Jesus Ordains the Apostles

Where was the ordination of the Apostles recorded in the Bible? Where did Jesus give them instructions for how to celebrate the liturgy, consecrate the Chrism oils, and so on?

Answer: Nowhere.

Yet sacred Tradition has preserved these truths, claimed to be part of the deposit of faith that Christ gave to the Church.

We can get a fascinating glimpse into this portion of the Apostolic Tradition through private revelation. Years ago, I bought a book by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich: The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I tried to read it that Lent, but ending up putting it aside, not feeling like it was going to be fruitful for my spiritual life at the time.

But this Triduum I began reading it again and have discovered many illuminating passages that fill in the narrative and historical gaps of the biblical accounts of Christ’s Passion. Just after the Last Supper and institution of the Eucharist, Emmerich writes of the vision she was given:

Jesus told them [the Apostles] how they were to preserve the Blessed Sacrament in memory of him…and how to consecrate, themselves, after he should have sent them the Divine Comforter. He then spoke concerning the priesthood, the sacred unction, and the preparation of the Chrism and Holy Oils.

Jesus then uses the sacred oils and anoints Peter and John, ordaining them bishops. She saw that Jesus gave both of them a special kind of anointing, with Peter then receiving a further consecration. After this, Jesus ordained several other of the Apostles. Interestingly, she then recounts that these ordained Apostles then ordained the remaining Apostles after Pentecost, along with other disciples.

What are we to make of this? Well, as a Catholic, I can believe in approved apparitions and visions, though I am not bound to believe in them as I am the Church’s other doctrines. But remember what John wrote at the end of his gospel:

Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written (John 21:25).

Indeed, Christ taught His Apostles much more than what was written down in the Scriptures. How else would they have known how to celebrate the liturgy, given how little is written of that in the New Testament? So here in private revelation we see when Jesus taught them about the Eucharist, the liturgy, and consecration of priests and bishops.

This private revelation receives additional confirmation through the writings of Pope Fabian (who was bishop of Rome in the mid-200s), who wrote in a letter to the bishops in the East about Christ delivering these instructions on the Chrism after the Last Supper.

In any event, I found this example of the source of sacred Tradition fascinating. The Bible is a tremendous gift to us and contains exactly what God desired to be written down, but it remains only a small part of the divine revelation that Christ gave to His Apostles.

Paul confirms this fact when he said: “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess. 2:15).

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18 thoughts on “Jesus Ordains the Apostles”

  1. Was not the Easter appearance of Jesus on which He breathed on them the Holy Spirit and gave them authority to forgive and retain sins in His name the ordination of the apostles? It would seem to me that this should be regarded as such.

  2. \… [W]ho is thence who has taught us in writing to sign with the sign of the cross those who have trusted in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ? What writing has taught us to turn to the East at the prayer? Which of the saints has left us in writing the words of the invocation at the displaying of the bread of the Eucharist and the cup of blessing? For we are not, as is well known, content with what the apostle or the Gospel has recorded, but both in preface and conclusion we add other words as being of great importance to the validity of the ministry, and these we derive from unwritten teaching. Moreover we bless the water of baptism and the oil of the chrism, and besides this the catechumen who is being baptized. On what written authority do we do this? Is not our authority silent and mystical tradition? Nay, by what written word is the anointing of oil itself taught? And whence comes the custom of baptizing thrice? And as to the other customs of baptism from what Scripture do we derive the renunciation of Satan and his angels? Does not this come from that unpublished and secret teaching which our fathers guarded in a silence out of the reach of curious meddling and inquisitive investigation?\—St. Basil the Great, On the Holy Spirit, 27:66.

  3. Rev. Peters, welcome to my blog! Thanks for your comment. I think that that event could be viewed as Christ ordaining the Apostles, and perhaps some Church Fathers even interpreted that passage in such a way(?). Certainly He conferred on them there a special charism, whether it was the actual ordination itself or not.

    This scene from private revelation regarding the ordination may or may not have happened in this way. But the idea that Christ taught His Apostles many things (like the celebration of the liturgy and so on) that we don’t have recorded in the Scriptures is fascinating to me.

  4. Anthony,

    Thanks for joining in on the blog as well! I don’t recall reading that quote from St. Basil before–cool! BTW, I just saw you had a blog and now I’m subscribed.

    1. While you can get some great quotes from the Catholic Answers website, I’ve got another one you should look at: The Teachings of the Church Fathers, by John R. Willis, SJ. This categorizes and cross-references many quotes within the framework of Catholic theology; it makes a good companion to Dr. Ludwig Ott’s Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. And thanks for your support!

  5. Part of the tradition of the Church, I believe, is that Christ ordained those disciples who were present at the Last Supper. Thomas Aquinas touches on this in his Summa at question 82 (which you can link to here

    The ordination is more implicit than explicit; however, as it would be impossible for the disciples to comply with our Lord’s command to ‘do this in memory of me’ if the command was not also accompanied by the authority to do so, I would suggest that the argument must be seen as being persuasive.

  6. It seems odd, almost unbelievable, that the Gospel writers would have left out this important event.

    1. I would only add that our expectation that all of Christ’s seminal acts would have been recorded in the Gospels, and I share the desire to see them there explicitly, gains urgency in proportion to our expectation that we should find all of the living, Gospel Truth, the Logos, precipitated into the silent pages of Scripture, bypassing any deposit in the living Church.

  7. @ Jonathan Brumley: “It seems odd, almost unbelievable, that the Gospel writers would have left out this important event.”

    Only if you’re committed to the proposition that the Gospels were attempting, inter alia, an exhaustive Life of Jesus. Remember that the individual books of the Bible are occasional in nature, and that a bit of information that we might think important—even crucial—to document might have been so commonly known as to be not worth mentioning, or simply irrelevant to what they were writing about.

  8. Sister Mary Of Agreda gave us the wonderful “City of God”, expensive, but well worth the cost. Many popes have read it and I was told that even Pope John Paul the Holy “Obedient” read it. Thank God for our wonderful faith given to us through His Church. Praise the Lord!!

  9. I just read that book for Lent this year myself, and oh, what a blessing it was for me! I have a whole new perspective (appreciation) for just how much our Savior suffered for us during His Passion. And it also reinforced just how intimate Our Blessed Mother’s involvement is in EVERYTHING in the life of Jesus and in our own lives as well. It should be required reading.

  10. Devin, sorry to bother you, do you have a link or perhaps can you tell where you read this Letter of Pope Fabian’s to the bishops of the East. Thanks

  11. Tap, no problem at all. I’m a bit unsure of the letter–Catherine Emmerich’s book’s editor listed in a footnote that it could be found in the “Latin edition of the Roman catechism (Mayence, Muller).” I looked up the letter and found something similar but not quite the same thing. It is possible that this letter is a false decretal, but it also may be legitimate–I just didn’t do enough research to figure it out for sure. If you find a source for it today, let me know!

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