A Defence of the Catholic Priesthood
by Michael Davies
1979 AND 1993

Appendix IV
The Apostolic Succession

When during the recitation of the Nicene Creed we affirm our belief in the apostolicity of the Church
-----Credo in apostolicam Ecclesiam-----we are referring to a threefold apostolicity. We are bound to believe that the powers which Our Lord bestowed upon the Apostles were in turn conferred upon their successors through the laying on of hands. These powers have descended by the same means to our present-day bishops in an unbroken succession. This has been expressed most recently in the Declaration Mysterium Ecclesiae, issued by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in defence of the Catholic doctrine on the Church against certain errors of the present day. It was ratified and confirmed by Pope Paul VI on 11 May 1973 and promulgated on 24 June 1973.

The Declaration states:
Christ, the Head of the Church, which is His Mystical Body, appointed as ministers of His priesthood His Apostles and through them their successors the bishops, that they might act in His person within the Church and also in turn legitimately hand over to priests in a subordinate degree the sacred ministry which they had received. 1

This is de fide teaching reiterated by Popes and Councils on numerous occasions, and it should be remembered that teaching which is presented to us as de fide definita is infallible and anyone rejecting it automatically ceases to be a Catholic. The essential point here is that this method of transmitting office is not a practice which developed within the Church during the first centuries. It was directly instituted by Christ Himself. This, then, covers two of the threefold aspects of apostolicity
-----apostolicity of origin (apostolicitas originis), and apostolicity of succession in office (apostolicitas successionis). The third aspect is apostolicitas doctrinae, apostolicity in doctrine. The Church has always adhered to the teaching which she received from the Apostles; the apostolicity of succession guarantees the unfalsified transmission of doctrine. The original deposit of faith has naturally developed through the centuries, but always in fidelity to the original Gospel, the good news preached by the Apostles, not all of which is explicitly included in the New Testament. The deposit of faith, which it is the Church's duty to preserve intact and to preach to all men, has been formulated from two sources, written and unwritten.

In his pamphlet, Anglican Orders-----A Way Forward?, Fr. Edward Yarnold, S.J., states that

. . . it seems that apostolic succession has more than one strand. One of these strands is ordination by a bishop in the apostolic succession, which is a sign that the Order and the authority conferred come from Christ and are not matters of human convention, and also a sign that the new priest or bishop is in communion with other ordained ministers throughout the world and throughout time.

This statement is an example of Modernism at its most devious. There is not one word here which could provoke disagreement among Lutherans or Anglicans, who do not believe that ordination is a Sacrament instituted by Christ, and which therefore conveys grace ex opere operato [
that the Sacrament works independent of the spiritual worthiness of the minister-----Note added by Web Master]. The grace in this case is the sacred character of the priesthood, which distinguishes a man who has received the Sacrament of Order not simply in degree but in essence from the laity. Lutherans and Evangelical Anglicans will accept that ordination is a sign of a person's appointment to the office of minister, even an appropriate sign. They will not accept that it is a Sacrament and that it was directly instituted by Christ.

Fr. Yarnold might well argue that a Sacrament is a sign
-----and he would be correct. But not every sign is a Sacrament-----every car is a vehicle, but not every vehicle is a car. Fr. Yarnold might even protest that I have no right to presume that by the word "sign" he didn't mean "Sacrament"-----this is the way the Modernist mind operates. I would reply that if he meant "Sacrament", then he should have said "Sacrament". However, there is more to it than this. Father Yarnold cites a source for the explanation of apostolic succession which he has given-----and it is none other than the Canterbury Statement on the Ministry and Ordination, which will certainly take its place among the classic formulations of Modernism, as Chapter VI makes clear. Father Yarnold continues:

But there is a second strand, namely a call coming from a community which seeks to be faithful to the teaching and commission of Christ handed down through the apostles to the whole Church. The first strand runs unbroken through time; the second strand does not necessarily consist of an unbroken succession in history, but of a conformity of mind and heart and life to Christ, a conformity which is the work of the Holy Spirit whom Christ bequeathed to His Church. If the first strand is broken it needs to be repaired by ordination conferred by bishops in valid Orders; if the second is broken it is repaired by a change of heart, mind and life towards Christ. Catholic teaching is that the first strand is necessary. But is it possible that its absence, though a grave defect, is not sufficient to invalidate Orders if the second strand holds? 2

The statements by Father Yarnold which have been cited above are contained in one paragraph in the original-----and it must surely be the most deplorable paragraph ever to appear in a Catholic Truth Society publication. The reasons for this are not hard to discern.

