Hey guys, so Latter-day Saints believe that after the era of the apostles ended, the priesthood authority given to the apostles to run the church was lost, and the world fell into what we call the “Great Apostasy.” This loss of priesthood necessitated a restoration of the priesthood, which we believe occurred in 1829. If you want to learn more about the priesthood and the Great Apostasy, please go watch these videos. But, in the Church, we usually talk about the loss of the priesthood in rather general terms. Today I wanted to dive a little deeper into this subject. Why do we believe the priesthood was lost? What happened to it? Where did it go? Let’s talk about it.
Alright, so, Jesus Christ ordained apostles and gave them priesthood power and authority to lead the entire church, with, we believe, Peter as the mortal president after Christ’s death. “As long as the Apostles lived, there existed a living authoritative voice to which appeal could be made. But once they all had died, there was an acute question regarding the locus of authority.” In other words, after the apostolic era, who had the authority to lead the Church? I think Jimmy Akin represented the Catholic position well:
“As the apostles died, the task of shepherding the Church fell by default upon the highest-ranking ministers appointed by them. This group is known today as the bishops … Apostolic succession thus involves the bishops serving as successors to the apostles, not serving as apostles. The bishops are not simply a continuation of the office of apostle; they received the governance of the Church when that office ceased.”
It’s not hard to see why that perspective makes some sense. If you’re trying to be a faithful early Christian, and the leaders of the Church, the apostles, are gone — what do you do? You turn to the leaders you do have. Namely, the bishops. But again, the bishops were not apostles, and they knew that. Ignatius, an early bishop of the church in Antioch, wrote to the Romans at the beginning of the second century,
“I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man….” To the Trallians he wrote, “But shall I … reach such a height of self-esteem, that though being a condemned man, I should issue commands to you as if I were an apostle?”
These bishops, like bishops in our faith today, only held authority over their local congregations. Unlike the apostles, the bishops’ jurisdiction was very limited. The bishops wrote letters to each other and offered counsel, but “…when matters arose concerning the whole church, there was no one to call a conference as did Peter; there were no apostles to reach an authoritative decision and notify it to the universal (catholic) church.”
Remember that while the bishop of Rome did soon gain some influence or authority over other bishops, the idea of the total primacy or supremacy of the bishop of Rome was a concept that developed over centuries. And for more on that, pause and read this quote. But with that understanding, it makes more sense, for example, why the first ecumenical council of the whole church was called for and presided over by the Roman Emperor, Constantine, and not the bishop of Rome.
In fact, this debate over whether or not the Bishop of Rome had authority over the whole church would eventually contribute to the Great Schism of 1054. “Rome believed that the pope—the religious leader of the western church—should have authority over the patriarch—the religious authority of the eastern church. Constantinople disagreed.” Long story short, they excommunicated each other and to this day we’ve got the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Many Catholics believe that Peter was the first bishop of Rome and that he passed the “keys of the kingdom” down to the next bishop of Rome, believed to be Linus. I personally struggle a bit with that idea, as the earliest mention of Linus as Peter’s successor shows up about 100 years after Linus’ death. If Linus really held authority over the entire church, it’s kind of strange that nobody alive at that time, including Linus himself, seems to have acknowledged that authority.
That said, from a Latter-day Saint perspective, even if Linus was made the Bishop of Rome by Peter, again, bishops were not apostles. We do not believe that being ordained to a position by an apostle gives you authority beyond that position.
On his way toward martyrdom in Rome, Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, wrote various letters counseling the churches to “look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself.” But he doesn’t point to the Bishop of Rome. He points to the individual bishops of each church. Onesimus in Ephesus, Damas in Magnesia, Polybius in Tralles. Interestingly, in his letter to the Roman church, he doesn’t even mention the bishop of Rome.
“With the death of the apostles there were still men holding the priesthood upon the earth, but they did not hold the necessary keys to perpetuate the priesthood.” “The disappearance of the apostles … made it inevitable that the authority of the priesthood could not continue.” That doesn’t mean that there weren’t still good people on the earth doing the best they could. It doesn’t mean that everyone who lived during the Great Apostasy is damned. It doesn’t mean the Holy Ghost was nowhere to be found. And it doesn’t mean that all truth was lost. But from our perspective, it does mean that, analogous to Christ’s death and resurrection, the Church fell into apostasy and needed to be restored.
Now, to be clear — this is only one facet of the Great Apostasy. It’s not all just about priesthood. There’s a lot more feeding into this subject that we didn’t talk about today. Perhaps we will in future episodes. In the meantime, check out the resources in the YouTube description for more info on this. Watch some of our other videos while you’re here, and have a great day.
- For info on priesthood keys, please see the resources in the description of the previous episode (about priesthood keys).
- “Successors of the Apostles” by Jimmy Akins, Catholic.com: https://bit.ly/3tFcsdC
- “The internal development of the early Christian church: via Encyclopedia Britannica: http://bit.ly/2vGNW0j
- “Papacy” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3Lk7UiX
- “Primacy of the Pope” via Encycloepdia.com: https://bit.ly/35lqfg8
- “Presbyter” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3qEsjay
- “Patriarch” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3IEwnxG
- “Metropolitan” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3iCLA7H
- “Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp: Three Bishops between the Apostles and Apostasy” by Richard Lloyd Anderson (Church’s website): https://bit.ly/3LfsbpD
- “East-West Schism” via Encyclopedia Britannica: http://bit.ly/2TkBOLI
- “Apostolic succession” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3tDQqrv
- “Apostolic Succession” via New World Encyclopedia: https://bit.ly/3DdOGZx
- “First Letter of Clement” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3wIabQK
- “First Council of Nicaea” via Encyclopedia Britannica: http://bit.ly/38T5vZP
- “First Council of Nicaea” via New World Encyclopedia: https://bit.ly/3NniaIT
- “Donation of Constantine” via Encyclopedia Britannica: https://bit.ly/3iCOaup
- “Pope Linus” via New World Encyclopedia: https://bit.ly/3JJmlwi