037 Unbroken Chain of Apostolic Succession; Bible Software Update
Part I: Unbroken Chain of Apostolic Succession
Hi Jimmy, this is Marci from Mexico and I am calling to get clarity on a question that’s been bothering me for a while. It’s about Church authority. As I understand, which isn’t much since I’ve only been a Catholic for about two years, the Church claims authority for her Bishops and Priests based on an unbroken line of successions from Peter. But, for hundreds of years there have been problems of secular rulers choosing and investing Bishops as well as the sale of Bishoprics and similar issues to those the Church is facing right now with the government of China. How does the Church explain what seems to be illicit or invalid accession of many bishops throughout history?
It’s a good question; the Church does indeed claim that its authority derives from an unbroken succession of bishops. Not back to St. Peter in particular but to St. Peter and the other Apostles. The Pope’s authority derives from the fact that he’s the successor to St. Peter but bishops in general don’t have to be successors to St. Peter, just that they have to been ordained in a line that goes all the way back to the Apostles.
It’s also true that there have been ways in the past that bishops have been chosen that differed from the way they are typically chosen today. Today, in the Latin rite of the Church, a group of 3 priest’s names is proposed to the Pope for a particular Episcopal appointment and if the Pope is satisfied with one of those three, he’ll name that man to become bishop. If he’s not satisfied, he may ask for new names.
It’s the Pope who makes the decision and then that man is consecrated as a bishop. Typically, the Pope doesn’t do that himself. More often, he has another bishop do the consecration as the ‘principle consecrator’. That bishop is commonly assisted by two other bishops as co-consecrators just to make sure there’s no problem with the consecration having its effect.
There have been other patterns that have been used, to evaluate those so we need to distinguish between three terms. You mentioned two of them Marci, illicit and invalid. Illicit means ‘not in conformity with Cannon law’ and invalid means ‘didn’t really happen’.
In the case of an ‘invalid’ consecration, you wouldn’t have a genuine bishop on the other end of it, you’d have a guy who would still be a priest, but he wouldn’t have been elevated to the Episcopacy.
Let’s deal with that last case first because that’s the one that really challenges the unbrokeness of the line of Apostolic Succession. If you have a guy who has been invalidly ordained, then what does that mean? It means that priestly ordinations that he performs will NOT be valid because since he’s not a bishop he’s not performing valid priestly ordinations.
That has negative consequences for the effects on the Celebration of the Sacraments in his area. But the Church is very concerned to make sure this doesn’t happen and that’s the reason for the double redundancy in Episcopal Consecrations. That’s why those other two consecrators are there-to minimize the chance that a particular guy was not validly consecrated by the principle consecrator. He would still be validly a consecrated by one of the co-consecrators.
Also, there are other ways of dealing with the situation. One of them is that it’s possible to have a conditional consecration after the initial invalid consecration was done, it’s possible to repair that the same way it’s possible for a person who’s been invalidly baptized to be validated later. That’s one way of dealing with the situation in Church history.
There are other ways too. Even if you had a guy who managed not to be validly consecrated by any of his co-consecrators that would be limited in the damage it would do to the church because when he goes to ordain a new bishop, he’s going to have co-consecrators as well.
Even though he’s not able to pass on Episcopal consecrations, his co-consecrators, drawn from other dioceses and not ordained by him, are going to be able to pass it on. So any problem that arises is going to be sharply limited in its effects. It’s not going to be something that challenges the overall integrity of the line of apostolic succession. At most, it’s only going to be a ‘blip’. Where you’d have some invalid sacraments being celebrated in a particular location at a particular time but, even in those cases, God is not bound by the Sacraments so he can still get His grace to people in that situation.
But, it’s going to be limited because of the redundancy that the Church has in these situations. Now that’s in the case of an actually invalid consecration, you also mentioned illicit consecrations, those that are performed not in accord with Cannon Law.
