Discussion in 'Questions about Anglicanism' started by BrethrenBoy, Apr 26, 2013.
What exactly is apostolic succession, and how does it work?
Apostolic Succession refers back to the early missionary journeys of the Apostles. As they traveled, they laid hands on (and ordained) men who became the bishops of local churches. Those early Church leaders taught, served, and shepherded the congregations under their care. They received authority from the Apostles, and they bestowed that authority on the bishops who followed them through the laying on of hands. Those lines of ordination continue to this day.
Eastern Christians would add the following idea to the mix: to follow in the authority of the Apostles, one must uphold the teachings of the Apostles. You need both proper ordination and right beliefs.
This is one of those topics that can get kind of messy, because each Church that has preserved Succession has a slightly different understanding of how it works - and of who has it/doesn't have it. From the Anglican Communion's point of view, Succession is maintained among (in addition to ourselves) Roman Catholics, Polish National Catholics, Old Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and a few Lutherans (I'm probably forgetting someone). Each of these other bodies will have their own list, based on old disputes, excommunications, ordination of women, the development of new doctrines in separated bodies, etc. Also, they will have differing understandings on the importance of Succession. But we have our beliefs and let them have theirs.
We have three orders of ministry: bishops, priests, and deacons. In order to perform valid ordinations, we need bishops in Apostolic Succession. Why? Because we are a sacramental Church, and we believe that the authority to perform sacramental functions requires these bishops. Bishops are needed to ordain priests and deacons. These orders' authority is received from the bishop. Priests are able to celebrate the Eucharist because of their ordination from the bishop.
We recognize the sacramental validity of the ordinations in the Churches listed above, because they are also in Succession. This means the following things:
1. Those who have been Confirmed in these Churches would not be Confirmed in ours; they would be Received into the Anglican Communion by the bishop.
2. Bishops, priests, and deacons from these Churches would not be ordained again, if they wanted to minister in our Church.
3. We recognize their Eucharists as valid.
4. Theoretically, their bishops could participate in ordinations (there are usually multiple bishops involved). Bishops from the Polish National and Old Catholics have indeed helped to ordain Anglican bishops, and Anglican bishops from the Episcopal Church have helped to ordain ELCA Lutherans.
But - and this is highly important - Succession is not a "pride" thing at all. Nor does it mean that we don't count other Christian groups as real churches (by using terms such as "ecclesial bodies"). We accept all Trinitarian baptisms from any Christian body. We never "rebaptize" anybody who has been validly baptized. We praise God for our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches. Succession is necessary because of what we believe about the Sacraments and about church government. Obviously, plenty of Christians have other understandings of those topics; and some come from situations where Succession was simply impossible to maintain (Methodists and the majority of Lutherans). Even among Anglicans, there are discussions about the particulars of all this.
Thank you! A couple questions. How do you trace the succession? What would make the succession invalid? Why do you need more than one bishop in the ordination? What happens of one of the bishops involved in another's ordination turns out to be invalidly ordained?
Apostolic succession in principle, in its barest form, centers not around the question of succession, but around valid ordination. A minister of God can only be valid if he were ordained by a prior valid minister. This is it, in barest terms. Then when you begin to ask a question of, ok, so I have to be ordained by someone who's already validly ordained; what would make them validly ordained? Well it's the same standard -- they would need to be ordained by people who in their turn were validly ordained. Thus only those are validly ordained who can show that their ordainers, and their ordainers, and THEIR ordainers were all valid.
This concept has been severely exploited and abused by the Roman Church; as they were wont to ascribe to themselves an infinite amount of dignities under the sun; as bishops used to rule armies; as kings used to beg and grovel and kiss the Pope's toe; so this concept was laden with a heavy dross of fabrications, to make Roman bishops (before the Reformation) be the holiest creatures in existence. Succession became viewed as a means of grace; in face it became a sacrament to be ordained; this meant you had extra grace, that you were more likely to be saved, etc.
At the Reformation all that dross was swept away. In fact the tide was so strong against the image of fat omnipotent bishops, that in most Protestant countries they rejected the idea of bishops entirely; this is where the Mennonite idea (among others) comes from.
In England, at the Reformation the apostolic government by bishops was never abrogated; at first our bishops did not give a lot of weight to succession, to draw as strong a contrast to parasitical Roman clergy as possible. But it was soon recognized that you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater, and if you throw out succession along with the Roman vanities and superstitions around it, then you have bishops who, say, were ordained by a layman; and thus aren't properly ordained, and aren't even bishops. Thus you lose the government that God instituted (the government by bishops, priests, and deacons, as our Ordinal says). That's when the idea of succession acquired new significance (without all the Roman ideas attached to it), and persists to this day.
To answer your questions, three ordaining bishops is a custom of the church; technically only one is necessary. What happens if the ordaining bishop is invalid? Then the ordinand is invalid; that is why you have three (or more) ordainers, so that the ordinand is assurably and perfectly known to be ordained. You trace succession via records.
There are lists of bishop ordinations that are maintained. Anglican ordinations originally came through Roman Catholic lines. I'm actually not an expert in that area , but there will be people in the various Anglican church offices who are.
What would make succession potentially invalid? Usually it would involve bishops who received their ordinations in suspicious ways. For example, say a small group of Anglicans splits off from their church. Maybe the small group is led by a priest. The small group wants to ordain more clergy, so they need for their priest to become a bishop. He looks around and finds a guy who claims to be a rogue, separated Orthodox bishop - or a member of the "True Catholic Church" or something like that. Maybe the Rogue is a real bishop, but maybe he's not. The Rogue "bishop" then ordains the small group's priest as a bishop. Two generations later, the small group's priest-turned-bishop has ordained new clergy.
