The Catholic Defender: Apostolic Succession and the Deposit of Faith
The Second Vatican Council, in it's Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (1965) reaffirms the doctrine of revelation as it has been handed down from each generation. The Deposit of Faith is not a static entity. The Church has grown 2,000 years and so has our understanding "For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her". The basis of the Church's teaching comes from her Traditions and defined through previous councils. The Sacred Scriptures come from that same living Tradition. I would say that the strength of the Magisterium comes from the founder, Jesus Christ. Because of that strength, I would also submit to you that is the strength of her Traditions and Scriptures. There are no new doctrines since the death of the last Apostle! Protestants seem to be hung with the "circular logic" comparing the Church, her authority (Magisterium, Traditions, and scriptures) as if it was "circuity", a lack of straightforwardness or indirection. I would say that the Catholic Church has been anything but indecisive. It has defined it's Dogmas and doctrines defending orthodoxy for nearly 2,000 years.
I conclude from the historical line of succession of the Bishops of Rome, Pope Francis is the 266th successor of St. Peter. The Catholic Church is the Church of the New Testament. St. Ireneaus of Lyons, as early as 189 A.D., in his writing, "Against Heresies", spoke of the Bishops of Rome up until his time. He identifies St. Clement (88-97 A.D.) as a co-worker with St. Paul (Philippians 4:3) St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp of Smyrna did not create their own traditions, they heroically maintained and past along the teachings entrusted to them by St. John the Apostle. They were contemporaries of St. Timothy and Titus, disciples of St. Paul. St. Paul exhorts St. Timothy "Command and teach these things. Let no one have contempt for your youth, but set an example for those who believe, in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity. Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate. Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them, so that your progress may be evident to everyone. Attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you (1 Timothy 4:11-16).
St. Peter, speaking to the contemporaries of St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, St. Timothy, and St. Titus wrote, "So I exhort the presbyters among you, as a fellow presbyter and witness to the suffering of Christ and one who has a share in the glory to be revealed. Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory ( 1 Peter 5:1-4). St. Paul instructs St. Timothy "Do not lay hands too readily on anyone..." It is from tradition St. Paul instructed St.Titus to appoint presbyters at every church (Titus 1:5). Acts 14:22-23 says, "They strengthened the spirits of the disciples and exhorted them to persevere in the faith, saying, it is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God. They appointed presbyters for them in each church and with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they put their faith". St. Ignatius was taken to Rome in chains where he was thrown to wild beasts. He saw this journey in the same way as a person on his way to his own wedding. His suffering made him feel more the disciple. He died for Christ and for the holy truths taught him by the Apostle St. John. From the Epistle of St. Ignatius to the Smyrnians.
"Now the more any one sees the bishop keeping silence, the more ought he to revere him. For we ought to receive every one whom the Master of the house sends to be over His household, as we would do Him that sent him. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you. Nor, indeed, do ye hearken to any one rather than to Jesus Christ speaking in truth". (St. Ignatius to the Smyrna) From the Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians 3:1 And you it beseemeth not to despise the youth of your bishop, but to award all reverence unto him, respecting the power of God the Father which is in him, even as I have known the sacred presbyters to do, not having regard to his apparently youthful position, but as wise men in God yielding unto him: yet not unto him but unto the Father of Jesus Christ, who is bishop of all. 6:1 Since, then, I have in the persons of those above mentioned beheld as it were your whole multitude in faith and have loved you, I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the unity of God, since the bishop sits in the place of God, and the presbyters in the place of the synod of the Apostles, and the deacons, who are most dear to me, have been entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the world began, and was manifested in the end.
