5. Apostolic Continuity and Succession
Many factors have contributed to the theological consciousness of the Orthodox Churches with regard to the Church’s continuity with her apostolic origins. Among these there are two which lie at the very basis of our subject. On the one hand, Orthodoxy is known for its devotion to tradition. This makes history acquire decisiveness in the consciousness of the Orthodox Churches, which is thus oriented towards the past with respect and devotion. Oh the other hand, Orthodoxy is known for the centrality and importance which it attributes to worship in its life and theology, and this leads it to a “theophanic” and in a sense “meta-historical’’ view of the Church.324 Deep in these two aspects of Orthodox consciousness lie the seeds of a duality which could be easily turned into a dichotomy.325
In the following lines an attempt will be made to see how this duality of the traditional or historical and the theophanic or metahistorical elements affect the consciousness of the Church’s continuity with the apostles. This attempt will be made especially in view of the fact that the implications of this duality are quite relevant to non-Orthodox Churches as well, and are therefore related to many of the problems that both the Eastern and the Western Churches are facing today.326 This is so because this duality is deeply rooted in the beginning of the Church and requires constantly a creative synthesis by theology so that it may not become a dichotomy.
I. The Two Approaches, “Historical” and “Eschatological,” to Apostolic Continuity
1. In the early Biblical and patristic sources that we possess, we can distinguish two basic approaches to the idea of the Church’s continuity with the apostles. Each of these two approaches is based on a corresponding image of the apostolate and bears specific implications for the theology and the structure of the Church.
It is of course true that the concept of the apostolate in the New Testament is a complex one, and it is extremely difficult to disentangle the various elements of which it is composed.327 Nevertheless, it is possible to distinguish clearly two images used for the description of the nature and role of the apostles. On the one hand, the apostles are conceived as persons entrusted with a mission to fulfill. As such they are sent and thus dispersed in the world. This implies that they are understood as individuals328 possessing a message and authority in a way that reminds one of the Jewish institution of the shaliach.329 Because the angle from which the apostolate is viewed in this approach is that of mission, the term “apostle” is thus applicable to all missionaries who possess the authority and the charisma of preaching the Gospel.330 There are, of course, conditions attached to the use of the term “apostle” and it is still unclear how these conditions affect the notion of “apostle” in the New Testament.331 But the point that interests us here is that in an approach inspired by the idea of mission, the apostles represent a link between Christ and the Church and form part of a historical process with a decisive and perhaps normative role to play. Thus the idea of mission and that of historical process go together in the New Testament and lead to a scheme of continuity in a linear movement: God sends Christ – Christ sends the apostles – the apostles transmit the message of Christ by establishing Churches and ministers.332 We may, therefore, call this approach “historical.”
2. On the other hand, the apostles are conceived as persons with an eschatological function.333 In this case the imagery and schemes used to describe the apostles are quite different from the ones used in the case I have called “historical.” This difference applies to the apostles themselves as well as to their relation to Christ and the Church. Thus instead of being understood as individuals dispersed throughout the world for mission, the apostles are understood as a college. The difference is considerable and corresponds to that between mission and eschatology. Mission requires sending to the ends of the earth, whereas the eschata imply the convocation of the dispersed people of God from the ends of the earth to one place.334 The apostles in their eschatological function are inconceivable as individuals; they form an indivisible college. For this reason they are basically and primarily represented by the college of the Twelve whenever their eschatological function is mentioned.335 In this case the apostles’ relation both to Christ and to the Church is expressed in a way different from that of the historical approach. Here the apostles are not those who follow Christ but who surround Him.336 And they do not stand as a link between Christ and the Church in a historical process but are the foundations of the Church in a presence of the Kingdom of God here and now337.
These two approaches to the idea of apostolic continuity should not, of course, be oversimplified, for, as I said earlier, the New Testament picture of the concept of apostolate is a complex one. One has to account, for example, for the place of Paul or the other “apostles” in the eschatological image which is based primarily on the Twelve.338 But the fact that Paul himself – and Luke on his behalf – had to find a way of relating his apostleship to that of the Twelve and the Jerusalem Church,339 indicates that the two approaches I have mentioned here were clearly reflected in the consciousness of the primitive Church.
3. The survival of these two approaches in post-apostolic times is very instructive for our subject. With the gradual disappearance of the apostles, the Church had to face the problem of apostolic continuity and work out a way of solving it. The existing sources indicate that both the historical and the eschatological approaches to continuity were preserved at that time.
The historical approach is clearly expressed by I Clement. The scheme “God sends Christ – Christ sends the apostles” becomes the basis for the notion of continuity in terms of historical process: “The apostles have announced to us the good news from Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was sent by God. Thus Christ comes from God and the apostles from Christ. This double mission, therefore, with its order comes from the will of God.”340 This is precisely the New Testament scheme as I expounded it earlier on, and on its basis I Clement elaborates its theory of continuity: “Following the instructions of our Lord Jesus Christ, fully convinced by His resurrection and firm in their faith in the word of God, the apostles went with the assurance of the Holy Spirit to announce everywhere the good news of the coming of the Kingdom of heaven. In the various villages and cities they proclaimed the word and thus made their premises and… established ἐπισκόπους καὶ διακόνους for the future believers.”341 This is an elaborate theory of continuity based on the historical approach. Hence this text has been widely used in connection , with the idea of apostolic succession.
Things are different, however, in the case of another source of the same period, namely the letters of St Ignatius of Antioch. Here we have an example of the eschatological approach to apostolic continuity, as I described it earlier. Ignatius’ image of the Church is borrowed not from history but from the eschatological state of the Church’s convocation “in the same place”342 to partake of the eternal life of God as it is offered to the world at the eucharistic table. Here the image is very much like the one we find in Apocalypse,343 and the implications for the relation of the Church to the apostles are clearly different from those we find in I Clement: the apostles are a united college and they surround Christ in His Kingdom. For this reason it is the college of presbyters surrounding the bishop, who sits “in the place of God”, or is the image of Christ,344 that Ignatius sees the image of the apostles.345 Continuity here is guaranteed and expressed not by way of succession from generation to generation and from individual to individual, but in and through the convocation of the Church in one place, i.e. through its eucharistic structure. It is a continuity of communities and Churches that constitutes and expresses apostolic succession in this approach. If apostolic succession is understood simply in terms of history, the evidence of St Ignatius becomes embarrassing – and it has been so precisely insofar as the eschatological approach to continuity has almost disappeared from our considerations.346
The subsequent history of these two approaches to apostolic continuity is extremely interesting, but does not concern us here. References to it will be made later on in this study by way of historical illustrations of some theological points. What has been said so far is enough to make clear the point that in the very beginnings of the Church’s consciousness of continuity with the apostles – and this applies both to the Eastern and to the Western Churches – there are hidden the seeds of two approaches to this continuity, of an “historical” and an “eschatological” approach.
4. If we now try to penetrate deeply into the theological and ecclesiological nature of these two approaches as they relate to the notion of apostolic continuity, the following points can be made.
The first observation has to do with the notion of continuity itself. What does continuity mean in each of these approaches? In the historical approach the main components of continuity are the following: In the first place continuity means succession or survival in time, i.e. from the past to the present into the future. This succession of survival of the Church’s apostolic origins can take place in different ways. It can take place by way of transmission of certain powers, authority, etc.347 It can also take place by way of normativeness, i.e. in the form of an example to be copied.348 In any case the historical approach creates the basis of a retrospective continuity with the past. The anamnetic function of the Church is employed here in a psychological way, and this leads to the creation of a consciousness of continuity with the past. The Church recalls a time called “apostolic”; whether she relates to it through various media or by way of copying as faithfully as possible this normative period, the fact remains that in this approach her apostolicity comes from the side of the past. On the other hand the eschatological approach implies no sense of transmission or normativity. Here apostolicity comes to the Church from the side of the future. It is the anticipation of the end, the final nature of the Church that reveals her apostolic character. This anticipation should not be misunderstood as psychological; it is not a feeling of expectation and hope that is offered through it, but a real presence of the eschata here and now. “Now is the judgment of the world,”349 and now, this simple moment of the Johannine νῡν, all of history is consummated. The finality or ultimacy of things is what the eschatological approach to apostolicity brings forth. It is the Risen Christ that is related to apostolicity, i.e. the final and ultimate destiny of all that exists.350
All this affects the notion of continuity in a deeper way: it affects especially Christology and Pneumatology in their relation to the apostolic origins of the Church.
In the historical approach, Christology is inevitably the primary thing that provides the structure of continuity.351 The Holy Spirit is the one that is transmitted and He is transmitted by Christ. He is the divine power which enables the apostles in their mission. He is also the one who creates the response to this mission. He is the animator of a basically pre-conceived structure.352 In such an approach Pneumatology indicates an agency; the Spirit is the agent of Christ and is dependent on Him.353 Here Christology indicates a self-defined event and so does the notion of the apostolate. In this historical approach to continuity, the Holy Spirit vivifies pre-existing and self-defined events and relates them to different times and circumstances.
