Are schismatic clergy and laymen successors of the Apostles?

© Copyright 2008, T. Stanfill Benns (All emphasis within quotes added by the author)

In order to be considered a true successor of the Apostles, the Catholic Church teaches that those appointed bishops or elected Pope must either be validly and licitly ordained or consecrated or become so within a certain time period. If a priest or member of the minor clergy should be elected or appointed to the office of bishop, Canon Law states such men are to be consecrated within three months of the election or they lose their appointment. The reason for this is because it is only validly and licitly consecrated bishops who can be considered true successors of the Apostles; without Apostolic succession no man can be considered a legitimate bishop or true Pope.

Council of Trent: “If anyone says that those who have neither been rightly ordained nor sent by ecclesiastical authority, but come from some other source, are the lawful ministers of the Word and of the Sacraments, let him be anathema,” (DZ 424, 967; must be a priest to be a bishop).

Pope St. Pius X’s Oath Against Modernism — DZ 2145: “I firmly hold, then, and shall hold to my dying breath the belief of the Fathers in the charism of truth, which certainly is, was, and always will be in the succession of the episcopacy from the apostles. The purpose of this is, then, not that dogma may be tailored according to what seems better and more suited to the culture of each age; rather, that the absolute and immutable truth preached by the apostles from the beginning may never be believed to be different, may never be understood in any other way…I promise that I shall keep all these articles faithfully, entirely, and sincerely, and guard them inviolate, in no way deviating from them in teaching or in any way in word or in writing. Thus I promise, this I swear, so help me God.

Pope St. Pius X’s Oath Against Modernism — DZ 2145: “I admit and recognize the external arguments of revelation, that is divine facts, and especially miracles and prophecies, as very certain signs of the Divine origin of the Christian religion; and I hold that these same arguments have been especially accommodated to the intelligence of all ages and men, even of these times,”

Pope Pius XI, Mortalium Animos: “Not only must the Church still exist today and continue always to exist, but it must ever be exactly the same as it was in the days of the Apostles.”

Pope Pius XII, Mystici Corporis Christi: “Bishops must be considered as the more illustrious members of the Universal Church, for they are united by a very special bond to the Divine Head of the whole Body and so are rightly called ‘principal parts of the members of the Lord.’…Bishops should be revered by the faithful as divinely appointed successors of the Apostles…Christ conferred a triple power on His Apostles and their successors, to teach, govern and lead men to holiness, making this power, defined by special ordinances, rights and obligations, the fundamental law of the whole Church.”

Rev. Adolphe Tanquerey, Dogmatic Brevior: “For [the Church] was founded by the Blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and governed by the Pontiffs, who hold in lawful and unbroken succession the authority bestowed on the Blessed Peter and promised to his successors by Christ…The successors of the Apostles as regards the power of teaching, ruling and sanctifying the faithful are the bishops collectively taken, who have their authority by Divine right. The thesis is historically certain and theologically de fide, being proposed as an object of faith by the ordinary magisterium.”

St. Anthony Mary Claret teaches: “The Church is Apostolic…It was founded by the Apostles and is governed by their successors the bishops, who, since the Apostles, have succeeded without interruption.”

Rev. Wilmers S.J., Handbook of the Christian Religion, (an advisor at the Vatican Council): “The bishops in communion with the successor of St. Peter form one moral person with the Apostles who were gathered around St. Peter…If the Roman Catholic Church is apostolic because the body of its teachers and rulers lawfully succeeds the college of the Apostles, it follows that the assemblage of the faithful also is apostolic; for by the fact of the union with its lawful pastors who are the successors of the Apostles, it forms the Church Apostolic…Christ will therefore be all days…[until] the end of the human race on earth…without interruption to the end of time, with His Apostles in the discharge of that office with which He invested them…That promise of perpetual assistance was given to the Church in its rulers generally and consequently the rulers of the Church, i.e., its authority and consecration in the concrete, as they existed, will continue to the end of time…Neither can the Church lose the doctrine intrusted to it…The doctrine of Christ will remain in His Church forever…[it] is no less imperishable than the Church itself or its constitution and prerogatives.

“If we rightly consider from the words addressed to the Apostles collectively, promising them the Divine assistance to the consummation of the world, that they were to continue in their successors, we must likewise conclude from the same words that Peter, as their head, is to continue in his successors to the end of time, since Christ addressed these words to Peter as well…The pastors who govern the Church in every age must be successors of the Apostles, who receive their mission and authority directly from Christ…Though a schismatic body would be in possession of the true faith and Sacraments, it would not therefore be Apostolic as a church. Since a twofold power of orders and jurisdiction has been given to the Church [by Christ], one cannot become a successor of the Apostles in the full sense of the word, not being duly ordained and invested with jurisdiction…The pope possesses the fullness of that spiritual power granted to the Church…This is precisely what renders the Church apostolic — that the bishops who are in communion with the successor of St. Peter form one moral body with the apostles who were gathered around St. Peter.”

