Where Does a Bishop Get His Authority?
Recently, I attended an impressive episcopal ordination. I was given to understand that the new bishop receives his teaching authority from the pope. Can this be right? I thought he received his mission from Christ. – D Miller
Before ascending to his Father, Jesus gave the apostles his authority to teach. He said: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18).
This directive was given to these chosen men as a body. Jesus did not identify one man among them to receive his powers and then hand them on to the others. The apostles received their Christ-given mandate jointly and directly. Hence we speak of their solidarity as their collegiality.
One can consider Christ’s command to them, to go out and spread the good news, as their episcopal ordination. There were only eleven of them after Judas’ defection. They had to find another disciple to replace him. In accepting and commissioning Matthias (Ac 1:26), they showed they were competent to hand on their authority to other men as apostles. This practice has continued to this day.
Jesus singled out Peter as the rock on which he would build his Church (Mt 16:18). Peter, the first bishop of Rome, was to be the steadfast cornerstone that would hold his colleagues firmly in communion with him and with one another. Jesus prayed specifically for Peter that his faith would not fail so that he could strengthen his brothers (Lk 22:32).
The successor of Peter is the centre of unity for his fellow bishops and the entire Church. Vatican II put it this way: Together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without this head, the episcopal order is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church. But this power can be exercised only with the consent of the Roman Pontiff (Lumen gentium, 22).
Think of persons who qualify in a profession and have all the degrees and certificates necessary to practise it. They may not lawfully practise unless they are recognised and registered with the relevant professional council, such as the Health Professions Council of South Africa, for medical practitioners. This is done to safeguard the integrity of the profession as a whole.
Similarly, although a validly ordained bishop has all the authority needed to teach in Christ’s name, he may not do so unless appointed and recognised by the pope as a legitimate successor of the apostles.
Perhaps whoever suggested to you that a new bishop gets his teaching authority from the pope, had this in mind.