Are the Popes Infallible?

The key of control Rome wields over millions of Catholics lies in papal infallibility. This belief was officially declared at the Vatican I Council:

“The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, that is when he discharges his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians, and, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals that is to be held by the universal church, through divine assistance promised him in St. Peter, exercises that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed to endow his church” (Denzinger, Enchiridium Symbolorum, 1963, 3074).

Papal infallibility means that the pope, by the reason of his office, cannot err when he speaks in matters of faith or morals. Thus, his words are irreformable and infallible.

The Vatican II council modified the absolutism of the papacy by giving authority to the bishops. Thus, Catholic bishops can also exercise infallibility through their “bond of communion” with the pope, and when they assemble in an ecumenical council.

From the claims of Vatican I above, it’s clear that papal infallibility is hinged on false assumptions. This is why it has generated more controversy among Catholic theologians and scholars than any other dogma cooked up by Rome. According to a Catholic work:

“From medieval times, there have been disagreements about the nature, the recipients, the exercise, and the applicability of the charism of infallibility; such controversy could be anticipated, insofar as the working of divine grace in the life of the church remains a mystery that surpasses human comprehension and expression” (The New Dictionary of Theology, ed. Joseph Komonchak, 2006, p. 518)

Rather than burying the controversy with a cliche like “mystery that surpasses human comprehension,” Catholics should face the facts. The heated debates generated by infallibility raise a point: those who opposed it have the ground of history, Scripture and tradition to stand on.

Even Popes like Vigilius (537-55), Clement IV (1265-8), Gregory XI (1370-8), Paul IV (1555-9), Adrian VI (1522-3) and Innocent III (1198-1216) rejected the dogma.

A Catholic scholar, Ignaz von Dollinger, commenting on Luke 22:32 wrote:

“It is directly against the sense of the passage … to find in it a promise of future infallibility to a succession of Popes … No single writer to the end of the seventh century dreamt of such an interpretation; all without exception – and there are eighteen of them – explain it simply as a prayer of Christ that his Apostle might not wholly succumb and lose his faith entirely in his approaching trial” (The Pope and the Council, 1869, 65-66).

Granted, no one who lets the Bible speak for itself would arrive at the idea that a human being is infallible because of a certain office.

For instance, if the words of Christ to Peter in Matthew 16:18 made him the first infallible pope, then this is a disaster, because the next word that came out of Peter’s mouth was a denial of a crucial part of the Gospel, declaring that Jesus will not go to the cross: “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” (v. 22).

The Lord responded immediately, rebuking the Devil speaking through him: “Get behind me, Satan!” (v. 23). Here was Peter’s first ex cathedra declaration to the whole church on faith and morals, yet it was not an infallible speech, but a deadly heresy!

If Matthew 16:18 proves Peter to be a Pope, then Matthew 16:23 proves him to be an anti Christ (or Satan). It is a sword that cuts both ways. It’s interesting then, how volumes of books have been churned out by Catholic clergy and laity based on Matthew 16:18, yet there is curious silence about Matthew 16:23.

In Matthew 17, Peter made another erroneous statement. He equated Christ with Moses and Elijah: “If you wish I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” (vs 4).

This time, God from heaven rebuked the ‘first pope’: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (VS. 5)

Later, Peter “began to curse and to swear, saying I know not the man [Christ]” (26:74). This was another ex cathedra declaration of the “new pope” to the whole church – right? Here is the point, there was no way Peter could have passed on to successors an infallibility which he himself didn’t possess! If Peter was the rock, he was far too unstable for the church to be built on him.

Considering the morally deplorable lives many of the popes led, the idea of infallibility becomes slippery. Modern Catholic apologists argue that evil popes didn’t have impeccability, but still had infallibility. How they manage to sustain this ridiculous dichotomy is amazing.

Heresy comes in two forms – doctrinal and moral. 1 Timothy 6:3 says: “If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching.” This refers to doctrinal heresy.