That is the case for example, with some of the different consecrations that are going on in China. They’re not being done in conformity with Cannon Law and that’s a problem. But, it’s not a problem that challenges the integrity of apostolic succession because they are still valid bishops. They may have been brought into the Episcopacy in an illegal way, from the prospective of Cannon Law, but they’re real bishops.
That is not a problem in terms of the fundamental integrity of apostolic succession. You also mentioned situations where, for example, secular rulers have had a say in who becomes a bishops. In those cases, it may not have been illicit, because Cannon Law is something that, although it contains elements of divine law, it also contains considerable flexibility.
Consequently, there have been different arrangements in Church history for this selection of bishops that aren’t used anymore and would be illicit today. But were not illicit back then. Even today, there’s variability in some of the Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church.
Bishops are not all individually selected by the Pope. The Pope still ratifies a decision, and he may intervene to solve a problem case, but in some of the Eastern rites today, you have situations where the decision or at least the fundamental proposal of who should be bishop is made on the local level.
That’s survived in some of the Eastern Catholic Churches but it’s different in the Latin Church. In those situations, you don’t have a situation that rises to the level of being illicit. It’s not illicit; it’s in conformity with the law either with the law of a particular Eastern Church or with the law of the Latin Church at a prior point in time. So again, there’s no violation with the integrity of Apostolic Succession.
You also mentioned situations where people have sold bishoprics. I haven’t researched those in particular, but, those may be situations where a consecration was illicit, it could also be there’s the problem of simony (the buying or selling of sacred Christian objects). Where, if it weren’t illicit it would be immoral, but those things that won’t affect the validity of the line of Apostolic Succession.
As long as you have a valid bishop, as long as you have a valid consecration, you’re going to have an actual bishop and the integrity of Apostolic Succession is assured.
That provides a basic answer to Marci’s question but I want to consider another question as well. In fact, I was intrigued when Marci’s question came in because I was already working a podcast answer to another listener’s question that’s related. What I normally do at this point is I would read or play that persons’ question but it’s driving me nuts because I can’t find it. I’ve done extensive email searches and haven’t been able to turn up the question.
I can’t show you the exact question at the moment and my apologies to the listener who sent it in but I have the substance of the question. Basically, it deals with a particular case in the history of the Church that deals with Apostolic Succession.
It’s the case of a Cardinal named Scipione Rebiba. He has a very unusual property. He lived back in the 1500’s, at the time he didn’t have the property he’s famous for today. That’s something that he probably would have been very surprised to learn that he would eventually have only because it developed through the course of time.
In his own day, he was a bishop, he was also a cardinal but like many bishops he did other Episcopal consecrations; he ordained other bishops and they went on to ordain more bishops. In the 1700’s something very interesting happened. One of them became the Pope; Benedict XII. Unlike most popes, Benedict XII had a real passion for doing Episcopal consecrations, especially for big and important Sees.
He ordained bunches of bishops instead of leavening that task to other bishops. Some of the bishops he ordained went to the new world, which was having a lot of Catholic growth. He ordained important Sees in Europe who then ordained other people and his line really blossomed. Today because of that, something like 91% of all Catholic bishops shared this lineage.
Here’s the twist, the ordination records for Scipione Rebiba have been lost…so we’re not entirely sure who consecrated him. It is widely thought that he was consecrated by Gian Pietro Carafa who was later Pope Paul IV. He may well have been ordained by a highly placed man indeed. But because we’re not entirely sure who ordained him and because Benedict XII was so enthusiastic about performing ordinations himself, we have this weird situation were 91% of Catholic bishops are part of this lineage and we can’t see, with clarity, where it goes beyond that. Some people could look at that and say what if Rebiba’s ordination was invalid.
Would that mean all these other bishops had invalid ordinations? No and there are several reasons why. The dominate reason is the fact that there’s a double redundancy built into the Episcopal ordination process. Even if we aren’t sure exactly Gian Pietro Carafa was the guy who ordained Cardinal Rebiba, we know somebody did.
There’s no reason to suspect that that ordination was invalid. Even if there was an issue with the principle ordinator, there is still the redundancy of the co-consecrators; his ordination would have been valid. If even if his ordination was invalid, every time he ordains someone, he’s got two co-consecrators as well, and they weren’t part of his lineage.
