Apostolic Succession Question

Hi guys! Im recently talking to a Protestant… Regarding the Apostolic Succession, How can we know for sure they are the right successor? I mean its not like all Popes dating back to Peter were able to Choose their successor didnt they? They died and then the remaining group of bishops (not of rome) voted them in?

How is this process seen as having no chance to be flawed?

Bishops (and Popes) don’t choose their successors. That’s not what Apostolic Succession means. It means that an Apostle ordained a Bishop, and he ordained another Bishop, up to current day, with an unbroken line of ordinations. The manner in which a Bishop (or Pope) is chosen is irrelevant (and it has changed over time). A person is a valid Bishop because he was ordained by a valid Bishop. Everything else is irrelevant.

Regarding the Apostolic Succession, How can we know for sure they are the right successor? They died and then the remaining group of bishops (not of rome) voted them in?

How is this process seen as having no chance to be flawed?

Math. Yes, math. Cutting and pasting from one of my posts a couple of years back about this topic…

Historical records cannot prove that Apostolic Succession is truly unbroken, nor can doctrine. But we DO know this from basic math. We know it beyond all possible doubt! This is NOT a matter of faith - it is a provable fact (and I’m about to prove it) If you ever thought that Bishops were bad at math, guess again!

The Emperor Constantine signed the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, which ended religious persecution in the Roman Empire. Before that, being a Bishop could get you killed, so it would be stupid for someone to impersonate a Bishop. It was risky enough being a real Bishop.

Constantine himself became a Christian, and suddenly it was very fashionable (and perhaps profitable) to be a Christian. The Church was confronted with an unprecedented wave of conversions, and possibly with the problem of some people misrepresenting themselves as Christian priests and Bishops. Credentials were difficult to verify back in those days.

(The Early Fathers have not ever said anything about actual invalid Bishops. We have no evidence that any ever existed. But it was a possibility that had to be considered.)

The problem was not really so much about a few illicit “bishops,” but what would happen if those “bishops” “ordained” other men as “bishops” (who were not aware of the illicit nature of their “consecrators”). Suddenly, the whole Apostolic foundation of Catholic Orders could be called into question (indeed, as you have questioned).

The Church needed a solution to this problem - some way to guarantee that Episcopal Ordinations were valid, even if the validity of the consecrators could not be assured. The Church turned to mathematics.

Twelve years after the Edict of Milan, the Church convened the very first full Ecumenical Council, the great Council of Nicea. This topic was on the agenda.

Only one Bishop is needed to validly ordain another Bishop. But the very first Ecumenical Council, Nicea, imposed a rule (Canon 4) which remains in place to this day - a licit Episcopal Ordination requires at least three Consecrators. As long as just one is valid, the Ordination is valid (FWIW, it is customary for an Episcopal Ordination to be celebrated by many Bishops (ten or more). But let’s just assume every Ordination had just three Consecrators.

Suppose that there were invalid bishops running around in 325 AD (we don’t know that there actually were - there are no records of spurious bishops - but it could have happened). Suppose we accept the ridiculous idea that as many as 1 in 20 bishops was invalid. What is the probability of selecting three invalid bishops? It’s 20 x 20 x 20 (assuming there are at least 22 invalid bishops). That is a probability of 1 in 8000. The first generation of Bishops had 1 in 20 invalid bishops, but the second generation has only 1 in 8000 invalid bishops.

The probability of selecting three invalid bishops from such a pool is 8000 x 8000 x 8000, which is 1 in 512,000,000,000 (that’s 512 billion). As you see, the line of succession actually purifies itself over time. There have been hundreds of generations of Bishops, meaning the probability of having even one invalidly ordained bishop is staggeringly improbable. It’s what physicists call a “small but nonzero probability.” That is about the same probability that all of the air will disappear from your living room (it could happen, but it is staggeringly unlikely).