Rev. Thomas Cox, The Pillar and Ground of Truth, (1900): “Where there is no ordination, no priesthood, no authority, no power, Apostolicity is out of the question. Even if valid orders exist, where jurisdiction is lacking there is no real apostolicity. Schism, as well as heresy, destroys apostolic succession.”

Revs. Devivier and Sasia, Christian Apologetics, Vol. II: (Their work was personally commended by Cardinal Merry del Val and was read by Pope St. Pius X.) Commenting on the teachings of St. Thomas Aquinas concerning the validity of orders conferred by schismatic bishops, these authors first write: “Here the validity of orders is evidently supposed [by St. Thomas], for should it be wanting, then there would be neither power of order nor of jurisdiction, as is the case with Anglicans, and, in fact, all modern Protestant sects…Suarez [says]: ‘The pope, when rightly elected, is immediately true pope as to such power…If not already a bishop or priest, he must be afterwards consecrated and ordained, and in the meantime he can exercise all acts of mere external jurisdiction…’ The Church that cannot trace her pedigree back to the Apostles through an unbroken succession of pastors cannot be the true Church; hence the necessity of firmly establishing [that] Jesus Christ wished and disposed that the powers which He confided to His Apostles should be transmitted by them to their successors until the end of time,” (de fide from the Vatican Council). That an Apostolic succession is essential for the discernment of the true Church the Fathers unanimously teach…Jurisdiction itself dwells at all times in the heads of the Church, and is always transmitted according to the canonical rules in force at the time. Whosoever, therefore, has not received jurisdiction according to those rules…remains without it…”

Rev. Joseph H. Cavanaugh, C.S.C., Evidence for Our Faith, (Asst. Professor of Religion, Notre Dame Univ., 1952): “In a strict sense, apostolicity of origin means that the legitimate, juridical succession of bishops can be traced back in an unbroken line to the Apostles. As we have seen, Christ gave a definite commission to the Apostles. ‘As the Father has sent Me I also send you.’ Thus the Apostles were the official teachers, rulers and sanctifiers of His Church. In like manner, the Apostles trained and commissioned men as their assistants and successors in the government of the Church. This ‘commissioning’ by proper authority is the very basis of legitimate and juridical succession. Obviously it requires a manual and verbal transmission of authority in an unbroken line back to the Apostles and Christ. He alone has lawful authority who is lawfully commissioned. Any break with the past is certain proof that this apostolicity of origin has been lost. The Catholic Church alone, therefore, can claim this apostolicity of origin. If the Catholic Church is not the continuation of the apostolic Church, it has vanished from the earth despite the promise of the Son of God.

“Apostolicity of doctrine means the full profession of those doctrines which Christ taught the Apostles and which they were to teach the world. Christ never guaranteed that the Bible or any other book would contain all His teachings. But…He did guarantee that he would keep His Church from error ‘all days, even to the consummation of the world.’ Granted that God preserves His Church from error, the Church, which is Apostolic, will always teach apostolic doctrines. Apostolicity of doctrine flows from apostolicity of origin. The latter is proof of the former, but not vice versa.” (In other words, a church teaching apostolic doctrine would be no indication that it is apostolic in origin.) “We are certain therefore, that the doctrines of the Catholic Church are apostolic, for it is apostolic in origin.”

Msgr. G. Van Noort, De ecclesia Christi, following the common and constant teaching of the Church, writes: “The original Protestants…took refuge in an appeal to the theory of an ‘extraordinary mission.’ They maintained that God could at some time raise up a group of men by an extraordinary vocation and confer on them apostolic functions if current apostolic pastors should become viciously corrupt…It is clear, however, if any such extraordinary mission were ever to be granted by God, it would have to be proven by miracles, or other clearly divine trademarks [and this is the teaching of St. Francis de Sales in his The Catholic Controversy]. The plain truth is, however, that Christ’s own promises completely rule out the possibility of any such extraordinary mission… Obviously a man does not become a genuine successor to the apostles merely by arrogating to himself the title of “bishop,” or by carrying on in some fashion a function once performed by the apostles. Neither is it enough for a man merely to possess some one, individual power, say for example, the power of orders, [or the purported power of jurisdiction only]…What is required for GENUINE APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION is that a man enjoy THE COMPLETE POWERS (i.e., ordinary powers, not extraordinary) of an apostle. He must, then, in addition to the power of orders, possess also the power of jurisdiction, [and vice versa].

