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How Do We Keep Track of Apostolic Succession?


A listener named Mike calls into the show and asks, “How do we keep track of apostolic succession?” Mike explains that he has always wondered how the Church keeps track of all of the bishops and the continuation of the laying on of hands all the way back to the beginning of the Church.

Father Dave says, “The quick answer is: They didn’t keep track. People didn’t keep track of much of anything back in the day like we keep track of things now. There are actually websites now that have the apostolic succession that goes backward from now. So if you look up, for instance, Cardinal Dolan, you can see the bishop that ordained him a priest, and the bishop that ordained that guy, and you can go back to about the 1500s, but we don’t have too much before that.”

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Mike is also curious how it has stayed together for all of these years. Father Dave explains, “I find myself when I study Church history, or even if something comes up that was a huge thing, like a scandal in the Church, like the Crusades or the sexual abuse scandal — all of those things make me think that if the Holy Spirit was not keeping these things going and this isn’t really genuinely the Church of Christ, it would have been out of town long ago. We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot for centuries.”

Father Dave relates this to a scene from the Acts of the Apostles in which the Sanhedrin wanted to kill Peter and the Apostles. “The early apostles are on trial and the religious leaders are deciding what to do, and this guy Gamaliel stands up, and he is respected in the Sanhedrin, and he says, ‘If this movement of believing that Jesus is the Messiah has been made up by these guys, don’t worry about it, it will die. But if this is from God, nothing we do is going to stop it.’ I love this story because it’s so true. Anything that has lasted this long, it’s not because a ragtag bunch of fishermen came up with a business plan and made sure they had angel investors from Silicon Valley. No. It’s from God. So, that’s a bit of both a historical and spiritual answer for you.” (Original Air 5-10-16)


Photo Credit: Cardinal Daniel DiNardo lays his hands upon the head of Bishop-designate Mario A. Aviles during his ordination as first auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Brownsville, Texas. (CNS photo/Alberto Zavala)