Ecumenical Succession in the Catholicate of the West

“Have you an Apostolic Succession? Unfold the line of your Bishops.” – Tertullian, 3rd Century.

A major work of the Catholicate of the West has been the creation of an Ecumenical Apostolic Succession as a means of aiding the reunion of the various churches of Christendom.

The Catholicate of the West holds that Holy Orders are a sacrament that is received once only. The reception of additional episcopal commissioning as an act towards the unification of Christendom was initiated during the 1930s by the Apostolic Episcopal Church in pursuance of resolution 9 of the 1920 Lambeth Conference: “Reunion of Christendom”. This stated that the “visible unity of the Church will be found to involve the wholehearted acceptance of…a ministry acknowledged by every part of the Church as possessing not only the inward call of the Spirit, but also the commission of Christ and the authority of the whole body.” The Resolution continues,

“May we not reasonably claim that the episcopate is the one means of providing such a ministry? It is not that we call in question for a moment the spiritual reality of the ministries of those Communions which do not possess the episcopate. On the contrary we thankfully acknowledge that these ministries have been manifestly blessed and owned by the Holy Spirit as effective means of grace. But we submit that considerations alike of history and of present experience justify the claim which we make on behalf of the episcopate. Moreover, we would urge that it is now and will prove to be in the future the best instrument for maintaining the unity and continuity of the Church. But we greatly desire that the office of a bishop should be everywhere exercised in a representative and constitutional manner, and more truly express all that ought to be involved for the life of the Christian family in the title of Father-in-God. Nay more, we eagerly look forward to the day when through its acceptance in a united Church we may all share in that grace which is pledged to the members of the whole body in the apostolic rite of the laying-on of hands, and in the joy and fellowship of a eucharist in which as one family we may together, without any doubtfulness of mind, offer to the one Lord our worship and service.”

The Resolution then goes on to propose directly the creation of an Ecumenical Apostolic Succession:

“We believe that for all, the truly equitable approach to union is by way of mutual deference to one another’s consciences. To this end, we who send forth this appeal would say that if the authorities of other Communions should so desire, we are persuaded that, terms of union having been otherwise satisfactorily adjusted, bishops and clergy of our Communion would willingly accept from these authorities a form of commission or recognition which would commend our ministry to their congregations, as having its place in the one family life. It is not in our power to know how far this suggestion may be acceptable to those to whom we offer it. We can only say that we offer it in all sincerity as a token of our longing that all ministries of grace, theirs and ours, shall be available for the service of our Lord in a united church. It is our hope that the same motive would lead ministers who have not received it to accept a commission through episcopal ordination, as obtaining for them a ministry throughout the whole fellowship. In so acting no one of us could possibly be taken to repudiate his past ministry. God forbid that any man should repudiate a past experience rich in spiritual blessings for himself and others. Nor would any of us be dishonouring the Holy Spirit of God, whose call led us all to our several ministries, and whose power enabled us to perform them. We shall be publicly and formally seeking additional recognition of a new call to wider service in a reunited Church, and imploring for ourselves God’s grace and strength to fulfil the same.”

In the absence of a full implementation by the Anglican Communion (although partial implementation was achieved by means of the Bonn Agreement of 1931, after which Old Catholic bishops assisted at some Anglican consecrations using a formulary that was designed to make explicit their intention to transmit the Apostolic Succession), the Catholicate of the West and its sister communion the Apostolic Episcopal Church undertook this work on a comprehensive basis as an integral part of their mission as ecumenical bodies, beginning in the 1930s and continuing in the succeeding decades.

There was important precedent for the proposals of the Lambeth Conference in the practice of the Catholic Apostolic Church (“Irvingites”) in the nineteenth-century, whereby clergy of other communions were incardinated into the Catholic Apostolic Church using a similar form of additional commissioning.

In receiving additional episcopal commissioning, the bishop is not required to deny the efficacy of his previous consecration, nor to recognise the additional commissioning as a repetition of that sacrament (which would be blasphemous). The comparison to an ekonomia is more appropriate, whereby the effect of additional commissioning is merely to make effective the act of consecration within the context of the church concerned.

The work of the Ecumenical Apostolic Succession has today been completed through the unification of the major Successions from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, and exists unimpaired within the Catholicate of the West and the Apostolic Episcopal Church.

Successions within the Catholicate of the West

Lines of succession from the following churches currently exist within the Catholicate of the West: Albanian Orthodox Church – Ancient Church of the East – Armenian Catholic Church – Chaldean Catholic Church – Roman Catholic Church – Church of England – Coptic Orthodox Church – English Nonjurors and the Scottish Episcopal Church – Melkite-Greek Catholic Church – Order of Corporate Reunion – Protestant Episcopal Church and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente – Romanian Orthodox Church – Russian Orthodox Church – Syrian Orthodox Church.

In some cases, multiple lineages from these communions exist. The Catholicate also holds episcopal (non-Apostolic) lineages from several of the Protestant churches.