An apostolic see is an episcopal see whose foundation is attributed to one or more of the apostles of Jesus or to one of their close associates. In Catholicism the phrase, with "the" and usually capitalized, refers to the See of Rome.
Tertullian (c. 155 − c. 240) gives examples of apostolic sees: he describes as churches "in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally" the following churches: Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus, and Rome. And many more local churches are known to have been founded or at least governed by Saint Paul the Apostle and other apostles.
Tertullian says that from these "all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches".
Cited by early apologists for doctrinal authority
Tertullian himself and the slightly earlier Irenaeus (c. 130 – c. 200) speak of the succession of bishops of sees founded directly by the apostles as sources for sure Christian doctrine.
Irenaeus argues that, to know what is true Christian doctrine, it is enough to learn the teaching of some of the oldest churches or at least one, in particular that of Rome: "If the apostles had known hidden mysteries, which they were in the habit of imparting to 'the perfect' apart and privily from the rest, they would have delivered them especially to those to whom they were also committing the Churches themselves. [...] Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question?"
Tertullian's arguing is similar: From the apostles the churches they founded received the doctrine that the apostles received directly from Christ, and from those churches the more recent churches received the same doctrine. Every heresy is more recent and, being different, is erroneous.
Distinct from jurisdictional authority
Jurisdictional authority of particular episcopal sees over others is not necessarily associated with the apostolic origin of the see. Thus, the fourth canon of the First Council of Nicaea of 325 attributed to the bishop of the capital (metropolis) of each Roman province (the "metropolitan bishop") a position of authority among the bishops of the province, without reference to the founding figure of that bishop's see.
Its sixth canon the same council recognized the wider authority, extending beyond a single imperial province, traditionally held by Rome and Alexandria, and the prerogatives of the churches in Antioch and the other provinces.
Of Aelia, the Roman city built on the site of the destroyed city of Jerusalem, the council's seventh canon reads: "Since custom and ancient tradition have prevailed that the Bishop of Aelia should be honoured, let him, saving its due dignity to the Metropolis, have the next place of honour." The metropolis in question is generally taken to be Caesarea Maritima, though in the late 19th century Philip Schaff also mentioned other views.
The see of Constantinople was elevated to a position of jurisdictional prominence not on the grounds of apostolic origin but because of its political importance as the capital of the Roman Empire. The First Council of Constantinople (381), held in what by then had been the political capital for half a century, decreed in a canon of disputed validity: "The Bishop of Constantinople, however, shall have the prerogative of honour after the Bishop of Rome; because Constantinople is New Rome." It was later ranked second among the sees in the theory of Pentarchy: "[F]ormulated in the legislation of the emperor Justinian I (527–565), especially in his Novella 131, the theory received formal ecclesiastical sanction at the Council in Trullo (692), which ranked the five sees as Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem."
Sees or Churches viewed as founded by apostles or their close associates
- Alexandria (Coptic, Coptic Catholic, Greek Orthodox): Saint Mark the Evangelist
- Antioch (Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Melkite, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox): Saint Peter
- Aquileia: Mark the Evangelist as one of the Seventy Apostles
- Armenia (Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic Church): Thaddaeus (Jude the Apostle) and Bartholomew the Apostle
- Athens: Saint Paul
- Bulgarian Orthodox Church: Saint Andrew
- Constantinople: Saint Andrew
- Corinth: Saint Paul
- Cyprus, based at New Justiniana (Erdek): Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas
- Ephesus: John the Apostle
- Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church maintains that Christianity was originally introduced to Ethiopia through Saint Philip the Evangelist
- Georgian Orthodox Church: Saint Andrew and Simon the Canaanite
- Jerusalem (Greek Orthodox, Latin): Saint Peter and Saint James
- Malta: Saint Paul
- Milan: Saint Barnabas
- Orthodox Church of Ukraine: Saint Andrew
- Patras: Saint Andrew
- Philippi: Saint Paul
- Rome: Saint Peter and Saint Paul
- Russian Orthodox Church claims a connection with Saint Andrew, who is said to have visited the area where the city of Kiev later arose.
- Saint Thomas Christians claim a connection with Thomas the Apostle; they are now divided between (in alphabetic order): Chaldean Syrian Church, Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Malabar Independent Syrian Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Syrian Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church)
- Santiago de Compostela: James the Great
- Seleucia-Ctesiphon or Babylon (claimed by, in alphabetical order, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church): Thomas the Apostle, Bartholomew the Apostle, and Thaddeus of Edessa
- Syracuse: Saint Peter
- Thessalonica: Saint Paul
Apostles or their close associates claimed as founders of sees
- Andrew: Bulgarian Orthodox Church, Constantinople, Corinth, Georgian Orthodox Church, Orthodox Church of Ukraine, Patras, Russian Orthodox Church
- Barnabas: Cyprus, Milan
- Bartholomew: Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Babylon
- James, brother of Jesus: Jerusalem (Greek Orthodox, Latin)
- James the Great: Santiago de Compostela
- John: Ephesus
- Mark: Alexandria (Coptic, Coptic Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Aquileia
- Paul: Athens, Cyprus, Malta, Philippi, Rome, Thessalonica
- Peter: Antioch (Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Melkite, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox), Jerusalem (Greek Orthodox, Latin), Rome, Syracuse
- Philip the Evangelist: Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church
- Simon the Canaanite: Georgian Orthodox Church
- Thaddaeus/Jude the Apostle: Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church (Babylon)
- Thaddeus of Edessa: Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church (Babylon)
- Thomas: Ancient Church of the East, Assyrian Church of the East, Chaldean Catholic Church (Babylon); Saint Thomas Christians. The latter are now divided between (in alphabetical order): Chaldean Syrian Church, Jacobite Syrian Christian Church, Malabar Independent Syrian Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, Mar Thoma Syrian Church, St. Thomas Evangelical Church, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church, Syro-Malankara Catholic Church)
Rome referred to specifically as the Apostolic See
By a long-standing usage, evidenced already in 431, when the Council of Ephesus, the third ecumenical council, employed the phrase "our most holy and blessed pope Cœlestine, bishop of the Apostolic See", the expression, "the Apostolic See", is used in the singular and capitalized to mean specifically the see of Rome in reference to the Pope's status as successor of the Apostle Peter.
