Sunday, December 29, 2013

Against Rome's Apostolic Succession Argument by Bullinger (Part 1)

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) was a Swiss Reformer and author of a popular writing entitled The Decades. This particular writing was influential in England, highly esteemed and used as a textbook of sorts for training English clergy. Included in The Decades is a section entitled Of The Holy Catholic Church, and included therein is Bullinger's refutation of Rome's apostolic succession argument (that Rome is the true church because of an historical succession of church authority that began with Peter). Here is the first part of Bullinger's argument:

Second, the succession of doctors or pastors of the Church does not prove anything of itself without the Word of God. The champions and defenders of the papistical church boast that they have a most certain mark of the apostolic Church, that is, in the continual succession of bishops which derives from Peter by Clement the First, and so to Clement the Seventh, and to Paul the Third who died recently, and so continuing to Julius the Third, who has only just been created pope. Moreover they add that all those members are cut off which separate themselves from that church in which alone that apostolic succession is found. And we do not deny that the right succession of pastors was of great weight in the primitive Church. For those who were then called pastors were pastors indeed, and executed the office of pastors. But what kind of pastors those have been for some time who out of the rabble of cardinals, mitred bishops and sophisters have been called pastors of the church of Rome, only those are ignorant who are altogether without understanding. The prophet Zechariah heard these words spoken to him by the Lord: "Take to thee yet the instruments of a foolish shepherd; for lo, I will raise up a shepherd in the land, which shall not look for the thing that is lost, nor seek the tender lambs, nor heal that that is hurt, nor.feed that that standeth up: but he shall eat the flesh of the fat, and tear their hoofs in pieces. Woe be to the idol shepherd that forsaketh the flock," etc. Therefore by their continual succession of bishops who do not teach the Word of God sincerely or execute the office and duty of pastors, these men do not prove any more than if they were to set before the eyes of the world a company, of idols. For who dare deny that many, indeed the majority of bishops of Rome since Gregory the Great were idols and wolves and devourers like those described by the prophet Zechariah? I ask then, what can the continual succession,cf such false pastors prove? indeed, did not the later ones fill almost the whole Church with the traditions of men, and partly oppress the Church of God, and partly persecute it? In the ancient church of the Israelites there was a continual order of succession of bishops, without any interruption from Aaron to Urias, who lived under Ahaz, and to other wicked high priests who also fell away from the Word of God: to the traditions of men, and indeed to idolatry. But for all that, that succession did not prove the idolatrous high-priests, with the church which adhered to them, to be the true high-priests of God and the true Church of God. For the true prophets of God, the sound and catholic fathers, who preached the Word of God alone apart from and indeed clean against all the traditions of men, were not able to reckon up any succession of priests to whom they themselves succeeded. Yet in spite of that, they were most excellent lights, and worthy members of the Church of God, and those who believed their doctrine were neither schismatics nor heretics, but even to this day are acknowledged to be the true Church of Christ. When Christ our Lord, the blessed Son of God, taught here on earth and gathered together his Church, the succession of high_priests ranged itself with his adversaries: but that did not mean that they were the rulers of the true Church of God, and Christ of the heretical church. The apostles of our Lord could not allege for themselves and their doctrine an unbroken succession of high-priests: for they were ordained by the Lord, who was also himself created of God the High Priest for ever after the order of Melchisedek, outside the succession of the order of Levi. Yet the Church which was gathered by them is acknowledged by all to be the true and holy Church. The apostles themselves would not allow any to be counted their true followers and successors but those who walked uprightly in the doctrine and way of Christ: for the saying of Paul is notable. and manifest: "Be ye followers of me, even as I am of Christ." And though he speaks these words to all the faithful, and not only to the ministers of God's Word, yet he would have the latter his followers like all other Christians, that is to say, every man in his vocation and calling. The same apostle, speaking at Miletum to the bishops of Asia, says amongst other things: "I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Moreover, of your own selves shall men arise speaking perverse things, to draw disciples after them." It is from the apostolic Church itself, indeed from the company or assembly of apostolic bishops and pastors, that Paul the apostle fetches out the wolves and devourers of the Church. But do you not think that these could have alleged the apostolic succession for themselves and their most corrupt cause, that is, that, they were descended from apostolic pastors? But since forsaking the truth they have fallen from the faith and doctrine of the apostles, their derivation and apostolic succession does not in any way help them. Therefore we conclude that of itself the continual succession of bishops does not prove anything, but on the contrary that succession which lacks the purity of evangelical and apostolic doctrine is not valid.

