Apostolic Succession

The Holy Spirit, who creates unity of faith and confession, is not the collective spirit of the Christian religious association. The church as the people of God is something completely other than the people of Mani or Mohammed. The church as the body of Christ is not an organism such as a secular association, a family, a nation, or any other kind of "body". Moehler's misunderstanding, and that of the whole Romantic movement, cannot be excused by pointing to the ancient church's use of terms from ancient sociology of religion in speaking of the church of Christ. One must never forget that the church fathers came out of ancient heathenism, and continued to carry some of its concepts around with them for a long time, for instance in their apologetics. The vital distinction to be made is between what is truly Biblical and what was brought into the church from that ancient heathen world. Clearly the catholicity and apostolicity of the church are taught in Holy Scripture. The same cannot be said of the way catholicity and apostolicity were understood through the centuries of the development of the Catholic Church.

We have only to look at the sentence Augustine penned to overthrow the Donatists: "When the whole world passes judgment, that judgment is sure" (Securus iudicat orbis terrarum). He refers to the church everywhere; the Donatists were to be found only in Africa. This is the sentence that began to shake Newman's faith in the catholicity of the Church of England. Ever and again it has deeply impressed Catholics and high-church circles. It does not come, however, from Scripture, but from the religious thought of the non-Christian world, perhaps from very early forms of religion which are still alive within us or could become so. "The voice of the people is the voice of God" (Vox populi vox Dei. [Cf. Seneca the Elder, Controversia, 1,1,10;Homer, Odyssey, 3,214f.]). This is Stoic philosophy, and at the same time a piece of ancient wisdom - or foolishness. "My comunity will never agree in error" [Haddith. Muctamad. 458-76. Cf. Lammens, Islam (1968), p.93]. Thus from Mohammed the doctrine of ijma', the consensus of all Moslims.

Apostolic Succession
Letters to Lutheran Pastors, No.41
April 1956
(Translation by Norman Nagel, published in We Confess The Church, Concordia, 1986, pp92-93.)

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