Posted by keller on February 7th, 2009
I have been researching priesthood organization in the early Christian Church as of late.Â On the FAIR blog I have written a post to counter an evangelical critique of Mormon (and indirectly Catholic) insistence on ordaining to priesthood offices. I have also attempted to address fundamentalist concerns that some priesthood offices have changed and developed over time. Catholics often have to face similar criticisms from Protestants,Â so sometimes I find commonalities in the wayÂ both of our faiths apologeticly respond to such attacks, even though there are significant differences that put us at odds with one another.Â So if you check out either link be warned you will see a little of both along with a lot of Mormon esoterica.
I encountered an article in the National Catholic Reporter of 9-19-’08
by Fr. Richard McBrien, a Notre Dame professor, which totally changed my understanding ofÂ how informed Catholics look at the history behind apostolic succession claims. I have since gotten the book McBrien refers to by Francis Sullivan and have even cited it inÂ the FAIR blog. I thinkÂ From Apostles to BishopsÂ is a must read for those who like to participate in Catholic and Mormon discussions and I will probably review in an upcoming blog when I have time to digest all the wealth of information. As a teaser, I will post this lengthy excerpt from the NCR article:
In what sense is the church of today in “apostolic succession” with the church of the first century of the Christian era?
Before all else, we must reject the simplistic, mechanistic notion of apostolic succession, what some have derisively referred to as the passing-the-baton theory.
This understanding of apostolic succession, which many Catholics continue to believe, assumes that each validly ordained Catholic bishop can trace his episcopal consecration in an unbroken line back to one of the original apostles or to the apostles collectively.
Jesuit Fr. Francis Sullivan, my former professor of ecclesiology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and currently professor at Boston College, offers two reasons for opposing such a view.
First, the apostles were not bishops in the present-day meaning of the word. They were missionaries and founders of local churches. There is no evidence, nor is there likely ever to be any evidence, that any of the apostles took up permanent residence in a particular church, or diocese, as its bishop.
Second, although some local churches had pastoral leaders who were called bishops (see the Acts of the Apostles 20:17-35, especially verse 28), it remains unclear whether these “bishops” were actually appointed or ordained by the apostle Paul or by any other apostle.
“The New Testament,” Fr. Sullivan writes, “offers no support for a theory of apostolic succession that supposes the apostles appointed or ordained a bishop for each of the churches they founded.”
Nor does the Didache (“The Teaching”), an ancient book of basic instructions for Christians, contain any “suggestion that such pastoral officers would derive their authority in any way from a founding apostle.”
Pope St. Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, known as 1 Clement, written 30 years after St. Paul’s death, indicates that the church in Corinth was being led by a group of presbyters (priests), with no indication of a bishop.
Not even St. Ignatius of Antioch, who Is a major source for our knowledge of the organization of the early church, suggests that “he saw his episcopal authority as derived from the mandate Christ gave to the apostles…. He never invoked the principle of apostolic succession to explain or justify the role and authority of bishops.”
“One conclusion seems obvious,” Fr. Sullivan writes. “Neither the New Testament nor early Christian history offers support for a notion of apostolic succession as ‘an unbroken line of episcopal ordination from Christ through the apostles down through the centuries to the bishops of today.’ “