Article 12: Catechism of the Catholic Church series
The Transmission of Revelation
Father John G. Hillier
Each time a bishop is consecrated he receives, through the bishop who consecrates him, his Episcopal lineage. To say it another way, it is through the consecrating bishop that the new bishop is able to trace his apostolic succession or lineage back to one of the original apostles. This is what is we mean by apostolic succession. These days we need only go to the internet to find the Episcopal lineage of our own bishop or any bishop or priest for that matter.
This section of the Catechism dealing with “The Transmission of Divine Revelation” is related to Episcopal lineage. How is God’s revelation transmitted intact down through the ages? The answer given in the Catechism is that its integrity is maintained and insured by way of apostolic succession. “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors [and] gave them … teaching authority” (ccc 77).
In other words, apostolic succession, which pertains to the lineage or line of bishops stretching back to the apostles, guarantees the undivided quality of God’s self-disclosure. All Catholic bishops worldwide trace their lineage back to one or more of the original apostles. Priests too, through the unimpaired state of “apostolic succession” of their ordaining bishop, likewise trace their priestly authority back to one or more of the original apostles. A quick search of the Internet (less than 5 minutes) enabled me to trace my priestly lineage back to the early 1500′s. More time and resources would help trace my priesthood back to one of the ancient churches and eventually to one of the original apostles and therefore to Christ.
Apostolic authority came from Christ and was given to each of the original twelve apostles. Through their successors each future generation of Catholics is able to enjoy the benefit of the sacraments, and most especially the benefit of the Sacred Liturgy.
The Twelve Apostles chosen near the beginning of Christ’s ministry were:
Peter: also called Simon, Simon Peter, and Cephas (the rock); a fisherman from Capernaum; brother of Andrew. [Mark 1:16; John 1:40, 41;1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:22; 9:5;Galatians 2:9].
Andrew: a fisherman from Capernaum; brother of Peter. [Mark 1:16-18; John 1:40].
James: “the elder;” a fisherman who lived in Capernaum, Bethsaida, and Jerusalem; son of Zebedee and Salome; brother of John. [Mark 1:19-20; Matthew 4:21; Luke 5:1-11; Acts 12:1,2].
John: (called the Beloved Disciple), a fisherman who lived in Bethsaida, Capernaum and Jerusalem; son of Zebedee and Salome; brother of James.
Philip: from Bethsaida. [Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:44; Acts 1:13; Acts 6:5; Acts 8:26; Acts 21:8].
Bartholomew: also called Nathanael; son of Talmai, lived in Cana of Galilee. [Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; John 1:47: Acts 1:13].
Matthew: also called Levi; son of Alpheus, lived in Capernaum; a tax collector or publican. [Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27-28].
Thomas: called “the doubting Thomas” or “twin” and Didymus Thomas. [John 11:2-16; John 14:1-6; John 20:25].
James: son of Alpheus, or Cleophas and Mary; lived in Galilee; called “James the Lesser” or “younger” in later tradition. He was the brother of Jude.
Simon: called “the Cananean.” [Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13].
Jude Thaddeus: also was called Judas the Zealot; son of Alpheus or Cleophas and Mary; brother of James the Younger; lived in Galilee. [Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; vLuke 6:16; Acts 1:13].
Judas Iscariot: the traitor; son of Simon who lived in Kerioth of Judah; betrayed Jesus and later died by suicide; replaced by Matthias in the Acts of the Apostles (1:24-25). [Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:19; Luke 6:19].
When Jesus commissioned these chosen disciples he told them: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matthew 28:18-20).
God’s holy desire that all humanity come to know the truth is set in motion by the transmission of revelation through the apostles and their successors. “This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit is called Tradition” (ccc 78). Therefore, the Catechism teaches, “Christ must be proclaimed to all nations and individuals, so that this revelation may reach to the ends of the earth” (ccc 74). This is what we commonly call evangelization or the new evangelization.
Christ, who is the fullness of revelation, taught the apostles to teach the totality of revelation. To say it another way, “Christ the Lord, in whom the entire revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the gospel …” (ccc 75). Their preaching of the Gospel is fulfilled when the Gospel is “handed on in two ways … orally (by their words and example) … and in writing (by the apostles and their associates)” (ccc 76). The oral proclamation of the Gospel is commonly referred to as Sacred Tradition while the written component is referred to as Sacred Scripture. Through her Sacred Tradition, ” the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes” (ccc 78).
When we profess our faith in the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic” Church, this is what we mean. “Apostolic” is related to the matter of tracing the powers of spiritual jurisdiction and Holy Orders back to the first apostles, to whom Christ said: “I am with you all days” (Matthew 28:20), and “He that hears you, hears me, and he that despises you, despises me” (Luke 10:16). Such is the way we embrace our spiritual DNA.
Acknowledging our responsibility to participate in the saving event of Jesus Christ, we carry that torch in the present, having received it from the generation that preceded us. Ever vigilant, we remain ready to pass this responsibility onto the next generation, and then from them, to the
next generation that follows, and so on … until Christ comes again.