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Succession, Apostolical

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a favorite term with prelatists and High-Churchmen to designate what is. claimed to be an unbroken line of clerical ordination from the apostles to the present time. In the Roman Church this claim is put forth in the most absolute and dogmatic manner through the Tridentine canons, which excommunicate and anathematize all other branches of the Christian Church as, heretics and schismatics. In the Greek, Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Oriental churches generally, the same exclusive principle is maintained, although not avowed in so positive and formal a manner. A similar pretence is set up by many Protestants, such as the established churches of European countries, particularly of Great Britain and Ireland, and so likewise by the Vaudois, the Moravians, and others, who assert that they can trace their clerical pedigree in a direct line to the apostles, and in like manner the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States, and other offshoots of the English Church, pride themselves upon their ecclesiastical lineage, as being in the "regular succession." On the other hand, the denominations, "unchurched" by this claim justly take exception to the clerical genealogy thus arrogated, on the following grounds:

1. The phrase "apostolic succession" is essentially absurd and self- contradictory. Strictly construed, it can only mean that the apostles have had a continuous line of successors to the present time. But the apostolic office was sui generis, and by its very constitution confined to the first incumbents. This is clear from two inherent qualifications of the order itself, not to mention others.

a. It was necessary that an apostle should have been personally conversant with our incarnate Lord; he must have been an eye-witness of his miracles, have directly received his instructions, and immediately accepted the appointment at his hands (Mark 3:14; Acts 1:21-22). On this ground Paul bases his claim to the apostolate (1 Corinthians 9:1), by virtue of the revelation of the Gospel to him without human intervention (1 Corinthians 11:23; Galatians 1:1; Galatians 1:12). Hence the office was in its very nature intransmissible and incapable of succession, as soon, at least, as all the "original eye-witnesses and ministers of the Words" had deceased. (See APOSTLE).

b. The "sign" of an apostle was the power of conferring miraculous endowments upon others by the imposition of hands. This is often referred to in the Acts and Epistles as a distinguishing mark between them and ordinary Christians. All believers during the primitive period of the Church enjoyed these preternatural gifts, which were first imparted on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4); but the apostles alone were empowered to communicate the same to subsequent accessions (Acts 8:19). Hence when the original apostles died, these miraculous manifestations soon ceased, and have never been renewed. The Roman Catholic Church claims, indeed, a like power of miracle-working for eminent saints of later times, but it has never had the hardihood to aver that its "apostolical succession" is invariably accompanied with this peculiar gift. How preposterous, then, for sober Christians to set up a pretension that legitimately involves such impossibilities! (See GIFTS, SPIRITUAL).

2. Even the claim of an uninterrupted clerical succession is incapable of proof. All the modern churches of Europe and this country, which set up this claim, trace their lineage ultimately through the Roman pontiffs. But the records of the early popes are irrecoverably lost. It is not certain that Peter (q.v.) ever was in Rome, mulch less that he ever acted as bishop there. All efforts to make out the asserted succession thus fail at this initial point. Many other links in' the chain are historically wanting. The lineage is a myth, or at best a mere eking-out of probabilities by vague and late traditions. This is now candidly admitted by the best and most careful Protestant scholars. The title is indefensible. (See POPE). "I am fully satisfied," says bishop Hoadly, "that till a consummate stupidity can be happily established, and universally spread over the land, there is nothing that tends so much to destroy all due respect to the clergy as the demand of more than can be due to them; and nothing has so effectually thrown contempt upon a regular succession of the ministry as the calling no succession regular but what was uninterrupted; and the making the eternal salvation of Christians to depend upon that uninterrupted succession, of which the most learned must have the least assurance, and the unlearned can have no notion but through ignorance and credulity." (See below.)

3. The claim is offensive and tends to bigotry and exclusiveness. In the Roman Catholic, Greek, and Anglican churches, this tendency and result are notorious, and in the High-Church party of the Protestant Episcopal Church they are almost equally obvious. In fact, a good churchman," as he is styled, is compelled by this fact to hold himself aloof from other communions, and such a rule is avowed, more or less distinctly, in the canons and regulations of all the bodies last named. This single circumstance is today one of the greatest scandals of Christendom. No principle can be just which leads to such unchristian lack of brotherly kindness. (See CHARITY).

4. The assertion is unnecessary, unwise, and based upon a wrong view of ecclesiastical polity. The true evidences of an evangelical Church are the conversion, sanctification, and salvation of souls; the propagation of a spiritual Gospel, and the amelioration of the state of society. But the "churchly" claim referred to turns the attention of its adherents too earnestly upon their own organization and technical order, and thus leads them away from a broad and catholic spirit, and from a wholesome personal experience, as well as from the highest forms of individual and- collective usefulness. The question with them habitually inclines to be, not what will best promote the welfare of Christendom at large, and most effectually promote personal holiness; but what must be done to subserve party purposes, and keep up the pretensions of a select circle. The Church is too often put in the place both of Christ and man. This, alas, is no ideal picture; it is but the record of sad, solemn fact. Ecclesiasticism and its fellow formalism have ever been the greatest banes to genuine piety, and the direst foes to the real kingdom of God. Bigotry was excusable in Judaism; but sectarianism, of which the fable of "apostolical succession" has been the most fruitful source, is a crime under Christianity. It is both a libel on its name (John 17:23) and treason to its first law (1 John 2:7; 1 John 3:11). Wherever this assumption has been prevalent and active, religious bodies have held points of order and esprit du corps among their members in higher esteem than historical truth in profession or vital godliness in practice. Persecution has been more fiercely waged against secession than even against heresy. Zealots for orthodoxy have gathered many a fagot for the martyr, but sticklers for legitimacy have been foremost in kindling the pyre. Even nonconformity has at times caught the passion for its own established system, and Puritans have actually maltreated others-if not burned them at the stake for refusing the ordinances of the so-called Church. The prelatist smiles at such pseudo- ecclesiasticism, ands the Romanist looks with equal contempt upon the Anglican mimicry of "the mother Church," while the Great Head of all weeps at this petty rivalry as to who shall be esteemed first and greatest in the brotherhood of saints. In this competition all that is more valuable in religion has been lost sight of. Laxity of morals has been winked at while an infringement of canonical rules has been severely punished. It is the old story over again; making void the law of God by the tradition of men, tithing herbs and neglecting judgment, mercy, and faith. We need ever to revert from the symbols of Christianity to its essentials, or we shall find ourselves holding its form, but denying its power. (See PRELACY).

