B. Apostolic Succession (Are Schismatic Clergy and Laymen…)

Are Schismatic Clergy and Laymen Successors of the Apostles?

 © Copyright 2009, revised in 2011; T. Stanfill Benns (This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from 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. Only valid and licit bishops are successors of the Apostles. 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. Stated in legal terms, these truths are lost on the majority who read them. But if we remember how Christ made His Apostles priests and bishops, and what their commission really means, suddenly things hit home.

If Jesus had not granted a share in His own Divine authority to the Apostles, and entrusted the keys to St. Peter to guard and govern the use of this authority, the society He established on earth and handed over to the Apostles would have lacked any real connection to Him; it would have been only another human society. Kings and princes rule by blood descent; Christ was a Divine being, sent by His Father, although He assumed a human body to give His life for His sheep. He could not give His Apostles anything but the Divine power of Orders and jurisdiction, because this was His essence. But having imprinted and imparted it, respectively, this Divine gift must be reverenced as such. Instead it is treated as the equivalent of some mere position conferred by a president or prime minister, to be cast aside or reinvented when it no longer “works,” as Traditionalists and conclavist alike have done. What Christ granted to his Apostles was an essential part of who He is and was and what He came to do, and Catholics are pretending they can simply assume to exist without that Divine guarantee of the Church’s indefectibility.

THE (1912) CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA provides a good basic explanation of the indispensability of true apostolicity: “Apostolicity…is the surest indication of the true Church of Christ, it is most easily examined and it virtually contains the other three marks…Apostolicity of doctrine and mission is necessary. Apostolicity of doctrine requires that the deposit of faith committed to the Apostles shall remain unchanged. Since the Church is infallible in its teaching, it follows that if the Church of Christ still exists, it must be teaching His doctrine. Hence apostolicity of mission is a guarantee of apostolicity of doctrine…Apostolicity of mission, or apostolic succession…means that the Church is one moral body, possessing the mission entrusted by Jesus Christ to the Apostles and transmitted through them and their lawful successors in an unbroken chain [or line] to the present representatives of Christ on earth. This authoritative transmission of power in the Church constitutes Apostolic succession. This Apostolic succession must be both material and formal; the material consisting in the actual succession in the Church, through a series of persons from the Apostolic age to the present; the formal adding the element of authority in the transmission of power. It consists in the legitimate transmission of the ministerial power conferred by Christ upon His Apostles. No one can give a power which he does not possess.

“Hence in tracing the mission of the Church back to the Apostles, no lacuna can be allowed; no new mission can arise; but the mission conferred by Christ must pass from generation to generation through an uninterrupted lawful succession. The Apostles received it from Christ and gave it in turn to those legitimately appointed by them and these again selected others to continue in the work of the ministry. Any break in this succession destroys Apostolicity, because the break means the beginning of a new series which is not Apostolic…An authoritative mission to teach is absolutely necessary, a man-given mission is not authoritative…This Divine mission is always to continue the same, hence it must be transmitted with its Divine character until the end of time, i.e., there must be an unbroken, lawful succession which is called Apostolicity…In all theological works, the same explanation of Apostolicity is found, based on the Scriptural and patristic testimony just cited,” (see actual quote at CatholiCity, http://www.catholicity.com/encyclopedia … icity.html ) A sampling of the teachings of the Popes, the Councils and the theologians below prove that what is expressed in this article is exactly what the Church has always taught.

And from the (1912) Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Church: “The apostolicity of the Church consists in its identity with the body which Christ established on the foundation of the Apostles, and which He commissioned to carry on his work. No other body save this is the Church of Christ. This true Church must be Apostolic in doctrine and Apostolic in mission. Since, however, it has already been shown that the gift of infallibility was promised to the Church, it follows that where there is Apostolicity of mission, there also will be Apostolicity of doctrine. Apostolicity of mission consists in the power of holy orders and the power of jurisdiction derived by legitimate transmission from the Apostles. Any religious organization whose ministers do not possess these two powers is not accredited to preach the Gospel of Christ. For ‘How can they preach,’ asks the Apostle, ‘unless they be sent?’ (Rom. 10:15). IT IS APOSTOLICITY OF MISSION WHICH IS RECKONED AS A NOTE OF THE CHURCH.”