So they’re going to lay their hands on the new bishop and consecrate him. The double redundancy would have validated all ordinations. So we really don’t have reason to worry about this, it’s an historical curiosity that because of the loss of the ordination records of Rebiba and Benedict XII’s enthusiasm for ordinations, we have an interesting curiosity. There’s no danger to the integrity of the line of Apostolic Succession in the Catholic Church.
Just to delve a little deeper, I’d thought I’d invite over a medieval historian. I’d like to introduce Andrew Jones who works at Logos Bible Software and who is a newly minted doctor. He just got his PhD in Medieval history and he happens to know a great deal about this subject. I thought I’d bring him on the show to talk about the time before when we’ve been discussing.
Andrew Jones, welcome to the program!
Thank you Jimmy.
As a reminder, most medievalists don’t work for software companies, so what exactly do you do? How does your background as a medievalist relevant to what you’re doing?
Logos Bible Software is really research software that ties together thousands of resources and works, and keys them to Scripture in multiple languages. It requires the construction of the software, the marketing of it and those sorts of things require people who know the traditions and know the works that we’re producing.
What I’m doing is helping to design the libraries, design the functionality of the software and making sure it satisfies the needs of the Christian market, the Catholic market.
As I explained to you before I brought you on the air, I’ve been talking about the practice of multiple consecrators of an individual bishop as a double fail-safe. I’ve traced that back to the time of Cardinal Rebiba but I know it extends back further. So that’s why I wanted to have you on the show.
What can you tell us about this practice prior to the 1500’s?
It was the norm; in fact, it was canonically required for a bishop’s consecration to occur with at least three bishops, including the Metropolitan.
What’s a Metropolitan?
The Archbishop, basically. The Archbishop who is the head of an Ecclesiastical province, normally, would have many dioceses and other bishops in the province. The preferred course or procedure would be for a man to be elected normally by his chapter, the Cathedral chapter so the priests that were attached directly to the chapter, often in synod.
In a local synod that would have included the other bishops often of the region. That election would normally be approved by the Archbishop, normally the Archbishop and or quite often, the local monarch. Then consecration would occur preferably in a gathering (council) of all the bishops from the province. If that couldn’t happen, then the ‘fall-back’ position was three bishops.
And that was the way it was actually done and enshrined in Cannon Law somewhat definitively in its most developed form in the mid twelfth century. But even there in the Deretum of Gracian it’s very articulated that this is the way things are to work.
Not only is it legally laid down that is the way it works, that is indeed the way it happened. We can see over and over and over again that having been consecrated by only one bishop illegal and in fact, there was quite a bit of argument in the Middle Ages as to whether or not it was valid.
It wasn’t clear and people would argue ‘well he’s only been consecrated by one bishop therefore he’s not a bishop’.
So, it’s clearly required in the Middle Ages, but this actually goes earlier than that into Patristic times, right?
Yes, it’s very clearly unambiguously stated in the First Council of Nicaea that a bishop is to be consecrated preferably in a Council and if they can’t meet then there needs to be at least three bishops.
So that’s 325 A.D. or A.D. 325
That’s right. It’s making an illusion there to the Apostolic Cannons are sort of their exact date is ambiguous but it’s at least prior to that where it states again that a bishop is to be ordained at least by two or three bishops.
Now, that Cannon was reiterated in a series, not only throughout local synod’s but also in the Ecumenical Councils as well so Chalcedon and Constantinople, 4th Constantinople, up until the Lateran Councils of the middle ages and so on.
Each time picking up an extra clause or two about circumstances that may or may not come up. But as far back as we can go canonically, (with our records), it’s there.
That takes us back to with it’s inclusion in the First Council of Nicaea and also in the Apostolic Cannons, back to the same era as Eusebius, the father of church history is writing about. So when he gives the different succession lists, in his church history for in this See here’s the line of bishops and in this See here’s the line bishops, going back to the Apostles.
