Apostolic Succession

Apostolic succession is an ancient concept, and yet the particular implication with which it is used nowadays is, as far as I can see, a quite recent product among Christians. In 1833 appeared the first of the "Tracts for the Times", calling for a renewal of catholic thinking in the Church of England. The author reminded his brother clergy that the Anglican ordination liturgy contains "the doctrine of the Apostolic succession." He was the same John Henry Newman who 12 years later gave up this view and converted to the Roman Church.
His appeal had to be to the liturgy, since none of the confessions of the ancient church, or the Thirty-Nine Articles, contain such a doctrine. Noteworthy also is the fact that the Roman Church has no particular doctrinal article concerning the successio apostolica...

What nowadays is called apostolic succession is regarded in the Catholic churches as so self-evident that there is scarcely need to talk about it. It is quite simply given with the sacrament of priestly ordination. When the Church of England and its daughter churches (recently also certain Lutheran churches, and union churches such as that of South India) make so much of their apostolic succession, one is prompted to ponder the fact that we are most apt to speak of those virtues which we do not possess. It is hardly by chance that this overemphasis on apostolic succession emerged in a church which indeed claims to be catholic and to possess the three offices of bishop, priest and deacon and yet is unable to say what these offices actually are.
We would have no need of engaging the Anglicans and their unclarity (the product of the sorry history of their Reformation), if they were not continually beating on the doors of all the other churches, demanding from Rome the recognition of their orders and from Protestants the receiving of their "apostolic succession".

Apostolic Succession
Letter to Lutheran Pastors, No. 41
April, 1956
(Translation by Normal Nagel, published in We Confess the Church, Concordia, 1986, pp84 & 85.)


  1. The man is a prophet! I saw all this in the steps of my (former?) church, the ELCA, in coming to terms with the Episcopal Church.

    I could tell a hundred stories.

  2. Jon,
    My thoughts and prayers are certainly with you as you consider your future. Keep us updated.


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