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Church History Forum: Church Fathers and Mothers?

by Catherine Frakas 02 Nov 2001

Church Fathers and Mothers? QUESTION from Paul on July 3, 2002 Hello,
I have three questions:
1) I know there were Church Fathers in the early Church, but we have a female Pastoral associate who insists that there were Church Mothers too that the Church has looked upon. Who are they?
2) This same Pastoral associate insists that there were more than 12 Apostles and that we really for sure do not know if the selected 12 or chosen 12 really formed the Church?
2) Did Jesus designate the 12 with special powers or position over lets say other Apostles who appear later in the Church. What is the correct meaning then of the word Apostle.
I need authoritive sources; no opinions please.


ANSWER by Q & A Staff on July 10, 2002 Dear Paul,
1) There were no Church Mothers, in the sense of female Church Fathers. If your pastoral associate makes this claim, she should produce the authoritative sources. (The only Mother of the Church is the Blessed Virgin Mary, and she was clearly not an Apostle).
2) There were not more than 12 Apostles. And these 12 did form the foundation of the Church. This is made quite clear from verses such as Revelation 21:14: The city walls stood on twelve foundation stones, each one of which bore the name of one of the apostles of the Lamb. (Jerusalem translation)
Though others are named as apostles in the New Testament, for example, Paul and Barnabas, this usage of apostle is the more generic usage of meaning one sent rather as one of the special twelve chosen by Jesus. Please see the citation below from the Catechism of the Catholic Church for more clarification.
3) Other Apostles did not appear later in the Church. People like Paul and Barnabas are described as apostles as I mentioned, in the more generic sense, of one sent. The Church in fact teaches that all members of the Church are called to be apostles. The office of Apostle (As in the 12 Apostles) ended with the death of the last Apostle, St.John. The bishops are successors of the Apostles, but are themselves not Apostles.
(This, by the way, is an error the Mormons make. They assume the successors of the Apostles must themselves be Apostles, but Rev. 21:14 makes it clear that there were to be only 12 Apostles.)
Finally, here is the quote from the Catechism:
857 The Church is apostolic because she is founded on the apostles, in three ways:
- she was and remains built on the foundation of the Apostles,362 the witnesses chosen and sent on mission by Christ himself;363
- with the help of the Spirit dwelling in her, the Church keeps and hands on the teaching,364 the good deposit, the salutary words she has heard from the apostles;365
- she continues to be taught, sanctified, and guided by the apostles until Christ's return, through their successors in pastoral office: the college of bishops, assisted by priests, in union with the successor of Peter, the Church's supreme pastor:366
You are the eternal Shepherd who never leaves his flock untended. Through the apostles you watch over us and protect us always. You made them shepherds of the flock to share in the work of your Son. . . .367
The Apostles' mission
858 Jesus is the Father's Emissary. From the beginning of his ministry, he called to him those whom he desired; . . . . And he appointed twelve, whom also he named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach.368 From then on, they would also be his emissaries (Greek apostoloi). In them, Christ continues his own mission: As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.369 The apostles' ministry is the continuation of his mission; Jesus said to the Twelve: he who receives you receives me.370
859 Jesus unites them to the mission he received from the Father. As the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but receives everything from the Father who sent him, so those whom Jesus sends can do nothing apart from him,371 from whom they received both the mandate for their mission and the power to carry it out. Christ's apostles knew that they were called by God as ministers of a new covenant, servants of God, ambassadors for Christ, servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.372
860 In the office of the apostles there is one aspect that cannot be transmitted: to be the chosen witnesses of the Lord's Resurrection and so the foundation stones of the Church. But their office also has a permanent aspect. Christ promised to remain with them always. The divine mission entrusted by Jesus to them will continue to the end of time, since the Gospel they handed on is the lasting source of all life for the Church. Therefore, . . . the apostles took care to appoint successors.373
The bishops - successors of the apostles
861 In order that the mission entrusted to them might be continued after their death, [the apostles] consigned, by will and testament, as it were, to their immediate collaborators the duty of completing and consolidating the work they had begun, urging them to tend to the whole flock, in which the Holy Spirit had appointed them to shepherd the Church of God. They accordingly designated such men and then made the ruling that likewise on their death other proven men should take over their ministry.374
862 Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles, destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.375 Hence the Church teaches that the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.
The apostolate
863 The whole Church is apostolic, in that she remains, through the successors of St. Peter and the other apostles, in communion of faith and life with her origin: and in that she is sent out into the whole world. All members of the Church share in this mission, though in various ways. The Christian vocation is, of its nature, a vocation to the apostolate as well. Indeed, we call an apostolate every activity of the Mystical Body that aims to spread the Kingdom of Christ over all the earth.377
864 Christ, sent by the Father, is the source of the Church's whole apostolate; thus the fruitfulness of apostolate for ordained ministers as well as for lay people clearly depends on their vital union with Christ.378 In keeping with their vocations, the demands of the times and the various gifts of the Holy Spirit, the apostolate assumes the most varied forms. But charity, drawn from the Eucharist above all, is always as it were, the soul of the whole apostolate.379
865 The Church is ultimately one, holy, catholic, and apostolic in her deepest and ultimate identity, because it is in her that the Kingdom of heaven, the Reign of God,380 already exists and will be fulfilled at the end of time. The kingdom has come in the person of Christ and grows mysteriously in the hearts of those incorporated into him, until its full eschatological manifestation. Then all those he has redeemed and made holy and blameless before him in love,381 will be gathered together as the one People of God, the Bride of the Lamb,382 the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.383 For the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.384
The entire Catechism of the Catholic Church is available online here.
God bless, .
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