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Bishops are successors of the Apostles

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on the Church
General Audience, Wednesday 8 July 1992 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. The Acts of the Apostles and the epistles document what we read in Vatican II's Constitution Lumen Gentium, namely, that the apostles "had various helpers in their ministry" (LG 20). In fact, as the Christian communities which were quickly formed after the day of Pentecost began to spread, the community of the apostles was certainly prominent, especially the group of those who in the Jerusalem community were "reputed to be pillars: James and Cephas and John," as St. Paul attests in Galatians (2:9). These are Peter, set up by Jesus as head of the apostles and supreme pastor of the Church; John, the beloved apostle; and James, "the brother of the Lord," acknowledged as the head of the Jerusalem Church.

However, along with the apostles, Acts mentions "presbyters" (cf. Acts 11:29-30; 15:2, 4), who with them constitute the first subordinate rank of the hierarchy. The apostles sent a representative named Barnabas to Antioch because of the progress made in evangelizing that region (cf. Acts 11:22). Acts also speaks of Saul (St. Paul), who, after his conversion and first missionary effort, went with Barnabas (to whom the name "apostle" was also given; cf. Acts 14:14) to Jerusalem, as the center of ecclesial authority, to confer with the apostles. At the same time he brought material aid to the local community (cf. Acts 11:29). In the Church of Antioch, alongside Barnabas and Saul, there were also "prophets and teachers...Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen" (Acts 13:1). From there Barnabas and Saul were sent out on an apostolic mission, "after they [the apostles] had laid hands on them" (cf. Acts 13:2-3). From the time of that mission on, Saul began to be called Paul (cf. Acts 13:9). As communities gradually arose, we hear that "they appointed presbyters" (Acts 24:23). The responsibilities of these presbyters are defined in detail in the pastoral letters to Titus and Timothy, whom Paul appointed as heads of the community (cf. Ti 1:5; 1 Tim 5:17).

After the Council of Jerusalem the apostles sent two more leaders to Antioch along with Barnabas and Paul: Silas and Judas, who was called Barsabbas. They were considered as "leaders among the brothers" (Acts 15:22). In the Pauline letters other "co-workers" and "companions" of the Apostle are mentioned in addition to Titus and Timothy (cf. 1 Thess 1:1; 2 Cor 1:19; Rom 16:1, 3-5).

2. At a certain point the Church needed new leaders, successors of the apostles. The Second Vatican Council says in this regard that the apostles, "in order that the mission assigned to them might continue after their death...they passed on to their immediate cooperators, as it were, in the form of a testament, the duty of confirming and finishing the work begun by themselves, recommending to them that they attend to the whole flock in which the Holy Spirit placed them to shepherd the Church of God (cf. Acts 20:28). They therefore appointed such men, and gave them the order that, when they should have died, other approved men would take up their ministry [1] " (LG 20).

This succession is attested to by the first non-biblical Christian authors, such as St. Clement, St. Irenaeus and Tertullian. It constitutes the foundation for handing on the authentic apostolic testimony from generation to generation. The Council says: "Thus, as St. Irenaeus testifies, through those who were appointed bishops by the apostles, and through their successors down in our own time, the apostolic tradition is manifested and preserved [2] " (LG 20).

3. From these same texts it is evident that the apostolic succession has two correlative aspects: the pastoral and the doctrinal, in continuity with the mission of the apostles themselves. In this regard a clarification must be made, on the basis of the texts, as to what is sometimes said of the apostles, namely, that they could not have successors because they enjoyed a unique experience of friendship with Christ during his earthly life and a unique role in initiating the work of salvation.

Now it is certainly true that the apostles had an exceptional experience, which as a personal experience could not be shared with others, and that they had a unique role in forming the Church--that of witnessing and handing on Christ's word and mystery on the basis of their direct knowledge, and of establishing the Church in Jerusalem. At the same time, however, they also received a mission of authoritative teaching and pastoral leadership for the Church's growth. According to Jesus' intention, this mission can and must be handed on to successors so as to complete the work of universal evangelization. In this second sense, therefore, the apostles had co-workers and later successors. The Council states this several times (cf. LG 18, 20, 22).

4. Bishops fulfill the pastoral mission entrusted to the apostles and have all the powers which this mission entails. Moreover, like the apostles, they fulfill it with the help of co-workers. We read in Lumen Gentium: "Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock [3] , whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing" (LG 20).

5. The Council stressed this apostolic succession of the bishops by stating that the succession is of divine institution. We read again in Lumen Gentium: "The Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and him who sent Christ (cf. Lk 10:16)" (LG 20).

