Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.
My Mormon friend and I have been discussing the issue of apostolic succession for the past week, which is an important bedrock for both his and my faith. He readily acknowledges that there is evidence of apostolic succession in the early Christian church, but he points to two factors that keep him from accepting the Catholic Church's claim to unbroken apostolic succession.
The first of these is that there is no record of the ordination of St. Peter's successor, which has led to some debate about whether it was Clement or Linus that succeeded the first Bishop of Rome. Further, the records seem to go silent on apostolic succession until the second century, which my friend sees as possible evidence that during this mystery period the church was corrupted and went off track.
The second issue he has is that the apostles did not ordain other men who wore the title "apostle," but were called bishops, presbyters, and deacons. In his view, like the Mormon church today, Christ's true church should be led by apostles, then bishops, priests, and deacons, but the Catholic church has no office called "apostle."
How would you respond to my friend's objections? Do you know of any evidence for apostolic succession between the latter first century and mid second century?
Your friend is offering an absurd argument from silence. The reality is that all the early witnesses testify to apostolic succession, not simply in the Church of Rome but in all the Churches. It’s simply how things were done. Mormonism requires a Great Apostasy in order to justify the need for a Mormon revelation. The problem is, there is no evidence of one. No Great Apostasy, no need for Christ to re-establish his Church. And the fact that the Church does not have a filing system keeping day to day records of the bishops of the Church in the late first century is no evidence at all of a Great Apostasy any more than such a lack of record-keeping is evidence that the Church might have been taken over by Venusian lizard creatures. Human imagination can fill silence with all sorts of fantasies. That does not make the fantasies true, particularly because all the evidence we do have contradicts both the Great Apostasy and Lizard People theories The simple fact is, everybody who writes about the episcopacy in the early Church says exactly the same thing; the bishops are traceable in unbroken succession back to the apostles.
The funny thing is: Mormonism loves to quote a particular bishop--Athanasius--saying, “God became man that man might become God” in order to “prove” that the early Church was Mormon. But Athanasius is a bishop from the fourth century, long after the supposed Great Apostasy is alleged to have happened. And, of course, Athanasius is not a Mormon but a Catholic referring to what Peter calls “being a partaker in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) and what the Eastern Church calls “theosis” and the Western Church called "divinization". He does not mean you graduate to becoming a god with your own planet to run (as Mormonism claims), but that you participate in the life of the Blessed Trinity by grace.
The basic takeaway is this: Mormonism must show some hard evidence of a Great Apostasy—something way more than an argument from silence or a suggestion that something or other might have happened—in order to have any reason whatsoever to exist. No Great Apostasy, no need for a Mormon “revelation” to get the Church back on track. Mormonism relies on a total historical falsehood in order to exist. There was no Great Apostasy. Never happened. As historically real as the attack of the Martians in 1900 or the War of the Ring. Not true. Made up. Fake. False. Imaginary. Those who speak of it are either totally ignorant of history or are deliberately lying. And because there is no Great Apostasy, there is therefore no need for the Mormon “revelation”. This, among many other reasons is why Mormonism is a fraud and its followers--who are often very fine people--are deceived.