When is Apostolic Succession Valid?

pope-francis-greets-archbishop-of-canterbury-justin-welbyMany Anglicans–especially members of  the breakaway groups–seem to think that apostolic orders are like pedigrees for dogs: if you have the paperwork to prove it your doggie is a show dog.

But apostolic succession is more than the paperwork.

Anglicans like to point to the fact that Church of England bishops have had their orders validated by being ordained by bishops from the Old Catholic Church. While their paperwork may all be in order, there is still an awful lot that is not in order.

For apostolic succession to be fully active and fully valid the person ordained needs to be in a living, active and full communion with the successor of Peter. Peter was the head of the apostles at the beginning and he still is today. Imagine what it would have been like if St Timothy, who was ordained by St Paul, had said, “I have the apostolic succession, but I am of the Pauline Church, not the Petrine.”

In fact St Paul warned about this very thing when he first wrote to the Corinthians

I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”;another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?

The emphasis is on our shared baptism into Christ, but the implication is also that there is to be unity, and that unity–throughout the New Testament is unity with the teaching and ministry of the Apostles with Peter at the head–not following Peter to the exclusion of the others.

The same thread runs through all the teaching of the apostolic fathers of the church.

It is true that some Anglicans may have valid paperwork for their orders, but then if they are so intent on being one with the apostolic church whey don’t they go ahead and join it?

From this perspective an ordinary Catholic priest has orders that are more valid than the the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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