Note that those who served our Lord following the Apostles did not use this as a resume. They were very humble about what their positions were. Notice the manner of St. Ignatius:
The Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians
0:1 Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to the holy Church which is at Tralles, in Asia, beloved by God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect and worthy of God, at peace by the flesh and blood and the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, our hope in the resurrection unto him; which I salute in the fullness, after the Apostolic manner, and pray that it may rejoice greatly. From the Epistle of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians
15:1 The Ephesians from Smyrna, from which place also I write unto you, salute you; they have in all things refreshed me, being present for the glory of God, as also are ye, who have in all things refreshed me, together with Polycarp the bishop of the Smyrnaeans. And the rest of the Churches in the honour of Jesus Christ salute you. Be strong in the unity of God, possessing his inseparable Spirit, which is Jesus Christ. Pope Clement 1, in his letter to the Corinthians in 80 A.D., states,
“Then the reverence of the law is chanted, and the grace of the prophets is known, and the faith of the Gospels is the established, and the Tradition of the Apostles is preserved, and the grace of the Church exults”. St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes,
“As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the Tradition is one and the same” (Against Heresies 1:10:2 A.D. 189). St. Irenaeus further states, “That is why it is surely necessary to avoid heretics, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the Tradition of truth… What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of Tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches?” (1bid, 3:4:1). Tertullian as “arguably the greatest Catholic Mind”.
At one time he was quite the defender! Notice his word, “The Apostles founded churches in every city, from which all the others, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, founded by the apostles, from which they all spring. In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one in unity…” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 20 A.D. 200).
It would be faulty logic to say the name 'American' is absent from the U.S. Constitution. Therefore we should not be called "Americans". Sometimes a concept precedes a describing word. A case in point is the word "Trinity". It is not to be found anywhere in the bible, yet the foundation behind it is. We believe there is one God in Three Persons through Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture. This realization is true with the name "Catholic". St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote the Ephesians saying, "where Jesus Christ is, there also is the holy Catholic Church".
The name suggests the nature of the Church. It is universal, one faith, one baptism, and one Lord (Ephesians 4:5). When Christ sent the Apostles into the nations (Matthew 28:19), He intended that they be one (John 17:20). St Polycarp, another disciple of St. John, died a martyr in 155 A.D. From the Martyrdom of Polycarp 16:2, it states,
“And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled”. "My soul be for yours and theirs whom, for the honor of God, ye have sent to Smyrna; whence also I write to you, giving thanks unto the Lord, and loving Polycarp even as I do you. Remember me, as Jesus Christ also remembered you. Pray ye for the Church which is in Syria, whence I am led bound to Rome, being the last of the faithful who are there, even as I have been thought worthy to be chosen to show forth the honour of God. Farewell in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, our common hope".
St. Ignatius to the Ephesians
"See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid". St. Ignatius to the Smyrnians I have no trouble understanding the concept of the three legged stool because I understand and accept how it works. That is simply an easy way to explain the importance of the office of Teacher, it's traditions and her scriptures. I think what Protestant are trying to show through their concern of "circular logic" is that somehow the Catholic Church depends on internal as opposed to external strength.
The Holy Spirit is the breath of the Church, He is it's soul!. There is a legitimate succession of truths that denies "circular logic". It's easy for you to feel that I am guilty of "non-sequiter" reasoning. It is true that I am totally sold out for God and I offer Him my sword, my possessions, and my life. But I do so through the power of the will through the power of what He has given me and shown me. On the contrary, let's take a look into some other theories that people consider and believe:
The Catholic Church maintains Apostolic Succession as I have already discussed, I will put that aside for the moment; The Mormons believe in the "Great Apostasy" claiming that after the death of the Apostles, error crept into the infant church causing such a scourge that the truth was utterly destroyed. Mormons believe the truth was revealed to Joseph Smith in the early 1800's until he formally established the Mormons at Bayside New York in 1829. So you can consider this "Great Apostasy" as a theory. Then you would have to explain several other issues about Mormon teachings that are not orthodox. The Church of Christ claims to be the true church because they claim that the bible is "rightly divided" through the "correct interpretations" of the bible. They will claim that their organization truly trace their history back to the apostles. However, they were founded in the United States by Alexander Campbell, his brother, and a friend, Barton Stone in the early 1820's. They fell away from their Calvinist upbringing with no tie to any other group. You can consider this as a theory as some do.