Suppose these clergymen want to return to the original, large church from which they had split. The original church might not accept them as valid, because they were ordained under unusual circumstances (since their bishop received his Succession from the Rogue). And if they could prove that the Rogue was a fake or was improperly ordained, the official stance would be that the small group's clergy were never really ordained.
Deacons and priests are often ordained by a single bishop (I was unclear about that earlier), but priests who are becoming bishops are generally ordained by three (or more) bishops. Only one is required, but three takes care of several issues. First, it proves that the Church is supporting this ordination. It's not being done on the sly, or by a rogue schismatic stealth bishop. Second, it ensures that, if anyone involved with the ordination has any irregularities in his own Orders, the newly made bishop is still ordained. It is highly unlikely that any of the three consecrating bishops will have any irregularities. But, just in case, the new bishop has several people lay hands on him.
Thank you as well. So, am I correct in understanding that if one of the ordaining bishops is for some reason or another invalidly ordained the other two would make up for it?
Exactly. The other ones make up for it. It's a custom of the church, especially from the times of persecution when christians were run down and you could not be sure of everyone's ordination.
OK, thank you!
The story is not so easy.
The Roman Chatolic Church claims that only they and a few autocephal ortohdox church have real apostolic succession.
According their statement non real apostolic succession bishops are episcopes vagantes.
So you cold be an anglican bishop, or archbishop, I you wanna be the part of the Holy ORders you will be ordained as a deacon then a priest.
First of all, let me tell you that I am a bishop ordained into the historic episcopate. Second of all, I will also tell you that we are factual about such episcopate being a historical development, and as such the three orders of ministry cannot be found in the NT. There, the words bishop/overseer/elder/presbyter/pastor are all synonyms for one and the same office. Thus, the NT knows of only two orders of ministry. The conclusion: Lines of succession can only be traced back as far as the late second century when the monarchical episcopate had developed to the point that this polity was the general rule everywhere. Also, considering that in the middle ages and later that the episcopate was often bought and sold, how "valid" do you think such lines can be? I value the office as a witness to the historical continuity of the church, but the true apostolic succession is a succession of fidelity to New Testament Christianity. I do not use the historic episcopate to deny the validity of the ordination of ministers who do not have such succession, nor does our jurisdiction bar such clergy from ministering in our church. Nor do we bar the laity from such ministry in cases of necessity, believing as we do in the priesthood of all believers. As an example, we would welcome an orthodox Baptist pastor to minister the sacraments in our church, but we would not welcome John Shelby Spong to do so.
Thank you for a most interesting post. Can you give us a few more words on the following statement in your post?
For the OP - Celtic1's post is an example of how understanding and practice of this can differ, even among Anglicans. My church and province would not allow a Baptist to administer Sacraments. Not that we devalue his ministry - far from it - but we see it as a different kind of ministry. He isn't trying to do the same things that we do sacramentally, so it's no surprise that we would say that he lacks the capacity. Same with laity, obviously. Spong would be considered valid only in the most technical sense, but he would not be invited to our parish because we actually believe in Jesus.
Celtic1, in no way am I trying to argue. Just wanted to point this out for anybody who is new to the topic, to show how it can vary by jurisdiction!
Well to keep it brief and simple, I mean that for any to be considered to be in true succession of the apostles, that person and that church must be following the teachings of the apostles as found in the only written record and foundational document of the Christian faith, the New Testament. To depart from that renders any claim to such succession false. For instance, anyone denying the bodily resurrection has departed from the faith and has lost any valid claim to a succession. Also, anyone affirming homosexual marriages and ordinations has done the same. Therefore, bishops such as John Shelby Spong and Gene Robinson cannot claim valid succession because they have departed from the teachings of Jesus. Whether they are even Christian or not is something only God knows.
I know, and I didn't take your post this way.
I guess the bottom line that I would like to emphasize is that Anglicanism, except for the Anglo-Catholic party, has traditionally believed that the historic episcopate is for the benefit of, not the essence of , the church.
People who have read my posts know that I don't mind differences, I actually welcome them, as long as they are within orthodoxy. And, unlike some, I do not wish to see the Anglo-Catholic viewpoints excluded from the church, even though many such views are opposite from mine.
Hello Celtic1, I noticed that you inserted your own opinions, while BrethrenBoy asked about the historical Anglican position. The historical Anglican position is clear from the our Ordinal and canons.
Anglicans never believed all the wrong things about succession that Roman Catholics have, but on the other hand, we have never had layman bishops, of the kind that Lutherans have. We were always careful to ordain our bishops by correct ordination means and we have never considered as a valid bishop someone who wasn't ordained this way. That's a fact, and the only thing i was trying to argue.
I think we agree on this issue--true succession has to do with following the Holy Spirit, authentic faith and works, authority of scripture, and ministry in the community (the result)--more than laying on of hands by specific persons (the method).
However, on this forum, our views may be in the minority on this issue.
SK what in any of the items you listed can a layman not do? What is a layman in your structure?
Is there a chart somewhere that traces the Apostolic Succession of all the anglican bishops, or at least the ones here in th US?
And everyone else inserted his own opinions, also, some based on wrong scriptural and historical information, which I was trying to correct. What I said about the scriptural offices is not opinion but fact. It is also a fact that Anglicanism, except for Anglo-Catholics, has considered the episcopate as of benefit for the church, not the essence of it.
I agree, and I understand.