In the eschatological approach, however, things are again different. Here the Spirit is the one who brings the eschata into history.354 He confronts the process of history with its consummation, with its transformation and transfiguration. By bringing the eschata into history, the Spirit does not vivify a pre-existing structure; He creates one; He changes linear historicity into a presence. It is no longer possible to understand history simply as “past,” i.e. to apply to it the psychological and experiential notion of anamnesis in the sense of the retrospective faculty of the human soul. When the eschata visit us, the Church’s anamnesis acquires the eucharistic paradox which no historical consciousness can ever comprehend, i.e. the memory of the future, as we find it in the anaphora of the Liturgy of St John Chrysostom: “Remembering the cross, the resurrection, the ascension and the second coming, Thine own of Thine own we offer Thee.” Unless the Church lets Pneumatology so condition Christology that the sequence of “yesterday-today-tomorrow” is transcended, she will not do full justice to Pneumatology; she will enslave the Spirit in a linear Heilsgeschichte. Yet the Spirit is “the Lord” who transcends linear history and turns historical continuity into a presence.355
All this shows how profoundly all of theology ties up with the notion of apostolic continuity. In the historical approach the apostles are significant for the Church because they are connected with a crucial historical event of the past. In the eschatological approach the apostles unveil and present to us not the words of the kerygma of Christ but the reality and the content of the event of Christ. In the historical approach the apostles are the creators of history whereas in the eschatological approach they are the judges of history. Correspondingly, in the first case the Church is apostolic when she faithfully transmits the apostolic kerygma; in the second case she is apostolic when she applies it to a particular historical context and then judges this context in a prophetic way through the vision of the eschata which she is supposed to maintain. Therefore, if the Church is to be truly apostolic, she must be both historically and eschatologically oriented; she must both transmit history and judge history by placing it in the light of the eschata.
II. Towards a Synthesis of the “Historical” and the “Eschatological” Approach
All that has been said thus far leads to the necessity of a theological synthesis between the historical and the eschatological approaches to the Church’s continuity with the apostles. If one studies the history of theology in the West, one sees how problematic this synthesis has been. Individualistic and psychological notions of continuity have determined Western theology in various forms.356 Thus whenever historical continuity was found to be problematic (e.g. when the problem of the quest for the historical Jesus arose), the alternative was a more or less Neoplatonic dismissal of history, a resort into the eschatology of the meaning of events.357 In the East, on the other hand, the eschatological approach very often took the same form of the search for meaning at the expense of history,358 while a satisfaction with the vision of the eschatological image of the Church as it is expressed in her worship has tended to paralyze missionary activity to an alarming degree.359 How can the synthesis be achieved?
Speaking as I do here from the viewpoint of Orthodox tradition, I see a possibility of synthesis along the following lines.
1. The event of Christ must be regarded as constituted pneumatologically. I stress the word “constituted” because my intention is to say that Christ is not Christ unless He is an existence in the Spirit, which means an eschatological existence. Such a pneumatological constitution of Christology implies, from the viewpoint of ontology, the understanding of Christ not in terms of individuality which affirms itself by distancing itself from other individualities, but in terms of personhood which implies a particularity established in and through communion.360 The implications of this for the notion of continuity are clear. In a pneumatologically constituted Christology an event can never be defined by itself, but only as a relational reality. It is this that allows the Biblical notion of “corporate personality” to be applied to Christ:361 Christ without His body is not Christ but an individual of the worst type. Our continuity, therefore, with the Christ event is not determined by sequence or response based on distance; it is rather a continuity in terms of inclusiveness: we are in Christ, and this is what makes Him be before us, our “first-born brother” in the Pauline sense.362 This is paradoxical but fundamental for understanding the new existence created in Christ. Christ’s priority over us363 is not a priority like the one created by our individualized existence and characterized by temporal sequence; it is a priority of inclusiveness: the including one being prior to the included. This is so precisely because the included is already in the including. God as the Spirit, i.e. as communion, is precisely the all-embracing existence which is participated without participating.364 In the same Spirit of God, Christ contains us in Himself, by His very constitution as Christ in the Spirit. He thus in the Spirit contains by definition the eschata, our final destiny, ourselves as we shall be; He is the eschatological Man – yet, let me repeat, not as an individual but as Church, i.e. because of our being included in Him. It is in this sense that historical existence becomes in Christ and in the Spirit a continuity which comes to us from the future and not through the channels of a divided time sequence like the one we experience in our fallen state of existence. Thus when the eschata enter into history in the Spirit, time is redeemed from fragmentation, and history acquires a different sense.
2. Obviously this affects the notion of apostolicity in a decisive way. If Christ Himself is the eschatological man and our continuity with Him is not determined by the time sequence which implies distance, but by a concept of time determined by an event of communion, the apostles themselves cannot be enclosed in a self-defined event, in a closed past. Their uniqueness is not to be defined in terms of individualized temporal existence, even if this existence graciously, as it were, gives us something of this event which it exclusively possesses. It has done a lot of damage to the notion of apostolicity to think of it in terms of historical prerogatives, be it in the form of the Petrine keys or in that of the apostolic kerygma. For the keys are those of the Kingdom,365 and the kerygma is not an objectifiable norm but the Risen Christ, i.e. a living person; in both cases historical prerogatives are eschatologized. The apostles continue to speak and proclaim Christ in the Church only because the Church is by her very existence the living presence of the Word of God as person. Thus the Church, in listening to the word of the apostles, listens as it were to her own voice, to the voice which comes from her very eschatological nature, echoing her own eschatological destiny. This makes the history of the Church identical with that of the world and of creation as a whole. Thus to recall that the Church is founded on the apostles in an eschatological sense makes the Church acquire her ultimate existential significance as the sign of a redeemed and saved creation. This makes the Church, in the words of St Paul, “the judge of the world,”366 i.e. makes her acquire a prerogative strictly applied to the apostles and especially to the Twelve in their eschatological function.
3. If the Christ event and history in general are pneumatologically conditioned, the fears that may be created by such an identification of the Church with the Kingdom disappear. Such fears, which were to some extent behind the reaction of the Reformation against the medieval Church, are justified only if this identification is derived simply from what we have called here the historical approach to apostolicity (which seems to have been the approach of the medieval Church). But in a pneumatological conditioning of history by eschatology this identification does not present any dangers. The reason is that it takes place epicletically. The epicletic aspect of continuity represents a fundamental point in what I am trying to say here, and its implications must be stressed. In an epicletical context, history ceases to be in itself a guarantee for security. The epiclesis means ecclesiologically that the Church asks to receive from God what she has already received historically in Christ as if she had not received it at all, i.e. as if history did not count in itself. This includes her continuity with the apostles in all its forms. Just as in the eucharist the words of institution cannot be a guarantee in themselves without the Spirit, although what the Spirit does is nothing but prove true the words of Christ “This is my body,” i.e. affirm history, so in her apostolicity, too, the Church needs the Pentecostal scene to be set again and again, each time she wants to affirm her apostolicity. The apostles had received the Spirit from the risen Christ and were baptized in Him in the Pentecost and yet when they elected the seven367 they invoked Him again.368 Any one who thinks in terms of historical continuity must seriously ask the question: What meaning does this repeated invocation of the Spirit have, if the historical approach to apostolic continuity is purely and simply to be accepted? The epicletic life of the Church shows only one thing: That there is no security for her to be found in any historical guarantee as such – be it ministry or word or sacrament or even the historical Christ Himself. Her constant dependence on the Spirit proves that her history is to be constantly eschatological. At the same time the fact that the Spirit points to Christ shows equally well that history is not to be denied. “The Spirit blows where He wills,”369 but we know that He wills to blow towards Christ.370 Eschatology and history are thus not incompatible with each other.
4. The epicletic conditioning, therefore, of the Church’s continuity with the apostles points to the possibility of a synthesis of the historical with the eschatological notion of continuity in a way which overcomes any Neoplatonic form of dualism. To be sure, there is a tension between the “already” and the “not yet” also in the existence “in the Spirit.” But this tension is not dualistic in any sense that would imply an incompatibility between time and eternity, history and eschatology in a Neoplatonic fashion. The incarnation of God in Christ makes it possible to say against Neoplatonic dualism that history is a real bearer of the ultimate, of the very life of God. History as existence in space and time offers in Christ the possibility for communion with the eschata. The tension therefore between history and Kingdom is not one of ontological dualism. The way we can describe it is as longing for a change of form, for transfiguration. In the expression of St Paul, we are anxious to exchange the present form for the eschatological one371 not because the present one is less real or less “ontological” in its nature – it is the very same body we have now that will be resurrected, according to Paul – but because the presence and activity of the Antichrist in history makes the present form of the Church’s existence fragile and a cause of suffering.372 The arrabon of the Kingdom which is the presence of the Spirit373 in history, signifies precisely the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological. This arrabon does not imply – as it is often presented by New Testament theologians – the absence of the eschatological from the historical, i.е. a hope and an expectation on the basis of a word of promise. On the contrary, it signifies a real presence of the eschatological on the basis of the fact that God is present in the historical and risen Christ. The ecclesiological significance of this can be illustrated by the ideas of the book of the Apocalypse, in which the Church lives in an intense epicletic atmosphere containing a synthesis of two elements: on the one hand, the assurance of Christ’s presence on the eucharistic table and, on the other, the Church’s cry: “Come Lord, come.”374 When the Church lives epicletically, she cannot but long for what she already is. The synthesis of the historical with the eschatological in this epicletical conditioning of history constitutes what we may properly – and not in the distorted sense – call the sacramental nature of the Church,
5. This leads to a consideration of the practical question: How can the Church in fact unite the two approaches into one synthesis? Is there any way in the Church’s life in which the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological approaches is realized?