Firstly, it will be noted that in true Modernist style Father Yarnold does not commit himself
-----he does not state a position, he simply asks a question. And how can it be unorthodox to ask a question?

Secondly, he is treating two distinct aspects of apostolicity as if they were one and the same. His two strand theory has no basis at all in Catholic theology, it is a novelty and, as is almost invariably the case with novelties, it is unorthodox. Apostolicity of succession can be conveyed in one way and one way only, through the Sacrament of Order instituted by Christ. This apostolicity of succession guarantees the apostolicity of the doctrine taught by the successors of the Apostles. We know that the doctrine is true precisely because it is being taught by those who, in virtue of the Sacrament of Order, are the successors of the Apostles in communion with the successor of Peter. It is ludicrous to attempt to transpose the terms and claim that because the doctrine is true those teaching it must have valid Orders within the apostolic succession. Once the authority of the Catholic Church is rejected no criterion for distinguishing between truth or falsehood remains beyond the private judgment of the individual Christian.

Thirdly, once the logic of Fr. Yarnold's position is accepted, we are bound to accept not only the validity of Anglican Orders but those of any and every Protestant sect. Presumably every Protestant denomination "seeks to be faithful to the teaching and commission of Christ handed down through the apostles to the Church", and so they must therefore have valid orders if a positive answer is returned to Father Yarnold's question.

The true position is that to be in total conformity with the teaching of the Apostles it is necessary to be in communion with the successors of the Apostles. Our Lord founded one Church and one Church only, and it is His will that all men should belong to that Church. This is an essential, perhaps the essential, message of the Apostles. Those who belong to bodies which were originally constituted in opposition to the one, true Church of Christ (no matter how sincere they might be) cannot in truth be held to be "of a conformity of mind and heart and life to Christ", Who willed that there should be one flock and one shepherd.

In addition to this, the Church of England is not only constituted in the state of schism, as are the various Orthodox Churches, but it embraces a virtual compendium of heresies. Ironically, it is in the Orthodox Churches at present that most of the basic Christian truths are upheld and proclaimed without the least trace of ambiguity. Within the Catholic Church, orthodoxy is proclaimed by the Vatican while every form of heresy is permitted to rage unchecked throughout the Church. Indeed, it is with some embarrassment that I shall quote Cardinal Newman to make it clear that the theory that the Church of England has a doctrine in conformity with the teaching of the Apostles is quite untenable. It is embarrassing because his critique of Anglicanism in the eighteen-seventies is now applicable to Catholicism in the nineteen-seventies. In 1879 Cardinal Newman wrote to an Anglican lady who had questioned the role of the Catholic Church as the one, true Church founded by Jesus Christ. The Cardinal pointed out that God Himself has founded a Church in which we are to find salvation; that the word Ecclesia means an assembly, and that Luke taught: "The Lord added daily to the Church such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). The Cardinal then cited Scripture to show that the Church is a body which teaches authoritatively, and added:

One note of the Church then is this clear authoritative teaching. There may be many opinions among its members on points which it does not teach, but not on those points which it teaches as the truth revealed. It teaches and its theologians believe only one and the same doctrine. There must be no differences as to the way of salvation.

Now can I trust my soul to the Church of England? Is it a teaching Church, considering hardly any two adjacent pulpits will proclaim the same doctrine, and that not in minor points, but in the way to be saved. This way of salvation is distinctly different in the Low Church, High Church, and Broad Church. Considering without faith we cannot be saved, have I not a right to ask, who in the Church can tell me what that saving faith is? Do clergymen even so agree in their belief of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as to give it the same sense or attach the same importance to the . . . Athanasian Creed? or attach the same idea to baptismal regeneration, etc., etc.

