The Apostolic Destruction
by Bertil Falk
part 1 of 2
Those people who think that I only read the Gospels and Cicero are wrong, of course. The truth is that the texts I read every day are the Gospels and Cicero. However, there are other books I read as well, but I do not read them every day. Like Là-Bas, by Huysmans from 1891, and Die Apostolische Sukzession in Schweden, by Theodor van Haag.
The latter was printed during WWII when German still was the language of dissertations and scientific books, even though Hitler was in full swing to destroy the status of the language he was so good at screaming in with an Austrian accent.
It was a Friday afternoon. One of those days after midsummer when the island where I intend to spend the rest of my life is a real Paradise Island. Yes, even though it is not set in the South Seas but here in the skärgård of Stockholm. A British journalist once called it “the most hidden secret on earth.”
I sat on my verandah and looked across the narrow sound separating the island from the wooded islet on the other side. Huysmans’ and van Haag’s books were on the table beside the cup of coffee I sipped at now and then, when my neighbor, a lovely young lady and a promising artist, paid me the honor of a visit.
“My husband will come over for the weekend with the skerry cruiser very soon,” she told me, “and I’ve forgotten to tell him that we are running out of coffee. And you know, the first thing he wants on his arrival is a cup of coffee.”
There is of course no store on our small island, and we mostly buy our stuff in Stockholm or in a country store on one of the bigger islands. As a rule she would have called her husband and told him to buy coffee, but that was too late now that he was on his way.
“I guess you want to borrow some coffee from me.”
“How good you are at guessing,” she said, and we both laughed.
“Well, I’ve coffee from Kenya and I’ve coffee from Columbia. Make your pick?”
“Anything goes,” she said.
“As you can see the coffee pot is on the table. Try a cup and find out for yourself.”
She poured a cup of Kenyan coffee and she found it, as I knew she would, to be excellent.
“What are you reading?” she said and picked up Là-Bas. “French, What’s it about?”
She raised her eyebrows. “Why should you, a staunch Christian, read something like that?” There was disapproval in her voice.
“One should know the enemy thoroughly.”
“And what’s this?” she asked and picked up Die Apostolische Sukzession in Schweden.
“Oh, it’s in German,” she exclaimed. “What is die apostolische Sukzession? I’ve never heard of it.”
“Few people have in this the most secular of all secular nations,” I said. “The Apostolic Succession is simply the succession of imposition of hands from Jesus and the Apostles through the centuries down to our bishops and the most trifling curate. And in a way down to you, if you ever were baptized, that is. Nowadays, not all people are baptized in this the most...”
“...secular of all secular nations,” she anticipated me. “That I know. Yes, I’m baptized, but you know, I’m not very religious. I haven’t been to a church since my dad remarried. You’re actually the closest I get to religion. Now, what’s the significance of this succession?”
“What’s the significance... Good question. Well, it has been one of those things dividing Christianity and churches into disputing factions. You see, some people consider a bishop consecrated by another bishop, who is part of that tradition of an unbroken personal succession back to the apostles and Jesus Christ, to be a more real bishop than those who belong to churches and denominations lacking this unbroken succession.
“And in the same way those people consider the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church and the Swedish Church to be a little bit better churches than, for example, the Danish National Church. It lost its unbroken succession because of the Reformation, which turned the Danish Church into a Lutheran church. In that connection I could tell you an ugly story about murder and...”
“Wait a minute. Didn’t the Swedish Church lose that succession during the Reformation?”
“In 1524, Pope Clement VII, in Rome, consecrated Petrus Magni bishop. Petrus Magni returned to Sweden as bishop of Västerås. In his turn, Petrus Magni, who was one of the last Catholic bishops in Sweden, consecrated Laurentius Petri bishop in 1531 and Laurentius Petri became the first Swedish Lutheran archbishop. Abracadabra! The apostolic succession continued in Sweden all the way up to now.”
“Abracadabra? You don’t sound particularly happy about it.”
“I’m not. I’m one of those who think that neither Christianity nor the Swedish Church should heed this kind of mumbo-jumbo. It has nothing to do with the Christian agape.”
“And what is agape?”
The siren-like hoot announced the arrival of the skerry cruiser and her dying-for-some-coffee husband, so she ran away with the coffee she had borrowed.
“What is agape?” I murmured pondering over the innocent dechristianization my lovely neighbor was such a typical example of.
I saw the white cruiser with happy holiday visitors calling at the landing stage. Her husband was the only one who went ashore on our small island. He hugged his wife and they walked locked in an embrace up the track to their house, while the cruiser put off and continued its meandering between rocky islets and wooded islands through the maze of the archipelago.
Later that evening, after dinnertime, I was invited for a cup of borrowed Kenyan coffee on their stoop. The summer night arched its bright sky above the sea. A light breeze caressed our cheeks. My hosts made me think of my own past, the days when my wife and our little boy were still alive.
Not unexpectedly our conversation drifted in different directions and predictably the question of agape surfaced.
“Agape is the Greek word for charity,” I said turned to my host. “It’s also used for the love-feast amongst the first Christians. I was trying to tell your wife that we can do without the Apostolic Succession, for it has nothing to do with charity, agape, Christian love, which is the important thing.
“I guess that even you’ve heard the words of the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians: ‘And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.’ Some fanatics stick to the idea that this succession of laying on hands along the past millennia from Jesus Christ and his Apostles up to our days... or should I say down to our days? Anyhow, they stick to the idea that this succession has some kind of religious significance. In my opinion it has not. It is the message of love and charity that is important. The message that we should treat each other decently.