There are some groups of Baptists who believe they come from St. John the Baptist. They feel that they survived through history persecuted through the early heresies such as the "Donatants" (Trail of Blood) and other heresies. Instead, they were founded by two Lutherans, Thomas Munzer and Nicholas Stork. They began to re-baptize their followers and that's why they became known as "Anabaptists".
Later John Smyth organized and developed the Baptist internal structure into a "congregational" setting. The first major break away began in 1848 with the Southern Baptist Denomination. They are the largest Protestant Denomination in the United States. Today there are many totally distinct and independent Baptist denominations. You can consider their theory of great persecution. I would caution you to know that there is no connection of any Baptist sect with any of the ancient heresies. The Donatants denied the humanity of Christ! That is not Baptist teaching.
Perhaps there is one more theory of consideration. There is a relatively new heresy that teaches that there is no true church, that there has always been Christians in all Church bodies and governments. They believe in an "invisible" church in which the "true Christians" will be saved through their common faith in Christ. This is a much more recent theory, yet most dangerous. Still, you can consider this theory. Of these theories examined, only the Catholic Church has the historical record along with the biblical support as previously noted. In each age of the Church I can name great Catholic Saints that point to holy Mother Church.
Can a Mormon name anyone before 1829? No!
Can the Churches of Christ claim anyone before 1820? No!
Can the Baptist claim anyone before the 15th-16th century? No!
Can the Non-Denominationals claim anyone before the 18th century? No!
All these non-Catholic groups had no influence prior to their existence! These are but a few churches for examples; The Lutheran Church 1517, The Church of England 1534, the Presbyterian 1560, Episcopalian 17th century, Congregationalist 1582, Methodist 1744, Unitarian 1774, Mormon 1829, Baptist 1605, Dutch Reformed 1628, SDA 1863, The Church of Christ 1820, Jehovah's Witness 1879, and many more. There are more than 42,000 Protestant groups out there. The Catholic Church was not man made, but founded by Jesus Christ almost 2000 years ago. In order for the Protestant to be self evident, they must attempt to take out St. Peter. He is their stumbling block. It can't be done! This is not "circular logic", it is about the Church being faithful to Christ. It is about Christ fulfilling His Promise to His bride, the Catholic Church. Actually, it's not just the Vatican. Historians will attest that nations have come and gone, yet the Church remains.
Protestants are engaging in non-sequiter reasoning. The age of the Catholic Church does not demonstrate its legitimacy.
Further, under such logic, Indian Hinduism, Japanese Shintoism, African Voodooism, and Persian Zoroastrianism stand validated by their old age as well. It's not so much the age of the Church as it is who the founder is. Jesus Christ split time from B.C. to A.D. The above religious groups whom Protestants give examples of have human founders perhaps going back to the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11:1-9). God established a Covenant with man through Abraham (Genesis 15:18) and renames Jacob to Israel (Genesis 32:29). Jacobs sons would become the Twelve tribes of Israel. The Israelites lived under the law given to Moses, shepherded by the Judges, guided by the Prophets, and finally, they chose a king. King Saul was chosen to be the first King (1 Samuel 10:1) but because of disobedience, would be replaced (1 Samuel 13:13). God chose David as the replacement (1 Samuel 16:12-13). David's lineage would always have the seat of authority in which Jesus is the fulfillment (Matthew 1:1-17). The Catholic Church has this direct connection to the apostolic age.
The word Catholic comes from a Greek word "kath-holan" meaning "embracing all or pertaining to the whole". A "Muratorian" parchment dating to the second century ( a Roman document) shows that the secular authority recognized that this movement was within the Empire. The Roman Emperors sought to destroy the Church. Christopher Dawson, a historian who taught at Harvard University said, "To the ordinary educated man looking out on the world in A.D. 33, the execution of St. Janus must have appeared much more important than the crucifixion of Jesus, and the attempts of the government to solve the economic crisis by a policy of free credit to producers must have seemed far more newsworthy and promising than the doings of an obscure group of Jewish fanatics in an Upper Room in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, there is no doubt today which was the most important and which availed most to alter the lot of humanity. All that Roman world with it's power and wealth and culture and corruption sank in the blood and ruin. The flood came and destroyed them all, but the other world, the world of the Apostles and martyrs, the inheritance of the poor survived the downfall of ancient civilization and became the spiritual foundation of a new order".
