Papal Primacy or Papal Mania?

The pope is so ingrained in the Catholic mind that they can’t imagine their religion without him. I call it pope mania. It is a presuppositional view that makes Catholics see their pope everywhere – in Scripture and history – even though he is absent. It’s like the saying, “Once you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

Nowadays, Roman Catholicism has replaced the term “papal” or “papacy” with “Peter’s successor” or “the Petrine ministry” so as to closely identify the pope with apostle Peter.

The snag is that the actual teachings and lifestyle of Peter in Acts and the Epistles feature very little in the Catholic doctrinal system. This is like erecting a huge structure in Peter’s name and dumping his teachings into a nearby pit.

The idea that the pope got from Peter a “full, supreme and universal power over the whole church” – papal primacy – though thrown around, is challengeable on several levels:

i) The idea of a centralized, pyramidal authority is foreign to the New Testament. Jesus said “For one is your master; and all you are brethren” (Matt. 23:8). If Peter was the pope, and his church alone had Christ’s validation, Jesus would have denounced the non-apostles proclaiming His name, but He didn’t (Mk. 9:38).

ii) When the church in Samaria started “the apostles in Jerusalem…sent Peter and John” to them (Acts 8:14). If Peter was a pope, he would have been the Supreme Pontiff of Jerusalem, sending the apostles not being sent by them.

iii) The antagonistic Jews identified apostle Paul as “the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law” (Acts 21:28). If Peter was the “Prince of the Apostles,” the enemies of Christ would have majored their attacks at him or make a reference to him.

iv) In the Corinthian church dispute, Paul brings himself, Apollos and Peter on the same footing (1Cor. 1:12). If Peter was exercising supreme authority over the church, Paul would have made this clear. Rather, he said “I consider myself not inferior to the most eminent apostles” (1Cor. 11:5). There was simply no Petrine primacy.

v) Speaking of Peter’s position in the early church, Paul wrote that he was among those “reputed to be pillars” (Gal. 2:9). Notice the plurality (pillars) used. There was not a single pillar in the church, and Peter was reputed so. Why did Paul use this term if everyone believed Christ had given Peter primacy?

vi) When Paul was converted, Christ didn’t send him to Peter to be instructed or have his apostleship legitimised. If Peter was the “Chief Apostle” why did Christ bypass him and instead sent Paul to Ananias? Paul didn’t even consult with any apostle before his missionary journey (Gal. 2:6). Barnabas – not Peter – was the one who confirmed his conversion to the church.

vii) The gathering of the apostles in Jerusalem shows that the NT leadership was a power-sharing, collective one. Both the elders and apostles were present at the council (Acts 15:6, 23). Peter, Paul, Barnabas gave their speeches; James gave the final sentence and the whole church was involved in choosing the delegates (v 25-27). No Petrine primacy there.

viii) The Epistles (Eph. 4:11-12 and 1Cor. 12:28-29, 1, 2 Timothy and Titus) mentioned church offices and ministries, without a single reference to a “Petrine ministry” or “papacy.” This is a strange omission if the papacy was the highest office attainable.

ix) The book of Hebrews talks extensively about authority and the priesthood, yet says nothing about a Petrine ministry. A Catholic scholar says this letter was addressed to a first century congregation in Rome (Raymond Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, 1997, 697). The letter was addressed to the Hebrew Christians – not to a pope or bishop in Rome.

x) It seems Paul had more primacy than Peter. He was the only apostle who publicly rebuked and corrected another apostle (Gal. 2:11); was the first apostle taken to heaven to receive a revelation (2Cor. 12:1-4) and whose teachings had deeper insights that even Peter admitted they were “hard to understand” (2Pet. 3:15).

Early Church History

In his debate with Dave Hunt, Catholic apologist, Karl Keating, tried to prove papal primacy from patristic writings saying:

Clement, writing in the year 96 is exercising that primacy. Here is what happened … The Corinthians in 96 appealed to the bishop of Rome, Clement, to resolve some dispute. He sent them a letter. We still have it.”