The early Church seems to offer the answer to this question by pointing towards the eucharist. There is, indeed, no other experience in the Church’s life in which the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological can be realized more fully than in the eucharist. The eucharist is, on the one hand, a “tradition” (παράδοσις)375 and a “remembrance” (ἀνάμνησις).376 As such it activates the historical consciousness of the Church in a retrospective way. At the same time, however, the eucharist is the eschatological moment of the Church par excellence, a remembrance of the Kingdom, as it sets the scene for the convocation of the dispersed people of God from the ends of the earth in one place,377 uniting the “many” in “one”378 and offering the taste of the eternal life of God here and now.379 In and through the same experience, therefore, at one and the same moment, the Church unites in the eucharist the two dimensions, past and future, simultaneously as one indivisible reality. This happens “sacramentally,” i.e. in and through historical and material forms, while the existential tension between the “already” and the “not yet” is preserved.380 In the consciousness of the ancient Church this is further emphasized through the use of the epiclesis in the eucharist: the “words of institution” and the entire anamnetic dimension of the Church are placed at the disposal of the Spirit, as if they could not constitute in themselves a sufficient assurance of God’s presence in history. This makes the eucharist the moment in which the Church realizes that her roots are to be found simultaneously in the past and in the future, in history and in the eschata.
The result of the recognition of this unique function of the eucharist in the Early Church was to make the eucharist the milieu and the context in which the basic concrete manifestation of apostolic continuity would take place.381 This centrality of the eucharist has been preserved in the liturgical and canonical tradition of the Orthodox Churches, but Orthodox theology has very often disregarded it, thus making the synthesis between “historical” and “eschatological” problematic.
III. Concrete Consequences for the Life of Church
With these observations in mind we may now look at some concrete implications of this synthesis for the life and structure of the Church. The relation of the Church to the apostles has traditionally included the following main elements:
1. Continuity through the apostolic kerygma.382 The kerygmatic nature of the apostolic function can be understood in both historical and eschatological terms, but it is the synthesis of these two “in the Spirit” that offers the theological perspective for the application of the notion of continuity to the apostolic kerygma. In the New Testament itself we can find an idea of paradosis or logia which are historically transmitted from place to place and time to time. And yet, it is the Spirit that vivifies the words,383 and it is only in the Spirit that the kerygma of Christ can make sense.384 The apostolic kerygma needs to be constantly placed in the Spirit in order to be life and not just words. It cannot be an objectified norm in itself, something that judges the community of the Church from above or from outside.385 It is in the context of the koinonia of the Spirit, which implies the concrete continuity of the Church, that the kerygma of the apostles can be “continued” in a living way.
In the course of the second century and mainly through St Irenaeus and his defence against Gnosticism, the apostolic kerygma, as Irenaeus approaches it in his Epideixis, implies some kind of objectification in the sense of an historically transmitted norm.386 Thus this historical approach to apostolic continuity threatens in a way to overcome the eschatological one. This danger, however, is overcome in Irenaeus’ theology thanks to two factors which survive so strongly in his theology: Pneumatology and the centrality of the eucharist. The Church is to be found only where the Spirit is387 and the apostolic tradition comes to the Church not just through history but as a charisma.388 At the same time, true and orthodox doctrine is to be synthesized with the eucharist: “our doctrine agrees with the eucharist and our eucharist with our doctrine.”389 This synthesis safeguarded the apostolic kerygma from objectification in its transmission through history.
Although the needs of the Church at that time made it imperative to objectify, in a certain sense, the word of God, to create the Scriptural canon, etc.,390 and thus strengthen the historical approach to the idea of apostolic continuity, the eschatological perspective was not lost. But how could the eschatological perspective be preserved under such circumstances?
In the first place, already in the theology of the Greek Fathers, especially St Athanasius and St Cyril of Alexandria, the idea of the Logos of God as person qualified decisively the idea of the Logos of God as word – spoken or written.391 In a eucharistic approach to this idea, which characterized both of these Fathers and the Church of that time as a whole,392 this meant that the spoken or written word of God, as it is historically formulated and transmitted, becomes life and divine presence only in the context of the eschatological community of the eucharist. By developing the “liturgy of the word” as an integral part of the eucharistic liturgy, the Church did nothing but eschatologize the historical, i.e. make the apostolic kerygma come to the Church not simply from the side of the past but simultaneously from the side of the future.393 Only when the preached word becomes identical with the eucharistic flesh does the synthesis of the historical with the eschatological continuity of the kerygma take place. Then the Johannine mentality of the “word made flesh” unites with the Irenaean view that orthodox doctrine and eucharist form an indivisible unity.
Orthodox theology has not fully drawn its conclusions from this. There is a prevailing view among the so-called “conservative” Orthodox theologians that the doctrines of the Church constitute something “untouchable.” This turns dogmas into petrified relics from the past and widens the chasm between the historical and the eschatological perspectives of the continuity of the apostolic kerygma. A study of the early Church and an appreciation of the eucharistic basis of doctrine, however, show that it is better to understand dogmas as doxological statements of the community,394 as the “faith transmitted to the saints,”395 constantly received and re-received by the consciousness of “the community of the saints” in new forms of experience and with a constant openness to the future.
2. Continuity through the apostolic ministry. Perhaps no other aspect of apostolic continuity has suffered so much from the lack of the synthesis we are discussing here, as that of continuity through the ministry. Already in I Clement396 the missionary or historical scheme of continuity implies the idea of apostolic succession through an instituted ministry. Irenaeus once more makes the ministry a norm of some kind for the Church’s continuity with the apostles.397
(a) The question that this raises in the first place is the more general one concerning the place that any form of ministry may have in a proper synthesis of the historical with the eschatological perspective of continuity. The most serious problem which the absence of such a synthesis creates is whether any ministry is necessary at all for apostolic continuity, i.e. whether in fact the eschatological and the historical aspects of continuity are not finally irreconcilable. The dilemma: “institutional” versus “charismatic” which is so widespread today is a genuine product of the lack of such a synthesis.
One of the greatest and historically most inexplicable misfortunes for the Church came when, I do not know how, the most charismatic of all acts, namely ordination into the ministry, came to be regarded as a non- or even anti-charismatic notion. One can suspect on this point a hidden interference of Neoplatonism in Christian theology, perhaps quite early in history.398 But the historical question does not concern us directly here. The point I wish to make is this: If ordination is a charismatic event, then it must take place in an eschatological context. It is not enough to think of ordination as an historical transmission of apostolicity. Ordination must also be a movement coming from the side of the eschatological finality, from the convoked and not just from the dispersed people of God. Hence all ordinations would have to take place in an epicletic context and, more than that, in the context of the community of the Church gathered ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ, with the apostles not as individual originators of ministry but as a presiding college. It is for this reason that not only all charismatic manifestations in the primitive Pauline Churches took place during the eucharistic gatherings,399 but also, as is implied in the Didache400 and dearly evidenced by Hippolytus’ Apostolic Tradition,401 ordination to the ministry in the early Church took place in the same context. The significance of placing ordination in the eucharistic context lies in that in this way the so-called “institutional” does not constitute a self-defined norm. If the epiclesis of the Spirit is constantly required in the context of the eschatological community for ordination, it follows that it is not the institution as such that signifies and actualizes the continuity with the apostles. The fact that each ordination has to take place within the eucharistic context – and not in the private study of a bishop – shows clearly that the historical or institutional continuity must be conditioned by the eschatological community gathered together. This implies that in fact all the orders of the Church are partakers of the apostolic continuity which is realized through an act of ordination. Whereas the historical scheme of continuity can lead to a sacramentalism in ordination by limiting apostolic continuity to the so-called ordained ministry, the eschatological approach leads to the conclusion that, for apostolic continuity to take place, the order of the baptized layman is indispensable. The Church, therefore, relates to the apostles not only through ordination but also through baptism.402
(b) With this remarks in mind we may now consider the meaning that episcopal apostolic succession can have for Orthodox theology. In the case of what we have called here an historical approach to continuity, the bishop can be singled out from the Church as an individual possessing the plentitude of apostolicity which he then transmits to others through ordination. Thus one can talk of an “essential” ministry from which the rest of the ministry is derived. It is interesting that when a group of Anglican theologians published such a thesis some years ago,403 the idea which was found suitable to support this thesis (from the New Testament) was that of apostolicity in terms of shaliach. This supports further my argument that the missionary scheme leads to an individualization of the apostolate. As A. Ehrhardt404 has argued, however, the shaliach idea is of no value for the purpose of establishing episcopal succession in the early Church. Instead, he puts forth the thesis that the first episcopal lists were inspired by the lists of Jewish highpriests and notes that Eusebius’ lists of succession begin not with a particular apostle but with James.405If this thesis is accepted, the indication is clear that what we have called here the eschatological model of the Jerusalem Church structure has been decisive in the rise of episcopal apostolic succession. We can describe then episcopal succession as a continuity of the Church not with an individual apostle but with the apostolic college as a whole406 and the community of the Church in its eschatological setting.407
Now, if in addition to Ehrhardt’s argument we take into account other pieces of evidence from the early Church, we may illustrate this thesis even further.