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: “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 PIUS XII, MYSTICI CORPORIS: “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…”

POPE PIUS XII, AD SINARUM GENTEM (concerning the Church in China): “In fact, even then, as you well know, it will be entirely necessary for your Christian community, if it wishes to be part of the society divinely founded by our Redeemer, to be completely subject to the Supreme Pontiff, Vicar of Jesus Christ on earth, and be strictly united with him in regard to religious faith and morals. With these words — and it is well to note them — is embraced the whole life and work of the Church, and also its constitution, its government, its discipline. All of these things depend certainly on the will of Jesus Christ, Founder of the Church.

“By virtue of God’s Will, the faithful are divided into two classes: the clergy and the laity. By virtue of the same Will is established the twofold sacred hierarchy, namely, of orders and jurisdiction. Besides — as has also been divinely established — the power of orders (through which the ecclesiastical hierarchy is composed of Bishops, priests, and ministers) comes from receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders. BUT THE POWER OF JURISDICTION, WHICH IS CONFERRED UPON THE SUPREME PONTIFF DIRECTLY BY DIVINE RIGHTS, FLOWS TO THE BISHOPS BY THE SAME RIGHT, BUT ONLY THROUGH THE SUCCESSOR OF ST. PETER, to whom not only the simple faithful, but even all the Bishops must be constantly subject, and to whom they must be bound by obedience and with the bond of unity.

“Finally by the same Divine Will, the people or the civil authority must not invade the rights and the constitution of the ecclesiastical hierarchy.”

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. W. WILMERS S. J., HANDBOOK OF THE CHRISTIAN RELIGION, 1899 (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.

“…A bishop is then only a SUCCESSOR of the apostles when he belongs to that body which was instituted for the government of the Church. Now, he cannot belong to that body without being admitted, (Council of Trent, Sess. 23, Can. 8 ) or confirmed by its head, the pope; for all members of a body must be subordinate to the head and receive their influence from it…Neither the assemblage of the FAITHFUL nor the STATE can confer spiritual jurisdiction. A bishop appointed by the people or by the state is an intruder. The same may be said of one invested with the episcopal dignity by the clergy or even by a chapter, contrary to the laws of the Church. ALL WHO SUPPORT A PRIEST, BISHOP OR DIOCESAN ADMINISTRATOR WHO HAS NOT LAWFULLY RECEIVED HIS MISSION FROM THE POPE, AND ALL WHO HOLD INTERCOURSE WITH HIM IN SPIRITUAL MATTERS, ARE, LIKE HIM WHOM THEY SUPPORT, TREATED BY THE CHURCH AS SCHISMATICS, BECAUSE BY SUCH ACTION THEY SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE CHURCH’S UNITY,” (emph. added).

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).

“A CHRISTIAN SOCIETY WHOSE BISHOPS GO BACK TO THE APOSTLES ONLY THROUGH THE POWER OF ORDER, AND NOT ALSO THROUGH THE POWER OF JURISDICTION, CANNOT CLAIM TO BE APOSTOLIC, AND CONSEQUENTLY CANNOT BE THE CHURCH OF CHRIST…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. Consequently, whosoever, therefore, has not received jurisdiction according to those rules…does not possess it, and although he may have received Episcopal consecration HE DOES NOT BELONG TO THE ECCLESIASTICAL HIERARCHY. Having neither see nor subjects, it is evident that HE CANNOT BE ONE OF THE HEADS OF THE CHURCH, AND HAS NO CLAIM TO APOSTOLIC SUCCESSION.”

REV. JOSEPH H. CAVANAUGH, C.S.C., EVIDENCE FOR OUR FAITH, 1952 (Asst. Professor of Religion, Notre Dame University): “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.”

CHRIST’S KINGDOM ON EARTH, REV. JOSEPH MEAGHER, 1891: “While any bishop can administer Holy Orders, only the head of the Church can allow the exercise of these orders…The orders given by the bishops of the schismatic Greeks and Orientals, who reject the authority of the Pope, are valid but forbidden…Those bishops not in union with the Vicar of Christ are not the right bishops. Even if they have received valid episcopal consecration, the people must not receive the sacraments from their hands, for they do not belong to the body of Christ. Only in the regular way, and according to the laws, Christ saves souls, for as the soul works only by and through the organs of the body, thus Christ saves only by the organs of the Church in his mystic body. At the consecration of a bishop, the letters of the Bishop of Rome are read before the bishops impose their hands on the candidate.”

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 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.”

