Saturday, September 28, 2013

There’s no such thing as a good pope

no such thing as a good pope
No such thing as a good pope
Seems to me that the writers at First Things just stop permitting comments on their articles at some point. They just stop watching. For example, I posted the following comment in response to this article, but First Things says NO GO:

Don Roberto – Fr Neuhaus also said this: “One cannot draw a neat and uncontested historical line between the apostolic “primacy” of St. Peter and the primacy of the current pope in Rome. But there is a clear line of apostolic authority. Clearer, at the very least, than any other line can be drawn” (from “Catholic Matters”, pgs 18-19).

In both cases, there is not “a clear line” – neither to Peter, nor to “apostolic authority”. The “unclear line” to “apostolic authority” is something that worked for Irenaeus vs the Gnostics in the 2nd century; there is no hint from him or anyone else that what worked in the past was to be a “system” of “succession” that was going to “guarantee” authority for all time. Regarding the “unclear line” extending from Peter to Damasus, it is not only “unclear”, but nonexistent. [And anyone who’s studied in a seminary ought to be familiar with this history].

The reason I bring this up is because Roman claims to authority have caused tremendous harm to the church, first of all in the east-west split, and secondly in the Reformation. Having a “papacy” in place today (even with the “successor of Peter” euphemism) is an affront to other Christians (especially those “ecclesial communities” that Rome does not consider to be true churches.)

The only “neat and uncontested historical lines” we have, extending from the earliest church until now, are found in the written documents – first in the Hebrew Scriptures, then the New Testament.

My previous comment on this thread:

John Bugay says:
The papacy itself is a "house of cards". The notion of an "unbroken succession" -- that there have been 266 "successors to Peter" -- is simply a piece of fiction.

Your own opening paragraph reinforces this: but somehow, "a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest" who does the things that "Benedict IX" did, does not "break the succession". That is merely one case in point from many.

This makes this man a mere placeholder, at best. And there are many such "placeholders" -- starting with the huge gap during the first three centuries.

Citing the Protestant historian Carl Trueman's review of Brad Gregory's "The Unintended Reformation", it is very clear that there are many, many "breaks" in the succession:

* The Papacy as an authoritative institution was not there in the early centuries.

* The Papacy was corrupt in the later Middle Ages, building its power and status on political antics, forged documents and other similar scams.

* The Papacy was in such a mess at the beginning of the fifteenth century that it needed a council to decide who of the multiple claimants to Peter's seat was the legitimate pope.

I would second Michael Flatter's comments and request, at a minimum.


  1. I've always wondered why catholics think JP2 and Benedict are so great. What did they do to stop the spread of liberalism in the catholic church?

    If Martin Luther or John Calvin held the Assisi event or kissed the Koran it would be exhibit A in Mark Shea or Dave Armstrong's bag of tricks.

    1. Steve, sort of like "my country right or wrong". It doesn't matter who the pope is, just so that there's a pope.

  2. I suppose, but the cult of personality that grew up around JP2 is just weird. During his life he was portrayed as "the great" and you'd think that this guy, who was never in the first rank of European theologians or philosophers was the greatest philosopher, theologian, statesman and churchman ever.

    1. I think the mystique of having come of age in eastern Europe helped. He was one of the younger movers at Vatican II, having been a young bishop at the time. He made significant contributions to Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium. He also wrote a work "Love and Responsibility" that was very influential thinking in the crafting of Humanae Vitae. So where he was "a leading thinker" was in the conservative wing of Vatican II.

    2. If you ever get a chance, read the series of books by Dormann, Pope John Paul 2's Theological Journey to the Prayer Meeting of Religions in Assisi. I'm not an expert on the technical aspects of Catholic theology, but from Dorman's perspective JP2 was not all that orthodox. (Dormann does have a tendency to take everything JP2 wrote in the worse possible light.)

      Ratzinger was conveniently out of town during the first Assisi event, but then as pope praised JP for it and, if I recall correctly, held one of his own.

    3. Thanks for the recommendation Steve -- I've put it on my wish list, although with JPII now being dead and all, he's not going to be a high priority ;-)

  3. John, off topic but I was poking around Dave Armstrong's site. Dave thinks that Raymond Brown was a "dissident." When asked if it's true that Brown was placed twice on the Pontifical Biblical Commission by two different popes, Dave professed not to know.

    Incidentally, there is nothing about what Ratzinger said which Dave quotes which proves that Brown's historical-critical approach is frowned upon by the church. I've read that Ratzinger quite admired Brown.

    1. Steve, I'm not sure where I saw it, but I think in his "Critical Reading of the Bible", Brown called himself a centrist. For a time I was taking private Greek lessons from someone who had met Brown at some Cripture conferences, and he said that Brown was a devout priest who always observed Roman Catholic practices (Mass on Sundays, no meat on Fridays, etc.) whenever he saw him. He said that Brown's method involved pushing as far as he could using critical scholarship, while not going beyond the boundaries of Catholic doctrine. That was pretty much what he was tasked with doing. It was his job. And that's not a job description that's out of line for Roman Catholic theologians.

    2. Brown often called himself a centrist and that was part of his game, something that someone (in a different context) called "seizing the rhetorical middle." Put Bultmann on the left and a rather wooden literalist on the on the right and who wouldn't want to agree with you?

      Incidentally, Ratzinger approved this catholic document on Scriptural interpretation with its rather ham-handed critique of "fundamentalism." I've read that this section was written by Brown.

      Used "critically," Brown's books have value.

    3. Steve, I agree, Brown's books have real value. Especially given that he has explored some topics relating to Roman Catholicism (i.e. "Antioch and Rome") that touch on Roman claims, in ways that Protestants have not done.