The Gap Theory and Apostolic Succession


#1

I have Protestant family members that argue the Gap Theory against Apolostolic Succession. They argue (Based on books they have read by other Protestants) that:

  1. Succession lists of Catholic Bishops (and of the early Popes) have gaps in them and therefore Apostolic Succession is not completely unbroken. I’m not sure where they are getting this particular allegation.

  2. The Early Church (Particularly in the East) were under a Body of Men (Presbyteros) as in the New Testament. They argue that in N.T speaks of Presbyteros (Plural) appoint in every town. This in their mind refutes any notion of a local Church under one Priest. In their mind, the present day Non-denominational Fundamentalist churchs more closely resemble the New Testament Church in form governance.

  3. Any authority given to the Apostles like the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:22) ended with the Death of the Last Apostle.

I’m looking for some good answers. Finally, I might note that because of their argument (of #3) they feel free to dismiss any of the teachings of the Early Church Fathers especially with regard to the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist. In practice Fundamentalists I know will give more credience to Today’s Bible preachers (J. Vernon McGee, Jimmy Swaggar, Billy Graham, etc) than someone like Polycarp who knew St. John personally.


#2

In practice Fundamentalists I know will give more credience to Today’s Bible preachers (J. Vernon McGee, Jimmy Swaggar, Billy Graham, etc) than someone like Polycarp who knew St. John personally.

Well, doesn’t that just about say it all?


#3

I struggled with this question as well. I hope you get some good replies. I think I’ve read some things from the early church fathers on that would dispel it, but for the life of me I can’t remember what they were.


#4

I think the Gap Theory has more to do with a pre-Adamic world, used by some to reconcile the bible creation story with geological age. Also Vernon McGee is long dead, although his radio programs are being rebroadcast.

But yes, there are no gaps in Apostolic succession. The bigger “problem” actually are not the “gaps” but having more than one (Pope) at the same time. But even this has been reconciled.


#5

[quote=catholic2]I think the Gap Theory has more to do with a pre-Adamic world, used by some to reconcile the bible creation story with geological age. Also Vernon McGee is long dead, although his radio programs are being rebroadcast.

But yes, there are no gaps in Apostolic succession. The bigger “problem” actually are not the “gaps” but having more than one (Pope) at the same time. But even this has been reconciled.
[/quote]

There is more than one person claiming to be pope today too. Of course, just like back then, only one is the real pope.

check out these dudes:
popemichael.homestead.com/
truecatholic.org/pope/


#6

Yes, I’m aware that Dr. McGee is dead however he has almost a cult following with people I know. To them to try to demonstrate people like Dr. Mcgee while a well meaning man , are wrong about things such as that Catholics re-crucify Christ at evey Mass or the Bibilical basis of the Rapture - is to these people, an attack on Holy Bible itself.

Anecdote: To give example - Last night I was having a discussion with a close Protestant Family member. The discussion got on subject to the EXODUS and whether Ramess II was the pharoah of the exodus. To put it briefly, My friend maintained all the great building projects of Egypt were done with Jewish slaves. My friend maintained that Ramess II was believed to be Pharoah of the Exodus and he was known as a “great builder” . I pointed out that according to Holman’s Bible Atlas written by a Protestant (and any Historian) the Great Pyramid was built around 2600 B.C, a full 600 to 700 years before the Hebrews were in Egypt. My friend accused me of listening to “liberals” and then claimed he followed the “inspired word of God”. I thought where in the Bible does it say that the Hebrews built all the Pyramids?

Sorry if my anecdote is off the thread a bit. How does one demonstrate that there are no Gaps in Apostolic Succession lines without finding a chart that traces my bishop all the way back tot he New Testament ordinations with people that are stubborn. Or that the office Apostle did not completely die out with John and just leave us with a Bible.


#7

[quote=philipmarus]I have Protestant family members that argue the Gap Theory against Apolostolic Succession. They argue (Based on books they have read by other Protestants) that:

  1. Succession lists of Catholic Bishops (and of the early Popes) have gaps in them and therefore Apostolic Succession is not completely unbroken. I’m not sure where they are getting this particular allegation. .
    [/quote]

Jesus died on Good Friday, and wasn’t resurrected until Easter Sunday. Is this a gap in HIS ministry? Was he not still Jesus when he returned, gap or no gap?http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon12.gif

[quote=philipmarus]2. The Early Church (Particularly in the East) were under a Body of Men (Presbyteros) as in the New Testament. They argue that in N.T speaks of Presbyteros (Plural) appoint in every town. This in their mind refutes any notion of a local Church under one Priest. In their mind, the present day Non-denominational Fundamentalist churchs more closely resemble the New Testament Church in form governance…
[/quote]

We still have priests in every town! Even our tiny parish here in Mountain View, Arkansas, which cannot support a resident priest has two priests assigned, who drive over and say mass on alternate Sundays.

