On Selective Skepticism
Jesus founded a church that had no visible, laying-on-of-hands apostolic succession and no infallibility, but only an invisible succession of apostolic doctrine which was to be fallibly identified and understood.
Now if there had been a visible episcopal succession that had been protected from error under certain conditions there would also be a way in principle to (1) locate God’s special revelation and (2) interpret its meaning, such that believers would have been able to render the assent of faith to the Church’s authoritative claims that (1) the New Testament consists of certain books and not others, and that (2) those books teach specific things about God and Christ, and not others. But since, as I said, that is not the kind of church Jesus founded, therefore we can only have highly educated guesses about those things.
Meanwhile, within less than a century after St. Peter’s death, the believers everywhere had for some unknown reason jettisoned the core ecclesiastical principles that Jesus had established in his church and invented visible apostolic succession and infallibility to replace them, thus both unduly institutionalizing the church as well as making possible the distinction between divine revelation and human opinion in a principled way, thereby creating the possibility for a set canon as well as Trinitarian and Christological dogma.
Protestants accept this set canon and label as “orthodox” the tenets that this Johnny-come-lately Catholic Church used its corrupt and overblown institutionalization to define.
And yet, despite the fact that this somehow universally and uncontroversially accepted idea of apostolic succession and infallibility is precisely what created the context for a set canon and the idea of Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy, those mechanisms were never intended by Jesus because, instead, Jesus originally desired to found a church in which such accomplishments would have been impossible.
For my part, I can’t for the life of me see why the divine Son of God would found the kind of church that a bunch of sinful humans could so drastically improve within a couple generations. And moreover, I can’t figure out why, when visible apostolic succession is an option, Christians wouldn’t opt for it over the alternatives. And if the answer is that the historical record cannot prove apostolic succession, then now what I can’t understand is why these people are Christians at all.
Again, it all comes down to openness of mind and heart. Miracles that are less plausible with less historical attestation will be embraced because they’re in the Bible, while apostolic succession will be dismissed, despite having greater historicity and greater plausibility. The reason for this rejection, I do not hesitate to suggest, is that dismissing apostolic succession leaves one the freedom to continue to be his own final interpretive judge on matters of faith and practice.
What other reason is there for rejecting an ecclesiology that is so clearly superior, that makes the church so much better, and that makes dogma and canon possible? What can be so insidious about an ecclesiology that its detractors would prefer an alternative one in which God doesn’t want us to be certain that he is Triune after all?
I am quite certain that if the Magisterium only taught what Protestants considered biblical, all their skepticism and supposed historical questions would immediately disappear, and apostolic succession would be as believable as the angelic dispute over Moses’ corpse and the raising of Jairus’s daughter.