria, Egypt advanced the erroneous principle that the Bible should be interpreted in a nonliteral or allegorical sense. In applying this to the Scriptures, they subverted all the major doctrines of faith…the Alexandrian school of theology is labeled by all theologians as heretical…(Walvoord, John F. The Prophecy Handbook. Victor Books, Wheaton (IL), 1990, pp. 9,15).
Over time, some of the more obvious Gnostic concepts (like Aeons) were never formally adopted as the Gnostics taught them, but others that the allegorists felt had some type of support from tradition and/or scripture were adopted by the forming Greco-Roman “Catholic/Orthodox” confederation. And although leaders stood up to the early allegorists (for two see What is the Appropriate Form of Biblical Interpretation?), the allegorizers continued to increase their influence. The Orthodox and even the current Pope Benedict XVI have praised Origen (who ran that Alexandrian school in the early third century) even though some his beliefs have been portrayed as heretical by the same Pope Benedict (see Did The Early Church Millenarianism?).
After a local persecution by Roman Emperor Septimius Severus who died in 211 A.D., the church in Antioch ended up a leader (Asclepiades) that was acceptable to those who compromised in Jerusalem and apparently other areas. Also in the early third century, a compromising Roman leader (Callistus) allowed abortion and generally lowered moral standards, which resulted in great increases among his and related churches.
Around 244 A.D., one “Gregory the Wonder Worker” of Neocaeseria claimed to see apparitions and apparently had mystical powers (Mary, the Mother of Jesus and the Apparitions). Through the combination of his influence, Imperial persecutions, the rise of the allegorists, and doctrinal compromise, changes occurred in Antioch and Asia Minor. Allegedly “he could cast his cloak over a man, and cause his death…he could bring the presiding demons back to their shrine” (Roberts A, Donaldson J, Volume 20, p. 3).
Around 250 A.D., during the severe empire-wide persecution by the Emperor Decius, the most public leader of the church in Smyrna (Eudaemon), apostatized. Shortly after this persecution, something new happened: A new leadership was installed throughout Asia Minor that was commended by the allegorist tolerating Bishop of Alexandria (Dionysius) who reported:
But know now, my brethren, that all the churches throughout the East and beyond, which formerly were divided, have become united. And all the bishops everywhere are of one mind, and rejoice greatly in the peace which has come beyond expectation. Thus Demetrianus in Antioch, Theoctistus in Cæsarea, Mazabanes in Ælia, Marinus in Tyre (Alexander having fallen asleep), Heliodorus in Laodicea (Thelymidres being dead), Helenus in Tarsus, and all the churches of Cilicia, Firmilianus, and all Cappadocia. I have named only the more illustrious bishops, that I may not make my epistle too long and my words too burdensome (Cited in Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter V, Verse I).
Notice that the Alexandrian Bishop acknowledged that those in the East (Asia Minor) had been divided from the Alexandrian and Roman churches, were no longer divided. This is because there were no longer any original Christians leading them, but only those who tended towards allegory and non-biblical traditions. Is your religion one that followed the faithful or those who followed the compromisers?
And shortly after this time is the first recorded instance of the Italians being able to influence a Roman Emperor enough so that they could install a bishop of their choice (probably either Dmonus or Timaeus) in Antioch (circa 270-273 A.D.) (please see the article The Smyrna Church era).
Hence, essentially due to compromise and persecutions, the semi-gnostic allegorizers tended to become the main group of professing Christians. For example, by the third and fourth century, the Roman Church no longer taught many apostolic teachings that it once had and instead included more and more teachings that did not originate in the Bible (this is documented in the article Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Church of God?). And after the third century compromise and takeover in Asia Minor, Ephesus lost most of the rest of its influence to Constantinople in the fourth century.
While true Christians remained throughout history (please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3), they were often a persecuted minority (see also Persecutions by Church and State), and were more specifically persecuted by the State beginning after the Council of Nicea in the fourth century and the subsequent “edicts against heretics” by Emperors Constantine (who had been a follower of Mithraism) in 331 and Theodosius in 381 (prior to that the Roman state normally persecuted Greco-Roman professors of Christ and original believers together)–so they fled into the wilderness for 1260 years (cf. Revelation 12:6).
Throughout time, God raised up faithful Church of God leaders and groups that kept “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)–for documentation please see the article The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3.
The Living Church of God specifically traces its history through the early leaders of the Church of God in Ephesus, and best represents the teachings of the early faithful in Asia Minor today.
Some articles of possibly related interest may include:
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
News Articles Related to Church History This link is to articles on Church history that were once published on the COG News Page.
The Churches of Revelation 2 & 3 Do they matter? Most say they must, but act like they do not. This article contains some history about the Church of God (sometimes referred to as the continuation of Primitive Christianity) over the past 2000 years. It also discusses the concept of church eras.
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Nazarene Christianity: Were the Original Christians Nazarenes? Should Christians be Nazarenes today? What were the practices of the Nazarenes.
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Apostolic Succession What really happened? Did structure and beliefs change? Are many of the widely-held current understandings of this even possible? Did you know that Catholic scholars really do not believe that several of the claimed “apostolic sees” of the Orthodox have apostolic succession–despite the fact that the current pontiff himself seems to wish to ignore this view? Is there actually a true church that has ties to any of the apostles that is not part of the Catholic or Orthodox churches? Read this article if you truly are interested in the truth on this matter!
Early Church History: Who Were the Two Major Groups Professed Christ in the Second and Third Centuries? Did you know that many in the second and third centuries felt that there were two major, and separate, professing Christian groups in the second century, but that those in the majority churches tend to now blend the groups together and claim “saints” from both? “Saints” that condemn some of their current beliefs. Who are the two groups?
Do You Practice Mithraism? Many practices and doctrines that mainstream so-called Christian groups have are the same or similar to those of the sun-god Mithras. Do you follow Mithraism combined with the Bible or original Christianity?