Thursday, March 10, 2011

Apostolic Succession: The Pre-Augustinian View

"In Augustine’s mind, therefore, the Donatists were within the apostolic succession. Their bishops had been consecrated by bishops who had been validly consecrated, and because the sacrament confers an indelible grace, they retain valid orders. Further, the Donatist bishops retained the ability to pass on valid orders to those they ordained. A subtle shift has taken place in the concept of apostolic succession. In the earlier patristic view the Church itself, the eucharistic community, was the bearer of the succession. The individual bishop participated in and carried the succession because of his office as head of the apostolic community. For Augustine, each individual bishop carries within himself the indelible mark of apostolic succession and is able in and of himself to pass it on, whether or not he has remained in communion with the Catholic Church. Thus, apostolic succession becomes a matter of episcopal “pedigree,” of who ordained whom, rather than of integration into a community which is itself apostolic. Continuity was disconnected from community. If the validity of the apostolic succession resides in the individual bishop, whether or not he is connected to the community, some means needed to be developed to determine whether or not a particular bishop is within the succession. In the Western Church four criteria were developed to determine the validity of a consecration. Three are exoteric (exterior) criteria. The fourth is esoteric (interior).

(1) Form: The consecration must be done in the context of the eucharistic liturgy to be valid. This emphasizes the connection of the ordination with the community. A consecration done secretly in the bishop’s study, for example, would not be a valid consecration.

(2) Matter: There must be an actual laying on of hands by a bishop during the liturgy. Prayer is not sufficient in and of itself.

(3) Minister: The one who performs the consecration must himself be a validly consecrated bishop within the apostolic succession.

(4) Intention: The intent of the laying on of hands and the prayer within the liturgy must be to ordain or consecrate the person to holy orders. One could conceivably lay hands on someone during the liturgy for prayer for healing, for blessing, or for some other worthy purpose, without intent to ordain. This criterion removes the possibility of someone claiming to be a bishop or priest simply because he had received the “laying on of hands” in the liturgy. The intent must be to ordain.

In modern Western Christian thinking, if these criteria were met in a consecration, a bishop is within the apostolic succession and may ordain others who are within the succession, whether or not he remains in communion with the Church. This has led to the proliferation of numerous groups, usually small, who claim to be in the apostolic succession but are in communion with no one. These bishops are called episcopi vagantes, wandering bishops. The Orthodox Church, following the earlier patristic tradition, holds that apostolic succession is carried by the community. To be within the succession, a bishop must be properly elected by the diocese he is to administrate, be approved by the legitimate governing synod to which he will be accountable, be consecrated by bishops within the Orthodox Church, and remain faithfully in communion with the Orthodox Church. Once a bishop leaves the Church in schism, the Church is not obligated to recognize any consecrations or ordinations he performs. Thus, for the Orthodox, the episcopi vagantes are not within the succession. Nor are the Anglicans or the Roman Catholics necessarily seen as fully in the succession, although in practice the Church has received Catholic priests without requiring them to be ordained in the Orthodox Church. For the Orthodox, to be a part of the eucharistic community of the unbroken One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church is to be in the apostolic succession. To separate from it is to be outside the succession, no matter by whom one was ordained."

Fr. Gregory Rogers, Apostolic Succession, pages 32-34.


Odysseus said...

Thank you for the post. I had heard of such a position before but only in an offhand fashion. ISTM though, that the orthodox don't really hold this position about the community itself passing on the apostolic succession. Fr. Rogers even says so:

-although in practice the Church has received Catholic priests without requiring them to be ordained in the Orthodox Church.-

If the EO church receives RC converts thus, even occasionally, then it seems to indicate that the Orthodox do buy into the Augustinian idea of succession, no?

Ikonophile said...

This, from what I've heard (and I could be mistaken), is a pastoral issue. Just as some catechumens are received into the Church via baptism and chrismation while others via chrismation only (like myself).

Jnorm said...


Good question. I will have to read the canons of the councils again. Lvka might know.