“Jurisdiction means the power to teach and govern. This power is conferred only by a legitimate authorization and, even though once received, can be lost again by being revoked, [or as Cum ex explains, lost by the discovery of pre-election heresy]… The man in question [must be] connected with one of the original apostles by a never-interrupted line of predecessors in the same office. One must also prove that in this total line no one of his predecessors either acquired his position illicitly, or even though he may have acquired it legitimately, ever lost it. For a purely physical succession proves nothing at all…It was stated above that the Church’s government is necessarily apostolic: in brief, the college of bishops who rule it always forms one and the same juridical person with the apostolic college (see no. 119, 2). Here it is asserted that the entire membership of the Church is likewise apostolic.

“Apostolicity of membership follows as an inescapable consequence of apostolicity of government. A moral body, despite the fact that it constantly undergoes change and renovation in its personnel, remains numerically the same moral body so long as it retains the same social structure and the same authority. This should be clear from the fact that corporations like General Motors, or RCA Victor, or nations like the United States, France, or Switzerland, remain the same corporate or political entities, and are represented before national or international tribunals as the same moral body even though there is vast fluctuation in their personnel. Please note the word, “numerically;” the same society. A mere specific likeness would never satisfy the requirement of apostolicity.”

So to truly be a genuine successor of the Apostles, one must possess this two or threefold power: To sanctify (validly and licitly convey the Sacraments and offer the Holy Sacrifice) and to teach and govern. When Tanquerey states bishops above, he means it in the sense that the Church always means it — a certainly validly baptized male who has first been validly and licitly ordained a priest, then consecrated bishop by unquestionably valid and licit successors of the Apostles and granted either ecclesiastical and/or divine jurisdiction. To be a true successor of the Apostles one must either be a priest and/or bishop elected or appointed to the office of a bishop by “[a man] connected with one of the original apostles by a never-interrupted line of predecessors in the same office.

“One must also prove that in this total line no one of his predecessors either acquired his position illicitly, or even though he may have acquired it legitimately, ever lost it. For a purely physical succession proves nothing at all,” (Van Noort). Such power must also be “transmitted according to the canonical rules in force at the time. Whosoever, therefore, has not received jurisdiction according to those rules…remains without it…(Devivier and Sasia). “Obviously it requires a manual and verbal transmission of authority in an unbroken line back to the Apostles and Christ. He alone has lawful authority who is lawfully commissioned. Any break with the past is certain proof that this apostolicity of origin has been lost,” (Cavanaugh).

Much of the confusion concerning the authority of bishops appointed but not yet consecrated arises from a controversy concerning the two types of order: hierarchical-order and sacrament-order. As Rev. Joseph Brosnan notes: “The Council of Trent [states] it is de fide that bishops are hierarchically superior to …ordinary priests; but there is no definition that the sacrament-order of a bishop is superior to the sacrament-order of a priest…Sacrament-order is a consecration which gives a sacred office, a sacrament-character, and is itself a true and proper Sacrament. A hierarchical-order is a consecration which makes the recipient one with some divinely instituted office for valid administration of certain sacraments, but which does not give a Sacrament-character and is not itself a Sacrament. Both definitions refer to the ritual ceremony which irrevocably makes the recipient one with the office; nor is it possible to be irrevocably one with any such office save by proper consecration…The hierarchical-order always presupposes that the aspirant thereto already possesses the necessary sacrament-order…The Supreme Ponificate is not a sacramentum ordinis and so requires no consecration for its valid possession. The common view [is] that a Pope who is not a bishop cannot validly ordain priests…”

As St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in his Summa, Brosnan writes, “The episcopate is not a Sacrament and does not impress a sacrament-character. It does, however, confer a hierarchical-order character, or potestas…At the Last Supper, the Apostles were immediately made priests; whether then or later they were made bishops seems immaterial. They were priests when made bishops, and having the priesthood, could hand it onto others. This fact appears to be the fundamental basis of St. Thomas’ theory, ‘no priest, no bishop,’ ” (American Ecclesiastical Review, “Episcopacy and Priesthood”, August, 1949).

Apostolicity is the acid test of the visible existence of Christ’s Church on earth. Fail that test in all its simplicity and no valid succession in accord with Christ’s prescription is possible.


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