Handed-on from the Apostles

What is the dynamic of the handing-on of infallible doctrinal truth from the days of the apostles to modern times?

Here are the ways the apostles passed-on the faith:

  1. the New Testament
  2. their preaching
  3. their example
  4. the institutions they established

Could the apostles hand-on a teaching which they themselves were not aware of? For example, is it proper to say the apostles handed-on the Catholic doctrines of indulgences or the treasury of merit, or the Protestant doctrine of the Bema seat judgment? They knew nothing of these.


Apostolic Seed

Have the Catholic bishops truly passed-on the apostolic seed?



From Tertullian, The Prescription Against Heretics

Chapter III. — Weak People Fall an Easy Prey to Heresy, Which Derives Strength from the General Frailty of Mankind. Eminent Men Have Fallen from Faith; Saul, David, Solomon. The Constancy of Christ.

But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith?

Tertullian insists that the guide for what is true is not the succession of bishops but is, rather, the apostolic teaching.

Chapter XXXII. — None of the Heretics Claim Succession from the Apostles. New Churches Still Apostolic, Because Their Faith is that Which the Apostles Taught and Handed Down. The Heretics Challenged to Show Any Apostolic Credentials.

But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men, — a man, moreover, who continued stedfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind. For after their blasphemy, what is there that is unlawful for them (to attempt)? But should they even effect the contrivance, they will not advance a step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the apostles, will declare, by its own diversity and contrariety, that it had for its author neither an apostle nor an apostolic man; because, as the apostles would never have taught things which were self-contradictory, so the apostolic men would not have inculcated teaching different from the apostles, unless they who received their instruction from the apostles went and preached in a contrary manner.

Tertullian makes two claims which he assumes are true:

The bishops as a group accepted teaching which was never taught by the apostles. The church changed its nature by the succession of bishops in a way never planned by the apostles. In combating heresy and providing structure for the early church, the succession of bishops invented doctrine which was not apostolic in origin.



From Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, or Miscellanies, Book I

Chapter I. — Preface — The Author's Object — The Utility of Written Compositions

Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God's will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it.