Sunday, August 19, 2007

Was Authority With The Apostles, And Did They Pass It On?

3) Was authority with the Apostles, and did they pass on this authority? Mark 6:7, Luke 9:1, Luke 10:19, 2 Corinthians 10:8, and 2 Corinthians 13:10 describe a delegation from Christ of His authority to the Apostles (the last, e.g., has Paul saying "This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority—the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down."). This delegation was finite and specific. The "you" to whom Paul writes were not given Authority by Christ, and it was for no one to assume but the Apostles. No one could set themselves up against the Authority of the Apostles. Authority was with the Apostles.

How has history shown this Authority pass through the early church and onto today? The Authority given to the Apostles of the church either continues through a line of succession as Catholics claim, or it was a special one-time event in history with the Apostles responsible to lay out articulate written teaching to sustain Christ's church until His return.

Now falling head-first into our fourth question: (to be continued...)


Joseph said...


"The Authority given to the Apostles of the church either continues through a line of succession as Catholics claim..."

Err... um... Catholics and Eastern Orthodox. I know it was an accident that you excluded them. I just thought I'd make sure it was mentioned for the sake of clarity.

Thos said...

Joseph: Quite right, and thank you! Consider your comment an official amendment to my post! Please let me know if you disagree with any of my rationale.

Joseph said...


I was tickled by your request for me to let you know if I disagree with your rationale.

Here is a friendly quip that I thought of when I read your invitation. I hope you find the humor in it:

If you disagree with the Catholic Church's rationale, then I disagree with you. Other than that, we are like two peas in a pod.

Thos said...


Yah, yah, I appreciate that humor well enough... I guess I have very little on my blog to challenge a Catholic. Maybe I should take up some Orthodox arguments against you (I hope you appreciate MY humor)!!!

Joseph said...

Hey, hey, hey, I gots no beef wid the Orthodox. Ya hear me?

Actually, I was one week away from becoming Russian Orthodox when I suddenly had a very intense conversion experience and chose to become Roman Catholic. I love the Orthodox Church. Long story.

Yes, the Orthodox and Catholic Churches have some doctrinal differences, though they both consider each other schismatics. We both acknowledge Apostolic Succession in one another and we both have all seven valid Sacraments. I also have a very good Russian Orthodox friend who I admire greatly. We never discuss our differences. Why? Because those are left for the Pope, and the bishops loyal to him, and the Eastern Patriarchs to work out... and they have been working it out, it just may take some time.

Thos said...

Joseph, okay I'm feeling fiesty - what is the defense of the Great Schism and the claim of the Church's staying as "one" and staying "pure"? I've already learned from your last post that you view each other's apostolic succession as valid, and the higher-ups need to sort it out (this sounds like the right position to take). Would that mean that a Russian Christian under the authority and jurisdiction of his God-ordained successor Bishop should not convert to Catholicism even if he became convinced that the claims of the Roman See were valid? Should a Christian in America considering conversion to one of these two only consider the Western church (unless, maybe, he's in Alaska)? Could get complex...

Joseph said...


Feisty indeed! I was just about to curl up with "Jesus of Nazareth" and gently read myself to sleep in the loving arms of Pope Benedict XVI when I decided to scope out the blogosphere before doing so. Now, you have compelled me to brew an espresso and ponder how to best answer your question. I'll get back to you in a few. You are launching me into the land of opinion mingled with Church teaching. This could get me into trouble.

Joseph said...


You animal! You have really placed me in an uncomfortable position for a couple of reasons: 1) my reading will have to be postponed until tomorrow, and 2) I love my Orthodox brethren so much that I avoid rehashing the Great Schism as much as possible.

Your question demands an answer though. First, we must define "schism" and "heresy" to provide clarity.

The Catholic Church defines "schism" as the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. Recent modern-day schismatics would be the "Lefebvrites", otherwise known as the Society of Saint Pius X.

"Heresy" is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise obstinate doubt concerning the same.

Those are important distinctions. In a state of schism, there is a separation between the schismatics and the Church, but it is not as complete as it would be if the schismatic incurred "excommunication"; the most severe ecclesiastical penalty, which impedes the reception of the sacraments and the exercise of certain ecclesiastical acts, and for which absolution consequently cannot be granted, according the canon law, except by the Pope, the bishop of the place or priests authorized by them.