The guys he’s talking about are ones for whom this would have been done.
Yeah, that’s right. So you would often see that succession lines only name one bishop, the principle consecrator. That doesn’t mean he was the only bishop there. There’s no doubt about that. You can take the same consecration with multiple accounts and we know one person will say ‘he was consecrated by Archbishop so and so’ and then in the next account it will describe a council where there’s a whole bunch of bishops there. We can assume that those lines are in fact much more complicated than a direct lineage.
It works rather the way the passing down of family names works. My last name is Akin and I inherited that from my father. But I have two parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, but I only have one last name.
If you can think about the Episcopal lines in the same way, I’m part of the Akin family line but that doesn’t mean in each generation back there’s just one ancestor who I inherited the name from. There’s bunches of ancestors feeding into me in terms of my family, but only got the name from one so I’m subscribed to that line.
It’s a very big network and the Church has been very careful about this. One example from 1264, was one in which there was a disputed election in Germany. One of the issues was this bishop who had been elected and consecrated by only one other bishop. And he had done so against the wishes of the Chapter so there were multiple problems.
It went to Rome and was being tried, there were appeals, fights going on at the Papal Curia, and what the Pope finally decided to do was to regularize the election to confirm him in his position. And the way he did that was to send two Cardinal Bishops to the diocese to make sure everything was squared away. While we don’t see exactly what’s happening, the implication is to make sure that he’s correctly consecrated as a bishop because they’re coming from Rome to do that.
That’s something I wanted to get into. I have been aware of situations in Church history either because there was a doubt or even in some areas is that a kind of conditionally consecration that be done for bishops. At least that’s the claim I’ve encountered. Do you know anything about that?
Yes, that did happen. It’s not something that’s attested to a lot in normal sources you see in the middle ages. You can get to it in a round about way, there were provisional things happened sacramentally, including provisional absolutions and things like that, from sin or excommunication, those sorts of things and for ordinations.
I know priestly ordinations would sometimes be redone provisionally and you have cases where it’s explicit that a bishop is re-consecrated, really in keeping with the logic of it.
Right and the places I’ve heard this not in communion with Rome but in certain parts of Eastern Christianity.
The East is a little different; it develops differently because it doesn’t have Rome as a court of last appeal for disputed elections and things like that.
Anything else you’d like to say about the subject?
Not too much, I think it’s a very interesting one and I one of the things that’s most interesting about the election and consecration of bishops in the past, is the way that it was done at a local level with the Pope as the Oversight. The Pope stepping in when there were problems and sorting things out. I think we Catholics tend to think it’s always been a top down structure but that developed over time in order to solve problems. I think that’s an interesting sort of thing.
Even with some of the Eastern Catholic churches today, there’s more of that kind of procedure.
Right and that’s always been interesting to me.
Thank you very much for joining us.
Thank you for having me.
To close out this section I’d like to mention a couple of online resources more about this. One is the Wikipedia page for Cardinal Scipione Rebiba. Another fascinating resource is Catholic-Hierarchy.org. Specifically it has a page for each bishop, including dates of offices, conclaves, births, and so forth. It includes the Episcopal lineage, for example, I have in front of me the page for Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, and it talks about when he was born, his appointments, etc.
Part of the page is devoted to his lineage, his line of Apostolic Succession and it starts with his consecration as a bishop in 1977. You can see that he was consecrated by Bishop Josef Stangl, who was consecrated in 1957, and it goes all the way back to the 1500’s to Cardinal Scipione Rebiba. Our own, present, Father is part of the Rebiba line. You can check your own bishop and see if they’re part of the Rebiba, odds are about 91% or so that they will be.
Part II: Bible Software Update
While I had Andrew on the phone, I thought I’d take a few minutes to check on a couple of projects Logos Software has going. As you may know, I use it, it’s extremely powerful, and it has a ton of resources, so I recommend it.
If you want to learn more about that by listening to the episode that’s devoted to Bible software and what it can do for you, particularly Logos. If you want to learn more directly from Logos, go to Logos.com/jimmy and they have some Catholic packages, and I can save 15% if you use the coupon code ‘jimmy’.