Literature. This may well be exhibited in brief by the following extract from Eadie's Eccles. Cyclop., which shows how writers in the Episcopal Church are disagreed on the main elements of the question:

I. On the Office of the Apostles, and whether they had any Successors. Until Christ's death the apostles were presbyters, and Christ alone was bishop.

1. This is affirmed by Stillingfleet, Isrenicatm, 2, 218; Spanheim, Op. Theol. 1, 436; in Ayton, Constit. of the Ch. p. 15; Hallmond, Work-, 4:781, who makes them deacons; Brett, Divine Right Episcop. lect. 8 p. 17. 2. This is contradicted, and the apostles made bishops during the same time, by Taylor [Jeremmy], Episcop. Asserted; id. Works, 7:7, etc., who contradicts himself in ibid. 13:19. sq.; Scott, in Christian Life; 3, 338; Mouro, Inquiry into the New Opinions, p. 96; Rhind, Apol. p. 50, etc.; Willet, Synopsis Papismi, p. 236; archbishop of Spalato, in Ayton, Constit. of the Ch., app. p, 7. Archbishop Land is very positive in affirming that Christ chose the twelve, and made them bishops over the presbyters (Lit. and Episcop. p. 195), and bishop Beveridge is as confident that Christ chose these same twelve, as presbyters, and not bishops (Works, 2, 112). Again, Land asserts very positively that Christ ordained them, since the word used by Mark is ἐποίησε made them (Lit. and Episop. p. 196). Beveridge, on the contrary, declares that Christ did not ordain any of them during his life, and adduces in proof these of this very term ἐποίησε δώδεκα (Works, 2, 112). 3. Others, again affirm that the apostles were not commissioned till after Christ's resurrection. Sage, quoted.

2. Ayton, Constit. of the Ch. app. p. 5, 6; Saravia's Priesthood, Spanheim, Op. Theol. 1, 436; Stillingfleet, Irenicum, 1, 117, 118, and 2, 218; Whitby, Amot. Luke 10:1; Hammond, in ibid.; Bellarmine, De Pontiff lib. 4, c. 25; Heber [Bp.], in Life of Jeremy Taylor, Works, 185.

II. The apostles were extraordinary officers, and could have no successors.

1. This is affirmed by Pearson, On the Creed, p. 16, "who are continued to us only in their writings" Whitby, in Comment ref. to Titus; Hoadly [BI.], Works, fol. 2, 827: Barrow, in Works, foil.1, 598; Willet, in Synopsis Papisii, p. 164, 165; Fell [Bp.] On Ephes. 5, 9; Hooker, Ecl. Vol. vol. 3, bk. 7:§ 4:p. 187, Keble's edition; Chillingworth; Hinds, History of Rise and Progress of Christ. 2, 70-87; On Inspiration, sp.,117; Lightfoot, Works, 13:26, 27, 30, 70. 98, etc., and in other works; Palmer, On the Ch. 1, 169, 170; Bowers, Hist. of the Popes, 1, 5, 6; Potter, On Ch. Government, p. 121, 117, Amer. ed.; Steele, Phil. of. the Evid. of Christ, p. 102, 105, 106, 107; Dodwell, Paresi, ad...ext. p. 68 (comp. 11, 54, 55, 62, and Ayton); Davenaut: [Bp.], On Col. vol.1, ch. 1; Brett, Div. light of Episcop. lect. 12, p 26, apud Ayton; Stillingfleet, Irenicum, 2, 299-301; Spanheim, Fil Dissert. 3,Nos. 25, 37, 34; Archbishop Tillotson (see quoted in Presbyterianism Def. p. 117,118).

2. This is most resolutely impugned by Laud (see his Three Speeches on the Liturgy Episcop. etc. in Oxf. edit. 1840; passim); Nichols L. William], in his Defense of the Ch. of England; "Bishops are successors to the apostles, both in name and thing," says Leslie, in Letter on Episcopacy, in The Scholar. Armed, 1, 64 et al.; Beveridge, in Works, 2, 88, 93, 120,147, 149, 167 278; Law, in his Second Letter to the Bishop of Bangor See, in Oxf. Tr. 3, 156; Stillingfleet [Bp;], in Works, 1, 371, 3 art. "Bishop;" Rees, Cyclop.; Hicks [Bp.], Rhind, Scott, Mouro (see Aytoon,Coinstit. of the Ch. Pope, lect. 2); Houinmalu [Bp.], Survey of Naphthali, 2, 191, etc., in Ayton; Hall [Bp.], Episcop. by Divine Right, pt. 2. Opinions differ as widely in the Church of England at the present day (see Sunyth, Prelatic Doctrine of Apostolical Succession Examined [Boston, 1841]).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Succession, Apostolical'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/s/succession-apostolical.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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