Let me explain why I defined these words and brought conjured up the name of the "Lefebvrites". Like the Eastern Church, the Lefebvrites (on a much smaller scale, of course) refused to submit to the authority of the Supreme Pontiff. That does not mean they deny that the the Bishop of Rome is the Successor of St. Peter, the Apostle. In fact, the Eastern Orthodox Church (well, at least from the perspective of my Russian Orthodox friend) still believes that St. Peter was the Prince of the Apostles, favored by Our Lord and given the keys to the Kingdom. However, they differ in their understanding of his authority over the entire Church. The Apostolic Succession is not denied, nor is the respect for his office. The Lefebvrites, on the other hand, still believe that the Pope is the Supreme Pontiff, they just refuse to submit to him as long as the Pope does not address certain issues they have with the Second Vatican Council. Archbishop Lefebvre incurred excommunication because he ordained four bishops without the consent of the Pope. Hence, the four ordinations were illicit and Lefebvre was now acting outside of the Church. There are still priests within the SSPX though that have not been excommunicated, they are considered schismatics.

Why is this important? Because those priests that have not incurred excommunication still are validly ordained priests in the eyes of the Church, though their relationship with the Church is now made imperfect. What does that mean? Bookmark here; I must get into the sacraments.

Here is the technical definition of "sacrament": perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature. By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present efficaciously the grace that they signify.

What is necessary for a valid sacrament? Proper "matter" and "form". "Matter" is the Christian man and Christian woman to be married; the bread and the wine; the man to be ordained priest; the contrite penitent to receive absolution; the water and the person to be baptized; the oil and the baptized Christian who expects to be confirmed; etc. Of course the priest or qualified minister must be present to confect the sacraments as well. The "form" is the words of consecration; the necessary prayers; the specific ritual that coincides with each specific sacrament.

How does one understand the definition of "sacrament" in practical terms? When a man and a woman complete the marriage ritual what actually takes place is a "sacramental" change. It is imperceptible to the human senses, but the two, male and female, have just become one body, one blood, one flesh. You may still see two separate bodies, but in the eyes of God and in the spiritual understanding of man, they have become one... literally. When a Christian is baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity, to the senses they have merely either been dunked in water or had water poured atop their head with a priest or Christian minister performing a series of incantations; but, in reality, that person has just died in Christ. They have entered into death and have experienced the first resurrection in Our Lord. The old man has died. The new man has been born. This is where the term "born again" comes from. We are no longer under the yoke of the original sin of Adam, a debt we would never be able to pay. Similarly, when the priest calls upon the Holy Spirit, and, acting in the place of Christ, speaks the words of consecration upon the bread and the wine in the Liturgy, the senses still see, smell, taste, and feel Bread and Wine; but, in reality, they have become the Blessed Body and Blood of Our Lord. That is the best way I can explain a sacramental change in practical terms.

Bear with me. I apologize for the length. You probably understand all of this. But, since I am unsure exactly how much you have learned, I am compelled to explain these things in detail. Otherwise, there can be no understanding of the answers to your questions.

Now that I've given you a summary of a "sacrament", I will use it to further illustrate my answer to your question. At a priestly ordination, there is a ritual that takes place. I will skip most of the details. At the point that the bishop, who is a successor of the the Apostles (and who also goes through a higher form of ordination where he receives the office of Successor of the Apostles as a bishop), lays his hands on the head of the ordinand and he prays the prescribed incantations that ordinand goes through a sacramental change. Similar to baptism, where, sacramentally, the person has died in the waters and is born again in Christ, the ordinand receives the Holy Spirit from the chain of Apostolic Succession. The same Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ breathed onto the Apostles in the upper room is sacramentally passed onto the ordinand who has now become a priest of the Church. He has now been mysteriously given the power to confer the Sacraments in Christ's Name. Also like baptism, this sacrament can never be revoked. Once a priest, always a priest. It is a sacramental change, there is no reversal.

Let us return to the bookmark above. Once a priest, always a priest, unless... the priest incurs excommunication. This does not nullify the sacrament. If the excommunicated priest were to repent of his obstinance and receive absolution from the Pope or his bishop, he may confer the sacraments again.

Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Catholic Church have the ban of excommunication on each other. They both view each other as schismatics (although, the Orthodox have a different definition of schism than do the Catholics). Since neither consider the other under excommunication, they both recognize that there is an unbroken line of succession to the Apostles within their Churches. Also, because of this recognition, they both believe that their priests and bishops have the power to confer the Sacraments, given to the Apostles by Jesus Christ.

