Verifying Apostolic Succession


#1

In Catholic thought, bishops are the successors of the apostles, with the laying on of hands from bishop to bishop all the way back to Peter.

Some Anglican and PNC bishops have valid apostolic succession according to Catholic standards, though their ordination is not licit, or something like that. Not all, but some. However, I want to look at the possibility that some Catholic bishops are not in the succession due deficient ordination or other defects. There are certain conditions under which apostolic succession is invalid, such as lack of intent. The thought crosses my mind that one cannot know whether one’s own bishop is validly in the order of apostolic succession. He may claim it, but can he prove it?

In the Middle Ages and earlier there were times when almost all the bishops were corrupt or ineffectual. Bishops were installed to consolidate political power, to obtain money, to be manipulated - in short, for all the wrong reasons. Not everywhere, not all the time, but it was prevalent. So they were not really bishops, so the priests they ordained were not really priests, so the Eucharist they attempted to consecrate was not really transubstantiated.

So when a Catholic approaches the Eucharist, he assumes that it has been validly confected by a valid priest. For what reason do you proceed on the basis that your priest is validly ordained? What if you discover his ordaining bishop wasn’t validly ordained? Or there was a break in 1402 or some such year? Does this happen? Is it of concern?


#2

For one thing, bishops are ordained by more than one bishop. Three is the minimum number I’ve heard, but the few times I’ve seen an ordination on TV there were more like ten bishops taking part in the ordination.


#3

The only way an Anglican priest or bishop can confirm their priestly rites is to repent, come back into the Catholic Church, submit themselves to the obedience of the pontiff and the communion of the Catholic Bishops and conditionally have the rite of holy orders conveyed to them with a laying on of hands. The conditional re-ordination is a safeguard against committing a sacrilege in the rare and unlikely case that some very few episcopal ministers may have spiritually valid but illicit holy orders. My own personal opinion is that Pope Leo’s XIII’s re-affirmation of The Church’s declaration of Anglican Rites as being “utterly null and void” (under Apostolicae Curae) was the spiritual equivalent to loosing and severing all authority and apostolic succession (under the authority of the Keys) from Anglican priests/bishops that may have been in effect “in fact” through some accidental illicit progression.

It is not necessary for a Catholic Priest or Bishop to ever re-ordain nor to “verify” their orders since The Catholic Church has a completely valid apostolic succession that has been maintained from the days of the Apostle Peter. Even if a properly ordained bishop is in a state of mortal sin he does not lose the authority to lay on hands and ordain new bishops and priests if He is in accord with papal approval.

Note that we Catholics do routinely publicly recommit to our Baptism vows without actually performing the baptismal rites (again its a sacrilege to re-baptise since its one complete sacrament). I am not sure if Catholic priests have a similar reaffirmation of the vows associated with their priestly rites in special private ceremonies with bishops though.

James


#4

In the Middle Ages and earlier there were times when almost all the bishops were corrupt or ineffectual. Bishops were installed to consolidate political power, to obtain money, to be manipulated - in short, for all the wrong reasons. Not everywhere, not all the time, but it was prevalent. So they were not really bishops, so the priests they ordained were not really priests, so the Eucharist they attempted to consecrate was not really transubstantiated.

Why would this be true? There were corrupt popes, this didn’t make them not the pope. I think you’re getting more technical things, like schisms and heresy and excommunication confused with personal morality?


#5

I’m looking for back-up to the Catholic claim that apostolic succession is unbroken. I am aware Catholics insist it is unbroken.

I’m not particularly interested in the personal morality of bishops either, at least not for the purposes of this thread. I am interested in why Catholics are so sure that AS has not been broken in the case of their own bishop.

For one thing, bishops are ordained by more than one bishop. Three is the minimum number I’ve heard, but the few times I’ve seen an ordination on TV there were more like ten bishops taking part in the ordination.

How long has this been the case? Doing this infers there has been at some point a concern with the issue I am bringing up.

Even if a properly ordained bishop is in a state of mortal sin he does not lose the authority to lay on hands and ordain new bishops and priests if He is in accord with papal approval.

Does the Vatican examine the ordination of every bishop, and has this happened continually since Pentecost? We don’t even know the correct order of the first bishops of Rome, as the sources are contradictory, so how can we know the bishops were all validly ordained?

At one point the majority of the bishops were Arians. I don’t know if that invalidates their AS; I would assumenot, but it might. I don’t think heresy invalidates AS. Am I wrong?

