I. Ordained Leaders Share in Jesus’ Ministry and Authority

Matt. 10:1,40 – Jesus declares to His apostles, “he who receives you, receives Me, and he who rejects you, rejects Me and the One who sent Me.” Jesus freely gives His authority to the apostles in order for them to effectively convert the world.

Matt. 16:19; 18:18 – the apostles are given Christ’s authority to make visible decisions on earth that will be ratified in heaven. God raises up humanity in Christ by exalting his chosen leaders and endowing them with the authority and grace they need to bring about the conversion of all. Without a central authority in the Church, there would be chaos (as there is in Protestantism).

Luke 9:1; 10:19 – Jesus gives the apostles authority over the natural and the supernatural (diseases, demons, serpents, and scorpions).

Luke 10:16 – Jesus tells His apostles, “he who hears you, hears Me.” When we hear the bishops’ teaching on the faith, we hear Christ Himself.

Luke 22:29 – the Father gives the kingdom to the Son, and the Son gives the kingdom to the apostles. The gift is transferred from the Father to the Son to the apostles.

Num 16:28 – the Father’s authority is transferred to Moses. Moses does not speak on his own. This is a real transfer of authority.

John 5:30 – similarly, Jesus as man does nothing of His own authority, but He acts under the authority of the Father.

John 7:16-17 – Jesus as man states that His authority is not His own, but from God. He will transfer this authority to other men.

John 8:28 – Jesus says He does nothing on His own authority. Similarly, the apostles will do nothing on their own authority. Their authority comes from God.

John 12:49 – The father’s authority is transferred to the Son. The Son does not speak on his own. This is a transfer of divine authority.

John 13:20 – Jesus says, “he who receives anyone who I send, receives Me.” He who receives the apostles, receives Christ Himself. He who rejects the apostles and their successors, rejects Christ.

John 14:10 – Jesus says the Word He speaks is not His own authority, but from the Father. The gift is from the Father to Jesus to the apostles.

John 16:14-15 – what the Father has, the Son has, and the Son gives it to the apostles. The authority is not lessened or mitigated.

John 17:18; 20:21 – as the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the apostles. The apostles have divinely appointed authority.

Acts 20:28 – the apostles are shepherds and guardians appointed by the Holy Spirit / 1 Peter 2:25 – Jesus is the Shepherd and Guardian. The apostles, by the power of the Spirit, share Christ’s ministry and authority.

Jer. 23:1-8; Ezek. 34:1-10 – the shepherds must shepherd the sheep, or they will be held accountable by God.

Eph. 2:20 – the Christian faith is built upon the foundation of the apostles. The word “foundation” proves that it does not die with apostles, but carries on through succession.

Eph. 2:20; Rev. 21:9,14 – the words “household,” “Bride of the Lamb,” the “new Jerusalem” are all metaphors for the Church whose foundation is the apostles.

Authority is Transferred by the Sacrament of Ordination

Acts 1:15-26 – the first thing Peter does after Jesus ascends into heaven is implement apostolic succession. Matthias is ordained with full apostolic authority. Only the Catholic Church can demonstrate an unbroken apostolic lineage to the apostles in union with Peter through the sacrament of ordination and thereby claim to teach with Christ’s own authority.

Acts 1:20 – a successor of Judas is chosen. The authority of his office (his “bishopric”) is respected notwithstanding his egregious sin. The necessity to have apostolic succession in order for the Church to survive was understood by all. God never said, “I’ll give you leaders with authority for about 400 years, but after the Bible is compiled, you are all on your own.”

Acts 1:22 – literally, “one must be ordained” to be a witness with us of His resurrection. Apostolic ordination is required in order to teach with Christ’s authority.

Acts 6:6 – apostolic authority is transferred through the laying on of hands (ordination). This authority has transferred beyond the original twelve apostles as the Church has grown.

Acts 9:17-19 – even Paul, who was directly chosen by Christ, only becomes a minister after the laying on of hands by a bishop. This is a powerful proof-text for the necessity of sacramental ordination in order to be a legitimate successor of the apostles.

Acts 13:3 – apostolic authority is transferred through the laying on of hands (ordination). This authority must come from a Catholic bishop.

Acts 14:23 – the apostles and newly-ordained men appointed elders to have authority throughout the Church.

Acts 15:22-27 – preachers of the Word must be sent by the bishops in union with the Church. We must trace this authority to the apostles.

2 Cor. 1:21-22 – Paul writes that God has commissioned certain men and sealed them with the Holy Spirit as a guarantee.

Col 1:25 – Paul calls his position a divine “office.” An office has successors. It does not terminate at death. Or it’s not an office. See also Heb. 7:23 – an office continues with another successor after the previous office-holder’s death.

1 Tim. 3:1 – Paul uses the word “episcopoi” (bishop) which requires an office. Everyone understood that Paul’s use of episcopoi and office meant it would carry on after his death by those who would succeed him.

1 Tim. 4:14 – again, apostolic authority is transferred through the laying on of hands (ordination).

1 Tim. 5:22 – Paul urges Timothy to be careful in laying on the hands (ordaining others). The gift of authority is a reality and cannot be used indiscriminately.

