Joseph Ratzinger, destined to be pope, in an essay entitled “Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica,” in the work “God’s Word: Scripture-Tradition-Office” (San Francisco: Ignatius Press ©2008; Libreria Editrice Vaticana edition ©2005), says “The concept of [apostolic] succession was clearly formulated, as von Campenhausen has impressively demonstrated, in the anti-Gnostic polemics of the second century; [and not, as some Roman Catholic writers assert, in the first century] its purpose was to contrast the true apostolic tradition of the Church with the pseudo-apostolic tradition of Gnosis” (pgs 22-23).
<---------------- Yes, that’s Pope Joseph Ratzinger’s picture over there, on the book cover, stating for all the world to see, “The concept of Apostolic Succession was clearly formulated in the second century.” (Even though he wasn’t yet pope when he wrote that, some enterprising publisher put his picture, and name as pope! on the cover, with the hope that more people would buy it!)
The work he is referring to is Hans von Campenhausen, Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries, trans. J. A. Baker (London: Black, 1969), pgs 149-177. Hmm. And look at that recommendation from Ratzinger, who was still only a “brialliant theologian” when he wrote that endorsement. “Clearly formulated … impressively demonstrated…” That’s a very fine endorsement indeed.
We look now at what von Campenhausen says:
The position of elder in the Church was, as we saw, not established for the sake of the tradition or of the teaching ministry. At first it was simply a matter of following the Jewish model and general necessity. In many cases, though not in all, the liturgical function of the elders was also felt to be especially important. But so soon as the danger that believers would be led astray by false teachers became acute, the natural consequence was that these men were called upon and put forward to act as guardians and witnesses of the genuine tradition. The crucial question in this situation is this: in what relationship is the authority of the office placed to that of the tradition? In the early stages, however, the question is neither posed nor answered in this form. This much alone is clear, that there is as yet no official monopoly of the task of representing and safeguarding true doctrine and the apostolic witness—any more than there is the opposite, anti-clerical emphasis on ‘the priesthood of all believers’ (152).The most that we can derive from this statement is that there clearly were “elders” and “lay folk” in the New Testament church, as well as “free”, itinerant preachers. There is “no official monopoly” of church leadership.
Luke adheres sympathetically [to the view that “the Twelve” are “a judicial body”] for a time, since it corresponds to his ideal picture of the peace an order of the earliest period.; but then he goes on to show how God, in guiding the Church, goes too fast for these Apostles by himself calling preachers and prophets and by bestowing his Spirit where the Apostles least expect it. Again and again there is nothing for the latter to do but recognize what the spirit has already done, and to confirm it with praise and thanksgiving, while the newly won Christians gratefully join the community. Then Paul moves the mission into completely new areas and situations. Whatever the piety which he displays in his dealings with the primitive community, he is not subject to it. The later, historically untenable conception of the central government of the whole Church by the Apostles is thus not supported by Luke (153).This is confirmed at an exegetical level by, among others, I. Howard Marshall, Professor of New Testament Exegesis at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, in his work, “Luke, Historian & Theologian”, Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, ©1970, 1979, 1988. Marshall, a leading New Testament exegetical scholar, was also the founder and general editor of the New International Greek Testament Commentary (NIGTC) series, which is devoted to exploring the Greek text of the New Testament in detail. Marshall says:
Is it true that as a theologian Luke “can only be understood from his doctrine as a legitimate church”? [quoting Ernst Kasemann]. The general pattern of the answer should be clear from the previous discussion. We have seen that all the way through Luke thinks of the disciples as being constituted into the church.By “disciples” he means ordinary, everyday “believers”. Earlier he defines the term: “The response of those who accept the word is described as belief. From one point of view, it is belief in the message (Acts 8:12); from another it is belief in Jesus Christ. The latter expression is used to describe the act of commitment to Him. It means accepting that He is the Saviour, the Messiah and the Lord, but such acceptance of the message about Him obviously implies personal commitment to the One who is the Lord. … The personal character of this relationship is further indicated by the Lucan use of the word “disciple” to indicate the believer. This word is not found outside Acts to designate believers in the post-Easter situation; apart from Acts its use is confined to the Gospels where it describes the followers of the earthly Jesus who stood in a personal relationship to him” – pgs 192-193. Marshall continues with his exposition of “how Luke regards the church”:
He [Luke] is as much concerned with the fate of the church as with that of the individual. He knows next to nothing of a solitary religion, although the case of the Ethiopian eunuch proves that such may exist.More to follow on this topic, Lord willing.
Nevertheless, there is no special stress on the church as an institution. Men became believers through hearing the word and responding to it. What matters here is not the activity of the church but the truth of the message. It is continuity with the apostolic teaching that is of supreme significance. For Luke this is preserved by a continuity within the church. The church sends out its missionaries and confirms the work of those already engaged in preaching the word. Thus the mission in Samaria is legitimated by the apostles, and the work in Antioch is confirmed by Barnabas (Acts 11:22f.), who was not one of the Twelve but was an apostle in the same sense as Paul (Acts 14:4). The church at Jerusalem is represented as having authority over the missionary churches to whom it sent its decree (Acts 15:22-29; 16:4), but it is not clear how Luke conceived of this authority in detail; it is noteworthy that the council at Jerusalem was held at the instigation of the church in Antioch, and that its purpose was to correct the false impression given by unauthorized men claiming to represent the church at Jerusalem (212).
… Luke reflects the early period when Jerusalem was thought of at the centre of the church. Later the mission churches became increasingly independent. What matters for Luke is not so much the church itself as the apostles who were guardians of its doctrine.
The church of Luke cannot be said to dispense salvation by means of the sacraments. The Lord’s Supper is not in Luke a means of salvation but a fellowship meal in which the Lord’s death was remembered. Baptism is the outward sign of receiving the Spirit and becoming a Christian, but Luke demonstrates plainly that the reception of the Spirit was not rigidly tied to baptism …
It is also of course true that Luke assumes converts will join the church. The function of water-baptism is precisely this. But again there is nothing that smacks of “early Catholicism” in this, for there is no evidence that in the apostolic period any other understanding was ever entertained. To be a Christian was to be a member of the church. What matters for Luke is that Christians come together and share in the common life of the church – in fellowship, in prayer and in mission. Consequently, the term “the Way” which he has taken over as his characteristic description of the church appears to refer both to the teaching of the church and to the members. These are the two things which are important for Luke. It is the apostolic teaching which constitutes the church. And if there is no salvation extra ecclesiam it is not because the church possesses the gospel but because salvation is through Christ and His word is committed to the apostles. …
Thus in the end Acts is the story of the growth of the church because it is the story of the spread of salvation. In Acts salvation becomes a reality. The work of Jesus is continued by His disciples and embraces men and women of every nation. If Luke has restricted his story to the movement of the gospel to Rome, he nevertheless hints at its wider spread in the Pentecost narrative (Acts 2:5-11, 39). Luke’s task was to show what men everywhere must do in order to be saved. Thus the Book of Acts is itself a means of salvation to those who hear the gospel in it and make the same response as the Philippian jailer and many another: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” (212-215).