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Apostolic Succession

a doctrine, held by some Christian denominations, which asserts that the chosen successors (properly ordained bishops) of the Twelve Apostles, from the first century to the present day, have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were conferred upon them by the Apostles, who in turn received their spiritual authority from Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches, parts of the Anglican Communion, and Lutheran churches are the predominant proponents of this doctrine. To them, present-day bishops, as the successors of previous bishops, going back to the apostles, have spiritual and ecclesiastical power by this unbroken chain of ordinations stemming from the Apostles. This link with the Apostles guarantees for them their authority in matters of faith, morals, and the valid administration of sacraments. The Catholic Church doubly believes that a bishop's authority on matters of faith and morals is infallible when what he teaches is universally taught by all the college of bishops in communion with the Pope, who in turn is seen as the successor of St. Peter the Apostle and the Vicar of Christ on Earth.

Essential to maintaining the apostolic succession is the proper consecration of bishops. Apostolic succession is to be distinguished from the Petrine supremacy (see Papacy and Coptic Pope). Protestants (other than Anglicans) consider the authority given to the apostles as unique, proper to them alone. They reject any doctrine of a succession of their power. The Protestant view of ecclesiastical authority differs accordingly.

Adherents maintain that apostolic succession "is one of four elements which define the true Church of Jesus Christ" and legitimizes the sacramental offices, as it is considered necessary for a bishop to perform legitimate or "valid" ordinations of priests, deacons, and other bishops. Apostolic succession is transmitted during episcopal consecrations (the ordination of bishops) by the laying on of hands of bishops previously consecrated within the apostolic succession. This lineage of ordination is traceable, according to "Apostolic" churches, to the original Twelve Apostles, thus making the Church the continuation of the early Apostolic Christian community.
source: Wikipedia
Doctrine that the authority of ordained clergy (to perform valid sacraments and teach right doctrine) derives from an unbroken succession of valid ordinations beginning with the apostles
source: Glossary of Christianity
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