In spite of the obscurity which surrounds the origins and early development of the episcopal office, it seems possible to discern two different ways of understanding the bishop’s function at that time. On the one hand he was understood as a “co-presbyter,” i.e. as one – presumably the first one – of the college of the presbyterium.408 On the other hand he was looked upon as the type of James the brother of Christ,409 i.e. as the image of Christ – an idea found in Ignatius and other documents of that time.410 This resulted naturally into the double image we encounter for the first time clearly in Hippolytus: the bishop as alter Christus and alter apostolus.
It is worthwhile stopping for a moment at the evidence of Hippolytus, for, in my view, he seems to be the first one to offer a synthesis of the images of episcopate which I have just mentioned. This Hippolytan synthesis acquires special importance for our subject, as it seems to correspond to the synthesis of the historical and the eschatological perspectives of apostolic continuity. An analysis of the views of episcopacy implied in the Apostolic Tradition leads to the following observations:
(i) The bishop is simultaneously the image of Christ and the image of the apostles.411 This combination of the two images is decisive for the history of the concept of apostolic succession in terms of the synthesis between the historical and the eschatological perspectives.
(ii) The presbyterium is understood as a college and is related to the functions of counseling and governing.412 This means that the christological image is reserved for the bishop, who alone like Christ can give the ministry,413 while the presbyters surround and accompany him in this “giving.”414 The implication of this is that apostolic continuity is realized through the bishop, not as an individual, but in his being surrounded by the college of the presbyterium. This is a way of preserving the balance between the alter Christus and the alter apostolus images of episcopacy.
(iii) Furthermore, all this presupposes the convocation of the entire community ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ for all the functions of episcopacy (e.g. ordination) which relate to the continuation of the apostolic ministry.415 The context must be that of the synthesis between history and eschatology provided by the eucharist. It is for this reason that the eucharist is the indispensible context of ordination.
The conclusion which emerges from this Hippolytan synthesis is to be noted and underlined most emphatically. Apostolic succession through episcopacy is essentially a succession of Church structure. The concrete implications of this are clear: in adhering to episcopal succession the Church does not isolate episcopacy from the rest of the Church orders (including the laity) but, on the contrary, she makes it absolutely dependent on them, just as they are absolutely dependent on it. It is a false idea of succession to break down this interdependence of orders, for without the complete structure of the community the eschatological perspective, i.e. the convocation of the dispersed people of God, disappears entirely. We are then left with the purely historical approach to continuity accompanied with notions of sacramentalism, juridical potestas and all the problems they entail. In a full synthesis of the historical with the eschatological perspectives, episcopal succession becomes indispensible only because through it, it becomes clear that it is the entire community of the Church that embodies apostolic continuity.
That the bishop is to be understood as part of the structure of the community and not as an individual is to be seen in the way his ordination and power of jurisdiction are conditioned liturgically and canonically up to now, at least in the East. Thus: (i) no bishop can be ordained without reference to the name of his community in the very prayer of ordination.416 This applies today even to the ordination of titular bishops.417 This is especially significant for the East which has never understood the power of jurisdiction as being independent of the prayer of ordination.418 (ii) This is underlined by a significant canonical provision surviving up to today in the East, although without consciousness of its meaning, namely that only bishops who are heads of actual communities can participate in a council. It is evident from this that the charisma veritatis of the bishop is not an individual possession transmitted through ordination but is tied up with the entire community.419 In episcopal succession, therefore, we have essentially succession of communities. All this helps us answer the historical question which is full of important implications for ecclesiology: Why did the Church choose the bishop as the instrument of apostolic succession? Why were there, for example, no lists of presbyteral successions? If the concern of the Church was historically to transmit the apostolic doctrine, the natural thing would have been to see this transmission through the presbyters, who were in fact charged precisely with the task of teaching the faith at that time.420 Indeed, every form of historical transmission of apostolic functions could be realized through other ministries outside the bishop.421 It is only when apostolic continuity is understood as a continuity of structure and as a succession of communities that the episcopal character of apostolic succession acquires its uniqueness. But the element of “structure” and “community” emerges only when the eschatological perspective, as we have described it here, influences our understanding of apostolic continuity in a decisive way.
(c) If we arrive at the importance of the episcopal succession via the idea of continuity of structure, we can appreciate the traditional assignment to the bishop of the role of the sole ordainer.422 Because of his place in the structure of the community, especially in its eucharistic form, the bishop is the one through whom all charismatic manifestations of the Church must pass, so that they may be manifestations not of individualism but of the koinonia of the Spirit and of the community created by it. Extraordinary or (as they are called today) “charismatic” ministries have their place in the Church and must be encouraged. But it is only if they are parts of the structure of the community that they are not in danger of becoming the kind of individualistic manifestations which St Paul fought so vigorously in Corinth. All these extraordinary ministries, therefore, become integral parts of the apostolic continuity in the synthesis I am expounding here, if they go through the bishop, in whom the entire structure converges and the “many” become “one” in a particular existential milieu.
(d) We can now consider the question of the Church’s relation with the apostles on another level, broader than that of the local community. One of the natural consequences of the historical approach to apostolic continuity is that through it the founding of churches acquires special significance. This, as we have noticed, forms an integral part of the theory of continuity elaborated by I Clement and is tied up with the idea of mission and of transmission of the apostolic kerygma. This leads naturally to the importance of the Churches which can claim apostolic foundation and origin. If an apostle preached or even died in a particular Church, this Church could claim special authority with regard to apostolic continuity.
The argument of the special authority of apostolic sees was used very frequently in the course of the second century423 and afterwards.424 The point that interests us here is that this argument can make sense only if the apostles are understood as individuals, dispersed in the world as missionaries – which is precisely what the historical approach is about, as I have expounded it here.425 But what happens when the eschatological perspective enters into the picture and the apostles are understood as a college surrounding Christ?
The first theologian I know of who altered decisively the Ignatian scheme as well as the Hippolytan synthesis so as to respond to this problem seems to have been St Cyprian. With Cyprian the eschatological image of the apostolic college surrounding Christ – an image which was applied to the structure of the local Church by Ignatius and Hippolytus (the bishop surrounded by the presbyterium) – is changed to become an image of the apostolic college surrounding its head, St Peter. Thus for him each episcopal throne is not, as it is for Ignatius, the “place of God” or Christ, but the cathedra Petri.426 The significance of this alteration is that we can now talk of unus episcopatus dispersed over the earth with Peter as its head.427 This leads to the concept of episcopal collegiality, as it has been expounded today in Roman Catholic theology.
The implications of this Cyprianic view are so important that they require serious reflection. How could this view be understood in a synthesis of the historical with the eschatological perspectives of apostolic continuity?
In the first place it must be noted that for St Cyprian each episcopal throne is a cathedra Petri.428 This is significant because it implies that the Ignatian view of the indivisibility of the apostolic college in its eschatological nature, as it is manifested in the eucharist, is preserved fully for each episcopal Church.429 It is, therefore, wrong to read universalistic ideas into the ecclesiology of Cyprian.430 There are, however, two basic elements in this view which decisively affect the synthesis we are concerned with here. In the first place this view leads to the disappearance of the Christological image of episcopacy. Thus it leads away from both Ignatius and Hippolytus. The bishop becomes alter apostolus431 (Peter) but not alter Christus.432 In the second place, and as a consequence of this, the structure of the local Church ceases to reflect the Kingdom of God with Christ surrounded by the apostles. The eschatological perspective, therefore, is in danger of disappearing from ecclesiology. We are getting very near to an idea of apostolic succession understood in strictly historical terms and regardless of the eschatological structure of the community.
Nevertheless, if we wish to do justice to the intention of St Cyprian, we must make sure at least that in understanding the bishop as alter Petrus we do not dissolve the apostolic college. This means that we must take seriously his application of the image of the apostolic college in its entirety to each episcopal Church. This would preserve an essential part of the eschatological image of apostolicity in the Church structure. In speaking, therefore, of unus episcopatus we should not speak of a structure outside or above or independent of the concrete community to which each bishop is attached through ordination.
This leads us to a point which is essential to the Orthodox view of apostolic continuity through the episcopal college. For Orthodox theology – or rather for Orthodox tradition – the decisive link between the apostolic college and the episcopal college lies, structurally speaking, in the ordination of the bishop.433 There is a double conditioning of each episcopal ordination which is significant in this respect: on the one hand, as I have already said, the bishop is attached to a particular community; on the other hand, he is ordained by at least two other bishops.434 He is thus linked simultaneously with the apostolic college as it is expressed in his own Church and in other Churches. This simultaneity of the two dimensions, local and universal,435 protects the idea of apostolic college from a historization which would make impossible the “theophanic” revelation and existential realization of the eschatological structure of the Church in each local eucharistic community.
The Petrine role, therefore, in apostolic succession through episcopacy is not irrelevant to, but can be integrated in the synthesis which I am expounding here. This would require a theological appreciation of the proper relation between the apostolic college in its local and in its universal manifestations. Such a relation can only be one of identity, so that neither of these manifestations may have priority over the other.436 This would, I think, do justice to the intention of St Cyprian and in spite of the defects of the Cyprianic view itself437 may offer significant ecumenical possibilities today.438
One of the points that become clear in any case, when we place the universal dimensions of apostolic continuity in the light of the synthesis I am expounding here, is that we cannot argue from the standpoint of special apostolic sees without destroying this synthesis. Special apostolic character can and must be recognized in all those Churches which happen to have historical links with one or more of the great apostles. But this is not to be confused with the deeper and fundamental notion of apostolic continuity which passes through the very nature and structure of each Church and relates not just to the historical but also to the eschatological perspective of apostolic continuity. In the Orthodox Churches such sees have been honored and given primacy (e.g. as patriarchates and otherwise), but they have never been distinguished from the rest of the episcopal sees from the point of view of the essential apostolic continuity in which both the historical and the eschatological perspectives merge into a synthesis.439 This observation may serve to illustrate further how deeply this synthesis is rooted in the consciousness of the Orthodox Church.
