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Apostolic Succession Reinvented

Apostolic Succession Reinvented

By Chuck Collins
August 2, 2021

Protestants are the "Lutheran rebellion whose evil virus goes wandering about in almost all nations," wrote Pope Leo XIII in his August 1, 1897 encyclical "Militantis Ecclesiae." Leo was one of the longest reigning popes. He promoted the rosary (he was called the "Rosary Pope"), embraced the concept of Mary as mediatrix (co-mediator with Jesus between God and humans), and issued a famous encyclical on modernism. Pertinent to Anglicans was his famous papal bull "Apostolicae curae" (1896) in which he declared Anglican ordinations to be "absolutely null and utterly void."

Anglicans and most Protestants hold to an understanding of "Apostolic Succession" as the succession of apostolic teaching as St. Paul directed to Timothy (2 Tim 2:2). This important "passing-on" is symbolized by the laying on of hands at ordinations. The church always veers into trouble when the symbol is given priority over the thing symbolized. Apostolic succession was reinvented by the 1830s-40s Oxford Movement "to be approached joyfully and expectantly as a definite instrument, or rather the appointed means of spiritual blessing" (John Henry Newman). Apostolic succession was always valued by Anglicans in terms of historic continuity, but the Tractarians and later Anglo-catholics added their particular view that special grace is imparted in ordination ("priestly character" or an ontological change).

There is no unbroken line of ordained bishops and priests traceable back to St. Peter. This is simply confusing the symbol for the thing symbolized. The succession the Bible teaches is the succession of catholic teaching and apostolic faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This is what we affirm when we say, "We believe in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church."

"Cranmer did not believe that the apostles passed down the Holy Spirit through an unbroken line of holy bishops like a pipeline. No, for Cranmer, the author of the founding formularies of Anglicanism, apostolic succession meant the passing down of apostolic teaching. . . each generation of the church is to receive, witness to and pass on the Bible and its message of salvation by grace alone through faith alone." -- Ashley Null, Divine Allurement

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