In Catholic canon law, the term is applied also to the various departments of the Roman Curia. The Code of Canon Law states: "In this Code the terms Apostolic See or Holy See mean not only the Roman Pontiff, but also, unless the contrary is clear from the nature of things or from the context, the Secretariat of State, the Council for the public affairs of the Church, and the other Institutes of the Roman Curia." The bodies in question are seen as speaking on behalf of the See of Rome.
- Merriam-Webster: definition of apostolic see
- Collins English Dictionary: Definition of 'apostolic see'
- De praescriptione haereticorum, chapter 36; original Latin text
- Tertullian, De praescriptionibus adversus haereticos, chapter XX
- Honoré Coppieters, "Apostolic Churches" in The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907)
- Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III
- Irenaeus, Adversus haereses, III, iv, 1
- Tertullian, De praescriptionibus adversus haereticos, chapter xxxii
- First Council of Nicaea: canons 4, 6, 7
- First Council of Nicaea: canon 6
- First Council of Nicaea: canon 7
- Brian E. Daley, "Position and Patronage in the Early Church" in Everett Ferguson, Norms of Faith and Life (Taylor & Francis 1999 ISBN 978-0-81533070-7), p. 207
- Jonathan Z. Smith, To Take Place (University of Chicago Press 1992 ISBN 978-0-22676361-3), p. 78
- Ian Gilman, Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Christians in Asia before 1500 (Routledge 2013 ISBN 978-1-13610978-2), p. 28
- Lucy Grig, Gavin Kelly, Two Romes (Oxford University Press 2012 ISBN 978-0-19973940-0), p. 354
- Schaff's Seven Ecumenical Councils: First Nicaea: Canon VII: "It is very hard to determine just what was the 'precedence' granted to the Bishop of Ælia, nor is it clear which is the metropolis referred to in the last clause. Most writers, including Hefele, Balsamon, Aristenus and Beveridge consider it to be Cæsarea; while Zonaras thinks Jerusalem to be intended, a view recently adopted and defended by Fuchs; others again suppose it is Antioch that is referred to."
- "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
- Encyclopædia Britannica: Pentarchy
- Saint Mark is not called an apostle in the New Testament, but he is said to have been one of the Seventy Apostles and to have been commissioned as an apostle when he accompanied Saint Paul and Saint Barnabas in their apostolic journeys.
- "Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria Official Website". Greekorthodox-alexandria.org. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "website of the Coptic Orthodox Church Network". Copticchurch.net. Archived from the original on 10 June 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- "Syriac Orthodox Resources". sor.cua.edu. Archived from the original on 18 May 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2011.
- "Official Website of the Armenian Church". 220.127.116.11. Archived from the original on 5 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Apostolic Succession of the Catholicos-Patriarch of Cilicia for Armenian Catholics
- "Word Pictures in the New Testament - 2 Corinthians - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
- Professor Sergew Hable Sellassie & Professor Tadesse Tamerat (December 1970), "The Establishment of the Ethiopian Church", The Church of Ethiopia: A Panorama Of History and Spiritual Life, archived from the original on 11 June 2011, retrieved 2 December 2015 – via Ethiopianorthodox.org
- ""Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine" at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library". Ccel.org. 13 July 2005. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Acts and Martyrdom of the Holy Apostle Andrew (ad finem)
- "History of the Russian Church". Russian-crafts.com. Archived from the original on 15 July 2011. Retrieved 26 July 2011.
- Craig A. Evans, The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Acts-Philemon (David C. Cook, 2004), p. 610)
- "NPNF2-14. The Seven Ecumenical Councils - Christian Classics Ethereal Library". www.ccel.org.
- "In the east there were many Churches whose foundation went back to the Apostles; there was a strong sense of the equality of all bishops, of the collegial and conciliar nature of the Church. The east acknowledged the Pope as the first bishop in the Church, but saw him as the first among equals. In the west, on the other hand, there was only one great see claiming Apostolic foundation — Rome — so that Rome came to be regarded as the Apostolic see" (Bishop Kallistos Ware, Orthodox Church).
- "An Apostolic see is any see founded by an Apostle and having the authority of its founder; the Apostolic See is the seat of authority in the Roman Church, continuing the Apostolic functions of Peter, the chief of the Apostles. Heresy and barbarian violence swept away all the particular Churches which could lay claim to an Apostolic see, until Rome alone remained; to Rome, therefore, the term applies as a proper name" (Catholic Encyclopedia, article The Apostolic See).
- "Code of Canon Law: text - IntraText CT". www.intratext.com.