Lord McCauley, a non-Catholic British historian says, "There is not and there never was on this earth a work of human policy so well-deserving of examination as the Roman Catholic Church. The history of that Church joins together with two great ages of human civilization. The proudest royal houses are but yesterday when compared with the line of supreme pontiffs, the Popes; the line we trace back in an unbroken series from the Pope who crowned Napoleon in the 19th century to the Pope who crowned Pepin in the 8th and far beyond the time of Pepin, the august dynasty extends. The republic of Venice is gone and the papacy remains. The papacy remains not in decay, not a mere antique but full of life and youthful vigor. The Catholic Church is still sending forth to the farthest ends of the earth world missionaries as zealous as those who landed in Kent with Augustine and still confronting hostile kings with the same spirit with which she confronted Attila the Hun. Nor do we see any sign which indicates that the term of her long dominion is approaching. She saw the commencement of all ecclesiastical establishments that now exist in the world and feel no assurance that she is not destined to see the end of them all".
In his "Autobiography" (phlaouiou Iosepou bios), written A.D. 90, Josephus seeks, not without attempts at self-glorification, to justify his position at the beginning of the Jewish rising. In plain and understandable language the book is probably influenced by the writings of Nicholas of Damascus, which Josephus had also used in the "Antiquities". His work entitled "Against Apion" (Kata Apionos), divided in two books, is a defense of the great antiquity of the Jews and a refutation of the charges which had been brought against them by the grammarian Apion of Alexandria on the occasion of an embassy to the Emperor Caligula. Catholic Encyclopedia "But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Savior on the same day rose from the dead. For He was crucified on the day before that of Saturn (Saturday); and on the day after that of Saturn, which is the day of the Sun, having appeared to His apostles and disciples, He taught them these things, which we have submitted to you also for your consideration". St. Justin the Martyr The Four Marks of the "True Church" identify it with the characteristics of the Church of the New Testament. It is One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic! Christ prayed that the Church be one (John 17:20), it is called to be set a part (Ephesians 1:4), Catholic (1 Corinthians 1:10), and Apostolic (Ephesians 2:19-20). The credentials that the Catholic Church has to offer are its four marks. We need to keep in mind there are two aspects to a mark: First, it must be an outwardly visible sign. If it’s not, it’s useless as a means of identification. Your house number is useful only because it’s on the outside of your house and visible from the street. If it were posted on a wall of the living room, it wouldn’t be a sign that this is your house.
In short, a mark must be evident to everyone. It can’t hide under the bushel basket (Matt 5:15). That’s the first requirement. The second is that the mark must be an essential characteristic, one without which the Church couldn’t even exist as Christ’s Church. Marks of the Church do not exist only as a means of identification, as does a watermark on paper, but must be parts of the very nature of the Church.
St. Paul refers to the Catholic Church as the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).