In consequence who has faith in the Church of England? Have you? You can have faith in the word of the Catholic Church. Can you in any other Church? 3

To sum up Father Yarnold' s position, he has confused apostolicity of doctrine, which is a mark or characteristic of the Apostolic Church, with the means ordained by Our Lord to perpetuate the apostolic succession itself through the Sacrament of Order. Furthermore, he does not even posit apostolicity of teaching itself as a second means of imparting valid orders
-----all that is needed is to seek to be faithful to the apostolic teaching.

The logic of his position is that any group, however small, can come together, state that it is seeking to adhere to the apostolic teaching (which all sects do), and the Catholic Church will then be bound to recognize the validity of the Orders of those whom the sect choose to appoint as ministers. Let those who support the Catholic Truth Society in any way note that, by promoting heretical opinions of this kind, it has departed radically from the principles of Catholic Truth which its own name pledges it to uphold.

Father Yarnold makes no attempt to claim personal credit for this absurd theory of apostolic succession. He refers us to Structures of the Church by Hans K
üng. 4 However, those who refer to this book will find that Dr. Küng himself is simply citing a theory advanced by a Lutheran theologian, E. Schlink, in a book entitled: Die Apostolische Sukzession.

In his explanation of the theory, Hans K
üng adopts a very cautious tone. Like his disciple, Father Yarnold, he insists that he is simply trying to raise questions, not to answer them. He assures us that the procedure laid down for the admission to ecclesiastical office by the Council of Trent must be accepted as valid for normal cases; all that he is asking is that the possibility of extraordinary routes to valid Orders must be examined afresh.

Will the door some day be opened to the possibilities of reaching an extraordinary route to ecclesiastical office? That cannot be predicted at the present time. What is certain, however, is that the definitions of the Trent decrees are completely valid for the normal case; normally admission to office occurs as it was laid down at Trent; namely, through the ordination of the office holder. Schlink too considers that to be the ordinary procedure. In regard to eventual extraordinary ways, on the Catholic side, no more can be said at present than this: the question must be examined afresh in the light of the present state of the problems. 5

However, the thinking of Dr. K
üng has now developed in a most striking manner and it is hardly surprising that Father Yarnold did not quote from some of his subsequent works such as Infallible? In this book Dr. Küng informs us that the traditional teaching on apostolic succession is unhistorical; that Catholic teaching on infallibility is untenable as it is based on this unhistorical theory of apostolic succession; that there is no essential distinction between priest and layman, it is simply an accident of history; and that the way to discover the true Gospel message is not for us all to listen to the Pope and the bishops but for us all, Pope and bishops included, to listen to the theologians. And how do we know that what the theologians are teaching is true? Why, it is true because they are teaching it. Let Dr. Küng speak for himself, taking note of the fact that where he refers to "prophets" or "teachers" in the early Church he means the equivalent of the present day theologians. It will be noted that he claims that the Church was founded on the twin pillars of apostles and prophets, and that the office of apostle has not been perpetuated while that of prophet has.

The Church "has the apostles (and the prophets) for its foundations", but there is no mention of any kind of personal or collegial infallibility or inability to fall into error.

Similarly, it is impossible to show that the bishops are in any direct and exclusive sense the successors of the apostles (or of the college of the twelve) . . . As the direct primary witnesses and messengers of Christ, the apostles are a priori irreplaceable and unrepresentable by any successors; it is they (and the prophets) and not the bishops who are and remain the founders of the Church . . . from the "collegiality" of an the faithful there emerged a collegiality of certain groups of ministries over against the congregation, resulting in the emergence of a distinction between clergy and laity. 6

. . . the attribution of infallibility to the college of bishops, based on the traditional, unhistorical theory of the bishops' direct and exclusive apostolic succession, stands exegetically, historically and theologically, on feet of clay. 7

As we have previously pointed out, it cannot be shown either is often claimed for them, the successors of the apostles (and still less of the college of the twelve): the modern order of three offices-----bishops, presbyters and deacons-----is a later historical development, and in itself a perfectly reasonable one. The apostolic succession applies primarily to the universal Ecclesia apostolica, in as much as every Christian should strive for agreement with the fundamental apostolic testimony (Scripture, succession in apostolic faith and confession) and for connection with the apostolic service (missionary progress in the world and the building up of the Christian community, succession in apostolic service and life). 8