Clement was a Roman bishop who sent a letter to the Corinthian church. Catholic scholar, Joseph Kelly, notes that this “was a letter of remonstrance addressed c. 96 to the church at Corinth (where fierce dissensions had broken out and some presbyters had been deposed) which Clement probably drafted as the leading presbyter.”

He never wrote as a pope. His letter was not a papal letter, but a letter from the church at Rome.

Keating claims Clement was “exercising his primacy” but Joseph Kelly points out that: “While Clement’s position as a leading presbyter and spokesman of the Christian community is assured, his letter suggests that the monarchial episcopate had not yet emerged there, and it is therefore impossible to form any precise conception of his constitutional role” (The Concise Dictionary of Early Christianity, 1992, 8).

Clement’s letter showed that a plurality of elders – not a monarchial episcopate – existed in Rome. Throughout his letter he used the plural “we” not “I.”

Keating said: “Now why didn’t they [the Corinthian church] appeal instead to the apostle John who was still alive and living on Patmos, living much close to them – the last apostle alive? Why not to him to settle? Because already they knew the successor of Peter as the primacy in the Church.”

This meretricious argument can only sway the audience of an oral debate. It was a common trend in the early church for letters to be sent e.g Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp, Polycarp’s letter to the Philippian church etc.

There is no jurisdictional or papal authority implied by the sending of Clement’s letter. In fact, the letter was sent in the name of the church of Rome, not the bishop of Rome.

The fact that apostle John didn’t submit to the allegedly higher authority of Roman bishops (Linus, Anacletus, Clement) at that time blows the theory of an early papal primacy into pieces. The earliest church records clearly shows that no one looked up to a pope in Rome to settle their disputes – and why would they, when they had a plurality of leaders? Even in the Shepherd of Hermas (c.150 AD), we read:

“But you yourself will read [my book] to this city [Rome], along with the elders [Gr: presbuteroi] who preside over the church.” (Vis 2.4)

Ignatius (and others) discussed matters of church government and offices in his letters and even wrote a letter to the Roman church, yet he said nothing about a papacy. The martyrdom and persecution accounts of the early church made several references to Christian bishops being killed, but none about the papacy.

The early Christians never mentioned anything suggesting a pope of Rome in their letters to one another. Not a single opponent of the Christian faith noted anything suggesting a papacy. Now, why would early Christians document much about the ideas and customs prevalent in the Roman Empire and yet omit the papacy if it was existing?

Keating: “Irenaeus, in his book Against Heresies [3:3:2] said: ‘With that church, the church of Rome, because of its superior origin all the churches must agree; that is all faithful in the whole world. It is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained their apostolic tradition.”

His quote doesn’t support papal primacy, unless it is read into the text. Irenaeus believed in Roman primacy, but not papal primacy. Catholic scholar, William La Due, admits that although some people try to find Roman primacy in Ireneaus’ words, “there is so much ambiguity here that one has to be careful of over-reading the evidence.”

He adds: “For him [Irenaeus], it is those churches of apostolic foundation that have the greater claim to authentic teaching and doctrine. Among those, Rome, with its two apostolic founders, certainly holds an important place. However, all of the apostolic churches enjoy what he terms ‘preeminent authority’ in doctrinal matters” (The Chair of St. Peter, 1999, 28).

The Roman primacy Irenaeus believed in was not because of a pope in Rome, but because of the Roman church’s alleged historical link with two apostles, its location in the capital of the Empire and its familiarity with other churches.

Catholic historian, Eamon Duffy, dispels much of the smoke: “Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops…for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the death of the Apostles” (Saints and Sinners, p. 2)

In his book, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, Keating quotes Cyprian saying:

Would heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come” (p. 217)

When Cyprian spoke of the seat of Peter (cathedra Petri), he wasn’t referring to what Catholicism today define it as. Back then, the people believed the “chair of Peter” refers to all the bishops in the world. Cyprian didn’t believe the bishop of Rome had any universal jurisdiction.