IV. Conclusions for the Ecumenical Debate
The classical concept of apostolic succession has been formed in a one-sided way. It has virtually ignored the fundamental Biblical image of the apostles as an indivisible college surrounding Christ in His Kingdom. As a consequence of this, it has ignored entirely a long tradition, well established in the early Church, especially in Syria and Palestine (Ignatius of Antioch, Didascalia, Apostolic Constitutions, Eusebius’ succession lists, etc.), which applied this image of the apostolate to the notion of apostolic continuity.
As a result of this, the classical concept of apostolic succession has presented continuity in terms of historical process. Ideas of transmission, normativeness, etc. have become keynotes in this concept. Continuity with the apostles became inconceivable apart from the notion of a linear history. The problems that this one-sided approach has created hardly need to be mentioned. They are still with us today in the ecumenical dialogue.
My attempt in this brief study has been to do some justice to the traditionally overlooked approach which I have called “eschatological” – with the necessary qualifications to which I have referred. I have done this because I believe that no research into the theological consciousness of the Orthodox Churches can be done properly without this approach which, although practically absent from theological manuals, nevertheless survives vividly in the iconological and liturgical approaches to the mystery of the Church. I have, therefore, done this in the first place because Orthodox theology needs badly to be reminded of it. At the same time, I hope that the ecumenical dialogue as a whole can profit something from doing justice to this traditionally ignored approach.
At first sight the eschatological image of the apostles, to which I have referred in this study, seems to have little to do with continuity: can we talk about the eschatological realities in terms of continuity? The answer is of course negative. The Kingdom comes to us as a visit and a presence; it does not come “by observation” (Luke 17:20). The synthesis, therefore, between the “historical” and the “eschatological” perspectives of apostolicity cannot remove the tension between history and the eschata. Nevertheless “presence” and “continuity” can be related in a synthesis. In fact they have been related in the early Church. The synthesis of the two perspectives is not just a theoretical construction; it is a practical possibility.
What makes this synthesis possible is that the Kingdom of God is always present with a structure. Those who operate with the dilemma “institution or event” may revolt against such a thesis, but they must think twice before they do so. The reason is twofold. In the first place there is no Kingdom of God outside the work of the Holy Spirit, who is by definition communion. This means that the Kingdom of God is a community and this implies a structure, for it implies both a convocation and a basic line of demarcation, a judgment (Matt. 25). In the second place there is no Kingdom of God which is not centered on Christ surrounded by the apostles. And this implies again a structure, a specificity of relations, a situation in which the relations within the community are definable, and they are definable not arbitrarily but in accordance with the eschatological nature of the community. All this means that any reference to the presence of the eschata in history (Acts 2:17) implies automatically a communion structured in a certain manner (Acts 1:12 – 26 and 2:42). This is already a synthesis between the historical and the eschatological realities.
How can this structure which emerges from the eschata be translated into concrete historical terms? And how can this translation take place without turning the Kingdom into sheer history? It is at this point that institutions appear to be threatening the nature of the Church.
The way the Church faced this problem from the beginning is, and I think will always be, the only way to face it. Our Lord, before He left His disciples, offered them a sort of “diagram” of the Kingdom when He gathered them together in the Upper Room. It was not one “sacrament” out of “two” or “seven” that He offered them, nor simply a memorial of Himself, but a real image of the Kingdom. At least this is how the Church saw it from the beginning. In the eucharist, therefore, the Church found the structure of the Kingdom, and it was this structure that she transferred to her own structure. In the eucharist the “many” become “one” (I Cor. 10:17), the people of God become the Church by being called from their dispersion (ek-klesia) to one place (ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ). Through her communion in the eternal life of the Trinity, the Church becomes “the body of Christ,” that body in which death has been conquered and by virtue of which the eschatological unity of all is offered as a promise to the entire world. The historical Jesus and the eschatological Christ in this way become one reality, and thus a real synthesis of history with eschatology takes place.
It is not, therefore, an accident that the eucharist provided the early Church from the beginning with (a) the basic concept and framework of her structure, and (b) the context for the perpetuation of this structure in history. This leads to a real synthesis between the historical and the eschatological dimensions of the Church’s existence without the danger of “institutionalization.” For the eucharist is perhaps the only reality in the Church which is at once an institution and an event; it is the uniquely privileged moment of the Church’s existence in which the Kingdom comes epicletically, i.e. without emerging as an expression of the historical process, although it is manifested through historical forms. In this context the Church relates to the apostles simultaneously by looking backward and forward, to the past and to the future – always, however, by letting the eschaton determine history and its structures.
If this synthesis is applied to the problems faced by the Churches today, some fundamental reconsiderations will inevitably emerge. In the first place, the Churches will have to reconsider any notions that they may have of a derived ministry. Continuity of apostolic ministry will cease to be identical with canalization. The same would apply to the continuity of faith or doctrine. Tradition is not just passed on from one generation to another; it is constantly re-enacted and re-received in the Spirit. This will bring out the importance of the Church as a community – the community which results from the communion of the Spirit – and of the basic structure of this community – the structure which emerges from the vision of the eschatological community as the complex of the specific relations (ministries) in and through which the Spirit constitutes this community.
Thus the structure which provides the historical form of the Church’s continuity with the apostles will be determined not just by history but also – or rather ultimately – by the eschatological vision of the Church. The historical heritage of the past – on which the Churches have insisted for so long – as well as the historical needs of the present (concern with social problems, etc.) – which seem to preoccupy the ecumenical movement in our days – will both have to be judged by this ultimate, final judgment provided by the vision of the eschata, without which no real unity of the Church can exist.
For a long time now the Churches have been using criteria of unity by singling out various norms (this or that ministry, this or that doctrine, etc.). And yet every such norm taken in itself cannot but be a false criterion. The Church relates to the apostles in and through the presence of the eschatological community in history. This is not a denial of history, for it is through historical forms that this presence takes place. But the ultimate criterion for unity is to be found in the question to what extent the actual form of the Church’s ministry and message today – or at any given moment – reflect the presence of this eschatological community.
* * *
Cf. the remarks of Fr Y. Congar in Le Concile et les Conciles (ed. B. Botte et al., I960), p. 287: The East “suit beaucoup plus l’idée, très presente chez les Pères et dans la liturgie, d’une ‘phanie,’ d’une manifestation des réalités célestes, invisibles, sur la terre. Il s’ensuit une conception principalement sacramentelle et iconologique de l’Eglise.”
Thus it is a common phenomenon in ecumenical circles to regard the Orthodox both as “traditionalists” and as detached from the problems of history and preoccupied with the “triumphalism” of their liturgy.
E.g. the difficulty of integrating the sacramental conception of apostolic succession with the idea of linear historical transmission of authority in Vatican II. See B.-D. Dupuy, “La succession apostolique dans la discussion oecuménique,” Istina 12 (1967), pp. 391 – 401, esp. p. 391.
For a discussion of these difficulties see R. Schnackenburg, “L’apostolicité: état de la recherche,” Istina 14 (1969), pp. 5 – 32; Engl. trans. in One in Christ 6 (1970), pp. 243 – 273.
The sending out of the apostles in pairs (Mark 6:7) need not occupy us here. On this peculiar Jewish-Palestinian feature see J. Jeremias, “Paarweise Sendung im Neuen Testament,” in New Testament Essays (in memory of T. W. Manson, ed. by A.J.B. Higgins, 1959), pp. 136 – 143.
Cf. К. H. Rengstorf “ἀπόστολος” in Kittel’s Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (1933), pp. 406 – 448. For a critical approach: G. Klein, Die Zwölf Apostel (1961), pp. 22 – 38, Cf. below, n. 403.
Hence the application of the term “apostle” to a group broader than the Twelve. Paul’s apostolate constitutes part of this problem. On these and related questions see R. Schnackenburg, op. cit., pp. 246ff.
It is not, for example, clear whether the apostolate is related to “the historical Jesus” (Acts 1:22) or just to the Risen Christ (Gal., 1:1; II Cor. 10 – 13, etc.) or even to neither of the two (Rom. 16:7; Acts 14:14, etc.). The bibliography on these problems is enormous. See R. Schnackenburg, op. cit.
This scheme is offered basically in the New Testament: John 20:21; Luke 10:16, etc. Christ Himself is an “apostle” (Heb. 3:1). See also John 17:7f; Matt. 28:18 – 20; Rom. 10:13 – 17; I John 1:1 – 13; II Tim. 2:2; Tit. 1:5, etc. It is on the basis of this “historical” or “missionary” scheme that transmission of apostolic authority to other persons for the continuation of this mission is mentioned already in the New Testament (Acts 20:17 – 35; I Tim. 5:22; 4:4; II Tim, 2:2; Тit 1:4; 2:1 – 15, etc.). Cf. Ph. Menoud, L’Eglise et son ministère selon le N. T. (1949); J.Colson, “La succession apostolique au niveau du Ier siècle,” Verbum Caro (1961), pp. 138 – 172.