Andrew has some interesting things to tell us about a recent release and a coming release. Thank you Andrew, before you go, I know there were a couple of things we wanted to talk about concerning Logos Bible Software.
One is that Logos has permission and has released the Catechism of the Catholic Church in electronic format, what can you tell me about that?
We did! It’s quite an impressive piece of work for us. The Catechism is a really a beautiful summary of the faith as we know. It’s an amazing book, but in many ways, it is really a summary or condensed version in where they take thousands of citations from throughout the traditions and boil it down to state the doctrine.
What our new resource allows you to do is start unpacking that, working backwards, because the citations within the Catechism are linked directly to that original source, in the right place.
We have about 95% coverage so it’s pretty extensive. As you’re reading something about a particular doctrine, there’s a citation, footnotes at the bottom, but instead of being just a bunch of footnotes, you can roll your curser over it and it actually pops up in a little window and you can read that actual source.
I have some special good news for those who already bought the different Logos Software Catholic selection through Logos.com/jimmy; they should already have this right?
That’s right; it was a free update that was so important for our Catholic users that we included it in those libraries automatically.
All people need to do is if it’s not already showing, is open the software and it will tell them there’s new resources available for them and they should let them automatically download and become part of the library.
Right and it becomes, I’ve been using it a lot in Logos myself, and it’s become the hub around which my study revolves, as it rightly should be. It’s a wonderful thing; the Catechism becomes a gateway into the faith. Where with just a few clicks you can start following those threads back through the tradition and into Scripture and back again.
Now that it’s part of the Logos collection and you were researching something in a different resource, you should be able to see exactly what the Catechism says about that passage, right?
In fact, all these links work both directions. You can set it up so while you’re reading the Bible, you can have a separate window open that is dynamically and moves through the Bible so that anytime the Catechism sites that passage or mentions it, you can use it as a study Bible to your Bible.
You can do that with any resource, Vatican II can be used the same way so you can always see if you’re reading the documents of Vatican II where the Catechism discusses those documents.
What specifically is in the Catechism Collection?
The Catechism Collection is a self-contained software package, that works great, what it has in it is the Catechism itself, the previous Catechism, which together is the two universal Catechism of the Church.
Vatican II documents, it has their Revised Standard Version Catholic edition and a Douay-Rheims. It has the Council of Trent, Vatican I, the Lectionary, and the Sources of Catholic Dogma–Denzinger’s massive collection of sources throughout the tradition from the third century to recently.
Ok, and now those resources are already in the other Collections so if you’ve already bought one of those, you have all these things, right?
Right, if you’re in that situation, just explore how to use them, because you have them.
Now, if someone doesn’t have those other collections, and they want to get just the Catechism section, how would they get that? They can go to Logos.com/jimmy or click the button on my webpage and that will be one of the things they find, right?
That’s right, if you go Logos.com/jimmy, it will be clearly advertised there. You can click on it and go to the page; there’ll be a demo video and order from there.
If you use the promo code ‘jimmy’, because I’m an affiliate, just put in my name, capitalization doesn’t matter, then we can save you 15%. This is because this set doesn’t have the hundreds of resources that the others do, this is a very inexpensive set. There are a lot of valuable resources.
The system is a dynamic system in the sense that you can continually add resources to it and they integrate with what you already have. If you start out with the Catechism Collection and decide you want the Apostolic Fathers, you can add those. You can add one piece at a time, or buy the big libraries.
The Euro Faith is coming up in October and one thing the Holy Father is emphasizing is the study of the Catechism. Recently there was a note of recommendation by the CDF, one of the specific recommendations they made using modern technologies to study the Catechism.
When I saw that in the note, I thought ‘that just made Andrew Jones’ day’.
I think it really opens up the study to a way that I think people will be impressed by and I think that the Vatican itself is recognizing that technology can help us study our faith.
I definitely agree with that. Sometimes people wonder how I do the research to the extent possible, although I do have to admit I have 4000 books in my home library.
