Successors of the Apostles


Okay – this came from another thread, but I figured it’s best answered separately. Bear in mind that this is not another thread for discussion of apostolic succession, or anything like that. I want to stay focused here:

***Roman Catholics claim that the modern-day pope is the successor of the apostle Peter, and that this is so because Peter’s unique office has passed down, generation to generation, through only one individual at a time, to the modern-day pope.

The question then is, why don’t each of the other apostles have one successor? Where are these other 11 – can you identify them for me? After all, if one, and only one person is the successor of Peter even though he appointed many bishops, it does stand to reason that the other 11, who also occupied a unique office (at least by Roman Catholic thinking) should have been succeeded by one and only one individual each.


By Catholic understanding, the Petrine role is unique, being the visible head and sign of unity in the Church. Hence, while Peter may have ordained many in his time, only one line of men – understood in Tradition as those holding the See of Rome – count as direct successors to the leadership of the entire Church.

The office of apostle as such applied only in the first generation of Christianity (Peter himself stated the qualifications in Acts as including having been “with us from the first” and having been a witness to the Resurrection). Judas thus had a direct successor/replacement as one of the Twelve, but maintaining an exact count of twelve does not seem to have been considered as important once the remaining Apostles began to die – and once everyone who had personally seen the Resurrected Christ died, there could be no others.

(Paul is kind of an odd duck in the Apostolic roster, being acknowledged as an apostle but not one of the Twelve. He did personally see the Risen Christ, though in a post-Ascension vision rather than during the 40 days after the first Easter. Barnabas is also called an apostle in the NT, though that could be in the more generic meaning of “one sent forth.” Then again, Barnabas might well have been one of the original witnesses to the Resurrection, as hundreds are mentioned at one point. We know there was a second candidate to fill Judas’ spot, for example.)

Most of the world’s bishops can no longer trace their line all the way back to the Apostles, thanks to the general fog of history, but many of the ancient Sees do maintain a tradition as to which Apostle first founded them. However, apart from Peter, the others of the Twelve did not hold a specific office that needed to continue throughout the life of the Church, and so there is no need to point to a single “successor of Andrew” (e.g.) today.



To further expand on something hinted at a couple of times in my previous post, history and Tradition generally trace connection to the original Apostles more through succession to a particular See than through the actual line of ordination.

It’s true that (by Tradition and some pretty good historical likelihood, though no rigorous proof) all bishops are consecrated by other valid bishops, who were granted their office in the same way all the way back to the Church’s original bishops, the Apostles. That is indeed a Catholic (and Orthodox, and probably Anglican) claim.

However, the papal succession, and that of most other Apostolic Sees, does not rest on who ordained whom, but on the antiquity and traditional prerogatives of the See.

The current Patriarch of Antioch, for example (and there may be more than one who claims the title, with both Orthodox and Catholic lines out there) is no doubt proud to have succeeded to an episcopate once held by Peter, even if his own line of ordination actually would trace to a different apostle.

Likewise, the various Mar Thoma bishops in India undoubtedly regard themselves as “successors of St. Thomas” in that they currently lead the community he founded, whatever their actual lineage. (Though, assuming Thomas really did bring Christianity to India, it’s likely that they are also his successors by line of ordination.)

Finally, the papacy is tied to the See of Rome, not to a particular line of ordination. As far as I know, Karol Wojtyla was not among the bishops who consecrated Joseph Ratzinger a bishop, nor did John Paul II get to choose the next Pope – yet Benedict XVI is his lawful successor nonetheless, and both are lawful successors of Peter as bishop of Rome. That’s true even if their actual lines of ordination could be traced back through history and were found to originate with different Apostles entirely.



Usagi> Though I don’t agree with your explanation, I do understand it, and I appreciate you taking the time to post such a thought-out response.

Any other takers?


How come, in your line of thinking we don’t have 13 Presidents in the USA ?


I don’t think the other 11 did occupy unique offices. The 12 occupied collegial offices, while Peter was set apart from them as the leader and so he had the unique office. The College of Bishops today is the most direct parallel; many men holding collegial offices, but one holding a unique leadership office.


Can you go into any more detail? I hate making a lengthy post (or two, in this case) and getting such a brief response :smiley:

You disagree with what, exactly? My explanation for why there are not individual identified successors to the other 11 apostles (more, if we count Paul and/or Barnabas) in the modern day?

