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Tradition / Church Fathers
I. The Church Has Apostolic Succession
"And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture a certain place, 'I will appoint their bishops s in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.'... Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry...For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties." Pope Clement, Epistle to Corinthians, 42, 44 (A.D. 98).
"For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ off God? And what is the presbytery but a sacred assembly, the counselors and assessors of the bishop? And what are the deacons but imitators of the angelic powers, fulfilling a pure and blameless ministry unto him, as…Anencletus and Clement to Peter?" Ignatius, To the Trallians, 7 (A.D. 110).
"Hegesippus in the five books of Memoirs which have come down to us has left a most complete record of his own views. In them he states that on a journey to Rome he met a great many bishops, and that he received the same doctrine from all. It is fitting to hear what he says after making some remarks about the epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. His words are as follows: 'And the church of Corinth continued in the true faith until Primus was bishop in Corinth. I conversed with them on my way to Rome, and abode with the Corinthians many days, during which we were mutually refreshed in the true doctrine. And when I had come to Rome I remained a there until Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus. And Anicetus was succeeded by Soter, and he by Eleutherus. In every succession, and in every city that is held which is preached by the law and the prophets and the Lord.'" Hegesippus, Memoirs, fragment in Eusebius Ecclesiatical History, 4:22 (A.D. 180).
"True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy; and [above all, it consists in] the pre-eminent gift of love, which is more precious than knowledge, more glorious than prophecy, and which excels all the other gifts [of God]." Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 4:33:8 (A.D. 180).
"But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst Of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,--a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. …To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine…Then let all the heresies, when challenged to these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith." Tertullian, Prescription against the Heretics, 33 (A.D. 200).
"And that you may still be more confident, that repenting thus truly there remains for you a sure hope of salvation, listen to a tale? Which is not a tale but a narrative, handed down and committed to the custody of memory, about the Apostle John. For when, on the tyrant's death, he returned to Ephesus from the isle of Patmos, he went away, being invited, to the contiguous territories of the nations, here to appoint bishops, there to set in order whole Churches, there to ordain such as were marked out by the Spirit." Clement of Alexandria, Who is the rich man that shall be save?, 42 (A.D. 210).
"We are not to credit these men, nor go out from the first and the ecclesiastical tradition; nor to believe otherwise than as the churches of God have by succession transmitted to us." Origen, Commentary on Matthew (post A.D. 244).
"Our Lord, whose precepts and admonitions we ought to observe, describing the honour of a bishop and the order of His Church, speaks in the Gospel, and says to Peter: 'I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the Church is founded upon the bishops, and every act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers." Cyprian, To the Lapsed, 1 (A.D. 250).
"Therefore the power of remitting sins was given to the apostles, and to the churches which they, sent by Christ, established, and to the bishops who succeeded to them by vicarious ordination." Firmilian, To Cyprian, Epistle 75:16 (A.D. 256).
"It is my purpose to write an account of the successions of the holy apostles, as well as of the times which have elapsed from the days of our Saviour to our own; and to relate the many important events which are said to have occurred in the history of the Church; and to mention those who have governed and presided over the Church in the most prominent parishes, and those who in each generation have proclaimed the divine word either orally or in writing... When Nero was in the eighth year of his reign, Annianus succeeded Mark the evangelist in the administration of the parish of Alexandria...Linus ...was Peter's successor in the episcopate of the church there...Clement also, who was appointed third bishop of the church at Rome." Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History,1:1,2:24, (A.D. 325).
"Lo! In these three successions, as in a mystery and a figure ... Under the three pastors,--there were manifold shepherds" Ephraem, Nisbene Hymns, The Bishops of Nisibis (Jacob, Babu, Valgesh), 13,14 (A.D. 350).
"[W]hile before your election you lived to yourself, after it, you live for your flock. And before you had received the grace of the episcopate, no one knew you; but after you became one, the laity expect you to bring them food, namely instruction from the Scriptures ... For if all were of the same mind as your present advisers, how would you have become a Christian, since there would be no bishops? Or if our successors are to inherit this state of mind, how will the Churches be able to hold together?" Athanasius, To Dracontius, Epistle 49 (A.D. 355).
"[B]elieve as we believe, we, who are, by succession from the blessed apostles, bishops; confess as we and they have confessed, the only Son of God, and thus shalt thou obtain forgiveness for thy numerous crimes." Lucifer of Calaris, On St. Athanasius (A.D. 361).
"[W]e shall not recede from the faith ... as once laid it continues even to this say, through the tradition of the fathers, according to the succession from the apostles, even to the discussion had at Nicea against the heresy which had, at that period, sprung up." Hilary of Poitiers, History Fragment 7 (ante A.D. 367).
"[D]uring the days of that Anicetus, bishop of Rome, who succeeded Pius and his predecessors, For, in Rome, Peter and Paul were the first both apostles and bishops; then came Linus, then Cletus ... However the succession of the bishops in Rome was in the following order. Peter and Paul, and Cletus, Clement..." Epiphanius, Panarion, 27:6 (A.D. 377).
"He [St. Athanasius] is led up to the throne of Saint Mark, to succeed him in piety, no less than in office; in the latter indeed at a great distance from him, in the former, which is the genuine right of succession, following him closely. For unity in doctrine deserves unity in office; and a rival teacher sets up a rival throne; the one is a successor in reality, the other but in name. For it is not the intruder, but he whose rights are intruded upon, who is the successor, not the lawbreaker, but the lawfully appointed, not the man of contrary opinions, but the man of the same faith; if this is not what we mean by successor, he succeeds in the same sense as disease to health, darkness to light, storm to calm, and frenzy to sound sense." Gregory of Nazianzen, Oration 21:8 (A.D. 380).
