Mormons and Catholics

National Catholic Reporter on Apostolic Succession

Posted by keller on February 7th, 2009

I have been researching priesthood organization in the early Christian Church as of late.  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, so sometimes I find commonalities in the way both of our faiths apologeticly respond to such attacks, even though there are significant differences that put us at odds with one another.  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 of  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 in the FAIR blog. I think From Apostles to Bishops 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.’ “

8 Responses to “National Catholic Reporter on Apostolic Succession”

  1. Tom Zelaney Says:

    It might be better to look to the Catechism of the Catholic Church which states:

    860 In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be the chosen witnesses of the Lord’s Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church. But their office also has a permanent aspect. Christ promised to remain with them always. the divine mission entrusted by Jesus to them “will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church. Therefore, . . . the apostles took care to appoint successors.”373

    The bishops – successors of the apostles

    861 “In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.”374

    862 “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”375 Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.”376

    373 LG 20; cf. ⇒ Mt 28:20.
    374 LG 20; cf. ⇒ Acts 20:28; St. Clement of Rome, Ad Cor. 42, 44: PG 1, 291-300.
    375 LG 20 # 2.
    376 LG 20 # 2.

    IN BRIEF

    866 The Church is one: she acknowledges one Lord, confesses one faith, is born of one Baptism, forms only one Body, is given life by the one Spirit, for the sake of one hope (cf ⇒ Eph 4:3-5), at whose fulfillment all divisions will be overcome.

    867 The Church is holy: the Most Holy God is her author; Christ, her bridegroom, gave himself up to make her holy; the Spirit of holiness gives her life. Since she still includes sinners, she is “the sinless one made up of sinners.” Her holiness shines in the saints; in Mary she is already all-holy.

    868 The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature” (AG 2).

    869 The Church is apostolic. She is built on a lasting foundation: “the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (⇒ Rev 21:14). She is indestructible (cf ⇒ Mt 16:18). She is upheld infallibly in the truth: Christ governs her through Peter and the other apostles, who are present in their successors, the Pope and the college of bishops.

    870 “The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic, . . . subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines”(LG 8).

    For your information the following is the web location for the Catechism:
    http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_INDEX.HTM

    It is more accurate to cite the announced Magisterium of the Catholic Church than the writings of theologians alone. Theologians may belong to one or more schools of thought that may be in sync with the official Magisterium or not depending on their own school’s or personal aggendas.

    Tom Z

  2. Tom Zelaney Says:

    The following is a clear presentation of Apostolic Succession as understood by the Catholic Church with attendant quotation from the Fathers and early writings. Remember lack of a reference to a person or subject does not mean it is a reference to a person or subject who is lacking. I have taken this from http://www.catholic.com/library/Apostolic_Succession.asp

    Apostolic Succession

    The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine which was the true Church and which doctrines the true teachings of Christ. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession of the claimants.

    Apostolic succession is the line of bishops stretching back to the apostles. All over the world, all Catholic bishops are part of a lineage that goes back to the time of the apostles, something that is impossible in Protestant denominations (most of which do not even claim to have bishops).

    The role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine is illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the apostles’ teachings would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, “[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage he refers to the first three generations of apostolic succession—his own generation, Timothy’s generation, and the generation Timothy will teach.

    The Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of succession, regularly appealed to apostolic succession as a test for whether Catholics or heretics had correct doctrine. This was necessary because heretics simply put their own interpretations, even bizarre ones, on Scripture. Clearly, something other than Scripture had to be used as an ultimate test of doctrine in these cases.

    Thus the early Church historian J. N. D. Kelly, a Protestant, writes, “[W]here in practice was [the] apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? . . . The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. . . . Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it” (Early Christian Doctrines, 37).

    For the early Fathers, “the identity of the oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops in the great sees going back lineally to the apostles. . . . [A]n additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message committed was to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are . . . Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth’” (ibid.).

    Thus on the basis of experience the Fathers could be “profoundly convinced of the futility of arguing with heretics merely on the basis of Scripture. The skill and success with which they twisted its plain meaning made it impossible to reach any decisive conclusion in that field” (ibid., 41).

    Pope Clement I

    “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . . Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry” (Letter to the Corinthians 42:4–5, 44:1–3 [A.D. 80]).

    Hegesippus

    “When I had come to Rome, I [visited] Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And after Anicetus [died], Soter succeeded, and after him Eleutherus. In each succession and in each city there is a continuance of that which is proclaimed by the law, the prophets, and the Lord” (Memoirs, cited in Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 4:22 [A.D. 180]).

    Irenaeus

    “It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

    “But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition” (ibid., 3:3:2).

    “Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time” (ibid., 3:3:4).

    “Since therefore we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek the truth among others which it is easy to obtain from the Church; since the apostles, like a rich man [depositing his money] in a bank, lodged in her hands most copiously all things pertaining to the truth, so that every man, whosoever will, can draw from her the water of life. . . . For how stands the case? Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient churches with which the apostles held constant conversation, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?” (ibid., 3:4:1).

    “[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth” (ibid., 4:26:2).

    “The true knowledge is the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church throughout the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of Christ according to the succession of bishops, by which succession the bishops have handed down the Church which is found everywhere” (ibid., 4:33:8).

    Tertullian

    “[The apostles] founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive Church, [founded] by the apostles, from which they all [spring]. In this way, all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 20 [A.D. 200]).

    “[W]hat it was which Christ revealed to them [the apostles] can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves . . . If then these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches—those molds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, [and] Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savors of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood” (ibid., 21).

    “But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (ibid., 32).

    “But should they even effect the contrivance [of composing a succession list for themselves], they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles [as contained in other churches], will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory” (ibid.).

    “Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic Church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith” (ibid.).

    Cyprian of Carthage

    “[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way” (Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253]).

    Jerome

    “Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians” (Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).

    Augustine

    “[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani Called “The Foundation” 4:5 [A.D. 397]).

    NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
    presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
    Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

    IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
    permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
    +Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

  3. Darth_Bill Says:

    Thank you for actually posting someting on this site.

    And this was a very interesting post. I’ll also have to read the blog post.

  4. Keller Says:

    You are welcome. I should have more good stuff coming up after I get my FARMS Review done.

  5. David Waltz Says:

    Hi Dave,

    An excellent summation of Dr. Sullivan’s book. Some afterthoughts: first, I personally believe that Sullivan is a bit too one sided in his conclusion/s. Williams (a Baptist), and Cirlot (Anglo-Catholic) draw different conclusions from the same base material:

    BISHOP LISTS by Robert Lee Williams

    APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION by Felix l. Cirlot

    Second, IF Sullivan is correct, then the Church organized by Joseph Smith Jr. is not a restoration of the first century Church.

    Grace and peace,

    David

  6. Steve Says:

    I thought this article might interest people here as it deals with apostasy theories, and apostolic succession from a Roman Catholic perspective.

    http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2009/07/ecclesial-deism/

  7. Eddi Says:

    So true. Honesty and evertyihng recognized.

  8. Luciano Hellgren Says:

    For a while now Pepsi has been known for making and selling strangely flavored versions of their well-known Pepsi soda. They’ve experimented with clear, white, clear, red, and now they’re going blue with Pepsi blue.

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