Why do Catholics Believe in Apostolic Succession? *

 

St. Paul writes to St. Timothy: "I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands" (2 Tm 1:6). Through this ancient rite, St. Paul ordained St. Timothy as a priest, and eventually consecrated him as a "bishop" (the Greek root word literally means "overseer")--that is, one who would oversee God's flock and share in the ministry divinely given to Paul and the other apostles (see "Why do Catholics Have Bishops?")

 

The Church is built, St. Paul tells us, on "the foundation of the apostles" (Eph 2:20), whom Christ himself chose (see Jn 6:70-71; Acts 1:2, 13; for St. Peter's special function in that foundation, see Mt 16:18). Who were these first apostles? In Mark 6:30, the twelve original disciples of Jesus are called by that name. (Note: The Latin word discipulus means literally "student" or "follower"; Jesus had many more disciples than just the twelve appointed as apostles--including, for example, Mary Magdalene.) Matthew 10:2 and Revelation 21:14 also speak of the "twelve apostles." (For a list of the twelve, see Mt 10:2-4).

 

After Judas defected, the remaining eleven apostles appointed the disciple Matthias as his successor (see Acts 1:20-26). The term translated in this passage as "office" (1:20), and applied to Judas, is in Greek episkopen--literally, "espicopacy" or "bishopric." If Judas, as an apostle, occupied the office of bishop, then by logical extension all the apostles within days after Christ returned to heaven.

 

The Catholic Church traces itself back historically, in an unbroken succession, to the apostles. Apostolic succession was in fact a strong theme in the writings of the early Church fathers, who themselves had received the faith directly from the apostles or their immediate successors. They insisted that such a succession was a sign of authenticity, necessary to identify which groups claiming to be Christian could legitimately be recognized as part of the church Jesus had established.

 

Other related scriptures: 1 Tm 4:14; Heb 6:2.

 

Catechism of the Catholic Church: 3; 77; 642; 815; 830; 833; 857-863; 935; 981; 1087; 1120; 1576.

 

*Quoted from The New Catholic Answer Bible. Wichita, Kansas, Fireside Catholic Publishing, 2005. www.firesidecatholic.com

 

Additional insights at: www.catholic.com

 

Commentary: Apostolic succession is a crucial doctrine in the Catholic Church. Without it, the Catholic Church is just another Christian denomination with some vague ties to the founder, Jesus Christ. With it, it is The Church which Jesus founded and continues to be guided and inspired by the Holy Spirit.