In virtue of this divine institution the bishops represent Christ in such a way that listening to them is listening to Christ. Therefore, the Successor of Peter is not the only one who represents Christ the shepherd, but so do the other successors of the apostles. The Council teaches: "In the bishops, therefore, for whom priests are assistants, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Supreme High Priest, is present in the midst of those who believe" (LG 21). The words of Jesus, "Whoever listens to you listens to me" (Lk 10:16), quoted by the Council, have an even broader application because they were addressed to the seventy-two disciples. We saw in the texts from the Acts of the Apostles, cited in the first two paragraphs of this catechesis, the abundance of co-workers gathered around the apostles, a hierarchy which was quickly differentiated into presbyters (bishops and their co-workers) and deacons, but not without the assistance of the ordinary faithful, helpers in the pastoral ministry.

[1]   cf. St. Clement of Rome, Ep. ad Cor., 44, 2
[2]   St. Irenaeus, Adv. Haer., III, 3, 1; cf. Tertullian, De Praescr., 20, 4-8: PL 2, 32; CC 1, 202
[3]   cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch, Philad., Praef.; 1, 1

After the Catechesis, Papa Giovanni Paolo II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli francesi

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

J’accueille avec plaisir tous les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je salue en particulier les sportifs de Leuven, les pèlerins de Saint-Julien et les fidèles du diocèse de Montauban, guidés par leur Évêque, Monseigneur de Saint-Blanquat. J’offre tous mes vœux aux religieux et aux religieuses qui sont venus prier devant le tombeau des saints Apôtres. J’adresse un salut cordial aux jeunes qui sont ici, notamment à ceux du Collège Charles Sénard de Caluire, en leur souhaitant de passer des vacances reposantes et remplies de découvertes passionnantes. Sur chacun d’entre vous, j’invoque la Bénédiction du Seigneur.

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese 

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I extend a cordial welcome to the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors. In particular I greet the Missionary Servants of the Holy Spirit, the Vincentian priests and brothers, and the Franciscan Conventual Friars. I ask God to strengthen you all in faith and love.

A special welcome also gœs to the pastors from the United States taking part in the "American Summer Institute" at the Waldensian Faculty.

Upon the visitors from Great Britain, the Philippines, Indonesia, Canada and the United States, I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai visitatori giapponesi

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Saluto voi, pellegrini provenienti da varie regioni del Giappone e vi invito ad unirvi nella preghiera e nell’impegno per il bene dell’umanità, affinché ogni persona vinca l’egoismo e faccia crescere l’amore vicendevole.

Con questo augurio, invocando su di voi la protezione di Maria, Madre di Gesù e nostra, vi imparto di cuore la Benedizione Apostolica.

Sia lodato Gesù Cristo!

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Schwestern und Brüder!

Mögen wir, die wir hier anwesend sind, in den Bischöfen die Hirten sehen, die an Gottes Stelle der Herde der Gläubigen vorstehen: ”Als Lehrer in der Unterweisung, als Priester im heiligen Kult und als Diener in der Leitung“.

Mit diesem innigen Wunsch grübe ich Euch alle, liebe deutschsprachige Pilger und Besucher, sehr herzlich. Ein besonderer Willkommensgrub gilt den Schülerinnen, Schülern und Lehrkräften des Theresiengymnasiums Ansbach, den Schülern und Lehrern der II. Klassen des Gymnasiums Eschenbach sowie der Pilgergruppe der Pfarrei St. Jakobus, Schuttenwald.

Euch allen, Euren lieben Angehörigen in der Heimat sowie den mit uns geistlich Verbundenen erteile ich von Herzen meinen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli di espressione spagnola 

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Deseo dar mi afectuosa bienvenida a todos los peregrinos de len gua española. Saludo cordialmente al grupo de religiosos y profesores de los Colegios de las Escuelas Pías y les aliento a continuar con generosidad el carisma de San José de Calasanz, cuyo cuarto centenario de su venida a Roma estamos celebrando. También procedentes de España, saludo al grupo franciscano, a los miembros de la Archicofradía de María Santísima de la Sierra y a los diversos grupos parroquiales, así como a los componentes de la coral “Eskifaya”.

Igualmente saludo con afecto a las niñas del Movimiento “Regnum Christi” y a todos los peregrinos mexicanos. Así mismo, expreso mi gratitud por participar en esta audiencia a los miembros del Instituto “María Auxiliadora” y a los de la Sociedad Deportiva “Sodegua”, de Guatemala.

