As our conversation continues, we have witnessed a transformation in the accidents of Mary Campion. Though her substance is still the same, she is now Michael, and so it seems that I should shift the names accordingly. We have now, in my opinion, gotten to the bottom of the disagreements in defining the church. The Protestant view is that the essence of the Church is the Word, found in the preaching and sacraments, as well as embodied in the people of God by the immediate action of the Holy Spirit. This allows for a distinction in terms, with “the visible Church” typically referring to the Church as institution, complete with polity and laws, and the “invisible Church” referring to all believers wherever they may be. For Protestants, the “Church” and the “State” (better termed the “Commonwealth”) can inhabit the same space and time without displacing or doing violence to one another. There is no need for a hierarchical arrangement because the two entities are different in quality, jurisdiction, and telos.
Our second question then was, “What is apostolic succession, and is it a valid theory?” Michael suggests that Apostolic Succession (hereafter AS) is the key to a harmonious society, and he also points (rightly) to Unam Sanctam’s claim that the civic arena must be subordinate to the Church. Unam Sanctam, however, goes further and says that princes must be in submission to the clergy:
Both, therefore, are in the power of the Church, that is to say, the spiritual and the material sword, but the former is to be administered for the Church but the latter by the Church; the former in the hands of the priest; the latter by the hands of kings and soldiers, but at the will and sufferance of the priest.
Unam Sanctam goes on to say that the spiritual powers may not be judged by the temporal powers. When you combine this with the particular view of “spirituality of the Church” that Thomas Becket posthumously won over King Henry and the Investiture Contest’s Dictatus Papae (which states that the Pope alone can call general councils, that the Pope cannot be judged by anyone, and that the Pope can remove the magistrate’s authority over his subjects), you get a clear picture of the Roman position.
AS then enters into the picture as a proof of who the “spiritual rulers” are and from where they get their commission. AS is also a sort of lynch-pin argument for Roman Catholic apologists in defining the Church. It often serves the function for Roman Catholics what sola fide does for traditional Protestants. I also know from personal experience that AS can be the single decisive issue in Protestant conversions to Roman Catholicism. I’ve seen it on more than one occasion. But I have a few concerns about AS, some of which seem to be significant enough to warrant its dismissal from consideration.
1) What exactly is meant by “Apostolic Succession”? Continue reading