How do we know which group actually has the historical pedigree to back up this claim?
The doctrine of apostolic succession is the doctrine that the bishops of the Catholic Church maintain ordinations that go back in succession to the Apostles of Christ. This means the Catholic Church can actually demonstrate its claim that it was established by Jesus, while the numerous Protestant sects are not able to do the same. Let's examine the biblical and historical arguments for apostolic succession.
Jesus Communicated His Authority to the Apostles.
Jesus said to His apostles: “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21). “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me” (Luke 10:16). “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18; 18:18).
The Authority of the Apostles Was Passed on to Successors.
Scripture confirms this authority passed from the Apostles to their successors. Saint Paul said to St. Timothy, “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). Elsewhere, St. Paul said to St. Timothy, “For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might . . . appoint presbyters in every town, as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). We also read in Scripture, “They [the Apostles] appointed presbyters for them in each church” (Acts 14:23).
The Successors of the Apostles Appointed Further Successors.
The earliest Christians, including the immediate successors of the Apostles, claimed to have had the authority of the Apostles. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, who was most likely a disciple of the Apostle John, said, “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” (St. Ignatius to the Ephesians). Pope St. Clement of Rome, in the early second century, claimed the authority of the Apostles passed to their successors:
Through countryside and city [the Apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. . . .
Even Protestant scholars like JND Kelly testify to the historicity of apostolic succession:
Where in practice was the apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? .
. . The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. . . .
Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it. (Early Christian Doctrines, 37)
As we can see, the Apostles appointed successors, who in turn appointed further successors. These successors continue all the way to the present day within the Catholic Church.
The Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop.
For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. (Letter to the Corinthians, 42:4″5, 44:1″3) Tertullian, while debating the Gnostics, who claimed to have the true teachings of the Apostles, appealed to apostolic succession by stating that we can only know what Jesus and the Apostles taught by looking to the very churches they established: From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed. . . . Now, what that was which they preached—in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them—can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the Apostles founded in person.
When a bishop is consecrated to his office for example in the unbroken apostolic line from St Peter he himself is the Modern day apostle St Peter.
A Bishop is per se a man who has received the fullness of Holy Orders. What his actions are are irrelevant to the definition of a Bishop. The Pope can do outrageous things, but that doesn't effect the validity of his office, for it was founded by Christ Himself (I'm sure you know the Matthew quote ; The personal Holiness of a Bishop is per accidens in regard to his Office, just as the languages he speaks and his race are "coincidences." To put it simply, Holiness of the Office does not necessarily relate to Holiness of the person in the Office.
The Bishops do not necessarily need the Pope of Rome to transmit a valid Holy Orders (otherwise he would have to be present at all Ordinations). It is considered & suggested "illegal" if done in a church outside of the Catholic communion, but it is still valid nevertheless. The idea is not that the Pope will micromanage everything, he already has too much to do in Rome anyway. The local Bishop is suppose to work together with his priests for those people in their jurisdiction, and if a conflict outside his area arises, he can appeal to a higher authority for assistance, or the higher authority, seeing the need to intervene against the local bishop, can do so. Remember, this is the ideal; due to original sin, reality doesn't always work this way, sadly. In a sense, all bishops are ultimately equal (and powerless individually; only the College, and then, only the College in relation to the Church, is protected from error.
Yes, it is very true that the Bishops are Successors of the Apostles.
In fact, they are Apostles. All those powers and responsibilities that Christ gave to St. Peter, St. James, St. John, etc., like the power to "bind and loose" and the responsibility to "feed My sheep" have been passed down, handed down, to the Bishops in an unbroken Tradition.
The Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Apostles, and the Apostles send their successors, and those successors send their successors, all the way down to Bishops like Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI & Patriarch James Atkinson-Wake today, who will send their successors to the next generation, until the return of our Lord.
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