2 Tim. 1:6 – Paul again reminds Timothy the unique gift of God that he received through the laying on of hands.

2 Tim. 4:1-6 – at end of Paul’s life, Paul charges Timothy with the office of his ministry . We must trace true apostolic lineage back to a Catholic bishop.

2 Tim. 2:2 – this verse shows God’s intention is to transfer authority to successors (here, Paul to Timothy to 3rd to 4th generation). It goes beyond the death of the apostles.

Titus 1:5; Luke 10:1 – the elders of the Church are appointed and hold authority. God has His children participate in Christ’s work.

1 John 4:6 – whoever knows God listens to us (the bishops and the successors to the apostles). This is the way we discern truth and error (not just by reading the Bible and interpreting it for ourselves).

Exodus 18:25-26 – Moses appoints various heads over the people of God. We see a hierarchy, a transfer of authority and succession.

Exodus 40:15 – the physical anointing shows that God intended a perpetual priesthood with an identifiable unbroken succession.

Numbers 3:3 – the sons of Aaron were formally “anointed” priests in “ordination” to minister in the priests’ “office.”

Numbers 16:40 – shows God’s intention of unbroken succession within His kingdom on earth. Unless a priest was ordained by Aaron and his descendants, he had no authority.

Numbers 27:18-20 – shows God’s intention that, through the “laying on of hands,” one is commissioned and has authority.

Deut. 34:9 – Moses laid hands upon Joshua, and because of this, Joshua was obeyed as successor, full of the spirit of wisdom.

Sirach 45:15 – Moses ordains Aaron and anoints him with oil. There is a transfer of authority through formal ordination.

Jesus Christ Wants Us to Obey Apostolic Authority

Acts 5:13 – the people acknowledged the apostles’ special authority and did not dare take it upon themselves.

Acts 15:6,24; 16:4 – the teaching authority is granted to the apostles and their successors. This teaching authority must be traced to the original apostles, or the authority is not sanctioned by Christ.

Rom. 15:16 – Paul says he is a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable. This refers to the ministerial priesthood of the ordained which is distinguishable from the universal priesthood of the laity. Notice the Gentiles are the “sacrifice” and Paul does the “offering.”

1 Cor. 5:3-5; 16:22; 1 Tim. 1:20; Gal 1:8; Matt 18:17 – these verses show the authority of the elders to excommunicate / anathemize (“deliver to satan”).

2 Cor. 2:17 – Paul says the elders are not just random peddlers of God’s word. They are actually commissioned by God. It is not self-appointed authority.

2 Cor. 3:6 – Paul says that certain men have been qualified by God to be ministers of a New Covenant. This refers to the ministerial priesthood of Christ handed down the ages through sacramental ordination.

2 Cor. 5:20 – Paul says we are “ambassadors” for Christ. This means that the apostles and their successors share an actual participation in Christ’s mission, which includes healing, forgiving sins, and confecting the sacraments.

2 Cor. 10:6 – in reference to the ordained, Paul says that they are ready to punish every disobedience. The Church has the authority excommunicate those who disobey her.

2 Cor. 10:8 – Paul acknowledges his authority over God’s people which the Lord gave to build up the Church.

1 Thess. 5:12-13 – Paul charges the members of the Church to respect those who have authority over them.

2 Thess. 3:14 – Paul says if a person does not obey what he has provided in his letter, have nothing to do with him.

1 Tim. 5:17 – Paul charges the members of the Church to honor the appointed elders (“priests”) of the Church.

Titus 2:15 – Paul charges Timothy to exhort and reprove with all authority, which he received by the laying on of hands.

Heb. 12:9 – in the context of spiritual discipline, the author says we have had earthly fathers (referring to the ordained leaders) to discipline us and we respected them.

Heb. 13:7,17 – Paul charges the members of the Church to remember and obey their leaders who have authority over their souls.

1 Peter 2:18 – Peter charges the servants to be submissive to their masters whether kind and gentle or overbearing.

1 Peter 5:5; Jude 8 – Peter and Jude charge the members of the Church to be subject to their elders.

2 Peter 2:10 – Peter warns the faithful about despising authority. He is referring to the apostolic authority granted to them by Christ.

3 John 9 – John points out that Diotrephes does not acknowledge John’s apostolic authority and declares that this is evil.

Deut. 17:10-13 – the Lord commands His faithful Israel to obey the priests that He puts in charge, and do to all that they direct and instruct. The Lord warns that those who do not obey His priests shall die.

Num. 16:1-35 – Korah incited a “protestant” rebellion against God’s chosen Moses in an effort to confuse the distinction between the ministerial and universal offices of priesthood, and Korah and his followers perished. (This effort to blind the distinctions between the priests and the laity is still pursued by dissidents today.)

Sirach 7:29-30 – with all your soul fear the Lord and honor His priests, love your Maker and do not forsake His ministers. God is not threatened by the authority He gives His children! God, as our Loving Father, invites us to participate in His plan of salvation with His Son Jesus. Without authority in the Church, there is error, chaos and confusion.