The importance of eschatology for the understanding of the original concept of the apostolate became apparent with the discovery of the eschatological character of Christ’s teaching through the works of J. Weiss and A. Schweitzer. Cf. E. M. Kredel, “Der Apostelbegriff in der neuren Exegese,” Zeitschrift für Katholische Theologie 78 (1956), pp. 169 – 193 and 257 – 305. Also, J. Roloff, Apostolat-Verkündigung – Kirche (1965), pp. 23 – 27. The implications of eschatology for the Church’s continuity with the apostles have been recently emphasized by W. Pannenberg, “La signification de l’eschatologie pour la compréhension de 1'apostolicité et de la catholicité de l’Eglise,” Istina 14 (1969), pp. 154 – 170; Engl. trans. in One in Christ 6 (1970), pp. 410 – 429. See also I. Cerfaux, “La mission apostolique des Douze et sa portée eschatologique,” in Mélanges E. Tisserant I (1964), pp. 43 – 66, and Y. Congar, “Composantes et idée de la Succession Apostolique,” in Oecumenica (1966), pp. 61 – 80, esp. pp. 75 –76.
Didache 9:4; 10:5. Cf. Matt. 25:32; John 11:52 etc. In stressing the difference between the “missionary” and the “eschatological” images of the apostolate, I do not wish to deny the eschatological character of the apostolic mission as it appears especially in Paul (see on this works mentioned in previous note, esp. Pannenberg and Congar). But I maintain the view that there is a difference between eschatology conceived as orientation, and eschatology conceived as a state of existence which reveals itself here and now. As orientation, eschatology appears to be the result of historical process as the climax of mission (e.g. in the above mentioned authors), whereas as a state of existence it confronts history already now with a presence from beyond history. In the latter case an “iconic” and liturgical approach to eschatology is necessary more than it is in the former. It is the understanding of eschatology as this kind of presence of the Kingdom here and now that requires convocation of the dispersed people of God and of the apostles. As such this image presupposes the end of mission. This proleptic experience of the presence of the eschata here and now – and not simply the orientation towards this end – was there from the beginning (Acts 2; 17) and was realized mainly in the eucharist (Didache). It is with this kind of eschatology that I wish to relate my subject here.
See e.g. Matt. 19:28; Luke 22:30. Cf. Acts 1:12 – 26 (for its eschatological connections cf. 2:17).
This image, based on the Last Supper (note again the eschatological context), became the standard form of reference to the apostles in the eucharistic liturgies ever since the Apocalypse and Ignatius of Antioch.
Арос. 21:14. In Ephesians (2:20) we have the use of the image of the “apostles” as foundations of the Church in a historical sense. But in this case the reference to the “apostles” is probably not to the Twelve or the apostolic college, but to missionaries.
For the present state of research on this subject see R. Schnackenburg, op. cit., pp. 8ff.
On Paul see the work of J. Munck, Paulus und die Heilsgeschichte (1954). Cf. the thesis concerning Paul’s dependence on the Twelve by P. Gaechter, “Schranken im Apostolat des Paulus,” in Petrus und seine Zeit (1958), pp. 338 – 450. On the importance of the Twelve for overcoming the tension (“dualism”?) between “institutional” and “charismatic” Apostolate, see J. L. Leuba, L’institution et l’événement (1950), pp. 47ff. The rise of the position of James is very instructive for the argument of this paper concerning our eschatological approach to apostolicity in terms of permanent Church structures. With the disappearance of the Twelve from the Jerusalem Church (dispersion for mission?) the scheme “apostles and presbyters” is replaced with that of “James and the presbyters” (Acts 21:18). The significance of this scheme lies in the eschatological nature of the Jerusalem Church as the center of the earth, where all mission converges in its final consummation (Rom. 15:19). Paul must be reconciled with “James and the presbyters” precisely because the latter represent the eschatological court of the Church. Thus we have from the beginning а structure emerging from the eschatological state of the Church’s convocation. It is more than significant to notice how this model is transferred to the eucharist and through that to the episcopacy after the fall of Jerusalem. It is not possible to discuss this here (cf. n. 410 below; also my book The Unity of the Church in the Eucharist and the Bishop in the First Three Centuries [1965 – in Greek]). But it is interesting to note the relation of this development to the eschatological approach to apostolicity.
I Clement, 42:1 – 2.
Ibid., 42:2 – 4, cf. 44:1 – 4.
This expression is used by Ignatius frequently and usually in connection with the eucharist, e.g. Eph., 5:2 – 3; Polyc., 4:2; Magn., 7:12 etc.
Apoc. 4 – 5.
Ignatius, Magn. 6:1, 3:1 – 2; Tral. 3:1. The idea that the bishop is the image of Christ survived at least until the fourth century (e.g. in Pseudo-Clem. Homil., 3:62). Cf. O. Perler, “L’Evêque, représentant du Christ…” in L’Episcopat et l’Eglise universelle, ed. Y. Congar and B.-D. Dupuy, Unam Sanctam 39 (1962), pp. 31 – 66.
Ignatius, Magn. 6:1. The image we get in Ignatius corresponds to that of Christ surrounded by the apostles in the eschatological – and eucharistic – convocation of the people of God (cf. above n. 334).
The conviction underlying this article is that we are not allowed to form our view of apostolic continuity without taking Ignatius into account. Ignatius is by no means an exception in the early Church with regard to his view of apostolic continuity. He is preceeded by such sources as the book of the Apocalypse (chs. 4 – 5) and followed by a long tradition represented by the Syriac Didascalia Apostolorum (ch. 9), the Constitutiones Apost. (II, 24) etc. The iconological and eschatological approach of this tradition survived to a large extent in Byzantium and the Orthodox Churches. Disregarding all this tradition would mean depriving our view of apostolic continuity of an essential part of the most primitive approach to our subject.
Such views developed in the West in the Middle Ages. See Y. Congar, L’Eglise de st Augustin à l’epoque moderne (Histoire des Dogmas III, 3, 1970), passim, and esp. 173 ff. Also ibid., “Quelques problèmes touchant les mlnistères,” Nouvelle Revue Théologique 93 (1971), pp. 785 – 800.
This idea is inherent in the Reformation principle of sola Scriptura. Recently H. Küng, Die Kirche (1967), esp. pp. 421 f., in describing continuity with the Apostles in terms of “imitation” (Nachfolge) has basically adopted the approach to the Apostles as the example and paradigm to be copied.
On the importance of the Resurrection for the eschatological approach to apostolicity see W. Pannenberg, op. cit., p. 158f. It must be noted that in the Johannine concept of “now” (νῡν) the finality of the risen Christ does not evolve from a historical process but comes to us as a visit and a tabernacle from outside (cf. John 1:14).
For such a view see e.g. Y. Congar, “Pneumatologie et théologie de l’histoire,” Archivio di Filosofia (1971), p. 63.
The ecclesiology of Vatican II gives the impression that Pneumatology is used after the structure of the Church is established with the help of Christology. Cf. ch. III above.
The connection between what we call here the “historical”' approach and this type of Pneumatology can be illustrated by the issue of Filioque. It is interesting that both the East and the West admit the dependence of the Holy Spirit upon the Son on the level of historical mission. The differences arise only when the metahistorical or iconological approach to the divine mystery becomes predominant. The problem can be traced back to the fourth century: St Basil in his De Spiritu Sancto replaces the formula of the Alexandrian theologians “from the Father – through the Son – in the Spirit” with that of “The Father with the Son and with the Spirit” precisely because his argument is taken from the realm of worship and not from historical revelation. It is worth looking at the Filioque problem from the angle of the fate of the iconological approach to God – and to reality in general – in Western thought.
A more detailed discussion of this appears in my “Die Pneumatologische Dimension der Kirche,” Internationale Katholische Zeitschrift” 2 (1973), pp. 133 – 147.
This is particularly true with regard to the sacraments, the ministry (problem of “character”) etc.
E.g. R. Bultmann’s school clearly has tended in this direction. The current problem of reconciling the “charismatic” with the “institutional” aspects of the Church illustrates this further.
One can see this in(?) the East as early as Origen. His emphasis on the eschatological meaning of the Gospel at the expense of the historical is well known. See e.g. In Jo. 1:24, 6:6 etc. Cf. G. Florovsky, “Origen, Eusebius and the Iconoclastic Controversy,” Church History 19, (1950) pp. 77 – 96. Origen’s views on apostolic succession are deeply influenced by this approach: apostolic succession is essentially a continuity of the teaching of Christ (De Princ. 4:9; In Luk. 34 etc.), a succession of Gnostics in the Spirit (De Orat. 28:9, cf. Comm. Rom. 7:5) rather than a succession through historical institutions. The tendency to stress the “charismatic” at the expense of the “institutional” continuity of the Church reappeared in Orthodoxy through various pietistic movements and tendencies in modern times.
This must be admitted in spite of any historical reasons that may be offered as explanations.
It is noteworthy that it is the function of the Holy Spirit to open up being so that it may become relational. Without Pneumatology, ontology becomes substantialistic and individualistic. The Spirit was understood as “communion” both by the Greek (e.g. St Basil) and the Latin (e.g. St Augustine) Fathers – especially by the latter. But the importance of Pneumatology for ontology has never been a decisive one in Western thought.