Catholic scholar, Robert Eno admits: “it is clear that he [Cyprian] did not see the bishop of Rome as his superior, except by way of honor… in Cyprian’s mind, one theological conclusion he does not draw is that the bishop of Rome has authority which is superior to that of the African bishops” (The Rise of the Papacy, 1990, 59-60).

Cyprian, quoting Mt. 16:18 wrote: “Thence, through the changes of times and successions, the ordering of bishops and the plan of the Church flow onwards; so that the church is founded upon the bishops and evey act of the Church is controlled by these same rulers” (Epistle, XXVI). Notice his reference to a plurality of bishops leading the church.

When Stephen (254-557) attempted to exert supreme authority as Peter’s successor, Cyprian wrote to him opposing his stance. “In his controversy with Bishop Stephen,” says a Professor of church history, “Cyprian expressed the view that any bishop, whether in Rome or elsewhere, was included in Jesus’ message to Peter. Like Tertullian, Cyprian is unwilling to accept the claim of exclusive authority for the bishop of Rome on the basis of Mt. 16:18-19” (John Meyendorff, The Primacy of Peter, 1992, 63).

Keating says in his book: “Augustine of Hippo summed up the ancient attitude when he remarked, ‘Rome has spoken; the case is closed” (p. 217).

It’s doubtful if Mr Keating actually read what he quoted. He cited Sermon, 131, but the text says: “…for already on this matter two councils have sent to the Apostolic See, whence also rescripts [reports] have come. The cause is finished, would that the error may terminate likewise.”

Here, Augustine was battling a heresy known as Pelagianism in North Africa, and his sermon was refuting it. Two councils had concluded on the issue and the bishop of Rome had agreed. He wasn’t talking about the authority of the bishop of Rome or hinting that he was infallible.

“Of the eighty or so heresies in the first six centuries,” wrote a Catholic historian, “not one refers to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, not one is settled by the Bishop of Rome… No one attacks the [supreme] authority of the Roman pontiff, because no one has heard of it” (J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, 1898, 308)

Darwinian Excuses

Countering the myths pop Catholic apologists love to throw around, Jesuit scholar, Klaus Schatz said: “It is clear that Roman Primacy was not given from the outset; it underwent a long process of development whose initial phases extended well into the fifth century” (Papal Primacy, 1996, 36).

This “long process of development” is an euphemism Rome uses for novelties invented later and made to appear ancient. For the first 1000 years, Roman bishops took their decisions together with their synod once or twice yearly. Whenever there was a matter concerning the universal church, it was decided by an ecumenical council – not a pope.

Even when bishop Leo I used Matthew, 16:18 to affirm his primacy over other bishops, he was still subservient to the Council. When he wrote his letter to Flavian in 449, he acknowledged that his treatise could not become a rule of faith till it was confirmed by the bishops.

Popes like Vigilius, Honorius etc were condemned and excommunicated by Councils. Emperors also had the power to depose popes. It was when the popes succeeded the Roman emperors that they began to wield universal authority over the church.

Rome was the only See in the West, while the East had Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem and Constantinople Apostolic Sees. The primacy of the Roman bishop was as a result of the primacy of the Roman church in the Western See. When the bishop of Rome tried to exercise supremacy over the whole church, it resulted in the Great schism between the West (Roman Catholicism) and the East (Eastern Orthodoxy). This is why the latter reject the papacy till date.

Having lost the historical argument behind papal primacy, some scholars of Rome are trying to shift the goalpost. Karl Rahner admits “it is not basically and absolutely necessary that we would have to trace back to an explicit saying of Jesus the more concrete structures of the constitution of the (Catholic) church which the church now declares are always obligatory…we grant her merely the possibility of free and accidental changes depending on the concrete situation in which she finds herself…” (Foundations of the Christian Faith, 332).

