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Apostolic Succession.

Strictly speaking, the term describes the teaching of the E Orthodox, Monophysite, Nestorian, RC, Old Cath., Ch. of S India, and Swed. and certain other Luth. Christians that the ministry of their churches has come down from the apostles in an unbroken succession of bps. Of those named above, the Luths., the Ch. of S India, and some Anglicans regard the apostolic succession merely as a valuable symbol of continuity with the past, in a class with the creeds and the liturgy, and do not make it a test of the validity of a clergyman's ministry. E Orthodox, Monophysite, Nestorian, RC and some Angl. Christians gen. regard it as necessary to the existence of the church and to the valid ministration of most sacraments; RCs make a special point of the succession of the bps. of Rome from Peter. The hist. fact of the apostolic succession can be assumed with reasonable safety after the emergence of the monarchial episcopate as the normal form of govt. in the ch.; the demonstration of the hist. fact in the crucial period immediately after the apostles is beset with insurmountable difficulties.

Although the Luth. symbols affirm the desire to retain the apostolic succession and hist. episcopate (Ap XIV 1, 5) only a few canonically consecrated bps. accepted the Reformation and, except in Swed., political and other considerations prevented them from transmitting the apostolic succession to the Luth. community. Lacking bps. to ordain their candidates for the sacred ministry, the Luths. appealed to the patristically attested facts that originally bps. and priests constituted only one order; that the right to ordain was inherent in the priesthood (a principle on which a number of popes of the 15th c., among them Boniface IX, Martin V, and Innocent VIII, acted in authorizing Cistercian abbots who were only priests to ordain); that thence “an ordination administered by a pastor in his own church is valid by divine law” (Tractatus 65); and that when the canonical bps. refuse to impart ordination “the churches are compelled by divine law to ordain pastors and ministers, using their own pastors for this purpose (adhibitis suis pastoribus)” (ibid., 72). The succession of the ministry in the Luth. Ch. may therefore be presumed to be a valid presbyterial one.

Episc. polity does not imply apostolic succession; the Luth. provincial churches in Ger. and the Meth. Ch. in the US are cases in point. In other cases, an episc. succession originated in a consecration by a clergyman in priest's orders, e.g., in the Luth. Ch. in Den., Nor., Iceland. The apostolic succession of the medieval Waldensians, and hence of the Moravian Unitas Fratrum, also rests on improbable legends. Many “wandering bishops” (episcopi vagantes) claim to stand in some Old Cath., E Orthodox, Nestorian, or Monophysite succession, but their competence validly to ordain and to consecrate is gen. denied by the bodies from whom they claim episc. descent.

The term “apostolic succession” is at times applied in a broad, nontechnical sense to a succession of doctrine or of believers from the apostles; but this is misleading.

A. Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church (London, 1953); Hans Freiherr von Campenhausen, Kirchliches Amt und geistliche Vollmacht in den ersten drei Jahrhunderten; (Tübingen, 1953); E. Benz, Bischofsamt und apostolische Sukzession im deutschen Protestantismus (Stuttgart, 1953); T. W. Manson, The Church's Ministry (London, 1948); K. E. Kirk and others, The Apostolic Ministry (London, 1946); H. Brandreth, Episcopi Vagantes and the Anglican Church, 2d ed. (London, 1961). ACP

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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