This term designates The Twelve Apostles as the body of men commissioned by Christ to spread the kingdom of God over the whole world and to give it the stability of a well-ordered society: i.e. to be the founders, the foundation, and pillars of the visible Church on earth. The name "apostle" connotes their commission. For an Apostle is a missionary, sent by competent authority, to extend the Gospel to new lands: a tradition, beginning with the sending of The Twelve, has consecrated this meaning of the term to the exclusion of all others which it might derive from its etymology. When we speak of the Apostles as a "college", we imply that they worked together under one head and for one purpose. Referring the reader to the article APOSTLES for the Scriptural and positive treatment of the question, we may now deal with its dogmatic aspects.
It is evident, a priori, that Revelation must be transmitted and communicated by means of envoys and teachers accredited by God. The consideration of the nature of revelation and its object shows that no other theory is practically possible. In fact, Christ founded a teaching, governing, and ministering Apostolate, whose charter is contained in Matthew, xxviii, 18-20.
All power is given to Me in Heaven and in earth. Going therefore [in virtue of, and endowed with, this My sovereign power: "As the Father hath sent Me, I also send you" (John, xx, 21)], teach ye [matheteusate -- make to yourselves disciples, teach as having power -- Mark, i, 22] all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them [didaskontes] to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you [eneteilamen] and behold I am with you all days, even to the comsummation of the world.
This college of rulers, teachers, and ministers of the sacraments was placed under the headship of St. Peter, the rock upon whom the foundations of the Church were established. The many texts refering to this subject (see APOSTLES) may be summarized as follows: After accomplishing His own mission, Jesus Christ, in virtue of His power and authority, sent into the world a body of teachers and preachers presided over by one head. They were His representatives, and had for their mission to publish to the world all revealed truth until the end of time. Their mission was not exclusively personal; it was to extend to their successors. Mankind were bound to receive them as Christ Himself. That their word might be His word, and might be recognized as such, He promised them His presence and the aid of the Holy Ghost to guarantee the infallibility of their doctrine; He promised external and supernatural signs as vouchers of its authenticity; He gave their doctrine an effective sanction by holding out an eternal reward to those who should faithfully adhere to it, and by threatening with eternal punishments those who should reject it. This conception of the Apostolate is set forth in the writings of St. Paul and realized in the practice of all the Apostles (Rom., x, 8-l9; Eph., iv, 7-14). It runs through the whole Catholic tradition, and is the very soul of the Church at the present day. The College of the Apostles lives forth in the episcopate, which gradually took its place and filled its functions. There are, however, between the attributes of the original Apostles and those of the succeeding hierarchy some differences arising from the circumstance that the Apostles were personally chosen and trained by Christ to lay the foundation of the Church. That circumstance creates for them an exceptional and intransmissible eminence over their successors.
(1) Although both, bishops and Apostles, are appointed by Divine authority, yet the Apostles received their commission immediately from Christ, whereas the bishops receive theirs but mediately, i.e. through the medium of human authority. The power of order and jurisdiction is the same in the Apostles and in their successors, but, whereas the Apostles receive it from the Divine Founder Himself, the bishops receive it through the channel of other bishops. Immediate commission implies, in the missionary, the power to produce, at first hand, credentials to prove that he is the envoy of God by doing works which God alone can work. Hence the charisma, or gift, of miracles granted to the Apostles, but withheld from the generality of their successors whose mission is sufficiently accredited through their connection with the original Apostolate.
(2) Another prerogative of the Apostles is the universality of their mission. They were sent to establish the Church wherever men in need of salvation were to be found. Their field of action had no limits but those of their own convenience and choice, at least if we take them collectively; directions by the chief Apostle are not excluded, for on them may have depended the good order and the success of their work.
(3) A third Apostolic prerogative is the plenitude of power. As planters of the Church the Apostles required and possessed the power to speak with full authority in their own name, without appealing to higher authorities; also the power to found and organize local churches, to appoint and consecrate bishops and to invest them with jurisdiction. The limit to their powers in this respect was: not to undo the work already done by their colleagues. Such power, if needed, could have been exercised only by the head of the Church.
(4) A fourth privilege of the Apostles is their personal infallibility in preaching the Gospel. Their successors in the hierarchy owe what infallibility they possess to the Divine assistance watching, with unfailing care, over the magisterium, or teaching office as a whole, and over its head; the Apostles received each personally, the Holy Ghost, Who revealed to them all the truth they had to preach. This Pentecostal gift was necessary in order to establish each particular church on the solid foundation of unshakable truth.
The prerogatives of the Apostles as founders of the Church were, of course, personal; they were not to be transmitted to their successors because to these they were not necessary. What was passed on is the ordinary powers of order and jurisdiction. The Apostolate was an extraordinary and only temporary form of the episcopate; it was superseded by an ordinary and permanent hierarchy as soon as its constitutional work was done. There is, however, one Apostle has a successor of equal powers in the Roman pontiff. Above the prerogatives of his colleagues St. Peter had the unique distinction of being the principle of the Church's unity and cohesion. As the Church has to endure to the end of time, so has the unifying and preserving office of St. Peter. Without such a principle, without a head, the body of the Bride of Christ would be no better than a disjointed congeries of members, unworthy of the Divine Bridegroom. In fact the connection of the Church with Christ and the Apostles would be loosened and weakened to the breaking-point. The history of Churches separated from Rome affords abundant proof of this statement. In the Roman pontiffs, then, the Apostolate is still living and acting. Hence from the earliest times the office of the pope has been honoured with the title of Apostolate, as continuing the functions of the Apostolate; the Roman See has, in the same order of ideas, been styled the Apostolic See, and the reigning pope, in the Middle Ages, used to be addressed Apostolatus vester and Apostolicus. In the Litany of Saints we pray; "That thou wouldst vouchsafe to preserve our apostolic prelate [domnum nostrum apostolicum] and all orders of the Church in holy religion".
The difference between the Apostolate of St. Peter and that of his successors bears on two points only:
(1) St. Peter was chosen and appointed directly by Our Lord; the pope receives the same Divine appointment through the channel of men; the electors designate the person or whom God bestows the office.
(2) The papal infallibility also differs from that of St. Peter. The pope is only infallible when, in the full exercise of his authority, ex cathedra, he defines a doctrine concerning faith and morals to be held by the whole Church. His infallibility rests on the Divine assistance, on the permanent presence of Christ in the Church. The infallibility of St. Peter and the Apostles relied on their being filled and penetrated by the light of the indwelling Holy Spirit of truth.
The of working miracles, granted to the Apostles, is not continued in the popes. If it was necessary to convince the first believers that the hand of God was laying the foundations of the Church, it ceases to be so when the strength, the beauty, and the vastness of the structure proclaims to the world that none but the Father in Heaven could have erected it for the good of His children. SCHEEBEN, Manual of Catholic Theology, tr. WILHELM AND SCANNEL (London, 1906), 1, 8, 9, 11.