A doctrinal heretic is one who denies or rejects sound Christian teachings. He could appear to be a moral person, but he is still a heretic.

Moral heresy is when a person lives contrary to sound Christian principles. “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him” (Titus 1:16). A moral heretic may know or even teach sound Christian doctrines, but he denies them with his lifestyle. A moral heretic usually espouses doctrinal heresies to justify his sins.

It takes a level of blind loyalty and foolishness to believe that an immoral man who denies the faith daily with his evils becomes infallible when he speaks of faith and morals. Yet, the Catholic Encyclopedia on “Councils” says: “A sinful pope … remains a member of the (visible) church and is to be treated as a sinful, unjust ruler for whom we must pray, but from whom we may not withdraw our obedience.”

There you have it: cultic loyalty. Even when an evil pope sits in Rome, he must still be obeyed. If infallibility cannot keep the popes from evil or heresy, what purpose does it then serve other than tyranny?

Origins of the Dogma

Catholics claim that papal infallibility “was implicit in the early Church.” They even quote Cyprian. But I wonder if they agree with what he said here:

For no one of us sets himself up as a bishop of bishops, or, by tyrannical terror, forces his colleagues to a necessity of obeying, inasmuch as every bishop, in the free use of his liberty and power, has the right of forming his own judgement...” (On Baptism, Against the Donatists, 2:2)

Augustine is also quoted by Catholic apologists saying: “Rome has spoken; the case is concluded.”

This quote is out of context. Augustine wasn’t proposing a blind submission to Rome. Two synods had ruled on a disputed matter and the bishop of Rome had concurred, so Augustine agreed to put the matter to rest. Nowhere did he suggest that a judgement was conclusive simply because it came from Rome. Concerning Augustine, Patrologist, J. N. D Kelly wrote:

“At the same time there is no evidence that he was prepared to ascribe to the bishop of Rome, in his capacity as successor of St. Peter, a sovereign and infallible magisterium … Nor was he willing, in practical matters, to surrender one jot of the disciplinary independence of the African church which Cyprian had defended so stoutly in his day. The truth is that the doctrine of Roman primacy played only a minor role in his ecclesiology, as also in his personal religious thinking” (Early Christian Doctrines, MA: Prince Press, 2003, 419).

Papal infallibility didn’t slowly “develop,” rather it was swiftly made up in the late 1200s by Peter Olivi, a Franciscan priest who was accused of heresy.

At that time, Pope Nicholas (1277-80) had favoured the Franciscans by declaring that renunciation of property was a way to attain salvation. Olivi, obviously motivated by selfishness, proposed that such papal pronouncements were infallible. This was a radical belief at that time.

Pope John XXII (1315-34) who hated the Franciscans’ poverty vows attacked Olivi’s theory and produced a document Qui quorundum in 1324, denouncing the doctrine of papal infallibility as “the work of the Devil.” Brian Tierney explains:

“At the beginning of the fourteenth century … the nature of the church’s inerrancy was still ill-defined. The idea that the pope might be personally infallible was too novel, too contrary to all traditional teaching, to find any widespread acceptance” (Origin of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350, Leiden, Netherlands, 1972, p. 144).

Later on, when the popes fully became successors of the pagan emperors who claimed to be gods, infallibility began to find an appeal. But they needed to revise history; they needed a ‘backup’ for it. According to a scholar:

“This was the first occasion on which the Roman church had revisited its own history, in particular the third and fourth centuries, in search of precedents … Some of the periods in question, such as the pontification of Sylvester (314-355) and Liberius (352-366) were already being seen more through the prism of legend than that of history, and in the Middle Ages texts were often forged because the authors were convinced of the truth of what they contained” (Roger Collins, Keeper of the Keys, Basic Books, 2009, 80-81).

