Saturday, September 06, 2008

Apostolic Succession & Authority

From my comments on De Regnis Duobus:

The doctrine of apostolic succession is one primarily of authority and divine privilege which is what we must not lose sight of (while it seems obvious, I think it often gets lost in the mix when we start talking about the doctrine).

So I would start by noting that apostolic succession (if true) must be unbroken. That is- someone would always have claim to the apostolic authority. If there were any point in history at which apostolic authority was lost (be it after the apostles died or after the 4th century or after the great schism), then it could not be regained. One can not conjure up the authority of a king whose lineage has been cut off by asserting that "I follow the teachings of the king". Whether you really do follow his teachings or not, you are not his heir and therefore do not have real claim to his authority. In the case of Christianity, if Christ's delegated authority was ever lost, only Christ could reinstate it. Therefore we maintain that this authority must have existed at all points of Christian history since we are not willing to admit that it has ever been lost.

Furthermore, the question of authority is most helpful when it pertains to the present. It's usually more practical to ask who has authority than to ask who had authority. So in the time of Martin Luther, if he asked "does the so-called Catholic Church have authority?" and came up with "no", then he is left with a problem. If not them, then who? If no one, he is gravely mistaken to think that he could re-establish the apostolic authority by recovering their doctrine (per example above).

I say then, that apostolic authority exists within the Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox Church) or it does not exist at all.

And if the Reformed answer is that we hold the apostolic authority to be one of "the true gospel" without qualification and not some sort of sacramental lineage of the priesthood then we answer in the following ways:

1. This is not the argument of Clement or Augustine here nor the argument of the other fathers elsewhere - even if we take the example of Tertullian (in his days as a Catholic) who argued that we should not debate heretics on Scripture since they had not apostolic succession and therefore were ipso facto in the wrong. If he meant "they had the false interpretation of scripture" and therefore we should not argue with them out of the scripture, how is this even intelligible? But it is clear what the early fathers meant by apostolic succession.

2. What authority has any man whose authority depends on his proper understanding of a doctrine? If my boss has authority over me so long as he holds true to the original ideas of the founders of my company, then how does he have authority when he has obviously diverted the course? In fact, he has real authority over me whether I agree with his ideas or not. In the same way, if a body has authority then individuals or even large groups or even majorities may not usurp their authority or else that body does not have real authority.

I would also comment on St. Clement's line:
the orderly procedure depends on God's will.
If it is God's will that effects Apostolic Succession (and therefore authority) and that succession had been lost for a time between the 5th and 16th centuries, then how/why would it have been His will that such a thing should be lost?

If this is the promised kingdom, how and why did God allow it to be even less effective than the kingdom of Israel which it was supposed to supersede? For if the Catholic/Orthodox Church is not heir to this succession & authority and she is wrong on so many of her doctrines (most pertinently the Eucharistic worship) then it is not only the case that the vast majority of Christianity has been gravely deceived throughout all of Christian history, it is also true that the vast majority is deceived right now. How could this be part of God's will? We're not talking about imperfection which we will all allow per fallen nature, we're talking about a defective kingdom.

The Protestant answer amounts to remnant ecclesiology; that is, that God will always reserve his 7,000 who will not bow their knee to Baal. (True "Church" exists in the remnant of believers who are true to the real gospel).

But we must not confuse our question with mere statistics and ratios. We're not asking about who within Christianity is saved, we're asking whether or not the hugely dominating face of Christianity has been so thoroughly corrupted as to lose her very claim to the authority which she was supposed to have been given by Christ.

Moreover, who cares that Christ gave the keys to Peter if any good bible exegete could recover them for his own? That is, He gave Peter the keys not the secret code. Keys are unique in their nature, a secret code may be discovered by anyone who is clever enough.

And who cares that Christ gave His apostles the authority to "bind and loose" if that authority could be lost and recovered by someone else to whom it was not given? What good is authority without divine protection? What good is ship that might sink? It is like a kingdom whose royal line may be cut off or a Church which might become corrupt and lead the faithful on the broad road instead of the narrow.

And we say that the Church is the bride of Christ not from the 16th century but from the first. Christ is the good Shepherd and He cannot lead astray and He cannot allow His bride to do so either... for His bride is His very Body on earth. And Christ's kingdom is present in a tangible way in the Church. If we cannot trust the Church in the 16th century, we cannot trust her in the 4th. If we cannot trust her now, we cannot trust her at all.


Rob said...


Glad to see your comments on De Regnis Duobus:.

Being a convert from Paganism, I always thought if Catholicism was not true then Christianity as a whole is null and void. Every aspect of belief comes down to the authority question. If the Catholic Church is who she claims to be then all other discussions on doctrine are senseless. To truly be humble is to accept the teachings of The Church and put aside personal opinion and feelings. I was Catholic, and wrestled with this for along time, finally I came to acceptance of all her teachings. Now the hard part is obedience to them, thank God for confession!

If Jesus intended for his Church to ruled by democracy he would have gave St. Peter a gavel and not the keys.

Peace to ya

Tim A. Troutman said...

You're right about that Rob. If Catholicism/Orthodoxy were to be disproved, Christianity itself would be disproved. Protestantism simply isn't a viable system of religious belief.

George Weis said...


I am coming down the line with three questions for "my camp".

1) How do we explain away the Early Fathers and their clearly Catholic leanings?

2) Yes, the Church has struggled with wavering from the beginning (much of Paul's writings are dealing with judaizers), but do we really believe that the church by in large went completely off the tracks that fast?

3) How do we (Biblicists) think that until the Reformation true Christianity by in large was under the build up of Romanism? Even more, fundamentalists would say that they adhere strictly to the Word of God and toss aside the historical ties that say the Presbys or Anglicans hold?

These are the questions, that are on my mind, that play into this post of yours. History, is what is striking blows at my walls. There must be an answer to these questions or... or... I dunno what :D