Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Eusebius on Apostolic Succession

By the fourth century (when Eusebius wrote his account of Church History) Apostolic Succession was already a profoundly important doctrine. It is hard for some to grasp the extreme importance of this doctrine considering our present situation. After all, who needs Apostolic Succession when you have the KJV?

However, if you look at the early Church in her true, historical context - I believe you will clearly see the utter necessity of Apostolic Succession (and not just in general terms, but in a very Catholic sense of the word) just as the early Church fathers did. In this light, it is not hard to see why many fathers went to great lengths to show that the successors of the apostles were clearly ordained by and were carrying out the work of their predecessors who were in turn, carrying out the 'great commission' of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is such an exciting doctrine to me and so exciting to see how strong of a historic case can be made for it.

Not only is Apostolic Succession extremely important for Eusebius, but he (like St. Clement) starts out by building a case for the primacy of Rome having St. Peter as its first bishop and the location of his martyrdom as well as St. Paul's (the two according to St. Clement were the "greatest and most righteous pillars of the faith").

It is, therefore, recorded that Paul was beheaded in Rome itself, and that Peter likewise was crucified under Nero. This account of Peter and Paul is substantiated by the fact that their names are preserved in the cemeteries of that place even to the present day.

It is confirmed likewise by Caius, a member of the Church, who arose under Zephyrinus, bishop of Rome. He, in a published disputation with Proclus, the leader of the Phrygian heresy, speaks as follows concerning the places where the sacred corpses of the aforesaid apostles are laid:

"But I can show the trophies of the apostles. For if you will go to the Vatican or to the Ostian way, you will find the trophies of those who laid the foundations of this church."

And that they both suffered martyrdom at the same time is stated by Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, in his epistle to the Romans, in the following words: "You have thus by such an admonition bound together the planting of Peter and of Paul at Rome and Corinth. For both of them planted and likewise taught us in our Corinth. And they taught together in like manner in Italy, and suffered martyrdom at the same time." I have quoted these things in order that the truth of the history might be still more confirmed.

-Eusebius Church History Book 2
Now after explaining the death of the last apostles, he begins to set up his case for Apostolic Succession by showing who succeeded who. Now who do you suppose he started with?
After the martyrdom of Paul and of Peter, Linus was the first to obtain the episcopate of the church at Rome. Paul mentions him, when writing to Timothy from Rome, in the salutation at the end of the epistle.

...

Clement also, who was appointed third bishop of the church at Rome, was, as Paul testifies, his co-laborer and fellow-soldier.
(The Catholic Church of course affirms St. Peter as the first bishop of Rome making Clement the fourth (pope) beginning about 88 AD and not the third. He was preceded by St. Anacletus (who served roughly 76-88 AD))

Pop quiz who was the first pope who was never canonized? Pope Liberius in 352 AD. Doh! You don't want to go down in history with that record!

He goes on:
But the number and the names of those among them that became true and zealous followers of the apostles, and were judged worthy to tend the churches founded by them, it is not easy to tell, except those mentioned in the writings of Paul.

For he had innumerable fellow-laborers, or "fellow-soldiers," as he called them, and most of them were honored by him with an imperishable memorial, for he gave enduring testimony concerning them in his own epistles.

Luke also in the Acts speaks of his friends, and mentions them by name.

Timothy, so it is recorded, was the first to receive the episcopate of the parish in Ephesus, Titus of the churches in Crete.
And finally he says:
But the events connected with the apostolic succession we shall relate at the proper time. Meanwhile let us continue the course of our history.
Yes, we will come back to this subject; trust me!

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