Church Fathers and Apostolic Succession


 If any point of doctrine has unanimity of opinion amongst the Fathers, it is truly this doctrine of Apostolic Succession. I shall quote just a few below.


Pope St. Clement (97AD) the fourth Successor of St. Peter, who had also been ordained by St. Peter, wrote in his well known letter to the Church of Corinth after laymen of the Catholic Church in Corinth had thrown out from their Church the official prelate. In this letter, St. Clements rebukes them for their behavior and tells them to get in line. In this letter he states “Through countryside and city [the apostles] preached, and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty, for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier....Our apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned and afterwards added further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry." (Epistle to the Corinthians, 42:4-5,44:1-3).

St. Ignatius of Antioch (d.  107 AD) who was a well know disciple of St. John the Evangelist  gives us evidence of the Catholic Teaching on Apostolic Succession  in his letter to the Trallian Church, where he acknowledges the three-fold hierarchical structure (i.e. bishop, priest, deacon) and apostolic succession as he states “In like manner, let us reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ, and the bishop as the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God and college of the apostles. Without these, there is no Church (St. Ignatius (of Antioch) to the Trallians 1:8,9).

Again I will quote St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a student of St. Polycarp (who, in turn, was the student of St. John the Apostle). In his famous work Against Heresies, in which he took it upon himself to combat all of the false teachings of his time. He openly affirms  that “Those that wish to discern the truth may observe the apostolic tradition made manifest in every church throughout the world. We can enumerate those who were appointed bishops in the churches by the apostles, and their successors down to our own day, who never taught, and never knew, absurdities such as these men produce. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught the perfect in private and in secret they would rather have committed them to those to whom the entrusted the churches. For they wished those men to be perfect and unblamable whom they left and their successors and to whom they handed over their office of authority....” He futher goes on to refute the heretics of his day by simply affirming that "For all these [heretics] are of much later date than are the bishops to whom the apostles handed over the churches . ... . It is of necessity, then, that these aforementioned heretics, because they are blind to the truth, walk in devious paths, . .. . The path of those, however, who belong to the Church goes around the whole world, for it has the firm tradition of the apostles, enabling us to see that the faith of all is one and the same." (ibid. 5:20:1)

EUSIBIUS (324 AD) the well known Church Historian of the 4th Century states "After the martyrdom of Paul and Peter, the first man to be appointed Bishop of Rome was Linus. ... Linus, who is mentioned in the Second Epistle to Timothy as being with Paul in Rome, as stated above was the first after Peter to be appointed Bishop of Rome. Clement again, who became the third Bishop of Rome ...." (The History of the Church, Book 3, AD 324)

Cyprian of Carthage

"[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with [the heretic] Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop [of Rome], Fabian, by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood, the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way" (Letters 69[75]:3 [A.D. 253]).

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO (ca. 400 AD) the well known Church Father of the 4th Century declares

"For, if the order of succession of Bishops is to be considered, how much more surely, truly and safely do we number them from Peter, to whom, as representing the whole Church, the Lord said: "Upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." For, to Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus Clement, to Clement Anacletus, to Anacletus, Evaristus..." (Letters, No 53)