That is the long way to answering the "pure" portion of your first question... I hope. Now, the "one" question. Nestled within my lengthy post is the answer to that. It has to do with the definition schism. The Catholic Church believes that it is the Eastern Orthodox who are in schism, and it's the inverse for the Orthodox. Though they are "pure" in the sense that they are a true Church, that is, they have a recognizable and valid Apostolic Succession and the ability to confer the Sacraments, they are not "one", they are separate from the Catholic Church in the fact that the schism makes their connection with Her imperfect. The Catholic Church remains "One", but the schismatic groups are not completely in communion with that one, yet their relationship with Her is not completely severed as it is with the Protestant ecclesial communities. Martin Luther was a priest sacramentally, but neither was he a bishop, a successor of the Apostles who has the power to ordain, nor was he in communion with the Church due to his excommunication. Had he repented and been absolved he could have validly resumed ministry with little trouble. He was still a priest after the excommunication, because the sacrament can never be reversed, but he was no longer in communion. This also caused any attempt to confer the sacraments (specifically the Eucharist, Penance, Annointing of the Sick, Confirmation) by him to be invalid.

I hope that answers your first question. It may not be the answer you were looking for. If it's not, I'd ask someone more qualified to answer it.

I'll attempt to answer your second question in the next post, so that its meaning isn't lost in this long-winded one.

Joseph said...

Round two:

"Would that mean that a Russian Christian under the authority and jurisdiction of his God-ordained successor Bishop should not convert to Catholicism even if he became convinced that the claims of the Roman See were valid?"

This one gets tricky. If you've been on top of the news, you'd know that this is not a question that I particularly want to answer, nor do I know enough to. This happens to be a major issue between the Russian Patriarch Alexy II and Pope Benedict XVI. Because this issue cannot be solved by lay people, I will not propose an answer to this question. What I feel I can say is, though the Church's teachings must be accepted by the layperson, the Church does not own any "intellectual property"; that is, She does not control a person's decision making or rational mind. We all have free will.

Objectively, and according to the definitions I provided in the first answer, doing so would make the Russian Orthodox turned Catholic (or Uniate, as they call them) a schismatic in the eyes of the Orthodox Church, and vice versa for a Catholic turned Orthodox in the eyes of the Catholic Church. This is where it gets touchy and out of my realm of understanding. Many Orthodox are of the opinion that this would make the Uniate a heretic, but that is a personal opinion and one that differs from other more forgiving Russian Orthodox Christians. There is definitely a canonical boundary for God's grace defined by the Russian Orthodox Church, that it doesn't extend outside of the boundaries of the Orthodox Church, but I don't understand this completely (naturally, I'm not Orthodox) as it can be complicated to speak with Orthodox Christians on this matter, as you can imagine.

That would mean that the convert would be turning from God's grace one way or the other, since the Catholic Church believes that She hold the fullness of the Truth and, at the same time, so do the Orthodox. Once again, unless excommunication occurs, they are merely considered in an imperfect relationship with the Church in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Like I said, there are differing opinions amongst the Russian Orthodox on the status of these converts, and it is an extremely touchy subject. I don't know how else to describe it diplomatically. Conversions to Catholicism from Russian Orthodoxy has become a major point of concern for Alexy II.

I don't have an opinion except that I don't believe anyone is compelled to follow any religion. I also know that I do not know anything on this matter. That is why it is proper to leave it to the Pope and the Patriarch. They are discussing it, they have a better understanding of it.

Apparently, there is tension between Patriarch Alexy II and the Ecumenical Patriarch (See of Constantinople) Bartholomew I because of Patriarch Bartholomew's good relationship with Pope Benedict. That is another reason why I think it's important to wait and see what happens. It is out of the realm of lay people to speculate.

"Should a Christian in America considering conversion to one of these two only consider the Western church (unless, maybe, he's in Alaska)?"

It is none of my business which Church a Christian in America chooses to worship. I would hope that they would find that the Catholic Church contains the fullness of the Truth and pursue full communion with Her. It would also make sense if we were to play by the same rules that Patriarch Alexy II holds the Catholic Church in Russia to; if it is merely a question of jurisdiction, that is. I believe it is more than jurisdiction, however. As I said before, I almost sought full communion with the Russian Orthodox Church before finally became Roman Catholic. That was a decision based on what I believed was a clear doctrinal sway in favor of the Catholic Church. This is where the deposit of faith, the writings of the Early Fathers, becomes especially important. What positions did the Eastern Fathers have before the Great Schism? I believe that they overwhelmingly held the Roman Catholic positions and, except for St. Cyprian(?) at a certain point, they all seemed to clearly recognize the universal jurisdiction of St. Peter and his Successors over the Church. Many of the other Catholic Church doctrines that are in dispute today by the Eastern Church seemed to also be upheld and believed by the majority of Eastern Fathers.