Tradition/Church Fathers

“Through Our Lord Jesus Christ our Apostles knew that there would be strife over the office of episcopacy. Accordingly, since they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those men already mentioned. And they afterwards gave instructions that when those men would fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry. Therefore, we are of the opinion that those appointed by the Apostles, or afterwards by other acclaimed men, with the consent of the whole church, and who have blamelessly served the flock of Christ in a humble, peaceable, and disinterested spirit, and have for a long time possessed the good opinion of all, cannot be justly dismissed from the ministry.” St. Clement Of Rome, “The Epistle Of Clement To The Corinthians,” c. 96 A.D.”When we refer them to that tradition which originates from the Apostles, which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the churches, they object to Tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but than even the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“Therefore, it is within the power of all in every church who may wish to see the Truth to examine clearly the Tradition of the Apostles manifested throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to reckon up those who were instituted bishops in the churches by the Apostles, and the succession of these men to our own times…. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries…they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the churches themselves. For they were desirous that these men should be very perfect and blameless in all things, whom also they were leaving behind as their successors, delivering up their own place of government to these men.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical Tradition from the Apostles, and the preaching of the Truth, have come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same life-giving faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the Apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“It is necessary to obey the presbyters who are in the Church – those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the Apostles. For those presbyters, together with the succession of the bishops, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But we should hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever. For they are either heretics or perverse minds, or else they are schismatics who are puffed up and self-pleasing…. Therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof from all such persons and to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, hold the doctrine of the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“It behooves us to learn the Truth from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the Apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech….” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

“No one will refute these heretics except the Holy Spirit bequeathed unto the Church, which the Apostles – having received in the first instance – have transmitted to those who have rightly believed. But we, as being their successors and as participators in this grace, high priesthood, and office of teaching – as well as being reputed guardians of the Church – must not be found deficient in vigilance.” St. Hippolytus, “Refutation Of All Heresies,” c. 225 A.D.

“He cannot be reckoned as a bishop who succeeds no one. For he has despised the evangelical and Apostolic traditions, springing from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way…. How can he be esteemed a pastor, who succeeds to no one, but begins from himself? For the true shepherd remains and presides over the Church of God by successive ordination. Therefore, the other one becomes a stranger and a profane person, an enemy of the Lord’s peace.” St. Cyprian Of Carthage, “Letter To Magnus,” c. 250 A.D.

“The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are plain that He sent His Apostles and gave to them alone the power that had been given to Him by His Father. And we have succeeded to them, governing the Lord’s Church with the same power.” Seventh Council Of Carthage, c. 256 A.D.


  1. Russell,

    I apologise if I’m misjudging you but I get the feeling you are setting traps for me. I have no intention of falling into them.

    The Catholic Church has been faithful to Christ’s teaching and all of divine revelation for 2000 years – that is because Christ’s Church is founded on the rock of Peter. Sadly, some disobedient and unfaithful priests, like Martin Luther and John Knox, decided they knew better and so we have countless Protestant sects, all trying to prove to themselves that Christ didn’t, in fact, mean it when He promised to be with His Church until the end of time.

    So, allow me to ask YOU a question for a change. Given the elementary tenet of Protestantism, which is literal interpretation of Sacred Scripture, would you explain why Protestants do not interpret, literally, Christ’s words to Peter: “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church …. gates of Hell will never prevail against it…” and St. John’s Gospel, chapter 6: “unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you cannot have life in you…”?

    To date, no Protestant has ever offered a satisfactory explanation of these (and many other) scriptural texts which support Catholic doctrine.

    What about you? Can YOU explain them?

  2. Russell,

    I’m not the one guilty of sophistry. I have answered your questions more than adequately.

    If Prince William killed Prince Charles, to take the throne (as happened often in history) would he be a lawful heir?

    It’s a daft question. It may have happened in the past, but it certainly wouldn’t happen now.

    If you know anything about history, you will know it can only be understood in the context of those times, not in the context of modern times.

    Canon Law NOW sets out a clear manner of electing a pope. It was not always so. But – and I repeat this truth with a certain weariness – no matter the manner of electing a Pope or appointing or whatever, the promise and gift of infallibility has notfailed. Live with it.

    It seems very simple and clear to me. You, however, have set yourself the task of trying to prove that the papacy has not been a continuous succession (as plenty before you have tried and failed, equally spectacularly).

    So, why not move on…

    Why not answer MY questions about Scripture?

  3. Patricia,

    Relax, I’m still here, and I certainly intend to answer your questions.

    First of all, I don’t have a fixation with murderous Cardinals. The example I used seemed to illustrate my point so well, that’s why I kept using it. And my point has been that anyone acquiring any kind of office (especially a church office) by murder is an illegitimate holder of that office. The same goes for the one who acquires it by simony or sexual favors. Even the secular world doesn’t do this (openly, at least). Should their standards be higher than that of the Catholic Church?

