What does Irenaeus mean with "Primitive Succession"?

“It is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth” (Against Heresies 4:26:2 [A.D. 189]).

Irenaeus

Is this a reference to the line of succession of Popes?

This is the first time I have read that quote, so others will have a much better answer. However I wonder if the meaning in today’s understanding is skewed by the word “primitive.” Today it is often used to mean a simple, undeveloped historical thing.
However, it is derived from the word “prime” which can mean the original and undefiled beginning of an evolutionary process.

With a writing this early, it’s important to distinguish papal succession from apostolic succession. I think it’s likely Irenaeus had an understanding closer to that of the Orthodox today. The Church at that time did not have efficient internal communication, and local election of bishops who were consecrated into apostolic succession by nearby bishops meant that obedience to Rome wasn’t the litmus test we have today. Rather, each local church was understood to be in communion with every other church. In the unlikely event you were personally familiar with the faith in Rome it might be a better standard to judge your own church than the church in the next backwater district from yours, but Rome as the See of Peter was more of an ideal than a mandate.

Periodic persecutions meant that survival and growth of the Church took priority over discrepancies in faith and practice. It’s no coincidence that the first ecumenical council took place a dozen years after Christianity had been made the official religion of the empire. It’s not that some of these religious disputes and heresies didn’t exist in the first 300 years, but only leading up to 325 did the Church have the breathing room and ease of communication and travel to focus on and address these issues.

I think it’s clear Irenaeus is talking about those who lack apostolic succession through consecration by other bishops. It’s not clear whether they simply set up their own independent churches, or if there were disputed episcopal elections where one “bishop” took a faction of the flock but other bishops would not lay hands on him in consecration.

It means apostolic succession, as primitive means the first. It is important to remember that there have always been heretics and schismatics, who departed from apostolic succession.

=Jacob50;12337414]“It is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth” (Against Heresies 4:26:2 [A.D. 189]).

Irenaeus

Is this a reference to the line of succession of Popes?

I wasen’t there BUT;

I suspect he may have referenced to OLD practice of a very limited number of Leaders
in the Early Church making the selection:thumbsup::

“It is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth” (Against Heresies 4:26:2 [A.D. 189]).

Primitive succession, purely from context, is the Apostolic and episcopal succession that guarantees the infallible transmission of truth.

When one realizes that the Latin primitivus which this was likely translated from does not connote ‘savage’ or ‘unsophisticated’ like the English primitive, but rather means ‘original’ or ‘first’ - one can see that for our age, it would be better translated ‘Original succession’ or ‘Early succession’.

Now it all makes sense. The heretics and schismatics depart from the original lines of succession in the Church, that of the Apostles and Bishops they consecrated.

Hope that helps.

With the level of persecution that the early church experienced would it be likely that a large group of elders could have gathered to make a selection? I believe they had all the cell phone lines tapped by the Roman RICO rite of succession laws. Isn’t that in Suetonius?

Ok, thanks everyone for your posts.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.