Apostolic succession refers to the Christian doctrine that holds modern churches to be the descendants of the early apostolic church through the sacramental handing down of authority through the episcopate. Most significantly, it considers that the authority to celebrate sacraments is dependent on being able to trace such authority back to the first apostles, who in turn received it directly from Christ.
Churches of Apostolic succession see in their doctrine and practice a sure and biblical, though not infallible, means of receiving and perpetuating the Faith from one generation to another. This is because Apostolic succession requires "tactile" chosing and ordination, person to person, "eyeball to eyeball", from the Apostles onward, requiring the most heightened responsibility in the giving and receiving. It is believed that a visible concrete hands on chosing best authenticates to the people both the succeeding leaders and the teaching to be furthered. It is also believed that there is grace of the Holy Spirit transmitted by the laying of hands at the time of ordination. They see Apostolic succession in both the Old and the New Tetaments:
Joshua 34:9 And Joshua son of Nun was full of the Spirit and wisdom; for Moses had laid his hands on him: and the children of Israel hearkened unto him, and did as the LORD commanded Moses.
2 Timothy 1:6 (understood to be said by the Apostle Paul to a young bishop who himself is responsible for the choosing of others) Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.
Ordination to the Orders of Deacon, Priest, and Bishop are with the laying on of hands and prayer in churches of Apostolic succession.
This doctrine is most prominent in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican churches, as well as some other Eastern churches. It is also present in a modified form in the Methodist and the Mormon churches. Many other Protestant churches, as well as the Jehovah's Witnesses, on the other hand, reject this doctrine entirely.
The Catholic church recognizes the Orthodox succession as valid, but the Orthodox does not recognize the Catholic succession. Neither recognizes the Anglican succession.
- Cf. the 1896 papal bull Apostolicae Curae