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 ordained a priest, then consecrated bishop by unquestionably valid and licit successors of the Apostles and granted either ecclesiastical and/or divine jurisdiction by the proper ecclesiastical authority. To be a true successor of the Apostles one must either be a priest and 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 Pontificate 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…”

Here we must pause to point out that Brosnan’s comment reflects that a lesser cleric or even a layman may be elected pope validly. But this fact speaks to the validity of the process, which Brosnan says must be accomplished by a “legitimate election.” So this means such power must 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). Pope Pius XII confirms this in his encyclical “Ad apostolorum principis,” where he tells us that “Everyone sees that all ecclesiastical discipline is overthrown if it is in any way lawful for one to restore arrangements which are no longer valid because the supreme authority of the Church long ago decreed otherwise.” So unless the election (or appointment of bishops) is unquestionably legitimate, the valid exercise of the powers received, cannot be assumed. We have from Suarez, and from others, that the exercise of hierarchical-order by one without major orders in the external forum is valid. But Suarez also insists the one legitimately elected, if not a priest or bishop, must be ordained and consecrated “immediately,” (Rev. Timothy Champoux, “The Juridical Position of the Laity in the Church,” 1939).

Brosnan writes: “The Pope-bishop has the fullness on earth of all spiritual power — the fullness of the sacramental ordinis and of divine jurisdiction. Strictly, therefore, the Pope possesses the entire ‘plenitude of the priesthood.’ ” Brosnan explains that when a Pope delegates a priest to administer Confirmation and minor orders, this power proceeds not from the Pope’s Episcopal order, but from his possession of pontifical jurisdiction, because “Episcopal order cannot delegate itself or be acquired by delegation. It can be acquired only by due consecration…” And Suarez assures us that bishops are never consecrated unless they have first received Holy Orders, (ibid. above). Brosnan quotes St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa as follows: “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).

How could anyone not so elected or appointed according to the canonical rules in force at the time; who was neither ordained and consecrated before or after such an election or appointment; who never received the priesthood, far less the fullness of spiritual power that the Pope must possess, possibly be considered to have acquired apostolic succession? The bodies appointing these many false bishops and popes were not apostolic; those designating the candidate to receive Divine jurisdiction in a papal election must possess that essential connection to the Apostles and their immediate successors, who first appointed, then elected the first popes. There was no manual or verbal conveyance of power. No one possessed apostolic succession — all theologians are agreed that schismatics and heretics cannot posses it — therefore St. Francis de Sales insists they must be claiming that they possess extraordinary jurisdiction. The saintly Doctor writes:

“Where will you ever show me a legitimate extraordinary vocation which has not been received by the ordinary authority? St. Paul was extraordinarily called, but was he not approved and authorized by the ordinary once and again? And…the mission of St. John the Baptist cannot properly be called extraordinary because he taught nothing contrary to the Mosaic church,…was of the priestly race and…his doctrine was approved by the ordinary teaching office of the Jewish Church…(Jn. 1: 19)…The vocation of Aaron was made by the ordinary Moses, so it was not God who placed his holy word in the mouth of Aaron immediately, but Moses…And if we consider the words of St. Paul we shall further learn that the vocation of pastors and Church rulers must be made visibly…,” (“The Catholic Controversy,” chapter on Mission).


The lesson here is that without valid and licit bishops to confirm these vocations and to make men priests and bishops, there is no apostolicity because the transmission of Divine authority is not accomplished. While valid and licit hierarchy might elect a qualified layman in normal circumstances then immediately ordain and consecrate him, thus confirming an extraordinary vocation, this is not possible today. But the entire practice of the Church all these hundreds of years; all Her laws to the present day insists that he must, as St. Francis teaches above, be “received by the ordinary authority,” as even the saints were so received. And this reception “must be made visibly,” it must be “manual and verbal” as Rev. Cavanaugh states. There can be no mystic transmission of the clerical state, no extraordinary mission directly form Christ, no pretended Divine commission not designated and, if necessary, confirmed by the successors of the apostles. The Fathers say it quite simply: “We must obey the priests of God who have succession from the Apostles…all others…are to be suspected,” (St. Irenaeus, Cath. Encyc. on apostolicity). “Novatianus is not in the Church, nor can he be considered a bishop, because in contempt of Apostolic tradition, he was ordained by himself without succeeding anyone,” (St. Cyprian, Ibid.). “We must abide in the Church, which was founded by the apostles and endures to this day,” St. Jerome.

It was Christ Himself who made the reception of the fullness of episcopal power entirely dependent on the possession of priestly ordination, and constituted the bishops as the direct successors of the Apostles. Apostolicity is the acid test of the episcopacy and the papacy. Fail that test in all its simplicity and no valid succession in accord with Christ’s prescription is possible.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.