Jnorm said...

After reading it again, I would say that the key word is "obligated".

"the Church is not obligated to recognize any consecrations or ordinations he performs."

Odysseus said...

I still don't see how that changes my point. If this community-oriented view of apostolic succession is the patristic view, then what does it mean that some Orthodox churches receive RCs, even priests, as if they were already part of the family? Are these churches innovating and straying from the Fathers' methods? Or are they saying that the Fathers would have done the same? And, ultimately, what does this mean regarding the received RC priest, who was baptized, confirmed and ordained by RC clergy?

Forgive me if I have misunderstood, but it seems that the Orthodox world is not really in internal agreement about these things. I don't see any difference in an Orthodox patriarch receiving RCs (with little more than a request to renounce the filioque, I guess) and an RC bishop receiving some schismatic traditionalist, "validly ordained", back into the Church (with little more than a testimony to Eternal Rome or something).

Yet, Fr. Rogers says that the Orthodox follow the Fathers on this one. So, would the Fathers have agreed with these actions? Saying it's a "pastoral" decision seems to ignore either A) a possible aberration in modern Orthodox practices or B) acceptance that some "others" are in some way part of the church even if they are not in the "community".

P.S. What do the Orthodox do when Nestorians et al convert to Orthodoxy? Is the variation in practice the same?

Lvka said...

The Ecumenical Synods did not indiscriminately impose re-baptisms and re-ordinations on anyone and everyone coming back from any sort or type of heresy whatsoever, but only on those who were returning from certain very grave and serious heresies in particular. We don't believe that all heterodox are totally, wholly and completely devoid of grace, or are going to Hell in a hand-basket. The difference, as Jnorm said, is that we don't see ourselves either forced or obliged to accept as somewhat "intrinsically-valid" the sacraments of heretics or schismatics, as long as they're straying away in darkness, blindness, and prideful, self-sufficient disrespect and dis-obedience; that we don't re-baptize or re-ordain some of them when they come back in repentance and remorse, returning, reverting or converting, is something else altogether... Nobody "owes" such sneaky thieves and apostate traitors any sort of "recognition" whatsoever; if we were to re-baptize and re-ordain each and every single one of them, we would do no wrong...

Lvka said...

They think they "justly" and "rightly" "merit" and "deserve", and that they're "entitled to", confusing God's grace, mercy and long-suffering, and the Church's lenience and indulgence, with entitlement & "what's right": but the only thing they so justly and rightly merit and deserve are the eternal torments of Hell.

Odysseus said...

-if we were to re-baptize and re-ordain each and every single one of them, we would do no wrong...-

So, are the graces of the sacraments you mentioned conferred by these lenient, pastoral decisions to accept RC priests as they are? That's suggesting that a bishop can confer such graces, in a bundle, with a wave of his hand. Perhaps a bishop can. I am pretty ignorant of these matters.

If it is not wrong to re-ordain the RC priest, then what does it mean when he is "re"-baptized and "re"-ordained, etc? Baptism and ordination cannot be given twice. He is either a priest or he is not. If he was already a Christian and a priest, then it would indeed be wrong to re-ordain and re-baptize.

It just seems like it needs to be one way or the other.

Also, does anybody know what happens with the Nestorians and and other Oriental Orthodox who convert to "Seven Council" Orthodoxy? I know so little about them, .they may as well be Martians

Lvka said...

I'm afraid reality is not that black and white. If -or to what extent- God's grace works through such men, or has been given to them, rests alone on God's mercy and good-will. They are neither properly baptized nor properly ordained. If they repent and return to God and His Church, then the Holy Spirit may seal or complete or perfect what has formerly been incomplete and imperfect (as opposed to either being fully present there, or completely lacking). And this may be done either by fully and completely re-baptizing or re-ordaining them, or through simple conversion: by confessing the creed and anointing with holy chrism (either way, it has to be with the local bishop's blessing, consent, and approval: the Holy Spirit does not work in things done either forcibly or dishonestly, behind people's backs).





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