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Mark Anderson wrote:

Hi, guys —

I enjoy your site very much.

I have a quick question regarding Apostolic Succession. I love the fact that our Church and her teachings have been handed down from the Apostles. It is very easy to find a list of every Pope in succession since Peter.

  • My question is this, can, for example, the Bishop of Little Rock (my diocese) trace his succession back to the Apostles or is it just assumed?

I know that tracing the lineage of all bishops, all over the world, would take one big book. I'm just curious to know if it is possible.

  • How would we do it? or
  • Do we just assume it for the bishops and only prove it from the Pope?

One more related question:

It is my understanding that the Church's authority comes from the Pope [and/or] the collective bishops in unison with the Pope therefore we can say that all Protestants are imperfectly united to the Church but they don't have valid sacraments.

  • It makes 100% sense, however, I don't understand how the Eastern church can have valid sacraments if they do not have unity with the Pope?
  • How are they any different than a normal Protestant church?

I understand that they have Apostolic Succession as well, but it seems to me when they split from the Church in the 11th century, they could no longer ordain priests and bishops etc?

I know these are very nuanced questions.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Mark Anderson

  { Can bishops of the Church trace their Apostolic Succession back to the Apostles like the Pope? }

John replied:

Hi Mark,

Thanks for your question.

Every Bishop can trace his lineage to the Apostles. It's not always easy, but it can be done. I was recently looking up the Apostolic Succession of the Armenian Catholic Patriarch. I got pretty far back and in just a few minutes was looking at names from the twelfth century.

Now to your second question. The Catholic Church's authority doesn't come from the Pope, it comes from Jesus Christ who founded the Church on Peter and the other Apostles. The Pope as successor to Peter, is the Supreme Pontiff, but it is the Pope who derives his authority from the Church, which is the Body of Christ. This may seem odd, because the Pope has authority over the entire Church, yet:

  • the Pope can't just get up and contradict the Church's constant teaching.
  • He can't pull a doctrine out of thin air.
  • He can't reverse a matter of faith and morals that has been defined.

Now that we've cleared that up; the teaching authority of the Church includes all the Bishops in union, not unison, with the Pope. This has little to do with the validity of a sacrament.

For a sacrament to be valid, it requires proper form, matter, and intent. It also requires a validly ordained priest or bishop. The bishops and priests in schism (of the East or now even the West) retained Apostolic Succession and therefore they have validly ordained priests and bishops. They maintained valid orders even though they went into schism.

Holy Orders is like Baptism, you can't undo it. When the schisms occurred, the schismatic bishops and priests continued to administer sacraments. They did not ever deny the nature of the sacraments. They are in schism for the most part over jurisdictional issues.

The point here is, the schism, by itself, doesn't interrupt Apostolic Succession.

On the other hand, during the Reformation the Reformers denied the Sacraments. They didn't pass on the Holy Orders and therefore interrupted Apostolic Succession.

For example, Luther died a validly ordained priest. Any bishops that followed him into Lutheranism, remained bishops but they never ordained successors with the intention of passing on the sacrificial nature of the priesthood. They simply ordained ministers so these denominations don't have valid sacraments, because they have no real priests or bishops.


Mary Ann replied:

Nice answer, John.

Mary Ann

Mike asked the team:

Now I have a question.

  • How would any Catholic go about tracing the Apostolic Succession of their bishop back to the Apostles?
  • What source would any member in our Church use to do this?


John replied:


I've seen lines of succession published in the Pilot [Boston's Catholic newspaper] when new bishops are ordained.

I've also seen this sort of information on the Internet. For example, here is Succession for the Armenian Catholic Bishop of North America:


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