[quote=philipmarus]3. Any authority given to the Apostles like the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:22) ended with the Death of the Last Apostle.
[/quote]

Was there then NO authority left after the last Apostle died? Did the Church simply cease to exist?

If THAT is what they say, what is their right to call themselves Christians ? The Apostles are dead and all authority died with them.

On the other hand, if they say, “Well, the power to teach, preach, and baptize remained,” how do they justify that while maintaining that OTHER authorities are dead?

[quote=philipmarus]I’m looking for some good answers. Finally, I might note that because of their argument (of #3) they feel free to dismiss any of the teachings of the Early Church Fathers especially with regard to the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist. In practice Fundamentalists I know will give more credience to Today’s Bible preachers (J. Vernon McGee, Jimmy Swaggar, Billy Graham, etc) than someone like Polycarp who knew St. John personally.
[/quote]

There is none so blind as one who will not see.


#8

[quote=philipmarus]I have Protestant family members that argue the Gap Theory against Apolostolic Succession. They argue (Based on books they have read by other Protestants) that:

  1. Succession lists of Catholic Bishops (and of the early Popes) have gaps in them and therefore Apostolic Succession is not completely unbroken. I’m not sure where they are getting this particular allegation.

  2. The Early Church (Particularly in the East) were under a Body of Men (Presbyteros) as in the New Testament. They argue that in N.T speaks of Presbyteros (Plural) appoint in every town. This in their mind refutes any notion of a local Church under one Priest. In their mind, the present day Non-denominational Fundamentalist churchs more closely resemble the New Testament Church in form governance.

  3. Any authority given to the Apostles like the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:22) ended with the Death of the Last Apostle.

I’m looking for some good answers. Finally, I might note that because of their argument (of #3) they feel free to dismiss any of the teachings of the Early Church Fathers especially with regard to the Real Presence of Christ in Eucharist. In practice Fundamentalists I know will give more credience to Today’s Bible preachers (J. Vernon McGee, Jimmy Swaggar, Billy Graham, etc) than someone like Polycarp who knew St. John personally.
[/quote]

It takes a lot to believe that Christ would just leave His Church without any visible authority or leadership. Many make the mistake of looking at Apostolic Succession like a relay race where one runner hand off a baton to another runner. This is not exactly the case with Apostolic Succession. It is possible for one runner to lay down the baton and another runner to pick it up later. As long as the runner that picks it up has been given the authority to pick it up. He doesn’t need to be handed it by the previous runner to validly possess it. Succession is in the office, not of the person. To be the Successor of Peter means not that they were ordained by Peter but that the were ordained into the responsibility and authority of Peter’s office by the Church guided by the Holy Spirit. In the list of Popes there are gaps of several months to several years. This does not mean that we lost continuity.


#9
  1. With respect to the Gap Theory and Apostolic Succession, the traditional Catholic position is that the Holy Spirit fills in the gaps. In other words, the fact that a bishop’s see was vacant doesn’t destroy the indefectibility and infallibility of the Pope or bishops united with him because the Holy Spirit preserves these in the Catholic Church. Because the Catholic Church denies the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Protestant churches, gaps between predecessor and successor bishops and invalid ordinations are fatal to Protestant claims of Apostolic Succession (e.g., Anglicans).

  2. While it is true that the New Testament speaks of presbyters who governed the Catholic Church in each town, keep in mind that the New Testament also describes how the Apostles confirmed the faith of the early Christians (including presbyters) and held councils in which they legislated for the early Christians (including presbyters). These apostolic duties were passed from the Apostles to their immediate students upon their deaths (e.g., St. Polycarp, St. Mark) and so on down through the centuries. The antiquity of the Catholic Church’s structure is especially apparent in the martyrologies of the Catholic Church and the decrees and history of the Roman Empire in the first three centures after Christ’s death. The Roman government frequently targeted not the presbyters, but the bishops or direct successors of the Apostles (e.g., St. Linus, St. Cletus, St. Irenaeus).