    This truth has been my point all along, but it seems that not many Catholics are willing to admit the full implications of this. Obtaining the office of pope by unlawful and immoral means, equals an illegitimate pope, which equals an illegitimate link in the supposedly unbroken, uninterrupted, chain of “apostolic succession.” The Catholic version of apostolic succession sounds really good, but it simply does not work. It has failed multiple times because of these “broken links.” Catholics read way too much into the Scriptures that were used in the main article above. Biblical apostolic succession is, as I said before, simply taking the truth which Jesus and the apostles taught, as revealed in the Scriptures, and passing this on.

    I’m not sure if it is proper to deal with these other issues in this part of this blog, since they are not the same topic, but I will briefly answer your questions. Concerning John 6 and the Eucharist, you can click on my name above to access my blog, and you will find a three-part article on the Eucharist. Concerning Matthew 16:18 and the verses following, “Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church …. gates of Hell will never prevail against it…”, again, Catholics read way too much into this passage.

    When Jesus says, “Upon this rock,” He is speaking of the truth of Peter’s words in verse 16, “Thou art the Christ, the son of the Living God.” The church of Jesus Christ is not, and cannot, be built upon a mere man (Peter, or anyone else). It is His own church, “upon this rock I will build MY church.” It is Jesus, Himself, Who is infallible, not His church. There is absolutely no indication in Scripture that the post-apostolic church was to be infallible.

    Again, this is just a brief comment on your questions, but I hope it helps you see where I’m coming from.

  4. Russell,

    I’m afraid I know only too well from whence you come! You come from a Protestant perspective and I have looked at your website. You are determined to disprove apostolic succession and you think that “simony” or by whatever other sin, popes in history came to their office means that a particular pope was not a pope – even though I have already answered this. You don’t like the answers, so you just repeat the question. The fact is, as I’ve already said, that even if Cardinal Kasper murdered Pope Benedict, rigged the vote and got himself elected, he wouldn’t change a single doctrine of the Faith. If he does not repent, big time of his sin, of course, he’ll end up in Hell and, whatever, even if he repents and that big time, he’s likely to spend a heck of a long part of his eternity in Purgatory! No pope is impeccable – without sin – no pope is divine. Just guaranteed a certain grace to ensure that no false doctrine which will keep us out of Heaven, is made binding on the Faithful.

    Regarding your un-surprising comments on Scripture (given that you are Protestant)it is little short of astonishing how you can ignore 2000 years of Church Fathers on the matter of divine revelation through Scripture. YOU just decide that Jesus didn’t mean this or that. A risky strategy, given that there are a number of places in the New Testament where we’re taught clearly that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth – not Scripture. The Church interprets Scripture for us – or so we’re taught in the New Testament. You don’t accept that either.

    You are a true son of Luther! But Luther, remember, was a failed Catholic priest. Wonder where he is now????

    Do you really think that if the apostolic succession could so easily be disproved, some giant brain like the many highly intelligent converts from Anglicanism and other branches of Protestantism, wouldn’t have done so? Cardinal Newman, Chesterton – the list would be endless if I had the time to type it up.

    Basically, Russell, I’ve already told you that, while Canon Law requires a certain form of papal election now (which could change tomorrow) it was not always thus and the main thing is NOT the process of selecting a pope but the integrity of doctrine throughout history – I’ve already explained this and just don’t have the time to keep repeating the same information. If Pope Benedict died tomorrow, it would be important, of course, to keep to the (current) law on electing his successor. But if Pope Benedict should decide to change the formula (again – it was his first action on becoming Pope to reverse the law introduced by Pope John Paul II, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned above) then that new formula would be lawful.

    Laws change, Russell – ask any lawyer, judge or legal secretary.

    I think we’ve exhausted this topic, Russell, and since nobody is ever going to disprove apostolic succession because it cannot be disproved, let’s call it a day.

    God bless.
    (PS if you’re ever over here in Scotland, warn me….!)

  5. Dear Russell,

    Surely you have heard and read these words: ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.’ (Luke 11) This quote of Jesus within scripture comes, of course, following His having dispelled a bad spirit. Those who witnessed the action either attributed His actions as coming from the Devil, or they sought a (further) sign from Heaven. In a similar manner, this is where I think this conversation of ours on succession resides. Neither the Church nor other commentators here, including myself, recognizes any “predicament” concerning her teachings on the matter versus the facts of history. Those of us who are “with” Him recognize spiritually that the work of the Father in establishing and maintaining the Church on the foundation of the Apostles and their successors in the world [Eph. 2: 20-21] until the Glory [Apocalypse 21: 14] are the work(s) of God with Christ as Head; and so, there is no need for further validation.

    What isn’t so clear in reading over the various posts since I’ve been absent (my apologies, by the way) is the spiritual reason(s) underlying your purpose here, which, I mentioned in my first post and you chose not to follow-up on. If it’s true that you’re a former 20-year-long Catholic then from our perspective it is not we that are in a predicament but you yourself. Hence, my remarks stating that it’s not uncommon for former Catholics to display a “spirit” of finding fault(s) with the Church to support their position–thus perhaps, explaining the reason for your inability to be convinced of the divine commission (either by word or deed) of her Founder or followers concerning the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

    After reading over replies to your questions here it seems they’ve been answered (perhaps not to your satisfaction), making this redundant, but, hopefully helpful… I found this on the Dave Armstrong site:

    Catholic apologist Patrick Madrid, in his book, Pope Fiction (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1999) offers a fitting summary:
    Clearly, Christ entrusted the role of Apostle to weak, even at times wicked men, But does that fact somehow disqualify them from fulfilling the purpose for which He called them? Of course not. God’s grace is more powerful than man’s sin, and the same is true when it comes to the papacy.