“Free and accidental changes”? That sounds like Darwinian superstition, in which a fish evolves to a frog, then becomes a snake and a snake eventually becomes man. This is pure fiction, consequently, the papacy is based on myths and lies.

An “Unbroken Chain” of Papal Succession?

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In 2013, the Vatican Information Service announced: “Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, S. J., has been elected as Supreme Pontiff, the 265th successor of Peter.”

The belief that Jesus started the Catholic church is based on apostolic succession – that a succession of Popes have descended from apostle Peter to the current Pope.

Catholics believe all other churches cannot even be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense because they do not have this. But the idea that Peter was “the first pope” from whom a dynasty of popes emerged has no support in the Bible.

In the absence of Biblical evidence, Catholic apologists clutch at early church history, employing tricks to make it validate their position.

In a debate between Dave Hunt and Karl Keating titled, “Was the Early Church Catholic?” Mr Keating quoted some patristic works to support apostolic succession and papal primacy, but his quotes were out of context. Here are two examples:

He said:

Clement, the 4th bishop of Rome, writing to the Corinthians in the year 96 said: ‘Our apostles appointed those who had already been mentioned and afterwards added the further provision that if they were to die, other approved men should succeed in their ministry.”

This quote was taken from 1 Clement 44 but he omitted a sentence:

Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.”

Notice that plural appointed ministers were referred to here. The “office of the episcopate” refers to bishops or overseers (Gr: episcopois) which is synonymous with elders (Gr: presbuterous). See Acts 14:23, 20:17, 28, Titus 1:5-7, Phil. 1:1, 1 Pet. 5:1-5.

Karl Keating also quoted Irenaeus:

It is necessary to obey those as we have shown have succession from the apostles, those who have received with the succession of the episcopate…

This was taken from his work, Against Heresies:

It is necessary to obey the presbyters who are in the church – those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the Apostles. For those presbyters, together with the succession of bishops…” (3:3:1)

Again, the source refers to presbyters/elders, not a pope. Both citations do not support his claims.

This is one of the shortcomings of oral debates – a person can easily sway the audience with misquotes, rhetoric or body language. In a written debate, such slyness will not work.

This is not a matter of being an erudite scholar. You can be a genius of all time, but if facts and truth are not on your side, you can be defeated by an infant who knows the truth.

Why apostolic succession is false

  • It is based on false assumptions. Catholics who try to make a case for apostolic succession have a whole set of unproven axioms which colour their view of Scripture and history. These Catholics:

a) assume Peter resided in Rome. If 1 Pet. 5:13 proves he was in Rome, then 1 Cor. 1:12, 9:5 would also prove he was in Corinth. Neither passages prove he was resident in Rome.

b) assume Peter was the bishop of Rome. An apostle is a “sent one” and it differs from the office of a bishop.

Being an apostle is analogous to being a prophet; it’s a calling, not an office. That Peter was an apostle doesn’t automatically make him a bishop.

c) assume Peter was the first bishop of Rome who started the church of Rome.

The early Roman churches (note the plural) were house churches made up of Jewish or Gentile members or both (Rom. 16:5, Acts 18:2). Peter didn’t start the church of Rome.

d) assume Peter was the “only” bishop of Rome. This is refuted by the fact that New Testament church leadership was pluralistic, not monarchical. A plurality of bishops (pastor/elders) presided over a local church.

Whenever Catholics come across the word “bishop” in patristic works, they read their own idea of a monarchical prelacy into it, whereas the idea of a single bishop presiding over a plurality of churches wasn’t the early model.

e) assume Peter ordained a successor. He didn’t. Even if he ordained a candidate, that would make him a pastor, not a pope. Popes are elected, not ordained.

If the apostles appointed pastors or elders, that doesn’t really make them successors. Ordination entails a succession in teaching, not a succession in authority.

Take note also, that while Mathias was chosen to replace Judas, no one was chosen to replace James (Acts 12:1).

  • The belief is hinged on doubtful sources.

