Pope says apostolic succession of bishops is key to church unity
Communion with the church of Rome, specifically through the apostolic succession of bishops, is "the sign, criterion and guarantee of the uninterrupted transmission" of the faith of the apostles, Benedict XVI said.
Catholic News Service reports that the Pope at his weekly audience said that in order to ensure fidelity to Christ and his word through time a Christian community needs an individual who witnesses to the message "that was entrusted to him, not invented by him."
The first individuals to fulfil the function of witness and guardian were the Twelve Apostles, he said, who in turn chose other men to succeed them in witnessing to the truth of Christ and in guiding the Christian community.
Although the membership, role and structure of the college of bishops "evolved progressively," the Greek word "episcopus," or bishop, already was used in reference to the second generation of the apostles' successors, the Pope said. The term refers to "one who has a view from above or who watches, watches with his heart."
Apostolic succession is not simply a matter of believing what the apostles believed, he said. The call and appointment of individual bishops must be traceable back to the apostles.
Very early in Christian history, he said, the successors of the apostles identified communion with St Peter and his successors, the bishops of Rome, as a key sign of the authenticity of their succession and their role within the church.
"Apostolic succession - verified on the basis of communion with the church of Rome - is, therefore, the criterion for the permanence of the individual churches in the tradition of apostolic faith," he said.
Just as Christ called the Twelve Apostles, the Pope said, he has called their successors, the bishops of the church today.
The Holy Spirit makes Jesus, the good shepherd, present in the church through those he has called to lead, Pope Benedict said.
"In the words of the apostles and their successors, it is he who speaks to us; through their hands, it is he who acts in the sacraments; in their gaze, it is his gaze that surrounds us and makes us feel loved, welcomed in the heart of God," the Pope said.
Church unity through the bishops transmits apostolic faith, says pope (Catholic News Service 10/5/06)
Apostolic Succession: Spiritual and historical tie to Christ (Vatican Information Service 10/5/06 - temporary url)
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Pope Benedict: Faithful episcopal succession is guarantee that authentic teaching of apostles carries through history (Catholic News Agency 10/5/06)
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11 May 2006