In this article, we will examine the need for apostolic succession, which is the passing down of authority from the Apostles to the bishops and to each succeeding generation of bishops. Church authority is crucial. It is so crucial that every church ever established exercises authority when teaching the Gospel and when executing their daily church operations. The problem is that only one church has Christ’s preeminent authority, which is a divine authority to loose and bind rules/teachings (Mt. 16:19), to forgive and retain sins (Jn 20:23) and to and teach all nations (Mt 28:19). All other churches are impostors (Protestantism) or are in schism (Oriental and Eastern Orthodox) and do not, therefore, have this authority.
Acts 1:12-26 – The Apostles chose Matthias to take Judas’ office. The Greek word for office in this passage is “episkopen” and means bishopric, or the office of overseer. Bishop, episkopos, means overseer. This word is important because the same Greek word is used when St. Paul gives instructions for selecting bishops in his letters to Timothy and Titus. The Catholic Church has maintained this authority since its inception. The Bible nowhere instructs one to break away from the Church Christ founded, establish his/her own church, appoint him/herself overseer and appoint others as successors. In fact, in Article 4, we’ll see the consequences of this prideful action. When one breaks away from Christ’s Church, the Catholic Church, that person loses all authority and is outside the body of Christ.
1 Tim 3:1-7 – St. Paul provides Timothy with a list of qualifications for bishops and deacons (3:8). The qualifications would be meaningless if the person selecting the bishops and deacons did not have authority and St. Paul clearly recognized Timothy as one who had authority. In 1 Tim 4:11-14, St. Paul tells Timothy, “Command and teach these things. …attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands on you.” St. Paul further instructs, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands…” (1 Tim 5:22), and “guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Tim 6:20). Timothy had this authority by way of laying on of hands from those who were members of the Church Christ founded to command, teach, preach and ordain others.
Titus 1:5-9 – Paul instructs Titus to appoint presbyters (means elders; old Englsh “preost;” current English “priest”) in every town and then says, “A bishop as God’s steward…must hold fast to the true message as taught so that he will be able both to exhort with sound doctrine and to refute opponents. For there are many insubordinate men, empty talkers and deceivers, especially the circumcision party; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for base gain what they have no right to teach. 1st – How is one taught the “true message” unless by one who is taught before him? 2nd – How does one refute an opponent unless he receives the infallible teachings passed down to him from the Church? This cannot happen by using the Bible alone. Too many have taken passages out of context yet claim they have the correct teachings. This hubris has let to countless contradictory teachings (lies) and divisions within Protestantism. 3rd – Notice that Paul warns about false teachings by certain members of the Church. The “circumcisers” were early Jewish members of the Church who wanted gentiles to become Jews through circumcision before continuing in Christianity. This problem was resolved in Acts 15 at the Council of Jerusalem when St. Peter condemned it. This is a great example of the passing down of authority to priests and the need for an infallible church. Note: The terms “bishop” and “elder” were used interchangeably in the apostolic era. After the death of the last Apostle, however, bishops rose to higher positions of authority.
2 Tim 2:2 – And what you have heard from me (St. Paul) through many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will have the ability to teach others as well. Notice Timothy taught witnesses who taught others and instructed them to entrust his teaching to faithful people who will, in turn, teach others. This is handing down of Church teachings.
Pope St. Clement I, fourth bishop of Rome and ordained by St. Peter, said, “And thus preaching through countries and cities, the appointed of the first fruits, having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe.” “…and afterwards gave instructions that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry” (A.D. 70). This is the historical handing down of authority within the Church Christ founded.
St. Hegesippus wrote, “And when I had come to Rome, I remained there until Anicetus (eleventh bishop of Rome), whose deacon was Eleutherius. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherius” (A.D. 180). These bishops of Rome were also verified by the early bishop/historian St. Irenaeus.
St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Bishop of Lyons from A.D. 180 to 200, disciple St. Polycarp, who was appointed bishop by St. John the Apostle, argued against heretics by pointing out the bishops’ authority through apostolic succession (i.e. the passing down of authority to new bishops via the laying on of hands).
Does common sense have anything to say about this? Yes. Without Apostolic succession, Christianity would have been corrupted from the beginning. Imagine if Protestantism occurred immediately after Christ’s death and resurrection. Immediate disagreements on a range of teachings would have ensued just like they do now. They would not have been able to agree on things as fundamental as baptism, the Eucharist, how we are saved, the role of works, end times, the books that belong in the Bible, and many others. Christianity would have fallen into utter chaos and contradiction and would most likely not be around today. Apostolic succession ensures that Christ’s teachings are maintained and passed down through the centuries, which is why St. Paul said, “The Church…is the pillar and bulwark of truth.” Christ did not die on the cross thinking – “These guys are going to mess things up from the beginning and I will have to wait 1500 years for Luther, Calvin and King Henry the VIII to get it right.” Let’s get real. The Catholic Church was founded by Christ 2000 years ago, given his authority and led “into all truths” by the Holy Spirit. Protestantism is a corruption of true Christianity.
Article 3c will prove that the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus Christ founded 2000 years ago.