    Yes, there have been some wicked popes. Corruption, immorality, even murder, were sins committed by some bishops of Rome. But what does that prove, except that they, like the Apostles, were not always faithful to the graces God gave them? This is true of all of us, to one extent or another. The fact that there have been bad popes — and that’s a fact no Catholic disputes — does not disprove the doctrine of the papacy.

    . . . The fact is, most of the popes have been good — even heroically good — men. They have been, on the whole, good examples of Christian virtue and perseverance in the apostolate. That fact is very easily forgotten by critics of the papacy.

    (pp. 131-132)

    Madrid goes on to cite the example of the high priest Caiaphas in the Bible during the time of Jesus, and how God used a sinful man, even a wicked one, to “utter inspired prophecy” (John 11:49-55). Another example he gives is the authority of the Jews who occupied the “seat of Moses” (Matthew 23:1-3). We need not mention Judas, whom the Lord Himself chose (and he is called an apostle along with the others), and the weak example of the first pope, Peter, whom Jesus called Satan (Matthew 16:23), and who denied Jesus (John 13:38).

    Posted by Dave Armstrong

    Here’s some further information:

    Papal Succession

    Issue: How is a pope elected? How do the faithful know that a papal election is valid? Who can be elected? Who is typically elected?
    Response: As a matter of faith, the Church teaches that as long as the Church exists God will provide a valid succession of popes.

    As the First Vatican Council dogmatically pronounced:

    Therefore, if anyone says that it is not according to the institution of Christ our Lord himself, that is, by divine law, that St. Peter should have perpetual successors in the primacy over the whole Church; or if anyone says that the Roman Pontiff is not the successor of St. Peter in the same primacy, anathema sit [i.e., “Let him be accursed.]
    Legally, anyone who can receive the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders can be elected. Typically, however, the pope is chosen from among the Church’s cardinals.

    Discussion: God founded the Church and swore to sustain it until the end of time, in part, by sustaining the papacy. An enduring papacy is one of the fruits of the Church “indefectibility,” that is, that the Catholic Church will not perish nor otherwise fundamentally change.

    While God guarantees that a validly elected pope will succeed a deceased one, He did not prescribe a specific process by which papal vacancies are filled. Consequently, the Church has employed different methods to select or elect popes. Popes serve as the Bishop of Rome, and some early popes, including St. Peter, may have appointed their successors. If so, it soon came to be in the Early Church that the clergy and lay people of Rome elected the pope, as clergy and lay people in other dioceses chose their bishops.

    Political leaders have also influenced the election of popes. Byzantine emperors beginning with Justinian I (527-65) claimed the right to “approve” an election. While not conceding such approval was necessary to their election, validly elected popes accommodated these political leaders to “keep the peace.” Money, civil authorities and powerful families would also affect papal elections in later Church history as well.

    Following the eighth century, only Roman clergy could serve as papal electors, and this tradition endured into the early part of the second millennium. In addition, the man normally elected pope was simply a priest, not a bishop. This is because bishops were “married” to their dioceses and it was thought that bishops should not leave their dioceses for another, even for Rome. Pope Formosus, a bishop when elected to the papacy, was an early exception to this tradition (891-96) and a source of controversy. A successor, Pope Stephen VI, exhumed the corpse of Formosus, putting the late pontiff on trial for, among other “crimes,” abandoning his diocese. Unfortunately for both Stephen and the memory of Formosus, the charism of infallibility does not extend to Church governance. Stephen declared the ordination, election, and consecration of Formosus to be invalid and had his body tossed into the nearby Tiber River. A few weeks later Stephen himself was killed by strangulation. Subsequent Popes corrected Stephen’s abuse of authority, declaring the pontificate and acts of Formosus to be valid and lawful.[1]

