apostolic succession, in Christian theology, the doctrine asserting that the chosen successors of the apostles enjoyed through God's grace the same authority, power, and responsibility as was conferred upon the apostles by Jesus. Therefore present-day bishops, as the successors of previous bishops, going back to the apostles, have this power by virtue of this unbroken chain. For the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Anglican churches, this link with the apostles is what guarantees for them their authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. Essential to maintaining the apostolic succession is the right consecration of bishops. Apostolic succession is to be distinguished from the Petrine supremacy (see papacy). Protestants (other than Anglican) see the authority given to the apostles as unique, proper to them alone, and hence reject any doctrine of a succession of their power. The Protestant view of ecclesiastical authority differs accordingly. See orders, holy; church.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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