But, that is what I believe. An Eastern Orthodox Christian will have a completely different perspective. And, please don't misunderstand me, my choice to be confirmed in the Catholic Church was not merely an intellectual endeavor. If I had the time I'd give you the details of the intense spiritual struggle I experienced, the grappling with my intellect, the difficulty of letting go of my own autonomy, etc. It was very intense and, though the search for truth began on an intellectual level, it surely ended with a severe test of faith... one that is not over yet, I assure you.

So, there you have it. I'm sure that my very basic answer may not be sufficient, but I tried. And now I must retire.

Thanks for spoiling my night of reading. Just kidding. I enjoyed trying to answer these questions to the best (or worst) of my ability.

Joseph said...


One more thing. You should probably try and find out some of the answers involving Catholic-Orthodox, Orthodox-Catholic conversions from a canon lawyer who would definitely be able to explain it in great detail and also give you a definitive answer (heresy or schism) on status of the convert. I cannot answer that question with my limited knowledge.

Thos said...

Joseph, Incredible response. Bravo. I note the hour at which you posted. Can I note this discussion in a new blog post to call attention to your response? I fully appreciate you only mean this as an amateur (vice expert) response, but it was fab. Then again, maybe other bloggers won't get giddy over canon law like I do.

Joseph said...


Your words are flattering, though I, for one, don't believe my reply was deserving of such praise. I hope I'm not being presumptuous by saying that your response must mean that my words were clear and easy to understand. I hope they were helpful.

I think that it is very thoughtful of you to ask me for permission to note this discussion in a new post, but it is your blog. I wouldn't want to have a say in how you run it.

As long as you understand that this was a friendly response to your question. I have no intention of debating the issues I covered, especially in a Protestant/Catholic debate format. Not only did my post contain some of my thoughts and understanding of the situation between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, but it also contains much on what irreparably divides the Protestants and the Catholic/Orthodox Churches:
The mystery of the Sacraments; Apostolic Succession; and the infallible Authority of the Magisterium.

These differences must be understood. That is why it is impossible for me to tarry too long in debate with Protestants. Our paths and understandings are completely divergent. Even the definition of Christian words have changed within the Protestant communion over time making it more difficult to prosperously communicate with one another.

One can set a clock to time how long it will take before Sacred Scripture and the Early Fathers are tossed recklessly into the fray during one of these debates. And, as you have been discovering in your quest for answers on the canon of Scripture, unless there is one authority who can infallibly interpret what is contained in Sacred Writ, anyone can make those Holy words mean anything they want them to mean. There is not one set of rules for determining the canon anywhere that matches up with another. There are dozens, hundreds, thousands of theories that abound and some people pick and choose from each of them or abandon them all together for their own. Along with that myriad of theories on the canon, there are tens of thousands of interpretations.

Because of this sad situation, Sacred Scripture and the Early Fathers absolutely cannot resolve the debate between Catholicism and Protestantism. I've said it before, what defines "Church" to Catholics does not define "church" to Protestants. Authentic and infallible Authority, authentic and infallible Apostolic Tradition, and authentic and infallible Sacred Scriptures are the first things that Catholics believe in before "Church" can be defined. Without the first two, the last, the infallible Word of God, cannot be interpreted in its fullness.

You continue to ask the question, and I paraphrase, by whose authority was the canon selected? There have been countless times that those who have answered you have said that the Scriptures themselves canonized the Scriptures. Well, maybe they did, but how? Who determined how they canonized themselves? The Scriptures? Ok, well, how? Who determined how the Scriptures determined how the Scriptures canonized themselves? The Scriptures? Ok, well, how? And on, and on, and on.

Ultimately it has to be said that the Holy Spirit was the guide. Through whom? The Holy Spirit. Ok, well, through whom? The Holy Spirit...

My point is, at one stage the answer to that question is going to have to be based on more than a merely intellectual discovery. If the Holy Spirit acted through men to canonize the collection words the Spirit wrote through other men, then it must be a mystery, no? After all, how was Jesus conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit? The answer applies to the canon of Scripture as well. If it is a mystery, how does one come to an absolute intellectual understanding? Is it not a choice of faith?

You will find that it will be impossible to fully understand matters of faith. That's why they call them "matters of faith". "I believe" is all you have to say in the end, then sufficient answers will be given to you (if you continue to ask your Heavenly Father, of course). God doesn't require you, nor did He give you the mind to understand all of His Mysteries. He just wants you to believe in Him and trust in Him (no, I'm not saying we are saved by "faith alone").