In St. Paul’s epistles he also distinguishes between the qualities that a bishop should have and the qualities that a presbyter should have. I suggest that you read the Epistles to Timothy and Titus.

And if we didn’t have such a shortage of priests, you would see more than one priest in each town.

  1. If the authority given to the Apostles ended with the last Apostle, then Our Lord must have been very short-sighted indeed. Your Protestant friends are basically suggesting that Christ provided leaders to guide His Church for the first 50 or 60 years and didn’t provide anyone after that.

From a biblical perspective, St. Paul’s Epistle to Timothy is quite clear that the Apostles passed the authority they received on to their successors and commanded them to exercise it (e.g., “let no one despise you because of your youth”). St. Paul would not have commissioned Sts. Timothy and Titus in the epistles that bear their name if the authority he vested them with was to disappear as soon as he and the other Apostles died.


#10

If authority cannot be passed on, then why did the Apostles select St. Matthias to replace Judas? And why did Christ even select Apostles in the first place? Moreover, why did St. Paul chose St. Timothy, St. Titus, etc. to be Bishops? Why did St. Peter chose St. Luke? Why was St. Mark chosen to be a Bishop? Why was anyone chosen to be a Bishop? It is completely absurd. What was the point of Christ even having Apostles, if their authority was just going to die off 60 years later? This is completely illogical. If that is the case, then ask them why they are even trying to build their religious structure around the early Church, since it seems that the early Church’s structure, according to them, changed dramatically c. AD 100. In that case, the structure of the Church in biblical times is no longer relevant, since it can be dramatically changed, which is their opinion about the Apostles’ authority.


#11

In order for the papal succession to be debunked - they would have to show a period in history where those men who were given the authority to select a new pope - the cardinals/bishops- all died off - every one- before they succeeded in this task.


#12

[quote=Lorarose]In order for the papal succession to be debunked - they would have to show a period in history where those men who were given the authority to select a new pope - the cardinals/bishops- all died off - every one- before they succeeded in this task.
[/quote]

Thanks Guys. Lorarose this is just what I’m looking for. This totally devastates their argument. I don’t know why it never occurred to me.


#13

[quote=Lorarose]In order for the papal succession to be debunked - they would have to show a period in history where those men who were given the authority to select a new pope - the cardinals/bishops- all died off - every one- before they succeeded in this task.
[/quote]

Christ’s Church cannot be abolished.

Imagine if the Electoral College met, and were wiped out by a disaster before electing a new President. Would that somehow invalidate the United States? Of course not!


#14

Vern…I’m talking about the process of selecting a new pope.
It isn’t the same as selecting a president of the US.

The Church has passed apostolic authority down through the ages by the laying on of hands from one generation of bishops to another.

When a pope dies - the authority rests in the hands of the bishops to select a new pope - they do this because they have received apostolic succession.

If people want to claim that papal succession has been broken - they would have to prove that there was some time in history where the bishops who had this authority ALL died off without succeeding in electing a new pope.
This has never happened.
I trust that Christ will protect the Church by making sure it never will happen.


#15

[quote=Lorarose]Vern…I’m talking about the process of selecting a new pope.
It isn’t the same as selecting a president of the US.

The Church has passed apostolic authority down through the ages by the laying on of hands from one generation of bishops to another.

When a pope dies - the authority rests in the hands of the bishops to select a new pope - they do this because they have received apostolic succession.
[/quote]

We do that because that’s how we’ve always done it. But that doesn’t mean the early Church couldn’t have chosen a different method (any more than the United States couldn’t have any other method of picking a president.) After all, Christ didn’t leave an instruction book on this matter – he left it to the Apostles and their successors to determine the nuts-and-bolts of how the Church works.

Should such a disaster occur – the death of every bishop and cardinal – the Holy Spirit will provide us with a way of ensuring the continuity of the Church.

[quote=Lorarose]If people want to claim that papal succession has been broken - they would have to prove that there was some time in history where the bishops who had this authority ALL died off without succeeding in electing a new pope.
This has never happened.
I trust that Christ will protect the Church by making sure it never will happen.
[/quote]

They would first have to get around the problem of the “Gap” between Crucifixion and Resurection.http://forums.catholic.com/images/icons/icon10.gif


#16

After all, Christ didn’t leave an instruction book on this matter – he left it to the Apostles and their successors to determine the nuts-and-bolts of how the Church works.

