20. That divine mission, entrusted by Christ to the apostles, will last until the end of the world,(147) since the Gospel they are to teach is for all time the source of all life for the Church. And for this reason the apostles, appointed as rulers in this society, took care to appoint successors.
For they not only had helpers in their ministry,(4*) but also, in order that the mission assigned to them might continue after their death, they passed on to their immediate cooperators, as it were, in the form of a testament, the duty of confirming and finishing the work begun by themselves,(5*) recommending to them that they attend to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit placed them to shepherd the Church of God.(148) They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry.(6*) Among those various ministries which, according to tradition, were exercised in the Church from the earliest times, the chief place belongs to the office of those who, appointed to the episcopate, by a succession running from the beginning,(7*) are passers-on of the apostolic seed.(8*) Thus, as St. Irenaeus testifies, through those who were appointed bishops by the apostles, and through their successors down in our own time, the apostolic tradition is manifested (9*) and preserved.(10*)
Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, (11*) presiding in place of God over the flock,(12*) whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing.(13*) And just as the office granted individually to Peter, the first among the apostles, is permanent and is to be transmitted to his successors, so also the apostles’ office of nurturing the Church is permanent, and is to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops. (14*) Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, (15*) as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.(149)(16*)
147 Cf. Mt. 28:20.
148 Cf. Acts 20:28.
149 Cf. Lk. 10:16.
(4) Cfr. Act 6, 2-6; 11, 30; 13, 1, 14, 23; 20, 17; 1 Thess. 5, 12-13; Phil. 1, 1 Col. 4, 11, et passim.
(5) Cfr. Act. 20, 25-27; 2 Tim. 4, 6 s. coll. c. I Tim. 5, 22; 2 Tim. 2, 2 Tit. 1, 5; S. Clem. Rom., Ad Cor. 44, 3; ed. Funk, 1, p. 156.
(6) S. Clem. Rom., ad Cor. 44, 2; ed. Funk, I, p. 154 s.
(7) Cfr. Tertull., Praescr. Haer. 32; PL 2, 52 s.; S. Ignatius M., passim.
(8) Cfr. Tertull., Praescr. Haer. 32; PL 2, 53.
(9) Cfr. S. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 3, 1; PG 7, 848 A; Harvey 2, 8; Sagnard, p. 100 s.: manifestatam.
(10) Cfr. S. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. III, 2, 2; PG 7, 847; Harvey 2, 7; Sagnard, p. 100: . custoditur ,., cfr. ib. IV, 26, 2; col. 1O53, Harvey 2, 236, necnon IV, 33, 8; col. 1077; Harvey 2, 262.
(11) S. Ign. M., Philad., Praef.; ed. Funk, I, p. 264.
(12) S. Ign. M., Philad., 1, 1; Magn. 6, 1; Ed. Funk, I, pp. 264 et 234.
(13) S. Clem. Rom., 1. c., 42, 3-4, 44, 3-4; 57, 1-2; Ed. Funk. I, 152, 156, 171 s. S. Ign. M., Philad. 2; Smyrn. 8; Magn. 3; Trall. 7; Ed. Funk, I, p. 265 s.; 282; 232 246 s. etc.; S. Iustinus, Apol., 1, 6S G 6, 428; S. Cyprianus, Epist. assim.
(14) Cfr. Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Satis cognitum, 29 iun. 896: ASS 28 (1895-96) p. 732.
(15) Cfr. Conc. Trid., Sess. 23, ecr. de sacr. Ordinis, cap. 4; enz. 960 (1768); Conc. Vat. I, ess. 4 Const. Dogm. I De Ecclesia Christi, cap. 3: Denz. 1828 (3061). Pius XII, Litt. Encycl. Mystici Cororis, 29 iun. 1943: ASS 35 (1943) p. 209 et 212. Cod. Iur. Can., c. 29 1.
(16) Cfr. Leo XIII, Epist. Et sane, 17 dec. 1888: ASS 21 (1888) p. 321 s.
Here, the Council Fathers make clear the faith of the Church in the apostolic succession, beginning with the original twelve Apostles, and continuing down the centuries to those bishops in office today.
It is the faith of the Church that Jesus did not leave us to ourselves in coming to understand His teaching, in sanctifying for this life and in preparation for eternal life, and in governing His Body. Rather, He who founded the Church also established the episcopate, to guide the people of God in faithfulness to all He had commanded, to sanctify the people in God for this life and for eternal life, and to govern the people of God for the sake of the unity of the whole Body of Christ.
It has been the faith of the Church since the earliest centuries that the bishops duly consecrated for office in this day, as in any age, are the rightful successors of the Apostles. St.Irenaeus, bishop of Lugdunum (now Lyon) in southern France, wrote in his book Against Heresies c. 175-185, testimony to the Church’s faith in apostolic succession, using Rome itself as his example:
“The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes. … To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. 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 vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.” (from the website: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html)
How could it be otherwise? Why would Jesus leave to each individual believer the responsibility to ascertain the truth that is the salvation of all? We can see the result of this error even today, with thousands of separate churches claiming to preach the true gospel, yet all of them preaching a different gospel. This has been a source of scandal and corruption since the time of the Apostles. Consider the “heresy of the Judaizers” as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 15. There were some who taught that, in order to become Christian, Gentiles needed first to become Jews, to be circumcised and to follow the Mosaic Law. Sts. Paul and Barnabas taught that such were unnecessary, that we are saved by Christ and neither circumcision nor uncircumcision count for anything, and that the Mosaic Law was superseded by the grace won for us by Christ. The bishops of the early Church, including St. Peter, met and discussed the matter, coming to the conclusion that the Judaizers were teaching falsely, establishing for all the faithful, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the authoritative teaching of the Church that circumcision and adhering to the Mosaic Law were not required of those who place their faith in Christ. The Fathers of the Jerusalem Council wrote to the faithful: “It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage” (Acts 15:28-29).
It was left to the “apostles and presbyters” to discern the will of the Holy Spirit and the true faith, and to proclaim that true faith to all. Those who rejected their decision would be breaking with the apostolic tradition, and with the Body of Christ, placing a burden on souls that Christ and His Church do not place. Just so today, and in every age, the authority to discern the will of the Holy Spirit on matters of faith and morals belongs to the magisterium of the Church, that is, the pope and those bishops in union with him, the successors of the Apostles of Jesus.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.