The True Mark of Apostolicity

Apostolicity is much more than a slavish conformity to the distant past, as if we could exempt ourselves from history. The term “apostolicity” is most often associated simply with the continuity between the ancient church and that of the present day, in much the way that “apostolic succession” is often understood as an almost literal continuity between the ministry of the apostles and that of today’s bishops. Apostolicity goes way beyond this kind of faithfulness, as Ormond Rush has reminded us. “Genuine continuity demands ongoing reinterpretation,” he writes, and he points out that this can be seen as early as in the New Testament itself, where we find “a process of reception and traditioning within the apostolic era that shows creative and innovative adaptation of the Gospel as the early church expanded into new cultures.” Indeed, Rush calls to his aid here no less an authority than Yves Congar, whose eschatological interpretation of apostolicity supports his position. In Congar’s words, “Apostolicity is the mark that for the church is both a gift of grace and a task. It makes the church fill the space between the Alpha and the Omega by ensuring that there is a continuity between the two and a substantial identity between the end and the beginning.” As Rush comments, “a static traditioning of the faith endangers the continuity of the church.”

Paul Lakeland, “Ecclesiology and the Use of Demography: Three Models of Apostolicity”, in A Church with Open Doors: Catholic Ecclesiology for the Third Millennium, Richard R. Gaillardetz and Edward P. Hahnenberg, eds. (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2015): Loc 742-753.