Understood - but I think we’re drifting into a different debate - does the Church have a “plan b” for papal succession? - that I do not know.

I am trying to address the original question concerning alleged gaps between popes.
These aren’t “gaps” in terms of apostolic succession because there wasn’t a case of us having the bishops die off before they replaced a pope.
There were periodic vacancies - but there was not a break in succession.

As for your hypothetical situation - that would make an interesting topic of its own.


#17

I’m always amused to hear Fundamentalists/Protestants argue against authority as in this case…that it died out after the last apostle. Don’t they realize that it took “authority” of a council to decide the canon of the New Testament? The same NT that they hold so near and dear to their hearts now. If they claim that all authority ended with the apostles then they must reject the Bible because that book was canonized by men long after the death of the last apostle. I believe it was around A.D. 347 or something close to that. Correct me if I’m wrong. Why don’t they reject the Bible based on this same argument?


#18

I agree. If I understand you right as long as there is at least one bishop in the world, Apolstolic Succession continues. To evoke a poor example for analogy in modern times. SSPX while in schism, no one denies the fact that their ordinations are valid just licit. When Archbishop Lefebvre was close to the end of his life, in 1988 he ordained four bishops (in defiiance of Rome) so that the schismatic order would continue. My only point is that when a single bishop is left he can ordain other bishops not just Priests. Am I correct on this that even if only one bishop remains he can ordain other bishops and Apostolic Succession continues?


#19

[quote=philipmarus]I have Protestant family members that argue the Gap Theory against Apolostolic Succession. They argue (Based on books they have read by other Protestants) that:

  1. Succession lists of Catholic Bishops (and of the early Popes) have gaps in them and therefore Apostolic Succession is not completely unbroken. I’m not sure where they are getting this particular allegation.

[/quote]

An old history professor once referred to some Protestants who have a kind of apostolic succession: he called it an Apostolic Succession of Heresy. Tracing lineage not through the Catholic Church but instead jumping from one heretical group to another back to the apostles.

  1. The Early Church (Particularly in the East) were under a Body of Men (Presbyteros) as in the New Testament. They argue that in N.T speaks of Presbyteros (Plural) appoint in every town. This in their mind refutes any notion of a local Church under one Priest. In their mind, the present day Non-denominational Fundamentalist churchs more closely resemble the New Testament Church in form governance.

Christ Himself, at the begining of Revelation, grouped the Churches of Asia into Seven Dioceses. Unless your family members want to argue that there were literally only seven house Churches in Asia.

  1. Any authority given to the Apostles like the power to forgive sins (Jn 20:22) ended with the Death of the Last Apostle.

Why is that and where’s the proof? Why did apostolic Christians get more than us?


#20

[quote=Lorarose]In order for the papal succession to be debunked - they would have to show a period in history where those men who were given the authority to select a new pope - the cardinals/bishops- all died off - every one- before they succeeded in this task.
[/quote]

Your technical point about apostolic succession makes sense, but I’m not so sure about the broader message of your post. In the early Church, bishops were generally chosen by acclamation of their flocks. I believe this was also the case with the Bishop of Rome. Other bishops from neighboring areas would come to confirm that choice, and make it official by the laying on of hands. Holy Orders as one of seven sacraments was not really appreciated in the way we understand it today. But even those people who saw it as purely symbolic probably appreciated the importance of the ceremony in laying to rest factional dissent over the choice. Kind of like the importance of the inauguration after the 2000 election - once he was officially in office, only real cranks felt Bush wasn’t really president.

To address the OP, your friend is correct that independent Protestant churches are in some ways closer to 1st century churches that the modern Catholic Church. There was not the bureaucratic heirarchy that we have in place today; bishops had some authority, but churches were free to do many things in their own local way.

The big differences are that 1) most of these communities were founded by the Apostles themselves, so had direct instruction from one of the Twelve in customs and beliefs, and 2) the message was much simpler, being that many were illiterate and most scripture was either not yet written or not widely disseminated.

As time passed, more and more churches were established without the direct involvement of Apostles, scriptures both real and fabricated became more widespread, and there was a need to create a heirarchy to rule on what were proper traditions, and what constituted proper scripture, to condemn heresy, and to maintain communication with the rest of the world so that the Church would be united in these decisions.


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