The math wins, every time. The only way the math could not win is if 2/3 + 1 of all bishops were invalid at any point in time, and Episcopal ordinations *never *had more than three consecrators (whereas it is common to have many more). For this extreme situation to occur in the twelve-year window of opportunity between the Edict of Milan and Nicea-1 is patently absurd.

It is therefore unnecessary that we know (and can prove) any Bishops episcopal lineage. We don’t need knowledge of history, or even the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to know that every Bishop has valid Apostolic succession. We know this by simple math.

That was a really interesting little exposition to read :thumbsup:

Woah! Nice read. Thank you David. Still if I wanted an even more powerful argument? Would there be other ways to prove it? Anyone else want to weigh in?

Oh yes and What happens if a valid Bishop leaves the Church? Has that ever happened? Like a Bishop going protestant or another religion and teaching different teachings?

Yes, this has happened. In the recent past (1988) the French ARCHbishop Marcel Lefebvre went rogue and consecrated Bishops in defiance of the Vatican, and established the Society of St. Pius-10 (SSPX), which is the “home” of the modern sedevacantist movement (people who contend that the Pope is not valid - these people are schismatics, not heretics, because they disagree about leadership, not about doctrine). Lefebvre and the Bishops he consecrated were promptly excommunicated by Pope St. John Paul the Great. But they remained valid Bishops. When Pope Benedict-16 lifted the excommunications of the four surviving Bishiops in 2009, they were all able to act as Bishops of the Church - there was no “conditional ordination” or any such thing. Those guys simply went to Confession and all was made right again.

SSPX is still around, even though it is absent any of its founding Bishops. But their priestly and Episcopal Orders remain completely valid (and their Bishops can validly ordain other priests and Bishops). Any SSPX priest or Bishop could reconcile with the Church and immediately regain his canonical status.

Even if a Bishop becomes a flippin heretic, he is still a Bishop (the Early Church had to deal with a few such Bishops). A Bishop can be deposed, and his clerical authority revoked, but the Church cannot “un-ordain” anybody. Ordination (like Baptism) is an indelible Sacrament - it can never be taken away. Even an excommunicated Bishop can validly ordain other Bishops.

It is most unfortunate when a Bishop becomes a schismatic or a heretic. But even Bishops in good standing do not individually teach under the protection of the Holy Spirit. So nothing prevents a Bishop from heresy.

Interesting. If that is the case then what happens if enough bishops leave and they form a majority? Because isnt the tradition of the church similar to the teaching of the majority of the bishops what if that changed?

Also… Finally, what if a Pope converted?

The Church retains and remain the Truth even if most of them go away. John 6:67. Because Christ is the Head.

The Pope is answerable to Christ. Since Christ already gave his perpetual guarantee that the gates of Hades will not prevail, we are assured that the Church will ALWAYS teach truth. A converted Pope is no longer the Chief Shepard. What he says does not matter after that.

Nothing. The Church is not a democracy. Some people think that the teaching of an Ecumenical Councils represents a majority of the world’s Bishops who vote in the Council. This has never actually happened. It doesn’t matter. For example, no session of the Council of Florence (Basil) had more than 10% participation by Bishops (in those days, priests and theologians could vote in an Ecumenical Council, and they formed 90% or more of the vote in each session).

No Bishop or group of Bishops exercises authority apart from the Pope:

The college or body of bishops has no authority unless united with the Roman Pontiff: Peter’s successor, as its head." As such, this college has "supreme and full authority over the universal Church; but this power cannot be exercised without the agreement of the Roman Pontiff [CCC 883]

Finally, what if a Pope converted?

I presume you mean converted to something other than Catholicism. Nobody knows. The Church has no doctrine or canons that consider such a possibility. It is a scary thought. Fortunately, it has never happened, but there’s no protection of the Holy Spirit which would prevent it from happening.

The math may happen to come out right anyway, but I’ll stick to the guidance of the Holy Spirit first and foremost.

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