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The Results Of The Crisis

The internal crisis, or the conflict with heresy, led the Church to
perfect its organization, and, as a result, the foundation was laid for
such a development of the episcopate that the Church was recognized as
based upon an order of bishops receiving their powers in succession from
the Apostles. Just what those powers were and how they were transmitted
were matters left to a later age to determine. (V. infra, 50, 51.)

(a) Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., IV, 26:2, 5. (MSG, 7:1053.)

That Irenaeus, writing about 175, could appeal to the episcopal
succession as commonly recognized and admitted, and use it as a
basis of unity for the Church, is generally regarded as evidence
of the existence of a wide-spread episcopal organization at an
early date in the second century. Possibly the connection of
Irenaeus with Asia Minor, where the episcopal organization
admittedly was earliest, diminishes the force of the argument. The
reference to the "charisma of truth," which the bishops were said
to possess, was to furnish later a theoretical basis for the
authority of bishops assembled in council.

Ch. 2. Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the
Church, those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the
Apostles; those who together with the succession of the episcopate have
received the certain gift [charisma] of the truth according to the good
pleasure of the Father; but also to hold in suspicion others who depart
from the primitive succession and assemble themselves together in any
place whatsoever.

Ch. 5. Such presbyters does the Church nourish, of whom also the prophet
says: "I will give thy rulers in peace, and thy bishops in righteousness"
[cf. Is. 60:17]. Of whom also the Lord did declare: "Who, then, shall be
a faithful steward, good and wise, whom the Lord sets over His household,
to give them their meat in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his
Lord when he cometh shall find so doing" [Matt. 24:45 f.]. Paul, then,
teaching us where one may find such, says: "God hath placed in the Church,
first, Apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers" [I Cor. 12:28].
Where, then, the gifts of the Lord have been placed there we are to learn
the truth; namely, from those who possess the succession of the Church
from the Apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless
in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in

(b) Tertullian, De Praescriptione, 32. (MSL, 2:52.)

In Tertullian's statement as to the necessity of apostolic
succession, the language is more precise than in Irenaeus's. Bishop
and presbyter are not used as interchangeable terms, as would
appear in the passage in Irenaeus. The whole is given a more legal
turn, as was in harmony with the writer's legal mind.

But if there be any heresies bold enough to plant themselves in the midst
of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down
from the Apostles, because they were in the time of the Apostles, we can
say: Let them produce the originals of their churches; let them unfold the
roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning
in such manner that that first bishop of theirs shall be able to show for
his ordainer or predecessor some one of the Apostles or of apostolic men--a
man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the Apostles. For in this
manner the apostolic churches transmit their registers; as the church of
Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also
the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like
manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise
exhibit their several worthies, whom, as having been appointed to their
episcopal places by the Apostles, they regard as transmitters of the
apostolic seed.

Next: The Beginnings Of Catholic Theol

Previous: Later Gnosticism

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