On “corporate personality” cf. S. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture (1926); H. Wheeler Robinson, The Hebrew Conception of Corporate Personality (1936); A. R. Johnson, The One and the Many in the Israelite Conception of God (1942); J. de Fraine, Adam et son lignage: Etudes sur la “personalité corporative” dans la Bible (1959).
Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:15 – 18 etc. In a linear type of “Heilsgeschichte” the “before” indicates a part of history – a period preceding another one – just as it happens with historical consciousness as it is known especially in modern times. But if the historical consciousness is decisively determined by eschatology, the “before” is comprehensible only in terms of the “last,” the final. Such is the Pauline understanding of the “first-born”: Christ is “before” us (our πρωτότοκος brother and our ἀρχηγὸς) precisely in His being the “last” (ἒσχατος) Adam (I Cor. 15:45), the realization and consummation of history. It is obvious that all this makes no sense in terms of linear «Heilsgeschichte.”
Cf. the notion of κοινωνία in the Greek Fathers as discussed by A. Houssiau, “Incarnation et communion selon les Pères grecs,” Irénikon 43 (1972), pp. 457 – 468.
The power to “bind and loose” which is given to St Peter (Matt. 16:18 – 19) is incomprehensible without eschatology, since the nature of this power is eschatological: it concerns eternal finality. If this eschatological nature of the power given to Peter in Matt. 16:18 is taken into consideration, granting of this power to all the Apostles in John 20:23 or even to the entire community in Matt. 18:18 does not lead to irreconcilable alternatives. The fact that the primitive Church could accept all of these three possibilities at once (two of them appear even in the same Gospel!) points to the fact that primitive eschatology implied inevitably the image of the convoked Church and of the apostolic college (cf. above n. 334). If this perspective is recovered, any application of this authority would require the context of the convoked Church. In fact there is good historical reason to believe that the early Church applied this power to “bind and loose” from the beginning precisely in and through her convocation in the eucharistic gatherings. (The evidence on this point is considerable. Cf. my article “The Development of Conciliar Structures to the Time of the First Ecumenical Council” in Councils and the Ecumenical Movement [= World Council Studies 5, 1968] pp. 34 – 51, esp. pp. 34 – 39). Cf. below on the implications of this approach for the Petrine role in the Church, and esp. n. 438.
Acts 6:1 – 6.
That every ordination – especially that of a bishop – requires the Pentecostal event as its context is indicated in Orthodox liturgical tradition by the fact that in every episcopal ordination the feast of Pentecost is celebrated.
Apoc. 4 – 5 and 22:17.
Luke 22:19; I Cor. 11:24 – 25.
Didache 9:4, 10:5. Cf. the description of the eucharist as a σύναξις ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ by Paul and Ignatius (cf. n. 334 above). It is also noteworthy that the celebration of the eucharist саmе to be associated very early with Sunday (Apoc. 1:10; on the evidence of the early sources see W. Rordorf, Sunday: The History of the Day of Rest and Worship in the Earliest Centuries of the Christian Church (1968] pp. 177ff. and 238ff.). The significance of the celebration of the eucharist on Sunday lies in the fact that Sunday is the eschatological day par excellence. If the eucharist was to be understood primarily as an anamnesis in historical terms, the natural day of its celebration would be the day of its institution before the crucifixion, and not the day of the resurrection.
I Cor. 10:16 – 17; Mark 14:24 and parallels. For the ecclesiological implications of this idea cf. chapter 4 above: “Eucharist and Catholicity.”
See especially the Fourth Gospel (6:27 – 51) and Ignatius (Eph. 20:2; Magn. 6:2 etc.). On Ignatius see J. Romanides, The Ecclesiology of St Ignatius of Antioch, (1956).
Cf. above n. 374.
I Cor. 14 shows that already in the first apostolic communities the eucharisric gatherings were the context of charismatic manifestations. The liturgical evidence of the early Church, since Hippolytus, shows that ordination into the ministry ought to be placed in the same context.
The term kerygma is used here in the broad sense which includes both the act of proclamation of important news to the public (original sense; cf. Luke 12:3; Acts 10:42; Col. 1:23; I Tim. 3:16; Apoc. 5:2) and the content of the kerygma, the didache, together with its interpretation through doctrine, dogma, etc., as it came to be understood especially from the second century onwards with Irenaeus’ Epideixis.
Cf. Y. Congar, Ministères et Communion ecclésiale (1971), p.90.
Apart from Irenaeus’ Epideixis as a whole, see his Haer. III 3:1; IV 26:2; 38:8 etc.
Irenaeus, Haer. III 24:1.
Ibid. IV 26:2.
Ibid. IV 18:5.
Cf. A. Benoît, “L’apostolicité au IIe siècle,” Verbum Caro 58 (1961), pp. 173 – 184.
The problems which the use of the term logos as “word” for Christ created in the early Church show how dangerous the application to Christology of the notion of the “word” as spoken or written can be. As a reaction against Sabellianism and Arianism, the Fathers were forced to deny entirely any association of these two senses of logos and thus replace definitely the connotation of spoken or written word with that of person exclusively. See e.g. Eusebius, Dem. evang. 5:5 and especially Athanasius Contra Ar. 2:35 and Cyril of Alexandria, De recta fide ad Theod. 6. The symbol of Sirmium (351) even anathematizes those who call the logos of God ἐνδιάθετος or προϕορικός.
It is interesting to note how the Christological controversies of the early Church related to the eucharist. See e.g. H. Chadwick, “Eucharist and Christology in the Nestorian Controversy,” Journal of Theological Studies 2 (1951), pp. 145 – 164.
In the Orthodox Liturgy this is indicated by the fact that the readings from the Bible are placed in the doxological context of the Trisagion which is sung before them. This is clearly meant to indicate that the word of God comes to the Church not simply from the past as a book and a fixed canon, but mainly from the eschatological reality of the Kingdom, from the throne of God which is at that moment of the Liturgy occupied by the bishop. This is why the reading is traditionally sung and not just read didactically. (Some Orthodox priests today, apparently not realizing this, do not sing the Gospel readings but read them like prose in order to make them more understandable and thus edifying!)
E. Schlink, Der kommende Christas und die kirchliche Traditionen (1961) has worked out a remarkable appreciation of the doxological nature of doctrine. The contrast between the “kerygmatic” and the “doxological” kinds of theological statements, which is found in this book, points precisely to the necessity of a synthesis between the “historical” and the “eschatological” approaches to apostolic continuity.
See above n. 340 and 341.
Irenaeus, Haer. III 3:1 – 4; IV 26:2. Also Tertullian, De Praescr. 32 and Hippolytus, Philos. 1, proem.
This is, for example, noticeable in Origen’s distinction between the actual fact and its meaning, which leads to a contrast between charisma and ministry – a consequence which is already present in Origen’s thought, as his views on apostolic succession show. See above n. 359.
See I Cor. 14.
Didache 15 (on ordination) is joined with 14 (on the Sunday eucharist) with the word “therefore.”
Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 2.
Cf. B.-D. Dupuy, op. cit. p. 348: “C’est le peuple fidèle en son entier qui porte conjointement avec les ministres la succession apostolique.” It is usually forgotten that baptism itself is an ordination in that it comprises two elements: (a) laying on of hands with invocation of the Spirit (hence confirmation is inseparable from baptism), and (b) assignment to a particular ordo (τάγμα or τάξις in Greek) in the Church. On the latter – which is usually overlooked under the influence of Tertullian and later Latin writers – see, for example, I Clement 40:3 – 41 where tagma applies also to the laity. A fuller discussion appears in my “Some Reflections on Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist,” Sobornost 5 (1969), pp. 644 – 652.
K. E. Kirk, ed., The Apostolic Ministry: Essays on the History and the Doctrine of Episcopacy (1946, second edit. 1957).
A. Ehrhardt, The Apostolic Succession in the First Two Centuries of the Church (1953).
Ibid. pp. 35 – 61.
Cf. F. Dvornik, The Idea of Apostolicity in Byzantium and the Legend of St. Andrew (1958), pp. 39f. Cf. Y. Congar, L’Eglise une, sainte, catholique et apostolique (Mysterium Salutis 15, 1970), p. 196. N. Afanasiev, in spite of his eucharistic ecclesiology, failed to appreciate the indivisibility of the apostolic college in succession and put forth the view which is incompatible with the eschatological image of the Church that “l’évêque devient par son Eglise, le successeur de tel on tel apôtre, et non pas des apôtres en general” in “Réflexions d’un Orthodoxe sur la collegialité des évêques,” Le Messager Orthodoxe (1965), pp. 7 – 15.
The performance of every episcopal ordination within the context of the Pentecostal event (cf. above n. 367) implies the existence of the eschatological community here and now with the Twelve as its head. Cf. Acts 1 – 2 where the Pentecostal event is related to both of these elements (2:17: eschatological event; 1:13 – 23: the indivisible college of the Twelve) and finally the eucharist (3:42).
This is clearly indicated by the use of the term presbyters for the bishop by Irenaeus (Haer. IV 26:2). This should be taken as a survival of an old usage in the West, as it can be inferred from I Clement 44, I Peter 5:1, etc.
This is the case in the early succession lists as they appear in the canon of Eusebius-Jerome. See A. Ehrhardt, op. cit., pp. 35ff.