"For they [Novatians] have not the succession of Peter, who hold not the chair of Peter, which they rend by wicked schism; and this, too, they do, wickedly denying that sins can be forgiven even in the Church, whereas it was said to Peter: 'I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven.'" Ambrose, Concerning Repentance, 7:33 (A.D. 384).
"It has been ordained by the apostles and their successors, that nothing be read in the Catholic Church, except the law, and the prophets, and the Gospels." Philastrius of Brescia, On Heresies (ante A.D. 387).
"If the lineal succession of bishops is to be considered with how much more benefit to the Church do we reckon from Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it!' For to Peter succeeded Linus, Clement...Damsus, Sircius, Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is too be found." Augustine, To Generosus, Epistle 53:2 (A.D. 400).
"Let a bishop be ordained by three or two bishops; but if any one be ordained by one bishop, let him be deprived, both himself and he that ordained him. But if there be a necessity that he have only one to ordain him, because more bishops cannot come together, as in time of persecution, or for such like causes, let him bring the suffrage of permission from more bishops." Apostolic Constitutions, 8:27 (A.D. 400).
"For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: 'Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it !' The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these: -- Clement, Anacletus, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Iginus, Anicetus, Pius, Soter, Eleutherius, Victor, Zephirinus, Calixtus, Urbanus, Pontianus, Antherus, Fabianus, Cornelius, Lucius, Stephanus, Xystus, Dionysius, Felix, Eutychianus, Gaius, Marcellinus, Marcellus, Eusebius, Miltiades, Sylvester, Marcus, Julius, Liberius, Damasus, and Siricius, whose successor is the present Bishop Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop is found. But, reversing the natural course of things, the Donatists sent to Rome from Africa an ordained bishop, who, putting himself at the head of a few Africans in the great metropolis, gave some notoriety to the name of "mountain men," or Cutzupits, by which they were known." Augustine, To Generosus, Epistle 53:2 (A.D. 400).
"'To the fellow-Bishops and Deacons." What is this? Were there several Bishops of one city? Certainly not; but he called the Presbyters so. For then they still interchanged the titles, and the Bishop was called a Deacon. For this cause in writing to Timothy, he said, "Fulfill thy ministry,' when he was a Bishop. For that he was a Bishop appears by his saying to him, 'Lay hands hastily on no man.' (1 Tim. v. 22.) And again, 'Which was given thee with the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery.' (1 Tim. iv. 14.) Yet Presbyters would not have laid hands on a Bishop. And again, in writing to Titus, he says, 'For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest appoint elders in every city, as I gave thee charge. If any man is blameless, the husband of one wife' (Tit. i. 5, 6); which he says of the Bishop. And after saying this, he adds immediately, 'For the Bishop must be blameless, as God's steward, not self willed:' (Tit. i. 7.)" John Chrysostom, Homilies on Phillipians, 1:1 (A.D. 404).
"And to Timothy he says: 'Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.'… For even at Alexandria from the time of Mark the Evangelist until the episcopates of Heraclas and Dionysius the presbyters always named as bishop one of their own number chosen by themselves and set in a more exalted position, just as an army elects a general, or as deacons appoint one of themselves whom they know to be diligent and call him archdeacon. For what function excepting ordination, belongs to a bishop that does not also belong to a presbyter? It is not the case that there is one church at Rome and another in all the world beside. Gaul and Britain, Africa and Persia, India and the East worship one Christ and observe one rule of truth. If you ask for authority, the world outweighs its capital. Wherever there is a bishop, whether it be at Rome or at Engubium, whether it be at Constantinople or at Rhegium, whether it be at Alexandria or at Zoan, his dignity is one and his priesthood is one. Neither the command of wealth nor the lowliness of poverty makes him more a bishop or less a bishop. All alike are successors of the apostles." Jerome, To Evangelus, Epistle 146:1 (ante A.D. 420).
"We must strive therefore in common to keep the faith which has come down to us to-day, through the Apostolic Succession." Pope Celestine [regn A.D. 422-432], To the Council of Ephesus, Epistle 18 (A.D. 431).
"Examples there are without number: but to be brief, we will take one, and that, in preference to others, from the Apostolic See, so that it may be clearer than day to every one with how great energy, with how great zeal, with how great earnestness, the blessed successors of the blessed apostles have constantly defended the integrity of the religion which they have once received." Vincent of Lerins, Commonitory for the Antiquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith 6:15 (A.D. 434).
"Moreover, with respect to a certain bishop who, as the aforesaid magnificent men have told us, is prevented by infirmity of the head from administering his office, we have written to our brother and fellow-bishop Etherius, that if he should have intervals of freedom from this infirmity, he should make petition, declaring that he is not competent to fill his own place, and requesting that another be ordained to his Church. For during the life of a bishop, whom not his own fault but sickness, withdraws from the administration of his office, the sacred canons by no means allow another to be ordained in his place. But, if he at no time recovers the exercise of a sound mind, a person should be sought adorned with good life and conversation, who may be able both to take charge of souls, and look with salutary control after the causes and interests of the same church; and he should be such as may succeed to the bishop's place in case of his surviving him. But, if there are any to be promoted to a sacred order, or to any clerical ministry, we have ordained that the matter is to be reserved and announced to our aforesaid most reverend brother Etherius, provided it belong to his diocese, so that, enquiry having then been made, if the persons are subject to no fault which the sacred canons denounce, he himself may ordain them. Pope Gregory the Great [regn. A.D. 590-604], Epistle 6 (A.D. 602).