Irenaeus’ listings of bishops is said to be the “list of popes” who succeeded Peter. He listed Linus, Anacletus, Clement, Evaristus, Alexander, Sixtus, Telesphorus, Hyginus, Pius, Anicetus, Soter and Eleutherius (Against Heresies 3:3:4).

First of all, the term “pope” or “papa” was generally used for all bishops from the third century. It wasn’t until 1079 AD that the title was reserved for the bishop of Rome, so it’s anachronistic to use this list as a proof of papal succession.

Second, Irenaeus places Paul and Peter together as bishops without saying anything about the primacy of Peter. This list was compiled by Hegesippus and there was a reason it was presented:

“The first claim to a succession from the apostles in support of particular doctrines was made in the second century by the Gnostics … Hegesippus, an opponent of Gnosticism, compiled a list of bishops in Rome (Eusebius, H. F. 4.22.5f). Irenaeus of Lyons drew on the idea of the succession of bishops to formulate an orthodox response to the Gnostic claim of a secret tradition going back to the apostles” (Everett Ferguson, Encyclopedia of Early Christianity, 1999, pp. 94-95).

Ireneaus’ list contradicts that of Tertullian (Praescriptione, xxii) in which Clement comes after apostle Peter. Interestingly, the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia has this to say about “pope” Linus:

We cannot be positive whether this identification of the pope as being the Linus mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21 goes back to an ancient and reliable source, or originated later on account of the similarity of the name … The dates given in this catalogue, A.D. 56 until A.D. 67, are incorrect . Perhaps … Linus had held the position of head of the Roman community during the life of the Apostle … But this hypothesis has no historical foundation … The “Liber Pontificalis” asserts that Linus’ home was in Tuscany, and that his father’s name was Herculanus; but we cannot discover the origin of this assertion.”

The Vatican has published conflicting lists of popes from Peter which had to be revised. The earliest list is from the Liber Pontificalis (presumably first composed in the 6th century), yet even the New Catholic Encyclopedia says:

“But it must be frankly admitted that bias or deficiencies in the sources make it impossible to determine in certain cases whether the claimants were popes or antipopes” (1967, 1:632).

The ugly truth is, the Catholic “church” is yet to verify an accurate and complete list of the popes. The so-called “unbroken line of succession back to Peter” is pure fiction.

  • The nature of papal successions.

For apostolic succession to occur, each pope must choose his own successor and personally lay hands on him and ordain him.

This was how Paul and Barnabas were appointed before they were sent forth by the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3). Timothy’s appointment to the ministry was also by the elders laying hands on him (1 Tim. 4:14).

This biblical procedure is never followed with regard to successors of Catholic popes or bishops. Papal succession has most often followed ungodly procedures:

a) Many popes were installed by political intrigues.

During the Middle Ages, the papacy was owned by powerful families (e.g the Caetani, Conti, Orsini, Colonna etc). Pope Boniface VII, a Caetani, had to battle the Colonna to remain in power.

In 1303, he was seized by the emissaries of Philip the Fair of France and Rome fell into French possession. As a result, the papacy was moved to France, and from 1309-77, the popes were French and resided at Avignon.

“From the 4th to the 11th century, the influence of temporal rulers in papal elections reached its zenith. Not only the Roman emperors, but also, in their turn, the Ostrogoth kings … attempted to control the selection of Roman pontiff. This civil intervention ranged from the approval of elected candidates to the actual nomination of candidates (with tremendous pressure exerted on the electors to secure their acceptance) and even to the extreme of forcible deposition and imposition.” (Cath. Ency. 11:572b)

That pagan rulers rigged papal elections proved that the popes weren’t chosen by the Holy Spirit.

b) Many popes bought the papal seat.

Wealthy candidates bought their way to becoming pope (simony) or bribed their opponents to step down.

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) bought the papal throne with “villas, towns and abbeys …[and] four mule-loads of silver to his greatest rival, Cardinal Sforza, to induce him to step down” (Peter de Rosa, Vicars of Christ, 1988, p. 104).

