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The Early Church Fathers on Apostolic Succession.


  • Early Church Fathers
  • From the Scriptures


  1. St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428)
    Pope St. Celestine I, (unknown - A.D. 432)
    Pope St. Leo I, ( A.D. c.391-461
    Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458)
    St. Vincent of Lérins, (A.D. c.400-445)
    Council of Chalcedon, (held in A.D. 451)
    Arnobius Junior, (flourished in the 5th century, A.D. c.460)
St. Augustine of Hippo, (A.D. 354-428), North African; born in Tagaste in A.D. 354, baptized in Milan in A.D. 387, ordained a priest in A.D. 391 and appointed bishop of Hippo in A.D. 395, Augustine is one of our greatest theologians. His numerous works display genius of the highest order, and have ever had great weight in the Christian churches. He is also a Doctor of the Church.

The following was occasioned by a letter to Generosus from a Donatist, who pretended to have been warned in a vision by an angel to induce Generosus to become a Donatist:

"He has written to you that an angel has commanded him to recommend to you the order of Christianity of your city, whereas you hold the Christianity, not of your city only, nor of Africa and the Africans only, but of the whole universe, the Christianity which was announced and is announced to all nations. So that it is to them a small thing, that they are not ashamed to have been cut off, and that they do not help themselves by returning to the root when it is in their power, unless they try to cut off others also with themselves, and to prepare them like dry wood for the fire. . . Now if there should have stood by your side the angel which this man, with cunning vanity in our opinion, feigns to have stood by him for your sake, and should have said those very same things to you which this man declares that he recommends to you by the command of that angel, it would behoove you to be mindful of that sentence of the Apostle, who says, "Though we, or an angel from Heaven, should preach a Gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema." For it was evangelized to you by the voice of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, that His Gospel shall be preached to all nations, and then shall the end be. For it was evangelized to you by the prophetic and apostolic letters, that to Abraham were the promises made, and to his seed, which is Christ, since God said to him, "In thy seed shall all nations be blessed." If an angel from Heaven should say to you who hold these promises, "Leave the Christianity of the universe, and hold to that of the party of Donatus, the details of which are explained to thee in a letter of the bishop of thy city", he ought to be anathema, because he would attempt to cut thee off from the whole and to push thee down into a party, and to alienate thee from the promises of God. For if the order of bishops succeeding to each other is to be considered, how much more securely, and really beneficially, do we reckon from Peter himself, to whom, bearing a figure of the Church, the Lord says, "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell shall not overcome it." For to Peter succeeded Linus; to Linus, Clement

[he gives the whole succession];

to Damasus, Siricius; to Siricius, Anastasius. In this order of succession no Donatist bishop appears."

T. ii. Ep. liii. Generoso (Class 2), pp. 179-80.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 278-279

"In the Catholic Church . . . the agreement of peoples and of nations keeps me; an authority begun with miracles, nourished with hope, increased with charity, strengthened by antiquity, keeps me: the succession of priests from the very chair of the Apostle Peter to whom the Lord, after His Resurrection, committed His sheep to be fed down even to the present bishop, keeps me."

T. viii. contr. Ep. Fund. Manichaei, col. 269.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 279

Petilianus (the Donatist) said:

"If you claim for yourselves a chair, you assuredly have that which the prophet David, the writer of the Psalms, proclaimed to be the chair of pestilence (Psalm 1); for with you is it justly left, seeing that holy men cannot occupy it.

Augustine replied:

And you see not that these are not proofs of any sort, but idle revilings. This is that of which I spoke a little earlier; you utter the words of the law, but against whom you utter them you care not; as the devil uttered the words of the law, but knew not Him to whom he was addressing them. He wished to cast down our head who was about to ascend on high; but you wish to reduce to a small fragment the body of that same head, which (body) is diffused throughout the whole earth. . . . Nay, if all throughout the whole world were such as you most idly slander them, what has the chair of the Roman Church, in which Peter sat, and in which Anastasius now sits, done to thee; or (the chair) of the church of Jerusalem, in which James sat, and in which John now sits, by which (chairs, or bishops) we are knit together in Catholic unity, and from which you have with guilty frenzy separated. Why call you an apostolic chair, "a chair of pestilence"? If on account of men who, you think, speak the law and do it not, did our Lord Jesus Christ, on account of the Pharisees, of whom He says, "For they say and do not", utter any insult against the chair wherein they sat? Did He not commend that chair of Moses, and, guarding the honor of their chair, blame them? For He says, "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach." (St. Matthew 23) If these were your sentiments, you would not, on account of the men whom you defame, blaspheme against an apostolic chair with which you communicate not."

