Apostolic Succession and Apostolicae Curae
Sept 14, 2004
“There has been substantial progress between the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church. Agreement on priesthood and Eucharist was already achieved in the first phase of ARCIC.
(Hertfordshire, on May 17, 2003) We also agreed upon the episcopal structure of Church ministry. In the meantime most of the churches have acknowledged that episcope (oversight) is constitutive for the church, and indeed that some form of episcope can be found in every church.
But Protestants on the one hand, and Catholics and Orthodox together with Anglicans on the other hand, differ on the question of whether such episcope must be carried out by an episcopos who stands in historic apostolic succession.
Protestants see here space for a variety of forms of episcope which, being equivalent, can be reciprocally recognised; for them the episcopate in historic apostolic succession is only one possible form, and is at its best a sign for the bene esse of the Church, but not for her esse.
Some Lutheran churches opened themselves to the Anglican view in recent years in agreements such as the Porvoo Statement (1992) or Called to Common Mission (2001), but they did so not without resistance from other Lutherans and especially Reformed churches.
How can we overcome this problem? As I see the problem and its possible solution, it is not a question of apostolic succession in the sense of an historical chain of laying on of hands running back through the centuries to one of the apostles; this would be a very mechanical and individualistic vision, which by the way historically could hardly be proved and ascertained.
The Catholic view is different from such an individualistic and mechanical approach. Its starting point is the collegium of the apostles as a whole; together they received the promise that Jesus Christ will be with them till the end of the world (Matt 28, 20). So after the death of the historical apostles they had to co–opt others who took over some of their apostolic functions. In this sense the whole of the episcopate stands in succession to the whole of the collegium of the apostles.
To stand in the apostolic succession is not a matter of an individual historical chain but of collegial membership in a collegium, which as a whole goes back to the apostles by sharing the same apostolic faith and the same apostolic mission. The laying on of hands is under this aspect a sign of co-optation in a collegium.
This has far reaching consequences for the acknowledgement of the validity of the episcopal ordination of an other Church. Such acknowledgement is not a question of an uninterrupted chain but of the uninterrupted sharing of faith and mission, and as such is a question of communion in the same faith and in the same mission.
It is beyond the scope of our present context to discuss what this means for a re–evaluation of Apostolicae curae (1896) of Pope Leo XIII, who declared Anglican orders null and void, a decision which still stands between our Churches. Without doubt this decision, as Cardinal Willebrands had already affirmed, must be understood in our new ecumenical context in which our communion in faith and mission has considerably grown. A final solution can only be found in the larger context of full communion in faith, sacramental life and shared apostolic mission.
Keynote speech from the Conference of the Society for Ecumenical Studies, the St. Alban's Christian Study Centre and the Hertfordshire Newman Association at St. Alban's Abbey, Hertfordshire, England, on May 17, 2003