By Rev. Dr. Curian Kaniyamparambil
We have seen that all these positions existed in the early church and that it was apostolic succession. Let us look into what the early church fathers wrote, in order to have a vivid picture of the first few centuries.
Didache (Apostolic Traditions AD-140): - Elect for yourselves, therefore, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, humble men and not lovers of money, truthful and proven; for they also serve you in the ministry of prophets and teachers. Do not, therefore, despise them; for they are your honorable men together with prophets and teachers (9)
St. Clement (AD 80) (Letter to the Corinthians) Through the country side and city they (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. Indeed the scripture says I will set up bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith (20). Afterwards added the provision that, if they (Apostles) should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. As for these, then, who were appointed by them, or who were afterwards appointed by other illustrious men with the consent of the whole church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ with out blame, humbly, peaceable and with dignity and who have for many years received the commendations of all, we consider it unjust that they be removed from the ministry. Our sin will not be small if we reject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices.(21). The report that on account of one or two persons the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is in revolt against the presbyters. so that by your folly you heap blasphemies on the name of the Lord, and create a danger for yourselves (26).
St. Ignatius of Antioch (AD 110): - For Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the will of the Father, just as the bishops, who have been appointed through out the world, are the will of Jesus Christ. It is fitting therefore, that you should live in harmony with the will of the bishop - as indeed, you do. Let us be careful, then, if we would be submissive to God, not to oppose the bishop. (38) We must look upon the bishop as the Lord Himself(38b) Indeed, when you submit to your bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in His death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore- and such is your practice-that you do nothing with out the bishop, and you be subject also to the presbytery, as to the Apostles of Jesus Christ our hope, in whom we shall be found, if we live in Him. It is also necessary that the deacons, the dispensers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, be in every way pleasing to all men. For they are not the deacons of food and drink, but the servants of the Church of God. (48) In like manner let every one respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of Apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church. (49) Do noting without a bishop, keep your body as the temple of the God, love unity, flee from divisions, be imitators of Jesus Christ as he was the imitator of the Father. (58a). Those who belong to God and to Jesus Christ they are with the bishop. If any one follows a schmatic, he will not inherit the kingdom of God (56) Just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Nor is it permitted without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate the agape; but whatever he approves, this too is pleasing to God, so that whatever is done will be secure and valid(65).
St. Irenaeus (AD 180): We are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successions to our own times. Men who neither knew or taught anything like these heretics rave about. (209). Polycarp, however was instructed not only by the Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, by the Apostles in Asia. He always taught those things that he had learned from the Apostles, and which the Church had handed down, and which is true. (212). It is necessary to obey those who are the presbyters in the Church, those who, as we have shown, have succession from the Apostles. Those who have received, with the succession of the episcopate, the sure charism of the truth according to the good pleasure of the Father. But the rest, who have no part in the primitive succession and assemble where so ever they will, must be held in suspicion.(237). The true gnosis of the doctrine of the Apostles, and the ancient organization of the Church through out the whole world, and the manifestation of the body of the Church according to the succession of bishops, by which successions the bishops have handed down the Church is found everywhere; and the very complete tradition of the Scriptures, which have come down to us by being guarded against falsification, and a legitimate and diligent exposition according to the Scriptures, without danger and without blasphemy; and the pre-eminent gift of love. (242) For all these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the Apostles handed over the Churches. These fore mentioned heretics, because they are blind to truth, walk in various and devious paths; and on this account the vestiges of their doctrine are scattered about with out agreement or connection.(257)
Tertullian (AD 155-240): let them [heretics] show the origins of their churches, let them unroll the order of their bishops, running down in succession from the beginning, so that their first bishop shall have for author and predecessor someone of the Apostles or of the apostolic men who continued steadfast with Apostles. Tertullian then describes the apostolic succession to different churches and then Let the heretics invent something like this their doctrine when compared with that of Apostles will show, by its own diversity and contrariety...But in fact they are not apostolic and they can not prove themselves to be what they are not. Those things so, in order that we may be judged to have the truth, -we who walk in the rule which the Churches have handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ and Christ from God. Admit that the reasonableness of our position is clear. If they are heretics they are not Christians because it is not from Christ that they got what they themselves have gotten Not being Christians, they have acquired no right to Christian literature
St. Clement (AD 202): - After the death of the tyrant, the [Apostle John] came back again to Ephesus form the Island of Patmos; and upon being invited, he went even to the neighboring cities of the pagans, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, and to ordain the clerical estate such as were designated by the Spirit (438)
Farmilian of Caesarea (AD 268): - And other heretics as well, if they have parted themselves form the church, can have nothing to do with the power and grace, since all power and grace is settled in the Church, where preside presbyters who posses the power both of baptizing and of imposing hands, and of ordaining (601c)
St. Cyprian (AD 258) You ought to know, then, that bishop is in the Church and Church in the bishop and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. From that time the ordination of bishops and the plan of the Church flows through the changes and times and apostolic succession."
St. Hippollytus: - Hippolytus died in AD 235. And he describes the procedure to ordain the bishop. Let the bishop be ordained after he has been chosen by the people. Let the people assemble on Lord's Day with the presbyters and with such bishops as may be present. All giving assent, the bishops shall impose hands on him, and the presbytery shall stand in silence. Indeed all shall remain silent, praying in their hearts for the decent of the Spirit. Then one of the bishops impose his hand on the one who is being ordained as bishop, and shall pray thus, saying: In the long prayer grant to this your servant, whom you have chosen for the episcopate, to feed your holy flock and to serve without blame as your high priest, ministering night and day to propitiate unceasingly before your face; and to offer gifts of your holy Church; and by the Spirit of the high-priesthood to have the authority to forgive the sins, in accord with your command; to assign lots, in accord with the authority which you gave to the apostles;... Then the new bishop celebrates the Eucharist. St. Hippollytus then describes the procedure for ordaining the priest and deacons.
There are many more quotes from the early church fathers. For those interested, please refer to the The Faith of Early Church Fathers.
The above quotations from contemporaries of St. John to those who lived up to 2nd and 3rd centuries clearly shows that the power of ministry in the church is not obtained directly from heaven, but only by the apostolic succession, by laying of hands.
What we discussed so far in the light of the scriptures is the eternal truth. The essentials for salvation are Baptism, anointing of the Holy Spirit, membership in the church, remission of sins, and participation in the Holy Body-Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The power to perform these are vested with the apostles who received it from Christ and their successors, priests who received it from them, by laying of their hands.
TOC Section 1 (Q 1-26) | Section 2 (Q 27-56) | Section 3 (Q 57-81) | Section 4 (Q 82-115) | Previous Chapter | Next Chapter
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