T. ix. 1. ii. contr. Litt. Peteli. n. 118, col. 410-11.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 279-280

Pope St. Celestine I, (unknown - A.D. 432), deacon and pope, a Roman in the region of Campania; pope from A.D. 422 to 432, he lived for a while at Milan while actively condemning the Nestorians and Pelagians. He was a zealous defender of orthodoxy.

He thus writes to the council assembled at Ephesus in the matter of Nestorius:

"It is for us with united effort to preserve the things that have been committed unto us, and which have prevailed unto this time by means of the apostolical succession."

Ep. xviii. ad Synod. Ephes. n. 2, p. 325; Galland, t. ix.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 280

Pope St. Leo I, ( A.D. c.391-461), also known as Leo the Great, bishop of Rome (A.D. 440 to 461); an Italian aristocrat, remembered theologically for issuing the Tome of Leo, a document which was foundational to the debates of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon.

"The Catholic faith, which, the Spirit of God has instructed us through the holy fathers, and what we, from the blessed Apostles have learned and taught, will be preserved from error."

Ep. lxxxix. ad Marcion.
See also Ep. xc and xciv.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 281

Theodoret of Cyrus or Cyrrhus, (A.D. 393-458), Greek; an influential author, theologian, and Christian bishop of Cyrrhus, Syria (A.D. 423-457). He played a pivotal role in many early Byzantine church controversies that led to various ecumenical acts and schisms. His friendship for Nestorius embroiled him, for a time, with his great contemporary, St. Cyril of Alexandria.

"We may see each of these predictions verified by the event. For, in the midst of such dangers, both the Apostles illuminated the world, and they who have succeeded them have guarded the faith which they received from them. And the depositaries of the martyrs bodies, which shine as stars in every part of earth and sea, testify to this, and proclaim the truth of the divine predictions. For He not only predicted dangers unto them, but victory also, for "Upon this rock", He said, "I will build my Church,"

T. v. Curat. Graec. Afect. Disp. xi. pp. 1008-9.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 280-281

St. Vincent of Lérins (A.D. c.400-445), in Latin, Vincentius, a monastic presbyter and ecclesiastical writer in the island of Lérins, he was a man learned in the Holy Scriptures, and well instructed in the knowledge of the doctrines of the Church, with a view to overthrow the sects of the heretics. He composed in elegant and clear language a very powerful dissertation, which, concealing his own name, he entitled Peregrinus against Heretics.

"A custom that has ever prevailed in the Church, is that the more religious a man was, the more promptly did he withstand novel inventions. Such examples are everywhere plentiful. But not to be wordy, we will select some one, and this in preference from the apostolic see, that all men may see more plainly than the sun's light, with what force, what zeal, what endeavor, the blessed succession of the blessed Apostles ever defended the integrity of religion once received."

Adv. Hæres. n. vi.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 281

Council of Chalcedon, (held in A.D. 451) was convened to oppose the errors of Eutyches, who was archimandrite of a monastery at Constantinople. In avoiding the errors of Nestorius, he fell into an opposite extreme, and taught that in Christ the human nature was so absorbed by the divine, that in Christ there was really but one nature, and that the nature of God.

The following is from the synodal epistle of the fourth ecumenical council, addressed to Pope Leo:

"Our mouth is filled with gladness, and our tongue with praise." (Psalm 125) The grace (of God) has fitted this prophecy as proper to us, by whom the rectitude of true religion has been confirmed. For what sublimer cause for gladness than faith? What more full of joy unto exultation (the dance), than the Lord's knowledge, which the Saviour Himself delivered to us from above unto salvation, saying, "Go, teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." (Matthew 28); which thou (Leo), who hast been appointed as the voice of blessed Peter unto all men, hast preserved as a golden chain brought down to us by the ordinance of Him who imposed it."

Ep. Synod. Leoni, p. 834; Labbe, t. iv.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 281-282

Arnobius Junior, (flourished in the 5th century, A.D. c.460), also known as Arnobius the Younger, Christian priest or bishop in Gaul, author of a mystical and allegorical commentary on the Psalms, first published by Erasmus in 1522, and by him attributed to the elder Arnobius.