The papal throne was so commercialized that John XII became pope at 16 and Benedict IX at 11, because their families were wealthy. As a Catholic historian notes, “the Apostolic throne … was now bought and sold like a piece of merchandise.”

When Benedict IX was tired of being pope and was eager to devote himself to his favourite lover, he sold the papacy for 1500 pounds of gold to his godfather, Giovanni Gratiano, who then became pope in 1054 under the name Gregory VI. Apostolic succession? No.

c) Many became popes through violence and murder.

Gregory of Tusculum, a powerful warlord, used the power of the sword to install three of his sons and a grandson (one succeeding the other) as popes.

When Pope Benedict IX fled his papal chair, John, bishop of the Sabine hills, entered Rome and installed himself as pope Sylvester III (1045). Then Benedict stormed back overpowered him and ruled again as pope (Dave Hunt, A Woman rides the Beast, 1994, p. 106).

It’s sheer mockery to call this “apostolic succession.”

In the 9th century, “popes scrambled onto the bloodstained [papal] throne, maintained themselves precariously for a few weeks – or even days – before being hurled themselves into their own graves” (E. R. Chamberlin, The Bad Popes, 1969, 21).

Pope Alexander V (1409-10) who was notably attended to by 300 females in his regal palace, was poisoned to death by Baldassare Cossa who then became Pope John XXIII.

At a point, there were three popes ruling over different portions of Rome which their private army controlled, until Emperor Henry III marched into Rome with his army and presided over a synod that deposed all three “popes” and installed Clement II, his own choice.

d) Papal succession has been influenced by sex.

Not less than six popes (e.g Pope Anastasius, Pope Lando etc.) were put in their offices by a mother-and-daughter pair of prostitutes. A historian notes that:

“The influence of two prostitutes, Marozia and Theodora, was founded on their wealth and beauty, their political and amorous intrigues. The most strenuous of their lovers were rewarded with the Roman mitre …The bastard son, the grandson, and the great grandson of Marozia – a rare genealogy – were seated in the Chair of St. Peter” (Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, 1830, xlix).

That harlots – Theodora and Marozia – determined who became pope disproves apostolic succession.

Marozia’s grandson, Octavian, also became John XII – a pope so obsessed with illicit sex that he was killed by a husband who caught him having sex with his wife!

  • The holy order quicksand

Only a valid priest can become a valid bishop and only a valid bishop can become a cardinal and then a valid pope. I use the word “valid” because there are certain conditions which can invalidate a person from receiving a lawful holy order.

The New Catholic Encyclopedia (7:89) states that “the lawful reception of Orders demands outstanding and habitual goodness of life, especially perfect chastity . Solid possession of this latter virtue is an indispensable condition of clerical vocation and its presence must be positively evident.”

How can a person’s “habitual goodness” be verified? Do the administers read the minds of the candidates? How can “perfect chastity” be “positively evident” in males (since females don’t become popes)? How do they prove male virginity? Can you see the quicksand here?

The person administering the holy orders must also meet up with certain conditions: “the sanctity and dignity of the sacrament [of holy orders] demands for lawful and worthy administration that the minister be in a state of grace, free of ecclesiastical penalties” (Ibid, 7:88a).

How many priests or bishops, from the medieval period to this present day, meet up to all these conditions? By Rome’s own standards, there is a high probability that they have been electing anti-popes!

When we also consider the fact that many popes were heretics, this automatically breaks the link in the apostolic succession chain.

And if just one papal link is “missing” – whether by dubious records, political, sexual or corrupt ascension to the papal seat – then the whole “unbroken chain of apostolic succession” becomes a grievous lie!

Why Rome’s apologists still defend this falsehood was summed up by Ignatius of Loyola:

“That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which to our eyes appears to be white, we ought in like manner pronounce it black” (Rules for Thinking with the Church, Rule 13).

In God’s kingdom, however, truth is more important, and only those who love and embrace the truth will be set free (John 8:32).

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.