    The idea of cardinals as papal electors developed over time. Since the early Church, popes have appointed cardinals to serve the Papacy as counselors and ecclesiastical superiors. Because of their office, they usually would be in or near Rome. In the eleventh century, though, Pope Leo IX (1049-54) began appointing bishops in distant lands as cardinals. In 1059, Pope Nicholas II (1059-61) restricted papal elections to cardinal bishops. In 1079, Alexander III modified the system to include all cardinal clergy. The Church’s cardinals have elected all popes since then but one, the exception being the election that ended the Great Western Schism in 1417. The roots of that great ecclesiastical crisis date to the days of the “Avignon Papacy,” when popes governed the Church from Avignon, France, not Rome, from 1309-77. Pope Gregory XI, heeding the counsel of St. Catherine of Siena, returned the papacy’s headquarters to Rome in January 1377. Urban VI, Archbishop of Bari, Italy, succeeded Gregory in 1378. While he possessed ample executive skills, he lacked the prudence to implement them. He was considered “irascible, hot-tempered, stubborn, and inconsiderate in the extreme.”[2] His intemperate plan to reform the Vatican curia alienated a number of bishops, who decided to elect another “pope,” Clement VII (1378-94). While Urban certainly contributed to the schism, the chief responsibility must be borne by the cardinals who elected Clement, thereby breaking communion with the pontiff and the Church in general. Urban VI was validly succeeded by Boniface IX (1389-1404), Innocent VII (1404-06), and Gregory XII, who voluntarily resigned in 1415 to help resolve the Great Western Schism. In 1417, 23 cardinals and 30 representatives from the ecumenical Council of Constance elected Pope Martin V, thus ending the schism.

    Despite the various ways the Church has chosen to select or elect a pope, God has been true to His word, ensuring that the gates of hell would not prevail against His Church. Despite political intrigue, war, and scandals, and even amidst great crises like the Great Western Schism, God has ensured that valid popes were elected. The Great Western Schism is not the first time the Church has endured antipopes, that is, false claimants to the papacy. Despite these controversies, history records that validly elected popes have been clearly identifiable. Out of 263 pontiffs, there are two main exceptions. Pope John XII (955-64) was deposed by a Roman council on December 4, 963 and succeeded by Leo VIII (963-65). Meanwhile, when John XII died, Benedict V (964-66) was elected. Obviously, both men could not simultaneously be pope. If the deposition of John XII was valid, Leo would be the valid pope and Benedict an antipope. John XIII (965-72) succeeded Leo VIII. On the other hand, if the deposition of John XII was invalid, then Leo VII was an antipope. The invalidity of the deposition seems more likely given that, as pope, he is supreme pastor of the Church and would thus have to consent to any deposition. If that is the case, then John XIII—at least until Benedict V died—was an antipope as well. In any event, after the death of John Benedict V, the papacy of John XIII was not contested. Even if one were to argue that John XIII was not ever validly elected, the election of Benedict VI (973-74) would be seen as restoring order after a several-year papal vacancy.

    The other major controversy involves Benedict IX (1032-44), who became the youngest pope, his age being estimated from 12 to almost 20. He was forcibly removed from office and succeeded by Sylvester III, who reigned briefly from January 20 to February 10, 1045. Benedict IX was reelected, with the help of an army. Realizing the insecurity of his position, however, Benedict resigned after serving less than a month (April 10, 1045 to May 1, 1045), giving way to the election of his sponsor, the archpriest John Gratian, who compensated Benedict monetarily for his resignation and became Pope Gregory VI (1045-46). Gregory VI was then succeeded by Clement II (1046-47). If Benedict’s removal by force was not legitimate, Sylvester III was an antipope. This appears to be the case because of Benedict’s efforts to regain the Papacy. If Benedict’s resignation in 1045 was not freely given, which seems likely, then Gregory VI and Clement II were antipopes as well.

    The “College of cardinals” method of selecting a pope appears here to stay, as is a more internationally diverse cardinal electorate. The Bishop of Rome has always been the universal pastor of the Church, but the early Church’s relatively limited geographical outreach allowed for most electors to come from Rome. Even as the Church became increasingly global, Italy in particular and Europe in general maintained dominance in the College of cardinals. In 1846, for instance, there were only 8 non-Italian cardinals, but Pius IX, in his 32-years reign, created 183 cardinals, of whom 51 were foreigners, and in 1878 there were 25 living non-Italian cardinals. In 1903 the number remained unchanged, with 1 American and 29 Italians. In 1914 there were 32 Italians and 25 foreigners, 3 of whom were American. As of March 2005, Europe as a whole constituted only 50 percent of the college, while developing countries constituted 36 and the United States nine percent.[4]

    While now part of the canonical process, the practice of cloistering the cardinal electors was born out of frustration. In the 13th century, the papacy was vacant for almost three years. Papal elections in that century were held in Viterbo, some 50 miles northwest of Rome. Authorities, with the support of the local faithful, finally locked the cardinals in a building until they elected a papal successor to Clement IV (1265-68). The election of Pope Gregory X (1271-76) ended the vacancy and, in 1274, Gregory institutionalized the practice of a “conclave,” a word which comes from the Latin for “locked with a key.”[5]
    Some popes have served for many years, the top three being St. Peter (30 to 64/67); Pius IX (1832-78; 31 years, seven months); and John Paul II, whose pontificate was 26 years, five months. The shortest has been Urban VII, who reigned on only 13 calendar days (Sept. 15-27). John Paul I only reigned 34 calendar days in the summer of 1978, but he doesn’t even make the “Top 10” of shortest-reigning popes.

