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Apostolic see

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An apostolic see is an episcopal see whose foundation is attributed to one or more of the apostles of Jesus or to one of their close associates. In Catholicism, the phrase "The Apostolic See" when capitalized refers specifically to the See of Rome.[1][2]

Tertullian (c. 155 − c. 240) gives examples of apostolic sees: he describes as churches "in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally" the following churches: Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, and Rome.[3]

Tertullian says that from these "all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches".[4]

Cited by early apologists for doctrinal authority[edit]

Tertullian himself and the slightly earlier Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) speak of the succession of bishops of sees founded directly by the apostles as sources for sure Christian doctrine.

Irenaeus argues that, to know what is true Christian doctrine, it is enough to learn the teaching of some of the oldest churches or at least one, in particular that of Rome:[5] "If the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to 'the perfect' apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves.[6] [...] Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?"[7]

Tertullian's arguing is similar: From the apostles the churches they founded received the doctrine that the apostles received directly from Christ, and from those churches the more recent churches received the same doctrine. Every heresy is more recent and, being different, is erroneous.[5][8]

Distinct from jurisdictional authority[edit]

Jurisdictional authority of particular episcopal sees over others is not necessarily associated with the apostolic origin of the see. Thus, the fourth canon of the First Council of Nicaea of 325 attributed to the bishop of the capital (metropolis) of each Roman province (the "metropolitan bishop") a position of authority among the bishops of the province, without reference to the founding figure of that bishop's see.[9]

Its sixth canon the same council recognized the wider authority, extending beyond a single imperial province, traditionally held by Rome and Alexandria, and the prerogatives of the churches in Antioch and the other provinces.[10]

Of Aelia, the Roman city built on the site of the destroyed city of Jerusalem, the council's seventh canon reads: "Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour."[11] The metropolis in question is generally taken to be Caesarea Maritima,[12][13][14][15] though in the late 19th century Philip Schaff also mentioned other views.[16]

The see of Constantinople was elevated to a position of jurisdictional prominence not on the grounds of apostolic origin but because of its political importance as the capital of the Roman Empire. The First Council of Constantinople (381), held in what by then had been the political capital for half a century, decreed in a canon of disputed validity: "The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome."[17] It was later ranked second among the sees in the theory of Pentarchy: "[F]ormulated in the legislation of the emperor Justinian I (527–565), especially in his Novella 131, the theory received formal ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692), which ranked the five sees as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem."[18]

For another pentarchic see, that of Alexandria, the reputed founder and close associate of the apostle Peter, Saint Mark, is not called an apostle in the New Testament.

Sees or Churches viewed as founded by apostles or their close associates[edit]

Apostles or their close associates claimed as founders of sees[edit]

Rome as the Apostolic See[edit]

By a long-standing usage, evidenced already in 431, when the Council of Ephesus, the third ecumenical council, employed the phrase "our most holy and blessed pope Cœlestine, bishop of the Apostolic See",[41] the expression, "the Apostolic See", is used in the singular and capitalized to mean specifically the see of Rome in reference to the Pope's status as successor of the Apostle Peter.[42][43]