Source: Library of Christian Classics Vol. XXIV: Zwingli and Bullinger (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1953), pp. 309-311


Pete Holter said...

“Therefore we conclude that of itself the continual succession of bishops does not prove anything…”

Hi James!

Happy New Year. I hope you’re enjoying the Christmas season with your loved ones.

The continual succession of bishops proves that our bishops’ ordination comes from the laying on of hands by those who were sent, by those who were sent… by those who were sent by the apostles. The gift is in the bishops through the laying on of hands, not through personal holiness. Personal holiness fans this gift into flames, but the gift itself comes through sacramental ordination, and this sacrament is passed on through continual succession by the laying on of hands from the time of the apostles. Bullinger mentions the “ancient church of the Israelites,” but what can be said against the point made by Augustine?

Pete Holter said...

“Aaron bears with the multitude demanding, fashioning, and worshipping an idol. Moses bears with thousands murmuring against God, and so often offending His holy name. David bears with Saul his persecutor, even when forsaking the things that are above by his wicked life, and following after the things that are beneath by magical arts, avenges his death, and calls him the Lord’s anointed, because of the venerable right by which he had been consecrated. Samuel bears with the reprobate sons of Eli, and his own perverse sons, whom the people refused to tolerate, and were therefore rebuked by the warning and punished by the severity of God. Lastly, he bears with the nation itself, though proud and despising God. Isaiah bears with those against whom he hurls so many merited denunciations. Jeremiah bears with those at whose hands he suffers so many things. Zechariah bears with the scribes and Pharisees, as to whose character in those days Scripture informs us. I know that I have omitted many examples: let those who are willing and able read the divine records for themselves: they will find that all the holy servants and friends of God have always had to bear with some among their own people, with whom, nevertheless, they partook in the sacraments of that dispensation, and in so doing not only were not defiled by them, but were to be commended for their tolerant spirit, ‘endeavouring to keep,’ as the apostle says, ‘the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4:3)” (Letter 43, Ch. 8:23).

“I also said that in the ancient economy the peace of unity and forbearance had not been so fully declared and commended as it is now by the example of the Lord and the charity of the New Testament; and yet prophets and holy men were wont to protest against the sins of the people, without endeavouring to separate themselves from the unity of the Jewish people, and from communion in partaking along with them of the sacraments then appointed” (Letter 44, Ch. 5:11).

“Daniel also groaned over that intermingling of evil, and the three men groaned over it — the one testified to it in his prayer, the others in the fiery furnace; still, they did not withdraw themselves by bodily separation from their union with the people whose sins they confessed. What great things all the Prophets uttered against the same people among whom they lived! But they did not separate themselves by a physical departure or withdrawal, nor did they seek out another people among whom they could live. The very Apostles, without any defilement to themselves, endured the company of the devil Judas until the end, when he destroyed himself with a halter, and the Lord spoke thus to them of his presence among them: ‘And you are clean, but not all.’ Yet, in spite of his uncleanness, the lump was not corrupted by this leaven of dissimilar conduct among them. On the other hand, it cannot truthfully be asserted that his wickedness was unknown to them, except perhaps his coming betrayal of the Lord, for they even wrote of him that he was a thief, and carried off from the Lord’s purse all that was put therein. And no one alleged this testimony against them unjustly: ‘Thou didst see a thief and didst run with him,’ because one runs with evildoers by consenting to their deeds, not by sharing the sacraments with them. What great complaints the Apostle Paul makes of false brethren! Yet he was not defiled by their physical companionship, because he was set apart by the distinction of a pure heart. He rejoiced that Christ was likewise preached by some whom he knew as envious, and assuredly envy is a diabolical vice” (Letter 108, Ch. 3:8).

With love in Christ,