I’ve recently picked up this fascinating work. I’m reading through it, and on another topic I’ve found another statement that I thought I’d pass along:
In Trent’s Decree on Holy Orders, Canon 6 states that there is in the Church “a hierarchy instituted by divine ordination, which consists of bishops, presbyters and ministers.” While this teaching conforms to the idea of existence of such offices from the beginning of the Church, it does not harmonize with the historical facts. The Second Vatican Council’s Lumen Gentium  offers a more realistic view based on a more secure historical consciousness and exegesis of Scripture. Here we read “Thus the divinely instituted ecclesiastical ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who even from ancient times (ab antiquo) have been called bishops, priests, and deacons.” Hence in no way does Vatican II affirm that the priesthood was instituted at the Last Supper in the sense understood by Trent (pg 378).Interesting that, as I’ve suggested that Rome is “recalibrating” its understanding of the papacy, it is also “recalibrating” its understanding of succession.
[The astute Roman Catholic apologist here will chime in and say, “oh yeah, well, it doesn't deny it.” See below on the use of fuzzy language.]
That statement by Kilmartin aligns with something else I’ve posted recently:
“Elders in Every City”Roman Catholics and Anglicans both have a reason for pushing the “development” of the notions of “holy orders” for “priests” and of “apostolic succession” for “bishops” back as far into history as they can. And in doctrinal statements, both seem to agree, while some of these ideas were present around 100 AD (and though Ignatius spoke of “bishops”, it is clear that he attributed nothing approaching the kind of authority that the Apostles had!), it is clear that (a) neither of these certainly were instituted by Christ, and (b) neither of these existed in New Testament times.
Roger Beckwith, who is an Anglican, in his work, “Elders in Every City: The Origin and Role of the Ordained Ministry” (Carlisle, UK: Paternoster Press ©2003), noted the use of fuzzy language in the preface to the Ordinal in the Book of Common Prayer to describe the existence of “Bishops, Priests, and Deacons” in the church:
“It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and the ancient Authors, that from the Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” Bishops, Priests, and Deacons.”
Of this statement, Beckwith says:
This is a very carefully phrased statement which, through loose interpretation, has been misrepresented both by its defenders and by its critics.
For, in the first place, it does not say that this is evident to those “diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors’; in other words, it is evident from Scripture and the Fathers taken together, but not necessarily from one of the two taken singly. If we have difficulty finding the threefold ministry in the New Testament taken by itself, the preface does not say that we should be able to find it there.
In the second place, the preface does not say that “by the Apostles’ decision there have been those Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church” but from the Apostles time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s Church”; in other words, from the period before the last of the apostles died there have been three orders of ordained ministers; and the last of the apostles, St John, is stated by Irenaeus (Against Heresies 3:3;4) to have lived until the reign of Trajan, who did not become emperor till AD 98. Since the threefold ministry was [evident] when Ignatius of Antioch was writing his letters, about AD 110, it can hardly have arisen later than the beginning Trajan’s reign, in other words, later than the end of the apostolic age. So the preface to the Ordinal is stating the simple truth in saying that it dates from the apostle’s time. But how far the apostles were responsible for the development which took place is left an open question (Beckwith pgs. 9-10)
Robert Reymond summarizes:
It is enough to say in response that episcopacy receives no support whatever from the New Testament. Whether it has been beneficial or not to the church is highly debatable, depending upon one’s view of its development in church history since Cyprian (c. 250), whose views of episcopacy gave rise eventually in the early medieval period to the papacy and to the papacy’s many subsequent doctrinal heresies and political and social abuses of power. As for the claim by the Roman Catholic Church and the other Episcopal church bodies that their authority has come to them through an unbroken line of succession from the apostles themselves down to the present, it is enough to say, first, that such a claim is simply unsupported by history and not verifiable, and second, that even were such an unbroken succession true in some instance, such Episcopal succession per se would convey no particular authority or guarantee apostolicity to the one so graced. Mere unbroken apostolic succession is not the New Testament criterion for ministerial authority (“A New Systematic Theology of the New Christian Faith,” Nashville TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., ©1998, pgs 905-906).Kilmartin is a fascinating read, by the way. I was surprised to learn that it was Ambrose of Milan (d. 397) whose “metabolic understanding of the change of the nature of the Eucharistic elements” was “a new concept” [late 4th century!] which led to the medieval doctrine of Transubstantiation (pg. 22, and at least some of this work seems to be available through Google Books). So, again, while the early church was faithful to practice what the Lord had commanded, the uniquely Roman spin on what essentially had been a good thing, was changed by Roman [western] novelty.