I conclude through the four marks of the Church and Apostolic Succession that this is the Catholic Church. It could not be an organization established in Siloam Springs Arkansas in 1917! When I go to confession to Father John Doe, he was ordained by a bishop. The bishop that ordained Father John Doe was ordained by a previous bishop going all the way back to the Apostles. You can go to each Diocese in the United States and count back to their first bishops. The same can be said of every country in the world. Of course, the younger the nation, the fewer the line in the diocese. The oldest diocese goes back to Israel, Antioch, and Rome. Jesus Promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against the Church. Jesus would not allow error to fester in His Kingdom on earth. (Matthew 16:18) Jesus also promised He would be with the Church until the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20) He would never forsake His Church! He promised the Holy Spirit (John 14:26) to the Church. For me it is a matter of trust. I trust in Him. I believe in Him. He is my Lord and Savior. To call Him Lord means that I must surrender my sovereignty and give it to Him. I must pick up my cross and follow Him. St. Irenaeus puts this to rest stating,
“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the Tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the Tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic Tradition” (ibid., 3:3:1-2). How do you know that the Gospel of Matthew is the Word of God? It was a determination of the Catholic Church. The Gospel was born out of the Apostolic Tradition. This is quite opposite to the Protestant line that places the scripture as the sole rule of faith. Truth from Scripture becomes an abstract opinion based on the background of those who practice it. John 20:23 states, "Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained". The Council of Trent defined that this power to forgive sins is exercised in the Sacrament of penance. That means, according to Apostolic Tradition, anyone who would pervert the meaning behind this scripture is guilty if self-interpretation (2 Peter 1:20-21)
The Church is called to go to all Nations and teach them the Gospel. At times certain things have been defined to keep the message of the scripture pure and undefiled. God gave us Shepherds to teach the flock. With the promise of infallibility, "he that hears you hears Me", "As the Father has sent me, I send you". We trust in the ones whom He has sent. The Catholic Church is the authentic teacher! The Church wants to place the Sacred Scripture into the hands of all the faithful so that the individual persons will grow through the reading of scripture. The Church offers a plenary indulgence for all the faithful who read the scriptures for at least one half hour. If I have a question on something, I have our tradition to refer to that helps me understand the difficult passages. An example, "My Lord and My God" John 20:28, the Second Council of Constantinople defined that this confession of St. Thomas referred to Christ and not simply an expression of glory to God the Father. The Second Council of Constantinople centered on the nature of Christ condemning by name those who were teaching other than the Church. The Church helps us to understand the scriptures as much of it is hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). So by definition, the Catholic Church "explains" the difficult passages to help us "interpret" the historical, traditional understanding of the scripture. The deeper you go, the deeper your understanding increases. Tertillian makes my point loud and clear stating,
“But if there be any heresies which are bold enough to plant their origin in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches: let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that their first bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John: as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” (ibid, 32). "My soul be for yours and theirs whom, for the honor of God, ye have sent to Smyrna; whence also I write to you, giving thanks unto the Lord, and loving Polycarp even as I do you. Remember me, as Jesus Christ also remembered you. Pray ye for the Church which is in Syria, whence I am led bound to Rome, being the last of the faithful who are there, even as I have been thought worthy to be chosen to show forth the honor of God. Farewell in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, our common hope". To me, this is part of my heritage.
Martin Luther in his German translation inserts "alone" in translating the book of Romans 3:28, "For we consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law". Here Luther adds "alone" thus creating "sola fides". Luther in 1534 took out the Old Testament books Tobit, Baruch, Sirach, 1-2 Maccabees, Judith and Wisdom. Luther also took parts of Daniel and Esther out of the bible as well. The New Testament books, James, Hebrews, Jude, and Revelation Luther considered sub-scripture. He demoted them as canonical but simply good reading. Luther's preface to the James Epistle states, "It is flatly against St. Paul and all the rest of scripture in ascribing justification to works". Luther's Preface to the New Testament calls James states, "an epistle full of straw...for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it". Luther wrote a "Melancthon" a letter telling him to "believes in sin valiantly but believe in God more valiantly". Outside the Catholic Church there is no Salvation. That has always been the teaching of the Church. Vatican II explains that there are two forms of heresy, "Formal" and "Material".
If a Catholic rebels against the Catholic Church that would be Formal and is a serious sin (Titus 3:10). It is the denial or the rejection of one or more revealed truths infallibly defined by the Church. Material heresy is when a baptized Christian practices false teachings through no fault of their own. In this case there is not the sin involved. A sin is a deliberate willful act of disobedience. There is also something called "Invincible Ignorance" applied to those who can never accept Christ or his Church, maybe never hearing of it. Apostasy is the direct abandoning of Christ forsaking Him completely. The Church prays for all peoples and respects the good that they do. We try to work in harmony with the good of others and at the same time claim Christ as our King. The Great Commission commands us to go to the world and bring the gospel. We have to be faithful and this is the message of Deepertruth!