The blog Catholic Sensibility
today featured an excerpt from Vatican II's Lumen Gentium
(22) that affirmed that the bishops of the church are "successors of the apostles."
So this got me thinking. Fr. Raymond Brown, the eminent American biblical scholar, had said somewhere that this affirmation was "biblically naïve." I wanted to find the source of that quotation, which led me to an article that I read a few years back by Msgr. George Kelly entitled, "A Wayward Turn In Biblical Theory."1
The first time I read this I was an undergrad, gobbling up all of the New Testament scholarship I could handle (which was quite a bit, as it turns out!). I didn't care much for Raymond Brown's work at the time, because I found him a little too conservative (and I still sort of do, although I've come to appreciate his work tremendously). Anyway, when I originally read Kelly's article I remember being quite angered by it. I guess I've mellowed with age, because when I read it again today I was only mildly irritated by it, and even a little bit amused.
Here's an excerpt:
Cardinal Cooke mailed a copy of Raymond E. Brown’s Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections to every New York priest free of charge. My copy of the book lay unread on a table for many months, until a troubled journalist visited me to say that Priest and Bishop had shaken his convictions about the truth of Catholicity. Halfway through the book, I understood the journalist’s concern: Fr. Brown could not prove on historical grounds, he said, that Christ instituted the priesthood or episcopacy as such; that those who presided at the Eucharist were really priests; that a separate priesthood began with Christ; that the early Christians looked upon the Eucharist as a sacrifice; that presbyter-bishops are traceable in any way to the Apostles; that Peter in his lifetime would be looked upon as the Bishop of Rome; that bishops were successors of the Apostles, even though Vatican II made the same claim.
This really leaves me shaking my head. When someone claims that they cannot find historical evidence
that the first bishops (some 1900 years earlier) were successors to the apostles, you cannot refute that claim by citing a church council that took place in the 1960s. That is not historical
evidence, by any stretch of the imagination.
If someone says they can't find historical evidence for something, and you are troubled by this, complaining about their work is hardly an appropriate response. Either there is historical evidence to be found, or there is not. If there is, one should find the evidence and present it. If there is not, there is no basis for complaining, because the person was correct.
So Kelly cannot present evidence to refute Brown's claims because, as Brown correctly pointed out, there is no extant historical evidence to be presented. That doesn't necessarily mean those things are false, but it is not on the basis of historical evidence that one can believe them to be true.
In a mostly unrelated story, today I was looking over the curriculum policy document for religion in Ontario's Catholic secondary shools, in preparation for the school year that begins tomorrow. It says, "Critical thinking
is an essential expectation in Religious Education."2
Yes, indeed it is.Notes
 The article has been posted on a number of websites. Here
, for example.
 Emphasis in original. Institute for Catholic Education
, "Ontario Catholic Secondary Curriculum Policy Document," page 4.