To me, it doesn't matter what you believe. I'm glad you gave me the opportunity to force my views on you. And you have been very courteous and friendly. I just hope you believe, not just superficially, not just after wrestling with your own intellect, but truly believe in what you can't explain. I hope that you can believe in mystery. The only way we will enter the Kingdom of Heaven is as a child.

You have received dozens of answers to your questions on the canon. Some of them were very detailed and interesting, some of them very convincing, and some of them were circular arguments.

My simple Catholic answer to your question is this: that is the way the Church has had it since the fourth century and how it was perfectly canonized, in order to protect the Sacred Writ from Catholics removing books like the Protestants had begun to do, in the sixteenth century. I have no further debate. The Magisterium, along with Tradition and Scripture, spoke. The democracy of the dead has spoken. I have no need to discuss it any further.

Joseph said...

Thos, my dear friend,

Though I would never intentionally put you through the pain of having to read a discussion on the canon between a Protestant and a Catholic, I have been intrigued by one recently. Perhaps you would like to eavesdrop as well.

It is the "Response to Theo" post. I find the language calm and the discussion very enjoyable. This is by far the most tactful discussion I've seen. Even I, a man of little patience, am like a timid lapdog while reading this post. It's so elegant and friendly it nearly coaxes me tenderly to sleep. Adam and Theo speak like loving brothers. I wish I had the charity of these two men.

Take a look and let me know if I'm exaggerating.

Your stubbornly Catholic friend,

Thos said...


You said, “unless there is one authority who can infallibly interpret what is contained in Sacred Writ, anyone can make those Holy words mean anything they want them to mean.” That has been my observation, but I think there’s an important qualification to be made. Just like when judges in our legal system manage to reach whatever conclusion they want “under” applicable law, when a person is straining to make their round ‘argument’ peg fit through a square ‘truth’ hole, the careful student will usually be able to see what is happening…

Re: the gyroscopic combat between Protestants and Catholics, you reminded me of a point on which I keep meaning to blog: w-i-t-n-e-s-s. The more I think on it, the more I think there’s an important deal of truth wrapped up in the notion for the student of early Christianity. We all believe in the Christ, and then disagree badly and where to go from his ascension onward (in time). We had direct witnesses alive for that generation, and after that we don’t agree on how to accept their testimony in light of the promise of the Holy Spirit’s continued presence. It seems like the mystery you noted relates to our taking witness testimony on faith.

I was somewhat surprised to hear you say that it doesn’t matter to you what I believe (maybe I took this wrong, maybe you say it because you don’t know me personally)… My wife asked me last night, “Why Catholic, or why Orthodox? What’s the point?” The answer is NOT that it does NOT matter. It matters all too much. If the Reformed Protestant view is right, then Catholics are committing “damnable idolatry”; I would be remiss to not call a Orthodox/Catholic away from such grave error. Conversely, if the Orthodox/Catholic view is right, then Protestants are severed from the grace of the sacraments; an Orthodox or Catholic would be remiss to not call that to their brother Christians’ attention.

I’m tired – this is probably horribly written. Thanks again for your charitable thoughts.

PS - I've been following the "Response to Theo" discussion, thanks!

Joseph said...


I suppose it would be wise to clarify my statement, "To me, it doesn't matter what you believe".

The fact is that not everyone is going to believe the same things. My family and friends don't believe what I believe about the Catholic Church. When they ask or the opportunity comes up, I try to enlighten them. But, I can't do or say anything that is going to make them change their minds. It isn't going to affect my relationship with them from my perspective. That's what I meant. I know it sounded harsh.

I pray for their conversion every time it comes to mind and I pray for unity between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. But, as far as trying to evangelize, I have seen how that is more harmful than helpful. Every Catholic convert I've met has the same or similar story. They started to question, then inquire, then read, then pray for help to understand the answers to their questions and the writings they've read. It begins with them.

I like your analogy of the judges. Though, the judges you speak of are secular. They aren't basing their decision on a collection of data that is considered infallible and from a divine source. If the Catholic Church is merely a man-made institution, then your analogy fits perfectly. But the Church has not changed Her doctrines for 2000 years. Our judges have had trouble redefining the constitution and the "doctrines" of our democracy in little more than 200 years. In fact, some even consider the American democracy as an experiment. In my opinion, it becomes harder to make our judges interpretations of the constitution analogous with the Magisterium's interpretations of the Sacred Scritpures in that sense. You don't have to agree with me, of course.