    For centuries, beginning in 1179, a two-thirds majority vote of cardinal electors was needed to elect a pope. In 1945, Pope Pius XII decreed that it be two-thirds of the cardinal electors plus one. In his 1996 apostolic constitution Universi Dominici Gregis, John Paul II decreed that two-thirds is sufficient if the cardinal electors present is divisible into three equal parts. If not, two-thirds plus one is needed. The big change by Pope John Paul II is that a simple majority—that is, 50 percent plus one, which is also known as an “absolute majority”—will suffice if no candidate has been chosen after a number of ballots (about 30 votes in 12 days).
    In serving as pope, one also serves as the Bishop of Rome. This means that a person must be able to validly receive the fullness of the Sacrament of Holy Orders to become pope. The person must be male and he must be baptized (cf. Code of Canon Law, canon 1024; Catechism, no. 1577).

    The Church provides that a pope can only leave office by freely resigning or dying. A pope so incapacitated as to be unable to resign is still pope. Given the Church’s indefectibility, the Church trusts her Lord to guide her through such times, as He has in the past.
    Who will be the next pope? Many pundits predict an older bishop (65 years older), given that John Paul II served for more than a quarter of a century. An older pope doesn’t necessarily mean a shorter pontificate. Leo XIII (1878 to 1903) was 68 when he succeeded Pius IX, yet he served for more than 25 years. “Surprise popes” are unlikely in the modern age, especially given heightened media scrutiny of potential candidates and that the man selected will almost assuredly come from the College of cardinals. Pope John Paul II is an exception, having emerged after two favored Italians, Cardinal Giuseppe Siri and Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, were passed over.

    Pope John Paul II was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. Because of the increasingly international nature of the College of cardinals, his successor may be a non-Italian as well. Given the entrenched, structured election process associated with the College of cardinals, the threat of another antipope controversy seems remote. In any event, Catholics can know in faith that the Holy Spirit will protect the Church, ensuring that a successor to John Paul II will eventually be validly elected, and that the Church will endure until the end of time.

    Last edited 4/18/05
    1 Francis X. Seppelt, D.D., and Clement Loffler, Ph.D., A Short History of the Popes, authorized adaptation from the German by Horace A. Frommelt (St. Louis: B. Herder Book Co., 1932), pp. 104-06.
    Fr. John Laux, Church History (Rockford, Ill: Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., 1989 (reprint edition)), pp. 265-66.
    2 Seppelt and Loeffler, p. 232.
    4 Salvador Miranda, “The Cardinals of the Holy Roman Church (1903-2003)” ©1998-2005 http://www.fiu.edu/~mirandas/electors.htm.
    5 New Catholic Encyclopedia, (Washington: Catholic University of America, 1967) v. 6, p. 777
    Holy Bible (Catholic edition)
    Catechism of the Catholic Church
    (paperback and hardback available)
    Vatican II documents
    Pope John Paul II, Universi Dominici Gregis

    To order, call Benedictus Books toll-free:
    (888) 316-2640.
    CUF members receive 10% discount.
    Hahn and Suprenant, eds., Catholic for a Reason: Scripture and the Mystery of the Family of God
    Leon Suprenant, ed., Servants of the Gospel
    Frederick Marks, A Catholic Handbook for Engaged and Newly Married Couples
    Bishop Thomas J. Tobin, Without a Doubt

    Prayers for you and yours,


  6. Patricia and James,

    I want to thank you both for the exchange, and thanks for hearing me out. I hope there are no hard feelings. I just wanted to give you food for thought.


  7. Russel….I don’t mean to butt in here however I have to ask ” why, would you have problem with Apostolic succession anyway? I mean why argue against something that clearly has been a good thing? Apostolic succession has kept the Catholic Faith consistent and strong and has not deviated in 2000 plus years? WHY are you so against it? Maybe that should be a question or a prayer that you should consider. Also, your mention on “Peter, upon this rock…” You know, in typical protestant fashion – you don’t complete the verse “and I will give you the KEYS…. and the gates of Hell will not prevail agaisnt it AND>>>>whatsover you bind on earth and shall also be bound in heaven….” It is so obvious Russel that addressing Peter as the rock – and as the leader of what is to be the church. Otherwise why would he say AND I give you the KEYS AND… AND…! Is he giving the keys to “the truth of Peter’s words” as you say? Or the air?
    No amount of our discussion will sway you Russel – however, I pray that you ask our Heavenly Father to give you the grace of divine wisdom to understand what it is you are arguing against. Ask him to you show the WAY! And he will show you!! Peace and blessings.

  8. Hello Martin,

    Thanks for your response.

    You asked a good question, i.e., why would I (or any Christian) have a problem with apsotolic succession, since it is clearly a good thing?

    As I related to both James and Patricia, I DO believe in apostolic succession, which is simply taking the truth that Jesus and the apostles taught, and passing this on. This is, indeed, a good thing. The problem I have is with the Catholic version of it, which has to explain away the historical problem of its “broken links,” as mentioned earlier.

    Martin, I am not trying to be disrespectful to anyone here, but there were many responses to my original question, yet it seems that no one was willing to actually say the words: “Yes, this particular pope (guilty of simony, etc.) was NOT A LEGITIMATE OR LAWFUL POPE, and we should NOT ACCEPT OR FOLLOW HIM as such, and thus, THE CHAIN HAS BEEN BROKEN.” It seems that no one could bring themselves to actually say this, but this is the logical conclusion if a pope achieved his position by unlawful and illegitimate means. And it is a historical fact that some of them did.