Did my point about the papacy being tied to the See of Rome have any effect on your thinking on the matter? The Pope is not Peter’s successor in terms that relate to any specific bishops that Peter personally appointed in his lifetime. He shares a specific office with Peter (bishop of Rome) that by its nature was held by one person at a time, more or less continuously (taking into account sede vacante periods of varying length upon a given bishop’s death). Thus, he is the single currently living successor of Peter as bishop of Rome.

If any other ancient sees have maintained a tight connection to their founding apostle, they might also claim to be held by the single living successor of that apostle (in his role as original bishop of that see). However, only Rome has made the additional claim of leadership over the whole church, thus focusing attention upon the See’s traditional connection to Peter among both defenders and opponents of the claim.



Exactly, SH!

The apostles held a number of titles/offices that were passed down in various ways.

The office of apostle per se was held by each of them, and ceased after the first generation, as I explained previously.

The office of bishop was likewise common to all of them, and was passed down to numerous successors each.

The office of priest (as a sub-category of the same Holy Orders that produce the episcopate), likewise.

Only Peter’s office of “prime minister” (what we now commonly call the papacy) was limited to a single person, since it constituted the visible leadership role in the whole Church. Tradition tells us it was passed down along the line of bishops of Rome, the city where Peter was martyred.

Catholics do not claim that any of the other apostles held a unique office apart from those above that would need to be passed down in a single line of succession. The unique office that PC Master alludes to in the OP is that of apostle per se, which in the thinking of not merely Catholics, but most Christians (Mormons would disagree) was not passed on at all past the first generation.



I’ll give it a go - but first explain why you disagree with Usagi’s clear and concise historical treatise.


Santiago in Spain is traditionally considered to be the See of St. James the Greater. St. John died in Patmos, so if there is a See in Patmos (and this, I actually don’t know), it would be considered to be his, I should think.

The Bishop of Malta considers himself a successor of St. Paul. As mentioned above, St. Thomas is considered the founding Apostle of the Church in India, and the Church in England (what’s left of it) has some kind of a connection with St. Andrew.

This is all just off the top of my head. I’m sure one could come up with more of them, with a bit of research.


St. John would have been bishop in Ephasus, right? Wasn’t he exiled in Patmos, but he oversaw the Church in Ephasus?


Yes he would; thanks for reminding me! So, if we have a Bishop in Ephesus, he is certainly a successor to St. John. :slight_smile:


Sadly, most of the Churches these guys started seemed to have been overrun by the Muslims. Am I correct?


James was the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Of course, there is confusion on whether it was James the Lesser (the Apostle) or a different James.

I’m of the opinion it was an ex-Jewish Priest by the name of James. But in any event, James was appointed by the Apostles and there has been a traceable line, even if there have been gaps due to foreign conquests.


“After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus from the Island of Patmos; and, upon being invited, he went even to the neighbouring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and there to ordain to the clerical state such as were designated by the Spirit” (St. Clement of Alexandria, Who is the rich man that is saved?, 190 A.D. [42,2]).


Was St. John considered a bishop prior to his exile(s)? Post Patmos, it looked like St. John assumed a role not unlike St. Paul’s - that of spreading the Gospel and appointing bishops to the new churches.

Oh yeah, thanks for the information, Guano!!!

In retrospect, that may not be a good nickname for guanophore, eh? :wink:


Matthias = Sebastopol
Philip = Damascus


It is clear both from Scripture and history that the territorialism associated with the borders of a diocese emerged in the later apostolic age. Just as Petrine primacy worked itself out into a functional form as circumstances required, so did the episcopal primacy of each man in his own place. You can see it emerging in John 3. But in New Testament times, for example, the Epistle of Jude was written to the broad audience of the diaspora.


No, your logic if faulty. The Church does not limit succession in this way, to 11 other successors of the apostles.

If you figure that Judas was replaced, then there would be still 12 apostles or successors, then along comes Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, to blow you out of the water.

So, even in NT times, there were at least 13 apostles.


More. Barnabas, not one of the 12, is considered an Apostle. Others are also named. But they received their authority from the Apostles. The title “Apostle” is dropped after the NT age but the Apostolic mnistry MUST continue “to the close of the age.”

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