Friday, February 15, 2013

The Papacy: Neither Biblical Nor Historical

This month and next, we’ll all be treated in the media to the spectacle of another conclave to select another pope. The media will fail to understand the genuine historical roots of the papacy lie neither in the Bible, nor in the history of the earliest church, but rather were an exercise if self-admiration of the newly-rich bishops of Rome of the fourth and especially the fifth century.

Leonardo de Chirico, who wrote what Lane Keister called The Best Book On Roman Catholicism I Have Read, has posted Some Brief Thoughts from Rome on Benedict’s Resignation:

Vatican I (1870) sort of divinized the papacy by making the pope "infallible" when he exercises his teaching role. Now, Ratzinger's resignation "humanizes" it by showing that this office is like any other human responsibility, i.e. temporary and subject to human weakness. The hope is that this move will cause many Catholics to reflect on the nature of the Papacy beyond traditional dogmatic assertions. Is the Papacy a de iure divino (i.e. divine law) office or is it more of a historical institution? Is it a condition for Christian unity or rather an obstacle to it? And more radically: is it biblical at all?

Starting that last question, “is it biblical at all”, after an extensive discussion of the Biblical texts, Robert Reymond said:

Rome’s exegesis of Matthew 16 and its historically developed claim to authoritative primacy in the Christian world simply cannot be demonstrated and sustained from Scripture itself. This claim is surely one of the great hoaxes foisted upon professing Christendom, upon which false base rests the whole papal sacerdotal system. (“A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith,” pg 818).

Today’s media certainly has been fooled, and is passing along the hoax, unless some enterprising reporter would dare to investigate the latest scholarship on the papacy.

Is the Papacy a de iure divino (i.e. divine law) office or is it more of a historical institution? If it’s not biblical at all, then it’s certainly not “a de iure divino (i.e. divine law) office”.

But is it historical?

The last century-and-a-half of even Roman Catholic scholarship denies that it is “historical” (before the fourth and fifth centuries).

With his “theory of development”, Newman makes this important historical concession:

While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope; their power had no prominence, as being exercised by Apostles. In course of time, first the power of the Bishop displayed itself, and then the power of the Pope. . . . St. Peter's prerogative would remain a mere letter, till the complication of ecclesiastical matters became the cause of ascertaining it. . . . When the Church, then, was thrown upon her own resources, first local disturbances gave exercise to Bishops, and next ecumenical disturbances gave exercise to Popes; and whether communion with the Pope was necessary for Catholicity would not and could not be debated till a suspension of that communion had actually occurred.... (Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Notre Dame edition, pg 151).

This “prerogative” that he speaks of remains “a mere letter” during the most critical, foundational centuries of the Christian church – if Newman is going to assert that it remained “a mere letter”, then where was the “letter”?

And Newman himself concedes that it had not been “ascertained” until “ecumenical disturbance” (one would think he’s talking about the Arian matters of the fourth century – this is the first time that the “mere letter” first became “ascertained”.

But where was the “letter”? If this existed, certainly it is incumbent upon Roman Catholics to show it.

But they can’t, and so they don’t. They merely continue to assert something that was never there.

I would hope, with de Chirico, that “this move will cause many Catholics to reflect on the nature of the Papacy beyond traditional dogmatic assertions.”

Jesus said to his disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave”.

The papacy and its efforts to dominate Christianity and the world are a fourth- and fifth-century imposition by the “nouveau-riche” bishops of Rome upon the rest of Christianity. It is not a unifying factor; rather, it has been the most harmful and divisive institution in the history of the world. Its boastful yet vacuous claims of global domination have divided Christianity and damaged the witness of Christ in the world. It is my hope that the passing of the Wojtyla/Ratzinger era will represent another step towards oblivion for this selfish and un-Christlike institution.


  1. An account of historical popery:

    (Yes, it's Wikipedia, but it's the easiest-to-access source for blog comments.)

    Just one of many men who held the office.

    Excommunicated by an infallible pope-convened synod in 872, but it was later lifted.

    After this infallible pope died, another infallible pope had him posthumiously tried in a "Cadaver Synod", disinterred, clad in popish finery, seated on a throne (while dead) to face the charges, and declared unworthy by the infallible pope Steven VI. His popish finery was ripped off his corpse, three fingers removed, and the infallible pope John VIII had his body thrown in the Tiber river.

    After the infallible Steven VI died, another infallible pope had the body of the excommunicated-infallible-condemned pope re-interred. Later, although the Cadaver Synod (used by the infallible pope) was declared by another infallible pope to be invalid and further trials were banned. However, yet another infallible pope, Sergius III, reapproved the decision against Formosus. This infallible re-approval was, in the future overturned again. Some sources say Formosus was disinterred for a second Cadaver Synod.

    This story alone, with its back and forths, and its mixture of Rome's political goings on with papal decrees and politics, should be enough to give anyone pause.

    Hey- it was a Catholic who encouraged me to study the history of the popes. He'd never heard of this Cadaver Synod, though. ;-)


    1. Hey Justin, I've seen this -- Jason Engwer has written about it in the past (citing Eamon Duffy, I think).

      Roman Catholics usually just ignore this sort of thing, saying "infallibility doesn't mean impeccability". What gets lost on them is that we are not talking about little flaws here or there; we are talking about some of the most evil men who ever lived, doing some of the most evil things that have ever been done.

      The use of the word "infallibility" here is a bit of an anachronism, as the topic didn't really come up until in the 12th century (again, it was the topic of popes revising what earlier popes had said, but the term "infallibility" wasn't used until later).