    Concerning Peter and his receiving the keys, you said that Jesus was not giving the keys to “the truth of Peter’s words,” or to “the air,” but to Peter, himself. That’s true, but no one is saying that He gave the keys to a non-person… He gave them to Peter… but NOT just to Peter, Jesus gave them also to the other eleven, as well. I do not deny that Peter was a leader, and certainly a significant and important person in the early church. I am just saying that the Catholic Church reads too much into Matthew 16, concerning Peter and his role.

    This truth has been my point all along, but it seems that not many Catholics are willing to admit the full implications of this. Obtaining the office of pope by unlawful and immoral means, equals an illegitimate pope, which equals an illegitimate link in the supposedly unbroken, uninterrupted, chain of “apostolic succession.” The Catholic version of apostolic succession sounds really good, but it simply does not work. It has failed multiple times because of these “broken links.” Catholics read way too much into the Scriptures that were used in the main article above. Biblical apostolic succession is, as I said before, simply taking the truth which Jesus and the apostles taught, as revealed in the Scriptures, and passing this on.

    1. Hi Russell. Welcome back!

      There’s more than ample scriptural references to show that Jesus chose Peter as the head of the Church, as this one below from Paul revealing that following the resurrection Jesus appeared first to Kephas, then to the Twelve…

      For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:

      that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures,
      that he was buried,
      that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures,
      and that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve” (1 Cor 15:3ff).

      There’s a great series that might help you better understand the Petrine Ministry as fact [Here].

      As for God using sinful creatures, a contemplation on our own personal [daily] sins reveals that conversion is a life-long process; yet, despite personal sin we remain members of the body of Christ, the Church. I’ve been born-again in the Spirit [Hypostatic union with God] prior to entering the Church, yet the Spirit of Love which led me into the Truth of Christ, and thus through Him to the Father, also led me into the truth of the Church, again, the Body of Christ. God calls the unworthy to do His will, and is merciful to even His enemies. It is the Spirit, the soul of the Church Who sustains apostolic succession. I can’t think of one Apostle in history or presently who’d admit they were full of orthodoxy and virtue prior to being called to whatever post Christ called them to, beginning with Paul followed by Peter:

      1 Corinthians 15:1-11

      I am reminding you, brothers and sisters,
      of the gospel I preached to you,
      which you indeed received and in which you also stand.
      Through it you are also being saved,
      if you hold fast to the word I preached to you,
      unless you believed in vain.
      For I handed on to you as of first importance
      what I also received:
      that Christ died for our sins
      in accordance with the Scriptures;
      that he was buried;
      that he was raised on the third day
      in accordance with the Scriptures;
      that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve.
      After that, Christ appeared to more
      than five hundred brothers at once,
      most of whom are still living,
      though some have fallen asleep.
      After that he appeared to James,
      then to all the apostles.
      Last of all, as to one born abnormally,
      he appeared to me.
      For I am the least of the apostles,
      not fit to be called an apostle,
      because I persecuted the church of God.

      But by the grace of God I am what I am,
      and his grace to me has not been ineffective.

      Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them;
      not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me.
      Therefore, whether it be I or they,
      so we preach and so you believed.
      Luke 5:1-11

      While the crowd was pressing in on Jesus
      and listening to the word of God,
      he was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret.
      He saw two boats there alongside the lake;
      the fishermen had disembarked and were washing their nets.
      Getting into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon,
      he asked him to put out a short distance from the shore.
      Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat.
      After he had finished speaking, he said to Simon,
      “Put out into deep water and lower your nets for a catch.”
      Simon said in reply,
      “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing,
      but at your command I will lower the nets.”
      When they had done this, they caught a great number of fish
      and their nets were tearing.
      They signaled to their partners in the other boat
      to come to help them.
      They came and filled both boats
      so that the boats were in danger of sinking.
      When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at the knees of Jesus and said,
      “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”For astonishment at the catch of fish they had made
      seized him and all those with him,
      and likewise James and John, the sons of Zebedee,
      who were partners of Simon.
      Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid;
      from now on you will be catching men.”
      When they brought their boats to the shore,
      they left everything and followed him.
      +++ +++ +++ +++

      Jesus still chose these…

      I suggest you really pray for Wisdom: that God will open the eyes and ears of your heart; allow the Word made flesh to draw you to Himself in the Spirit, persevere until the morning star rises within your heart as Peter suggests…

      18 And this voice we heard brought from heaven, when we were with him in the holy mount. 19 And we have the surer word of prophecy: to which you do well to attend, as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawn, and the morning star rise in your hearts: 20 Understanding this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is made by private interpretation. 21 For prophecy came not by the will of man at any time; but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost.

      In all truth you will find yourself Russell thirsty for what only the Apostles and their successors can provide: The Holy Eucharist.

      As it is, you have no life in you at present: The body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ truly present in the sacred species… Pray, and it will be opened to you my friend.

      Hope this helps.

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