A todos os exhorto a sentiros colaboradores activos del ministerio pastoral de los Obispos, a la vez que os imparto mi Bendición.

Ai fedeli di lingua portoghese 

Amadíssimos irmãos e irmãs,

Saúdo os peregrinos de língua portuguesa aqui presentes, especialmente os brasileiros procedentes de diversos Estados do Brasil. Desejo a todos muitas felicidades e uma boa estadia na Cidade Eterna. Peço a Deus que esta experiência romana sirva, com à ajuda do Espírito Santo, para reforçar aquela convicção, que hoje propuso à sua consideração, de que o bispo, em comunhão com os demais Bispos e com Pedro, representa Cristo; escutá-lo é escutar Cristo. E que Deus vos abençoe.

Ai pellegrini croati

Vi saluto tutti cordialmente, cari pellegrini croati! Anche oggi vorrei rinnovare il mio accorato appello e con voi pregare Dio, Padre nostro che è nei cieli, affinché venga, al più presto, il giorno della vera pace in Croazia, in Bosnia-Erzegovina, e in tutta la regione dei Balcani. Ritornando a casa, portate il saluto del Papa a quanti soffrono a causa della crudele guerra: ai familiari delle vittime, ai feriti e alla grande moltitudine dei profughi ed esiliati. L’amore di Cristo ci spinge ad essere al loro fianco e a cercare di alleviare le loro sofferenze. Invoco su di voi e su tutti la benedizione di Dio. Siano lodati Gesù e Maria!

Ai fedeli di lingua italiana

Saluto tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare il gruppo dei Canonici Regolari Lateranensi, che si sono radunati a Roma per un corso di formazione e di approfondimento della propria spiritualità. Carissimi, vi auguro che codesto mese di preghiera e di riflessione vi serva per approfondire sempre più il valore essenziale della vita interiore, dell’unione con Dio, della riflessione sulle verità eterne. Vi sia di conforto anche l’assicurazione della mia preghiera e della mia benevolenza.

Saluto pure le Suore che partecipano, in questi giorni, al corso nazionale per catechiste parrocchiali, promosso dall’Unione Superiore Maggiori d’Italia. Care Sorelle, sperimentate “la solidità degli insegnamenti che avete ricevuto”, e meditate nel vostro cuore, con Maria, “tutti gli avvenimenti” della salvezza. In questo modo sarete annunciatrici sempre più gioiose e credibili dell’amore di Cristo nelle vostre comunità religiose e in tutti gli ambienti, in cui siete chiamate ad operare.

Il mio pensiero va ancora ai motociclisti che partecipano alla manifestazione non competitiva che li porta da Milano a Taranto. Nell’accogliere la vostra carovana, che proviene da vari Paesi del mondo e da tante città italiane, desidero invitarvi a cercare sempre non solo l’unità tra varie regioni e culture, ma anche l’unità nella vostra vita interiore. Vi auguro di essere appassionati dei grandi percorsi spirituali, oltre che dei lunghi itinerari storico-culturali.

E saluto, inoltre, i simpatici “minivigili” di “Ciclilandia”, con i loro parenti ed amici: dal parco di Tirrenia, in provincia di Pisa, siete tornati a Roma per consegnarmi la patente onoraria, insieme con una ciclocarrozzella. Sappiate che il Papa vi ama e vi invita ad impegnarvi sempre nell’adempimento dei vostri doveri sia cristiani che civili. Grazie per la vostra visita e buone vacanze!

Ai giovani, agli ammalati e agli sposi novelli 

Nel rivolgere, infine, un pensiero ai Giovani, ai Malati ed alle coppie di giovani Sposi, desidero ricordare a tutti il significato che per il cristiano ha il tempo delle vacanze e del riposo. Esso è tempo di contemplazione, di preghiera e di riflessione.

Questo dico anzitutto a voi, Giovani, che nel periodo delle vacanze, dopo le fatiche scolastiche, vi dedicate ad attività ricreative: sappiate utilizzare questo periodo per integrare con buone letture la vostra formazione umana e religiosa.

Voi, malati, sappiate vivere questo tempo nel vivo desiderio di essere più vicini al Cristo e alla sua Madre Santissima, Salute dei malati.

Soprattutto voi, giovani sposi, sappiate gustare, nella serena intimità familiare, momenti preziosi di comune preghiera e di gioia cristiana.

A tutti la mia benedizione apostolica.

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