Apostolic Succession and Civic Freedom (pt. 3)

Our conversation has been going on for some while now, and it would probably be helpful to review what has been said and what remains to be said.  Everything began with the C/A review of David VanDrunen’s Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms.  We received mostly positive feedback overall, though Darryl Hart did fire a few snipes.  We responded here, and the comments took off.  Dr. Hart argued that the “two kingdoms” are not different in quality, one spiritual in kind and the other earthly and temporal, but rather that both are temporal and physical yet having different zones, goals, and means.  He even maintained that church officers were spiritual rulers in the kingdom of God.  Church discipline is then a coercive force in the kingdom, and the church is indeed an alternative city, though it should nonetheless mind its own business.  In this case, that means that it does not have any particular voice in the common public sphere.

While this conversation was in full swing, we had our own sort of apparition of Mary.  “Mary Campion” appeared in the comments offering particularly clear articulations of both positions, yet later revealed herself to be Michael Hickman and offered the Roman Catholic counter.  Michael suggested that the Roman Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession was the necessary safeguard to allow the Church a voice in the public sector without being dominated by the State.  We have already devoted two posts to interacting with this.  The first sought to define “the Church” and thus show why it should be considered qualitatively spiritual.  Our view is that the Church is not a worldly-temporal entity and thus is in no real “competition” with the State.  The State is designed to deal with bodies, as it guides temporal matters in various ways according to prudence.  The Church, though always embodied, is designed to deal with hearts.  Once the visible and invisible distinctions are made in regard to the Church, we concluded that invisible Church is properly the spiritual kingdom of God and is always guided by the Holy Spirit, while the visible Church exists in the temporal kingdom and lives according to law.

Secondly we sought to discuss apostolic succession in particular, though there ended up being little interaction with my particular biblical observations or criticisms of the Roman doctrine.  What seemed to come out, through much coaxing, was that apostolic succession is the necessary means to identify the Church (the successor of Peter), and that this Church is itself a temporal and spatial power which must direct the political kingdoms of the world.  Not settling for a general advisory role, this view also claims that the magisterium (the Pope) is the one class of humanity able to properly interpret and use the natural law, and in the event that the civil magistrates should come to disagree with the magisterium, they would need to submit to his will or face civil as well as spiritual sanctions.

What makes apostolic succession relevant and appealing to this discussion is that it seeks to guarantee that there will be a protected interpreter of nature and reason capable of ruling those who have lost this ability.  It clearly identifies “the Church,” and it attempts to provide a true “new city” and “new humanity” in the form of the clergy.  It offers an enduring apostolic office and even a vicarious Jesus Christ for the world to see and follow.  It provides clarity and singularity of direction.

The Protestant position is that through the agency of the Holy Spirit and the role of faith, each Christian has received Jesus Christ in full, and each is a successor to the apostles, both in doctrine and in baptism.  “The Church” is quite simply “the people,” and the people are presumed competent self-governors, capable of recognizing and enacting the principles of civic order on the one hand, and the principles of Christian confession and charity on the other.  Neither the magistracy nor the ministry has the whole competence of the Christian people by delegation, but rather by representation.

Thus we come back to our original dispute about the nature of the Church and the relationship between the spiritual kingdom and the temporal kingdom. Continue reading