In Catholic canon law, the term is applied also to the various departments of the Roman Curia. The Code of Canon Law states: "In this Code the terms Apostolic See or Holy See mean not only the Roman Pontiff, but also, unless the contrary is clear from the nature of things or from the context, the Secretariat of State, the Council for the public affairs of the Church, and the other Institutes of the Roman Curia."[44] The bodies in question are seen as speaking on behalf of the See of Rome.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster: definition of apostolic see
  2. ^ Collins English Dictionary: Definition of 'apostolic see'
  3. ^ Tertullian, De praescriptione haereticorum, chapter 36; original Latin text
  4. ^ Tertullian, De praescriptionibus adversus haereticos, chapter XX
  5. ^ a b Honoré Coppieters, "Apostolic Churches" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907)
  6. ^ Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III
  7. ^ Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III, iv, 1
  8. ^ Tertullian, De praescriptionibus adversus haereticos, chapter xxxii
  9. ^ First Council of Nicaea: canons 4, 6, 7
  10. ^ First Council of Nicaea: canon 6
  11. ^ First Council of Nicaea: canon 7
  12. ^ Brian E. Daley, "Position and Patronage in the Early Church" in Everett Ferguson, Norms of Faith and Life (Taylor & Francis 1999 ISBN 978-0-81533070-7), p. 207
  13. ^ Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place (University of Chicago Press 1992 ISBN 978-0-22676361-3), p. 78
  14. ^ Ian Gilman, Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-13610978-2), p. 28
  15. ^ Lucy Grig, Gavin Kelly, Two Romes (Oxford University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-19973940-0), p. 354
  16. ^ Schaff's Seven Ecumenical Councils: First Nicaea: Canon VII: "It is very hard to determine just what was the 'precedence' granted to the Bishop of Ælia, nor is it clear which is the metropolis referred to in the last clause. Most writers, including Hefele, Balsamon, Aristenus and Beveridge consider it to be Cæsarea; while Zonaras thinks Jerusalem to be intended, a view recently adopted and defended by Fuchs; others again suppose it is Antioch that is referred to."
  17. ^ "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
  18. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica: Pentarchy
  19. ^ Saint Mark is not called an apostle in the New Testament, but he is said to have been one of the Seventy Apostles and to have been commissioned as an apostle when he accompanied Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas in their apostolic journeys.
  20. ^ "Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria Official Website". Greekorthodox-alexandria.org. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  21. ^ "website of the Coptic Orthodox Church Network". Copticchurch.net. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  22. ^ "Syriac Orthodox Resources". sor.cua.edu. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
  23. ^ "Official Website of the Armenian Church". Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  24. ^ Apostolic Succession of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenian Catholics
  25. ^ Curtin, D. P.; Lewis, A.S. (January 2014). The Martyrdom of St. Bartholomew: Greek, Arabic, and Armenian Versions. Dalcassian Publishing Company. ISBN 9798868951473.
  26. ^ "Word Pictures in the New Testament - 2 Corinthians - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
  27. ^ Professor Sergew Hable Sellassie & Professor Tadesse Tamerat (December 1970), "The Establishment of the Ethiopian Church", The Church of Ethiopia: A Panorama Of History and Spiritual Life, archived from the original on 11 June 2011, retrieved 2 December 2015 – via Ethiopianorthodox.org
  28. ^ "Mission of Saint Bartholomew, the Apostle in India". 13 February 2007.
  29. ^ "Philip Schaff: NPNF2-01. Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine - Christian Classics Ethereal Library".
  30. ^ "St. Bartholomew - Saints & Angels".
  31. ^ "Saints & Blessed – CCBI".
  32. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica: "Saint Bartholomew"
  33. ^ Paniker 1997, p. 263
  34. ^ Beresford, Andrew M. (2 March 2020). Sacred Skin: The Legend of St. Bartholomew in Spanish Art and Literature. BRILL. ISBN 9789004419384.
  35. ^ "Today, the Church remembers St. Bartholomew. | by Father Troy Beecham | Medium". Archived from the original on 2020-09-16.
  36. ^ "St bartholomew: Tracing St Bartholomew's footsteps to Betalbatim | Goa News - Times of India". The Times of India. 10 September 2017.
  37. ^ ""Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine" at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 13 July 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  38. ^ Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew (ad finem)
  39. ^ "History of the Russian Church". Russian-crafts.com. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
  40. ^ Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Acts-Philemon (David C. Cook, 2004), p. 610)
  41. ^ "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
  42. ^ "In the east there were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming Apostolic foundation — Rome — so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see" (Bishop Kallistos Ware, Orthodox Church).
  43. ^ "An Apostolic see is any see founded by an Apostle and having the authority of its founder; the Apostolic See is the seat of authority in the Roman Church, continuing the Apostolic functions of Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Heresy and barbarian violence swept away all the particular Churches which could lay claim to an Apostolic see, until Rome alone remained; to Rome, therefore, the term applies as a proper name" (Catholic Encyclopedia, article The Apostolic See).
  44. ^ "Code of Canon Law: text - IntraText CT". www.intratext.com.