The Reformed line on this, to my understanding, is that corrupt bishop followed corrupt bishop for so many centuries that AS, if it ever was valid, cannot be recovered. The corruption was not only in terms of personal morality but in serving in the office, of intent and absence: bishops 8 years old, for example, and bishops who never set foot in their several dioceses.The Reformed emphasis instead is on the faithfulness of the minister to the Word, and his authority goes no further than Bible allows, as that is authoritative, not the minister. So AS is a strange concept to me.

Sorry if my questions are irritating, condenscending or just plain ignorant.

And I am not looking for a fight. I am just seeking information.


#6

I am sorry to say this but an Anglican calling into question the validity of the Catholic Church’s Apostolic Succession seems a tad bit cheeky given that Anglicans have a severely dubious succession that Catholics utterly reject by papal decree as well as by historical fact of heresy. It even comes across as if you are trying to “poison the pot” and implying that ‘if Catholics are going to impugn Anglican rites by stating that we have no valid apostolic succession then let’s go trash the Catholics claim so they can’t claim to have them either’. That’a pretty desperate position to be in. Is it really just a matter of curiosity?

Check out the following sites for insights:
The Church Has Apostolic Succession

newadvent.org/cathen/01641a.htm
catholic.com/library/Apostolic_Succession.asp

James


#7

No idea how long. But it is a legitimate concern, no one could deny that. Which is why the Church rightly takes prudential actions to make sure AS is maintained.

BTW, the “rule of three” (my phrase) makes for a very quickly self-correcting episcopacy. If only half the bishops in one generation are valid, a full 87% will be valid the next generation, 99.8% will be valid the generation after that, and 99.999999% valid the generation after that.


#8

Uh, I’m Presbyterian, not Anglican. AS is so central to sacramentalism (hopefully that term is not offensive) that the proofs must be extraordinarily clear. So I would like to see them.

Thank you for the links. I’ll read them.


#9

I read the links.

The Apostolic Constitutions mandated 3 bishops ordain a bishop.

That doesn’t leak-proof the bark of Peter but it does suggest the seams were being caulked. But the thing must be water-tight, no?

BTW, the “rule of three” (my phrase) makes for a very quickly self-correcting episcopacy. If only half the bishops in one generation are valid, a full 87% will be valid the next generation, 99.8% will be valid the generation after that, and 99.999999% valid the generation after that.

Three bums ordaining 1 bum makes 4 bums who could run around ordaining more bums. So I don’t see the argument regarding self-correction as valid.


#10

Then you don’t regard the mathematics of probability as being valid, but it most certainly is. The mathematics in this case (assuming a 50% “bum” rate in generation 0) is the same as that of coin tosses. A new “bum” can only be produced if all three ordaining bishops are “bums”. That’s equivalent to tossing three tails in a row, or 1/8. The alternative, that at least one bishop was not a “bum”, and thus the new bishop is not a “bum”, is then 7/8 or 87%. Carry the same math out another generation and you get 99.8% valid bishops. One more generation and you get 99.999999% valid bishops.


#11

You assume a uniform distribution of bums in the total population of bishops, which is questionable. I also suspect a bum would seek out fellow bums in ordaining a new bishop, and that the same would be true with ASBs. If the bums were more prolific in ordaining than the ASBs, then the total percentage of bums would increase. A bum ordaining another bum could have an ASB involved but miff the procedure, too, for various reasons.


#12

I don’t know if there has ever been a single case of The Church ever going back in time to discover probable cause for a succession to be invalid. For example if evidence came up that cast suspicion about the validity of a particular bishop and for the other 2 bishops (or there was a forgery in the attestation of the 3 bishops conducting the rites - which I assumed is a matter of record) I am reasonably certain that The Church would investigate the implications and risks to the downstream ordinations.

My own instincts tell me that The Holy Spirit would prevent a random error like this from ever happening or would reveal the condition of invalidity through other means.

I honestly don’t know but it would seem prudent for the selection of bishops involved with ordaining new bishops to come from succession lines that all extend from a different ordaining bishop for each of the three ordaining the next generational bishop. I would imagine that the new bishop himself might investigate his own apostolic “pedigree” or might even have some influence over who he might ask to be involved in the ordination rite.