See above n. 344. The way I interpret and classify the historical evidence with regard to the eschatological image of succession implies the following scheme: “James with the presbyters” (Acts) = “Christ with the presbyters” (Apocalypse) = “bishop (image of Christ) with the presbyters” (Ignatius, Didascalia, Constitutiones etc.) = “bishop as successor of James” (Eusebius-Jerome succession lists). Obviously this article is not the place for a detailed demonstration of this (this appears in another forthcoming publication). It suffices to show here that the eschatological model of the Jerusalem Church was transferred to the eucharistic structure of each local Church and influenced decisively the idea of apostolic continuity. It is most unfortunate that the classical notion of apostolic succession has been formed without taking this development into account.
Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 3 (prayer for the ordination of a bishop).
Ibid. 8 (prayer for the ordination of a presbyter).
Such is the argument of Hippolytus concerning the laying on of hands by the presbyters on the candidate for ordination into the order of the presbyters: “Presbyter enim solius habet potestam ut accipiat, dare autem non habet potestatum.Quapropter clerum non ordinat; super presbyteri vero ordinatione consignat episcopo ordinante.” (ibid. 9; text in B. Botte, Hippolyte de Rome, La Tradition Apostolique [= Sources chrétiennes 11, 1946] p.40).
Cf. the problem concerning the blessing of the eucharist by the presbyters in the same text, and Botte’s interpretation (ibid., p. 30), to which N. Afanasiev (Trapeza Gospodnia , p. 3) objects by referring to Hippolytus’ argument quoted in the previous note.
This is indicated by the provision of the Apost. Trad. that the ordination should take place during the eucharistic gathering. Cf. the acclamation “axios” in the Orthodox services of ordination. For an early source of this practice see I Clem. 45:3.
For the sources see “L’évêque d’après les prières d’ordination,” in L’Episcopat et I'Eglise universelle (above n. 344), pp. 739 – 780. The prohibition of ordinations in absoluto (canon 15 of I Nicaea; canon 6 of Chalcedon etc.) is related to the same principle.
The existence of titular bishops in the Orthodox Churches points to a grave anomaly. If a bishop is ordained for a certain community, he must be free to exercise fully his ministry in this community. Only if he is separated from his flock because of historical circumstances can he be regarded as a canonical bishop in spite of his absence from his community. But the ordination of bishops with the intention of using them as bishops with a dependent authority (assistant bishops etc.) is a violation of basic ecclesiological principles under the influence of a false notion of sacramentalism as a transmission of episcopacy from one individual to another. Cf. the problem of episcopi vagantes. See Y. Congar, L’Eglise une… p. 205f.: “Ce que la succession apostolique n’est pas” and the strong but justifiable remarks of C. Vogel, “An Alienated liturgy,” Concilium 28 (Feb. 1972), pp.11– 25, esp. p. 18f.
See below at n. 433.
Cf. the remarkable work of V. Fuchs, Der Ordinationstitel von seiner Entstehung bis auf Innozenz III (1930), passim, esp. pp. 61ff.
The evidence is abundant, although usually unnoticed by historians. E.g. Shepherd of Hermas, Vis. 3:4; Tertullian, De Praescr. 2; Origen, In Ezekiel 2:2 and Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 8 (as reconstructed by G. Dix, The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of Saint Hippolytus of Rоmе , p. 13). This is further supported by the existence of famous presbyters known as teachers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen etc.). For further evidence and a detailed discussion cf. my book The Unity… pp. 160f. All this shows that the Church of the first centuries did not understand apostolic succession as a succession of teaching. She in fact detested the idea that the Church could be conceived as a “school.” See Hippolytus, Philos. 9:12:21.
Why not, for example, recognize the succession of charismata etc.? This question is posed especially today.
See Hippolytus (n. 413 above). Even after the bishop lost his exclusive right to offer the eucharist (on this right see Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 3 cf. 8), his exclusive right to ordain was not questioned. E.g. Jerome, Ep. 146 (PL 22: 1194) and John Chrysostom, In I Tim. 11 (PG 62: 553).
E.g. Tertullian, De Praescr. 20:4 – 7, 9; 32; 36:1; Scorp. 9; Irenaeus, Haer. I, 10:1 – 2 etc.
E.g. Augustine, Ep.232:3; (PL 33: 1028) etc. Cf. F. Dvornik, op.cit.
Thus Tertullian thinks consistently in terms of the missionary – historical approach: De Praescr. 21:4; 37:1 etc. In such an approach certain sees become “models” for the others. Thus, with regard to Rome, Y. Congar, Ministères … p. 98f.
Cyprian, Ep. 69(66):5; 43(40):5; De unit. 4.
Ibid., De unit. 5.
See n. 426 above.
This implies also the principle that each bishop is independent and directly responsible to God for his community. Thus Cyprian, Ep. 55 (52): 21. For a discussion of the implications of this principle see E. Lanne, “Pluralisme et Unité,” Istina 14 (1969), 178f.
As it was done, for example, by N. Afanasiev, “La doctrine de la primauté à la lumière de l’ecclésiologie,” Istina 2 (1957), pp. 401 – 420.
Ep. 3:3 (Hartel, 471): “apostolus, id est episcopus.”
This seems to me to be a crucial moment in the history of the concept of apostolic succession and of episcopacy in general. It is at this point that I suggest that we should begin our consideration of these concepts.
The roots of the synodal institution are to be found precisely in the ordination of each bishop. Hence every bishop (with a community) has the right to participate in the synodical activity of the Church by virtue of his ordination. The practice which has prevailed in some Orthodox Churches in modern times to be governed by “permanent synods” based on a selection of certain bishops and the exclusion of others constitutes a direct violation of this important ecclesiological principle.
Hippolytus, Apost. Trad. 2; Council of Arles c.20; I Nicaea cc. 4 and 6 etc. For a full discussion of the sources see L. Mortari, Consacrazione episcopale e Collegialitá. La testimonianza della Chiesa antica (1969).
J. Meyendorff, Orthodoxie et Catholicité (1965), p. 147, and other Orthodox theologians tend to give priority to the bishop’s place in his own local Church and make this the basis for episcopal collegiality on a broader level. I think this approach, although aiming at emphasizing the right point that the bishop should be related to a particular Church, helps perpetuate the false dilemma “local versus universal” – a dilemma transcended by the very nature of the Eucharist (cf. chapter 4 above). Only through a simultaneity of these two dimensions – a simultaneity inherent in episcopal ordination itself – can we arrive at the proper perspective. Cf. next note.
In Roman Catholic theology the tendency has often been to give priority to the bishop’s attachment to the universal college over his attachment to a particular local Church. Thus, for example, earlier A. Gréa, L’Eglise et sa divine constitution (1884, re-ed. 1965) and more recently E. Schillebeeckx, L’Eglise du Christ et l’homme d’aujourd’hui selon Vatican II (1965), pp. 99ff.; J. Colson, Les fonctions ecclésiales (1956), p. 341; K. Rahner, “De l’épiscopat” in Eglises chrêtiennes et Episcopat (1966), p. 209 etc. H. de Lubac, Les églises particulières dans l’Eglise universelle (1971), p. 82, regards the question as open. However other Roman Catholic theologians insist that the priority of the universal college over the local Church is to be rejected and replaced by a synthesis of the two. Thus, H.-M. Legrand, “Nature de l’Eglise particulière et rô1e de l’évêque dans l’Eglise,” in La Charge pastoral des évêques… Décret “Christus Dominus” (1969), pp. 118f. and especially Y. Congar, Ministères… pp. 123 – 140. Needless to say, the question is of great importance to the Orthodox. Cf. E. Lanne, “To What Extent is Roman Primacy unacceptable to the Eastern Church?” Concilium 47 (April 1971), pp. 62 – 67, esp. p. 66.
The main defect, in my view, is that the christological discussion of episcopacy (cf. Ignatius, Hippolytus etc.) disappears and is replaced by an apostolic college from which, in fact, Christ is absent. This not only destroys the view of the Church as the image of the Kingdom – a view so essential to both eucharist and eschatology – but it also leads to the search for a “vicarius Christi” outside or above the apostolic – and the episcopal – college. On the problems that this has created in medieval ecclesiology see Y. Congar, Ministères…, pp. 112f.
Cf. J.-J. von Allmen, “L’Eglise locale parmi les autres Eglises locales,” Irénikon 43 (1970), pp. 512 – 537. I should like to note especially his observation (p. 529f.) that the words of Christ to Peter concerning his particular task in the Church are situated in Luke – and perhaps in the rest of the Gospel – in the context of the Last Supper. This point has many important implications for placing the Petrine task in a perspective similar to the one of the present study and perhaps making it ultimately acceptable to those who hold a eucharistic as well as a historical approach to the continuity of the Church. But this requires further elaboration.
The principle of the essential equality of all bishops – and local Churches – stems precisely from the eschatological image of the apostolic college as an indivisible whole, which is realized and expressed in its totality through each bishop in each Church. Hence the importance of this principle in the early Church (e.g. Cyprian: n. 429 above) and in Orthodox Canon Law. This should not be obscured by any historical cases pointing to the contrary. On this principle in the context of Vatican II see H.-M. Legrand, op. cit. p. 122, where a distinction is made between an ecclesiologically justifiable “égalité fondamentale entre toutes les Eglises partlculières” and “une hiérarchie réelle” for the sake of “le bien commun.”
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