Jesus answered [Simon Peter], “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Mt 16:17-19)

Apostolic Succession describes how the teaching and governing authority of the Church, established by Christ Himself through His Apostles under the leadership of and in communion with St. Peter, has been handed down through the centuries in the Catholic hierarchy.

There is the clarity of structure and of hierarchy in the Catholic Church. When Christ established the Church, He selected Twelve Apostles to serve as the Church’s pioneer bishops. From these men, St. Peter was chosen as the “Rock” upon which He would build His church. Peter became the earthly head of the Church and was given the “keys of the Kingdom” by Christ (Lumen Gentium 19; Luke 6:13; John 21:15-17). St. Peter and the Apostles would then teach in Christ’s name under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who guarantees that the Church’s teaching authority (Magisterium) will always be protected against doctrinal error (CCC. 85-88, 830-834, 882, 936).

After Christ’s Ascension, the Apostles saw the need to appoint successors. They elected St. Matthias to take the place of Judas. Later Christ called St. Paul to be an Apostle. Sts. Timothy and Titus were also among the first men designated and ordained to share in the apostolic mission (CCC. 77, 883-896, 1087).

The early Fathers of the Church such as Pope St. Clement I (died ca. AD 99) testify to this succession (I Clement, 44:1-3). All Catholic bishops today take on their office through episcopal consecration and trace their authority in an unbroken line to the original Apostles of First-century Christianity. The pope is the direct successor to St. Peter (CCC. 1555-1560, 1576).


By Brian Bartholomew Tan

Sources:  Lumen Gentium, The Didache Bible, Catechism of the Catholic Church