Sunday, May 9, 2021

Apostolic Succession: How Much Evidence Do You Want?

Is there reliable evidence of apostolic succession in the Catholic Church?

Answer requested by
Carolyn Barratt

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Catholic convert, reading many Catechisms
Answered just now
I do not know what your criteria of reliable evidence are.

If you want the claim “our bishops descend from the apostles” proven by newspaper articles from New York Times ranging from ordination of Matthias just before Pentecost in AD 33 to Pope St. Sylvester getting ordained, you won’t get it. New York Times was not yet being printed.

If you are an atheist, you have certain objectives in denying continuity of the Church anyway,like, the less continuity there is, the more wiggle room you get to pretend miracles are latter accretions. Dito for a Jew who would prefer Christianity to have been founded by a wayward Pharisaic disciple of Joshua Ben Pekharia (a wayward disciple whom I rather take to be Odin).

But if you are a Christian, if you believe the Bible, if you believe historic sources from after the Bible was written, there is plenty.

  • Christ promised continuity of the Church up to Doomsday
  • Christ made this promise to the eleven
  • Acts 7 or 8 describes Apostolic succession going on
  • Paul and Barnabas receive it
  • Paul has handed it on to Titus and Timothy and instructs them to hand it on.

The only conclusion possible is, Christ meant apostolic succession to continue to the end of times, and He meant “with you and your successors” when He said “with you”.

After that, you see some years where it is not directly documented all that much, but when Roman Empire converts, you get conflicts with sects like Arians, Novatians, Donatists and some of the points of the conflict is how Apostolic succession functions (like, if a Donatist bishop converts after being consecrated by a Donatist bishop who had been a Catholic bishop, would the convert have to be reordained or not?) and you get lots of detail.

Even before that, you get hints most notably in St. Irenaeus Adversus Haereses, where he speaks, not so much of Apostolic succession as of the series pastorum in Rome.

So, your choice would be, either Christ meant Apostolic succession to go on as we find it functioning in post-Nicene fathers, or something went wrong, you have no alternative place where it went right and Christ broke or never made the promise in Matthew 28:20.

A somewhat different question is where the pure and unadulterated and perfectly licit apostolic succession resides, you have basically the options:

  • Roman Catholics
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Copts
  • Armenians
  • Nestorians / Assyrians.

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