However, the mission of "Church leaders or pastors" is a special one and "they enjoy a special authority and, when they fulfill their service in the spirit of the Gospel, they are entitled to count on cooperation and recognition of their authority." 9

What exactly does Dr. K
üng mean by Church leaders fulfilling their service with that degree of conformity to the spirit of the Gospel which entitles them to our cooperation? (Note that we do not owe the bishops obedience in virtue of their office, they must earn our cooperation by the manner in which they exercise it). Dr. Küng is ready with an answer, but first emphasizes that he is not trying to abolish authority and leadership-----he just wants it exercised properly:

It is not no Church leadership that we need, but Church leadership in accordance with the Gospel. We do not need less authority, but more qualified authority: authority based on service, and capable of subordinating itself to the subordinate if the latter has the Gospel and reason on its side. 10

Thus the bishops are entitled to cooperation and recognition of their authority providing they subordinate themselves to "the teachers" in the Church. Bishops and deacons were only chosen in the event of an insufficiency of prophets and teachers within the congregation. 11 The successors of those teachers are among us today and woe betide the Church if she fails to heed them!

What becomes of a Church in which the teachers are silent? The question will be better understood if, in accordance with present-day terminology, we speak of theologians instead of teachers. What becomes of a Church in which scholarly reflection on and interpretation of the original Christian message, the true transmission, the true translation of that message into the terms of the present day, have ceased? A Church in which the theologians had to be silent would become an untruthful Church. Its teaching might be very correct and unchanged and conscientiously handed on. Its faith might seem secure from doubt, and its teaching might seem to present no serious problems. Yet it would often be evading men's real problems, and would fail to notice that it was bogged down in an outdated theological system, that it was handing on
superannuated ideas and the empty husks of traditional concepts as truth, and that both in teaching and in life it had departed from the original message. Meanwhile the leaders who did not want to listen to the theologians in the Church, having little interest or time for well-based theology because, perhaps through fear, they did not want to be disturbed in their faith, or naively believed that they already knew everything that mattered-----those leaders would in their ignorance the more confidently seek to impose their personal teaching as the teaching of the Church, confuse their antiquated ideas with genuine tradition, close their minds to learning anything and, though unqualified themselves, claim the privilege of judging the qualified. Then, though gifts are diverse, they would claim to be successors, not only of the apostles, but also of the teachers . . . how fruitful it can be for them and for the Church if they listen-----as the best of them have always done-----to the theologians who try to help the Church by critical examination of current teaching and by reference to the original message; who exercise their theological skill, not for their own sake, but for humanity, the Church and the world. 12

And so on.

Such is the enthusiasm of Dr. Küng for the virtues of theologians that once launched upon the topic he finds it necessary to express himself at very great length. It would be possible, but tedious, to cite expositions of this theory of apostolic succession from other works by Hans Küng and his fellow prophets. Hans Küng himself has now provided us with Why Priests?, which completes the task of "proving" that the ordained priest has no powers not shared by the universal priesthood of the faithful. A number of theologians have been active in expounding the theory that to be in the apostolic succession means to be faithful to the apostolic teaching, including Yves Congar, Raymond Brown, and Avery Dunes. Like Hans Küng, they are all permitted to propagate their heterodox theories without fear of sanctions from either the Vatican or their bishops.

NOTE: we removed the original footnote 2 as it referred to an appendix in Cranmer's Godly Order that we did not include since that work is excerpted only; thus we had to renumber the subsequent notes, having 12 footnotes rather than 13.

1. Mysterium Ecclesiae is available from the Apostolate of Catholic Truth, 52 Moorcroft Crescent, Ribbleton, Preston, PR2 6DP, England.
2. AOWF, p. 11
3. The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, vol. XXIX (Clarendon Press, 1976), p. 166.
4. Structures of the Church (London, 1965), p. 180.
5. Ibid., p. 184.
6. Infallible? (London, 1972), pp. 66/7.
7. Ibid., p. 70.
8. Ibid., p. 187.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid., p. 188.
11. Ibid., p. 190.
12. Ibid., pp. 190/1.

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