“As a matter of fact, I can tell you what that kind of sidetrack may lead to. The case I think of led to a crime, to murder. It happened in Denmark at the same time that the Danish police investigated discoveries on an uninhabited island, discoveries suggesting that worshippers of Satan had performed the Black Mass on that island.”
They both urged me to tell the story and I began.
“As I said earlier today, the Catholic Church as well as the Anglican Church and the Swedish Church have Apostolic Succession, while the Danish National Church lost it in the transition to Lutheranism. Many years ago, it must have been in the 1950’s or maybe it was much earlier, a Danish bishop was to be consecrated and a Swedish bishop turned up at the consecration ceremony. The Danish bishops got jumpy.”
“Why?” My hosts were obviously both surprised and curious.
“Just think of it,” I said. “What would have happened if the Swedish bishop took part in the consecration ceremony and managed to put his hand on the head of the bishop to be consecrated? The answer is that the new bishop in the eyes of some people would be considered to be of a higher standing than the other Danish bishops, who had no part in the Apostolic Succession.”
“You said ‘if’. Didn’t he participate?”
I laughed. “The Danish bishops were jostling in order to keep the Swedish bishop away from the innocent victim of religious politics. Their hands fluttered like butterflies above the man’s head and the Swedish bishop was never able to put his hand and the Apostolic Succession on the new bishop’s head and by that into the Danish Church.
“As a matter of fact, the idea had never struck him that his presence at the ceremony would cause any problem, for he couldn’t care less whether the Danish Church, or any church for that matter, was under the spell of the Apostolic Succession. However, the event opened his eyes and soon the problem was understood among people who never before had given it a thought. The grain that would become a disaster was sown.”
I sipped at my coffee and continued.
“Some years later another Swedish bishop turned up when another Danish bishop was to be consecrated. This Swedish bishop was a bit of a devil. Just for the fun of it, he was determined to succeed in introducing the Apostolic Succession into the Danish church.
“The old strategy of fluttering butterflies was now of no avail. Quick as a flash the Swede put his hand on the crucial spot and the harm was done. Bishop Jens Andersen became irreversibly the carrier of the Apostolic Succession, a fact that could not be altered unless Time itself could be reversed.
“Jens Andersen himself was neither for nor against the Apostolic Succession. However, two of his colleagues had strong opinions. One of them was bishop Søren Sørgaard. In his opinion the Swedish encroacher had put an invisible blot on Jens Andersen’s escutcheon and caused an irreparable damage to the harmony of the Danish National Church.
“The other one was bishop Hans Larsen, who was very much for the Apostolic Succession even though he himself could not make a display of it. His official attitude was that in the long run the status of the Danish Church would be heightened through the gradual spread of the Succession. And the status of the church would then be on a par with the Catholic and other apostolically blessed churches.
“Hans Larsen and Søren Sørgaard instinctively disliked each other. I think that I’m not exaggerating by saying that however strong Hans Larsen’s conviction about the blessing of the Apostolic Succession was, his dislike verging on hatred towards Søren Sørgaard, was stronger. And in a similar way Søren Sørgaard’s dislike of Hans Larsen took priority over his negative attitude towards that same Succession.”
“Sounds to me like a certain lack of agape among those top Christians,” my host commented dryly.
“Well, well. People are always surprised when they find that bishops and priests and other Christians are sinners. Just think of the nuns in Africa who deliberately caused the death of the members of their congregation by setting fire to their church, or the Irish bishop who made an American woman pregnant and paid alimony with money from the collection bag.
“Not to mention the scandals of paedophiles in the United States or the Pentecostal pastor in Sweden who killed one or two wives and slept with the nursemaid alleging that he was exorcising the devil.”
”Are you defending that?”
“I’m just telling you that being a believing Christian doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re a saint. You may even be a monster.”
“Is that why you Christians always beg God for forgiveness?”
I thought for a moment. “You may have a point there. Yes. We know we are sinners.”
“And therefore you sin, relying on the mercy of God?”
My host has always considered us Christians to be hypocrites. Maybe we are.
“How about the murder you mentioned?” my hostess urged.
“I’ll get to that now,” I said. “Up to this point Jens Andersen was the only Danish bishop with Apostolic Succession. He passed it on when he ordained some priests, but that was a blind alley, because they could not pass it on in any significant way. It’s only at the episcopal level that the succession can spread in an irrevocable way within the church.
“Now, another Danish bishop was to be consecrated. This time Jens Andersen would be the instrument of creating another bishop with Apostolic Succession. There were discussions, and some people, especially Søren Sørgaard begged Jens Andersen not to participate in the consecration ceremony. But Jens Andersen felt that Sørgaard exaggerated the importance and the significance of the Apostolic Succession.
“The day before the consecration, the bishops met and together they partook of the Communion. What happened was that Hans Larsen and Søren Sørgaard together administered the sacrament to their fellow bishops. Hans Larsen distributed the communion wafers and Søren Sørgaard communicated the sacramental wine.
“They stood inside the altar rails while the other bishops were kneeling in a semicircle outside the communion table. Jens Andersen was the last who partook of the Eucharist, except for the two officiating bishops, who afterwards administered the sacrament to each other. The next day, the new bishop was to be consecrated. But when the ceremony took place Jens Andersen was missing. He did not turn up.”
I paused before I continued. “The reason was that he was in his hotel bed. Stone dead!”
Copyright © 2008 by Bertil Falk