I do everything electronically to the extent I can because it’s so much faster and precise to find exactly what you’re looking for. I only use paper when I have to now, because Logos and the internet make researching much easier.
Before you go, I know you have a project that’s going to bringing something into English for the first time from the Middle Ages. This is a resource that scholars have been aware of but never had an English translation of before. It’s by a very famous guy the audience will know. What can you tell me about that?
One of the things we’re working on now is that we are going to commission and oversee the translation of St. Thomas Aquinas’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard. This is a very large work, it’s over million works, and it’s his third major theological work, so you have the Suma Contra Gentiles, then you have his commentary on the Sentences.
This was his first major work it was written when he was in his 20’s and was a brand new professor at the University of Paris and it’s a very, very important work because it’s the first time Aquinas delves into his questions concerning the relationship between faith, philosophy, or revelation and Aristotle and Augustan. Some of those questions he’ll have developed over the course of his career, he broaches many of those topics in this work.
It’s his most sustained treatment of the Ecclesiology and Sacramental Theology than all of his work. You’ll see it sited very often by theologians when they want to discuss St. Thomas’ beliefs on those issues.
It hasn’t been translated into English even though his other major theological works have been for about a hundred years now. So we’re going to do it, we’re going to make it happen and the way we’re going to do it is by having people do pre-orders and we will start working on it and collect pre-orders, keep working on it and get it done.
Just so, the audience understands, Peter Lombard’s Sentences were what? What’s the nature of that work and what’s its role in the history of theology, it’s a very important work. Many English speakers have never heard of it.
The Sentences of Peter Lombard was a work that was put together by Peter Lombard, who was the bishop of Paris in the mid-twelfth century and it largely consists collections of patristic sayings or sayings from the Cannons of Councils, those sorts of things.
So it’s kind of like the Father’s know best?
Yeah, right. But what Peter did was collect in a way and tied them together with his own commentary in a way that produced a comprehensive theological treatise.
It became the standard textbook in the University of Theology in Europe until the reformation really. The reason why is that it’s sort of the perfect vehicle for exploring theological topics, because it lays them out there, it gives the patristic references and you can work with it.
Throughout the middle ages, after this book’s ascendancy, the sort of final dissertation of academics, before they were full-blown professors, was to write a commentary on this work. They had to lecture on the Sentences of Peter Lombard and then produce a work on it. It’s a genre really, on the Sentences.
This is Aquinas’, his dissertation if you think of it.
Incidentally, for another interesting aspect of Aquinas’ Commentary, was this is something that after his death, because he left the Suma Theologiae incomplete, he never finished the third part. When you read the Suma online, there is a supplement to the third part where editors used material from his commentary to compose that so it would be based on his prior writings.
It’s been used heavily to explain his writings, if you need more depth.
By getting this into English people will be able to shed new light on other aspects of Aquinas’ writings. It’s often difficult, especially with the kind of metaphysics he used to wrap your brain around what he’s trying to say in some places. This will help clarify that.
I think it should be a great contribution to the study of his thought. Right along with the commentary, we’re producing English translations of his commentary on Jeremiah and Isaiah right now, which have also never been translated.
That is interesting too because they were written when he was a young man and because many times the emphasis on Aquinas is as the scholastic theologian, we have lost site of him as the exegete. As his theology is being rooted on his reading scripture, so getting some of his Scripture commentaries, especially his Old Testament ones, translated into English will help.
I very much would like to see what Aquinas does with Isaiah because there are so many places in Isaiah that are picked up in the New Testament and used in very important ways.
We’re actually working on that one simultaneously with the commentary on the Sentences. It’s a fairly large project but the company Logos has committed the resources and we’re going to do it.
Awesome, thanks. Be sure to let me know when they come to fruition and I’d love to have you back on the show to tell us more about them once they are.
I would love to do so, if your listeners want to check it out they can go to Logos.com/Aquinas where they can read about it, see it there, and investigate it a bit.
Thank you so much!