But remember, to maintain valid apostolic succession all we need is 1 valid bishop in the church to insure that the Church does not utterly lose its apostolic succession. Mathematically, I am with Mike. It would be statistically impossible for a random error to nullify the succession and statistically improbably for even a malicious act to completely severe the apostolic succession. The only way the Catholic Church could lose the apostolic succession would be to simultaneously wipe out every bishop in the world (4,800 in Latin Rite alone) before each could pass on their authority. If we ever got to that level of persecution - Jesus would already be present on earth to intervene in an end times condition.

I believe that there are even special papal bishops who may be privately appointed for secrecy (but recorded) and security reasons to prevent a malicious act to wipe out the Catholic Church by removing her bishops.

James


#13

In the Middle Ages and earlier there were times when almost all the bishops were corrupt or ineffectual. Bishops were installed to consolidate political power, to obtain money, to be manipulated - in short, for all the wrong reasons. Not everywhere, not all the time, but it was prevalent. So they were not really bishops, so the priests they ordained were not really priests, so the Eucharist they attempted to consecrate was not really transubstantiated.

I was just saying that your reasonings here for bishops not being bishops are not reasons at all. I realize what your question in the thread is, and other people are answering your question, but I’m just making a side point. Bishops being corrupt or inneffectual would not inactivate (would that be the right word?) God’s grace working through them. So the reasons specifically listed in your post HERE would not have anything to do with the rest of this thread.


#14

Altho intent is involved in the validity of some sacraments (Baptism, Eucharist, etc.), it (intent) is not listed as a condition for a valid ordination. If you have access to a Code of Canon Law, check out #1008 thru 1054.

Found it online. Here’s a link
vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P3N.HTM

Nita


#15

I assumed what what easy to calculate simply for the sake of producing some numbers, but the general self-correcting nature of the approach should not be in question. You need to concede this point, at least, if you’re going to be intellectually honest.


#16

Under certain conditions this system is self-correcting. That I will concede. However, I cited one example where it will not work.


#17

Thanks.

That will take a while.

But generally someone comes up with a law because somebody else abused a situation before the law was written. And how long has this system been in place? A number of loopholes have been closed, probably at the detection of - or avoidance of - a bum, but how many more may slip through?

While I find CFJ’s argument reasonable and compelling, it is based on the argument that the AS as described by Catholics is the right thing, and is defended by the Holy Spirit. For it to fail would be catastrophic for the Catholic Church. Saying that it has not failed for probabilistic reasons (ones I cannot see Augustine, for example, using) does not prove that it has not failed. It is unlikely that it has failed. That does not mean it has not failed or cannot fail. There’s too much riding on this to simply say it probably did not fail.

At some point, I suspect, you will have to say you must believe in order to understand. At that point apologetics is over and catechizing begins.


#18

Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought your OP was questioning the possibility of some ordinations of Catholic priests/bishops being invalid because the ordaining bishop didn’t have the correct intention.

My point is that the intention of the ordaining bishop doesn’t influence the validity of the sacrament. I know regulations can change. But, it would have to be shown that “intent” was at one time a requirement, in order for the situation you describe in your OP to exist/have existed. Did you have any reasons for giving it as a condition of validity? (Other than a good “hypothetical” discussion :slight_smile: ) Are you aware of any documents that say it was once a requirement?

Nita


#19

The problem is that a Catholic Bishop is Ordained by not one but thee Bishops (at least). The likelyhood that all three (or more) would have invalid Apostolic Succession is less than the possibility of the moon crashing into the earth.


#20

On some thread somewhere someone sometime told me something like intent is a requirement. Strong argument:rolleyes:.
But what it suggested was the concept of failure of ordination rather than it being a guarantee - for whatever reason, whether intent or ordaining rhonoceroses (sorry, no backup data here, either) or incompetents, such as 8-year old boys. I can’t think of the reference to the 8-year old bishop, but according to Protestant Mythology 101 that was the sort of bishop so prevalent in the Middle Ages.

It may be that AS is true and demonstrably so only on miraculous grounds, which would mean the worse the bishops, the better the argument. The common CAF argument seems to be that the bum bishops always were a minority. if ever, and that things rolled along rather well, in contrast to the Protestant position that things have been a disaster since Augustine.

It’s not an either/or: Calvinists maintain that AS is irrelevant, so whether Catholics have maintained it or not is moot. But it seems central to Catholicism to have a valid AS. I view the responses so far with some puzzlement, as either AS is so assumed, so unquestioned that the arguments are rusty and unused, or I have missed it somehow. It seems to be a matter of faith that AS continues rather than a matter of logical argument.


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