A Reform Trooper’s Apostolic Succession

Jesus Christ

The Apostle Paul

Augustine of Hippo

(Martin Luther)

John Calvin


For those who are scratching their heads, Apostolic Succession is a doctrine among the liturgical or more ancient traditions that current bishops are able to trace the lineage of their authority and ministry through preceding generations all the way back to the original Twelve Apostles, and of course, ultimately, Jesus Christ. Implicit in the doctrine of Apostolic Succession is the preservation of the Gospel through the laying on of hands. When a retiring bishop is replaced by a new bishop, the retiring bishop lays his hands upon the new bishop to signify the passing on of his ministry and all that it includes, primary among which are preaching the Gospel as grounded upon teachings of Christ and the Apostles, the administration of the Sacraments, and the application of discipline to preserve and build up the Church.

Personally, I think Apostolic Succession is theologically supported by the incarnation and all that it implies for how God works in the world. The idea is that just as God has fully entered into time and space through Jesus, so it is that God continues to move in Jesus’ human agency through the mystical body of Christ: the Church. In the incarnation there is an implicit affirmation of the physical world and a particular affirmation of humanity as the creatures who, bearing God’s image, have been endowed with the capacity to create cultures and institutional structures to exercise dominion. Apostolic Succession is one such organizing structure that emerged from the early Church as a means to ensure the integrity of Apostolic faith as Christianity went forth into the world. In this manner the essentials of the Gospel are thought to have been preserved even as the Church grew and developed in response to the various cultures it encountered in time and space.

So, with all this said, my little illustration is me taking a stab at what I fear is a reductionist view of the faith that I think some of my stridently Reformed brothers have. In other words, as powerful as John Calvin’s theological vision was, he was just one facet among many in the prism of Church history through which the light of Christ has been wonderfully refracted.

2 Responses to “A Reform Trooper’s Apostolic Succession”

  1. K.L.B.  

    “The Apostles chose men to be bishops to succeed them and handed on to them “what they received from Jesus’ teaching and example and what they learned from the Holy Spirit” (CCC, no. 83). The pope and bishops in union with him are successors of the Apostles and inherit the responsibility of authoritative teaching from them. We call this teaching office the Magisterium. “The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone.” (CCC, no. 85, citing DV, no. 10).” – United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, 2007, Part I, Chapter 3, p25.

    “The word Church means the people gathered by God into one community, guided today by the bishops, who are the successors of the Apostles and whose head is the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.” – USCCA, 2007, Part I, Chapter 10, p113.

    “The Church is built upon the foundation of the Apostles, who were chosen by Christ himself, and at whose head he placed Peter. The entire community of Christians received the Apostles’ proclamation of the Gospel, and so the Church in her entirety is called “apostolic.” Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Church as a whole remains and will always remain faithful to the teaching of the Apostles. This is called the indefectability of the church, because she will never fall away from the Gospel. To further ensure the Church’s fidelity to the Gospel, Christ has willed that Apostles be succeeded by the bishops. The Apostles acted together as a body, with Peter at their head, in their leadership of the Church. Thus they are called by the Church as a “college.” The college of bishops has succeeded the college of the Apostles, and it is the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, who has succeeded the role of Peter as head of the college. Thus they are called by the Church as a “college,” and their essential unity as one body is understood as teh principle of collegiality.” – USCCB, 2007, Part I, Chapter 11, p132, 3

    Apostolic succession may be more readily understood in the form of papal succession. For as you’ve now written – with a nod toward those whom may not understand the concept – it could confuse some.

    St. Paul referred to himself using the term spiritual father. (1 Corinthians 4: 15)

    Concerning St. Augustine of Hippo, he is regarded as a Doctor of the Church, and Doctor of Grace. And he joined papal condemnation of the Pelagian heresy c. 417-418 A.D. At the time of his death in 430 at age 76, the city of Hippo was under siege by the Arian Vandals.

    Doctors of the Church are those people from any era in Church history whose sanctity and writings have had a profound influence on theological and spiritual thought. One is declared a Doctor of the Church by the Pope.

    Concerning Apostolic Succession, St. Augustine wrote a letter to Generosus c. 400 A.D. The following is an excerpt:
    [53, 1, 2] “If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it .’  Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus, Evaristus by Sixtus, Sixtus by Telesphorus, Telesphorus by Hyginus, Hyginus by Anicetus, Anicetus by Pius, Pius by Soter, Soter by Alexander, Alexander by Victor, Victor by Zephyrinus, Zephyrinus by Callistus, Callistus by Urban, Urban by Pontianus, Pontianus by Anterus, Anterus by Fabian, Fabian by Cornelius, Cornelius by Lucius, Lucius by Stephen, Stephen by Sixtus, Sixtus by Dionysius, Dionysius by Felix, Felix by Eutychian, Eutychian by Caius, Caius by Marcellus, Marcellus by Eusebius, Eusebius by Melchiades, Melchiades by Sylvester, Sylvester by Mark, Mark by Julius, Julius by Liberius, Liberius by Damasus, Damasus by Siricius, Siricius by  Anastasius.  In order of succession not a Donatist bishop is to be found.”

  2. Jackie Rios  

    love Calvin