At last, infallibility was made an official dogma by Pope Pius IX at the Vatican Council I on December 8, 1869. It’s understandable why Pius IX toed this line. He needed the infallibility doctrine for his own ends. He was opposed to democracy and individual freedom.

The infallibility dogma was his desperate tool to maintain the dominion of Roman Catholicism over world governments and their citizens. He used his despotic office to intimidate the bishops present at the council to make this belief official.

Can Heretics be Infallible?

It is claimed that papal infallibility “prevents a pope from solemnly and formally teaching as truth something that is, in fact an error.” In Catholic theology, heresy is a mortal sin and its penalty is instant and automatic excommunication.

If Catholics are going to be consistent with their arguments, they will have to agree that once a pope commits the sin of heresy, he has denied the faith and is no more a member of the Church, let alone its head. So the idea that there is an “unbroken line” of apostolic succession back to Peter crumbles.

Many popes were rank heretics denounced by councils and contradicted by other popes.

Pope Stephan exhumed the corpse of a previous pope Formosus months after his burial, tried his cadaver and found him guilty of having crowned a wrong emperor. He declared all of his ordinations invalid.

Yet John IX, who succeeded Stephen VI condemned his decisions against Formosus, then another Pope Sergius III approved Stephen’s decree. Infallibility? Please cut the joke.

Pope Vigilius (537-55) changed his mind on doctrine several times till he was finally declared a heretic and excommunicated.

Pope Honorius (625-38) denied the nature of Christ and was condemned as a heretic by the 6th ecumenical council. You can’t be condemned by an “infallible council” and claim infallibility.

Adrian II (867-72) said civil marriages were valid, but Pius VII (1800-23) declared them invalid.

Pope Clement XIV issued a decree in 1773 to suppress the Jesuits, but pope Pius VII reversed this decree in 1814 restoring the Jesuits.

Pope Eugenius IV condemned Joan of Arc to be burned as a heretic and a witch, but Pope Benedict XV (1914-22) declared her a saint in 1920. How can two “infallible popes” contradict each other?

Pope John XXII, a mass murderer, shed so much blood that “would have incardinated the waters of Lake Constance [an extremely large lake], and the bodies of the slain would have bridged it from shore to shore” (De Rosa, The Darkside of the Papacy, Crown Publishers, 1988, p. 180).

This pope was also said to have been visited by “our Lady of Mount Carmel” who promised him that she would visit purgatory to release all those who wear her brown scapular. John XXII was finally denounced as a heretic by Emperor Louis of Bavaria who deposed him and appointed another pope in his place. Yet, today, millions of Catholics still lend credence to the authority of the visions of their heretic pope.

Modern popes are not far behind.

Pope John Paul II issued a letter in 2003 stating that Catholics are “obliged to oppose the legal recognition of homosexual unions” and where such laws are made a “clear and emphatic opposition is a duty.”

But Pope Francis on March 5, 2014 backpedals on gay marriage saying, “We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety.”

Retired pope Benedict XVI once issued a letter that “homosexual acts … do not proceed from a genuine affection and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstance can they be approved.”

But Pope Francis in his Synod on the Family (2014) stated that gays and lesbians have “gifts and qualities to offer the Christian communities.” He even welcomed a transgender and a gay activist to the Vatican.

When pope Francis endorsed non-Christian religions as gifts from God, Louie Verrecchio a Catholic, wrote:

Now that is hubris. Imagine, a pope daring to profess to the world that false religions, those that honor false gods and cannot save, the same that supplant the worship due as the first demand of justice to Our Lord, is a gift. A gift! This is terrible, terrible offense against God and a gross distortion of the faith of the Church. It also endangers the souls of many. How can a faithful Catholic not combat such poisonous prose as this? Is one constrained simply because it comes from a pope? Certainly not”

All through the centuries, popes have taught grievous errors and committed perversities, which gives the infallibility belief away as a big fraud. Only God is infallible. To accord this attribute to anyone else is blasphemy.