"The Lord in His just judgment will cut off their neck." (Psalm 128) Let their lot be shared by the Pharisees, and all heretics, who hate Sion, that is, who hate the Church of Christ. Let them be as grass upon the tops of houses, which withers before it be plucked up. . . . He that shall reap their words shall not fill his hand out of them, nor they that gather their sheaves, shall they fill their bosoms. For of all the holy ones that shall pass by, from the Apostles even until now, whether they who now live, or who have passed by, not one has blessed them in the name of the Lord. And he who has not received a blessing from the blessed Apostle Peter, or from the Apostles or their successors, and in this state has taught the people whom he has deceived, such a one incurs a curse, because he has usurped a blessing a curse by which, before he is plucked up, that is, before he dies, he withers away, that is, while he seems to live in the body, he is already withered in the spirit; from such we being separate, guarding most perfectly the Catholic faith, find life everlasting."

Comm. in Ps. cxxviii. pp. 314-15; t. viii. Bibl. Max. SS. PP.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 282

"And now even to this day do the sons of the Apostles sit upon their chairs, having also themselves the power of binding and of loosing. But this has been granted unto them, because the Lord would not have the synagogue of error, but chose holy Sion, the Church, to wit, of the right faith, which He, in His foreknowledge, chose for His dwelling-place, wherein is God's rest for ever,"

In Ps. cxxxi. p. 316.
The Faith of Catholics, Volume 1, Page 282



Some trying to understand Catholic Christianity, won't deny that Jesus blessed Peter with special graces (Matthew 16:17-19), but don't see anywhere, in the Scriptures specifically, where that blessing was passed on from Peter to his successors and, for that matter, from any of the eleven Apostles, to their successors.


The Early Fathers believed that authentic teaching and authority came through Apostolic Succession. Christ conferred authority on the apostles who in turn conferred it upon their successors. We see examples of this in Scripture when the apostle Paul ordains Timothy and Titus. (See 2 Timothy 1:1-2, 6 below.)


The Church's Scriptures that support Apostolic Succession of the Church:

Jesus commissioning His Apostles

18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."

Matthew 28:18-20

Jesus appears to his Apostles and first Disciples after His Glorious Resurrection.

21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."


John 20:21

The First Converts to the Catholic Faith

42 And they devoted themselves to the Apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread (the Eucharist) and the prayers.

Acts 2:42

Matthias Chosen to replace Judas

20 For it is written in the book of Psalms: Let their habitation become desolate, and let there be none to dwell therein. And his bishopric let another take. 21 Wherefore of these men who have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus came in and went out among us, 22 Beginning from the baptism of John, until the day wherein he was taken up from us, one of these must be made a witness with us of his resurrection. 23 And they appointed two, Joseph, called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. 24 And praying, they said: Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, 25 To take the place of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas hath by transgression fallen, that he might go to his own place. 26 And they gave them lots, and the lot fell upon Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.

Acts 1:20-26

The Council's Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then it pleased the apostles and ancients, with the whole church, to choose men of their own company, and to send to Antioch, with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas, who was surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren. 23 Writing by their hands: The apostles and ancients, brethren, to the brethren of the Gentiles that are at Antioch, and in Syria and Cilicia, greeting. 24 Forasmuch as we have heard, that some going out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls; to whom we gave no commandment: 25 It hath seemed good to us, being assembled together, to choose out men, and to send them unto you, with our well beloved Barnabas and Paul: 26 Men that have given their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We have sent therefore Judas and Silas, who themselves also will, by word of mouth, tell you the same things.

Acts 15:22-27

Paul Speaks to the Ephesian Elders

28 Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.

Acts 20:28

Salvation is for All.

15 And how shall they preach unless they be sent, as it is written: How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, of them that bring glad tidings of good things!

Romans 10:15

Unity in the Body of Christ

11 And he gave some apostles, and some prophets, and other some evangelists, and other some pastors and doctors, 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13 Until we all meet into the unity of faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fullness of Christ; 14 That henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness, by which they lie in wait to deceive

Ephesians 4:11-14

Salutation, Thanksgiving and Encouragement

1 Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the will of God, according to the promise of life, which is in Christ Jesus. 2 To Timothy my dearly beloved son, grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father, and from Christ Jesus our Lord. . . . 6 For which cause I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands.

2 Timothy 1:1-2, 6

A Good Soldier of Christ Jesus

2 And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also.

2 Timothy 2:2

Titus in Crete

5 For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee:

Titus 1:5

Jesus, Our Great High Priest

4 Neither doth any man take the honour to himself, but he that is called by God, as Aaron was.

Hebrews 5:4

Service Well-Pleasing to God

7 Remember your prelates who have spoken the word of God to you; whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation . . . . . 17 Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you.

Hebrews 13:7, 17

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