As the Pope will soon be visiting, I thought it would be a good opportunity to answer some common questions about the papacy. Some of these questions are from Candy, some from previous discussions from Amy, and some I just made up myself.
Richard Bennett says that the Papacy is a fairly recent development, not found in early Christianity. I responded to that here with some of these quotes:
Pope Clement wrote in the 90's AD that The Church of God which sojourns in Rome to the Church of God which sojourns in Corinth....If anyone disobey the things which have been said by Him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger."
Pope Damascus wrote in the late 300's "Why then do you again ask me for the condemnation of Timotheus? Here, by the judgment of the apostolic see, in the presence of Peter, bishop of Alexandria, he was condemned, together with his teacher, Apollinarius, who will also in the day of judgment undergo due punishment and torment. But if he succeeds in persuading some less stable men, as though having some hope, after by his confession changing the true hope which is in Christ, with him shall likewise perish whoever of set purpose withstands the order of the Church. May God keep you sound, most honoured sons."
From Candy: The Vatican repeatedly calls their pope "Holy Father."
You guys probably recognized that one, because Elena wrote on it recently, here.
Candy also wrote: The new Pope (Vicar of Christ - the Greek roots of 'vicar' is "ante", AKA Greek Vicar of Christ = antichrist) proclaimed the other day that you are saved ONLY by being a member of the Roman Catholic church. Of course, anyone who has read his or her Bible knows that that is not true.
Elena wrote about that here:
To summarize, the Catholic Church is a Christian church, organized and run on a biblical model as indicated by Jesus Christ himself. The word "Vicar" merely means a substitute, who stands in as an earthly agent.
Candy also wrote "It is false teaching to place a man in the role of head of the church. Christ is head." which Amy explained as "So the objection is to a man filling in for Christ as head of the church, and not an objection to having authorities in general. Just as a husband doesn't use another person to communicate with his wife, most Protestants don't see Christ as using a man to communicate directly with his church."
Elena quotes Scott Hahn explaining the idea of where Jesus gives Peter/the Pope the authority to act as his agent in Scripture:
Here's what he says, "Isaiah 22, verse 15, undoubtedly lies behind this saying of Jesus. The keys are the symbol of authority and Father Roland DeVoe rightly sees here the same authority vested in the vicar, the master of the house, the chamberlain of the royal household in ancient Israel. In Isaiah 22 Eliakim is described as having the same authority."
I wanted to point out that Jesus uses the idea of a steward in his parables. In Luke 12, the faithful steward rules over the household until his lord returns, as the Pope rules over the Church on the Lord's behalf, until his return.
Luke 12:41Then Peter said unto him, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even to all?
42And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season?
43Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.
44Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.
The steward of Luke 16, is not a just steward, but he also rules over the household until his lord's return. Notice that the steward has the power to release men from debts, on behalf of his lord:
5So he called every one of his lord's debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
Compare this to the language in Matthew 16:18-19:
I think they read the same. Jesus is naming Peter as his steward, and giving him the power of binding and loosing from debts.
18And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
The difference with denominations having varied intervals between communion and the Pope changing church tradition is huge to me, because the 'protestant' churches do not hold to one man being Christ incarnate with the full authority to change tradition scripture, or whatever he chooses when he sits in the seat.
We do not believe the Pope is Christ incarnate. He is Christ's representative. The Pope cannot contradict scripture or Tradition.
No one in our churches is allowed to change anything that is considered doctrinal.
I suppose that depends on what you mean by "our churches." Protestant churches vary hugely on doctrine. Are there sacraments? How many? Does baptism save you, or is it just an outward sign? Once saved always saved? Are we saved by faith alone or by grace alone?
Instead of a protestant church changing doctrine, they just create a new church. In that way the doctrine is the same within a denomination. But if you put all the denominations together, you will see doctrinal change everywhere. Even Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli could not agree on basic doctrine.
The Catholic Church has retained the same view of Jesus' divinity and incarnation, of salvation and justification, number of sacraments, and even the same scripture canon.
If the pope(s) made decrees that no one can be saved without being under subjection to the pope, and they have the papal infallibility, then what they say has to mean what it says. Right?
Not exactly. The Pope speaks infallibly when he speaks in union with the magisterium on matters of faith and morals. This means that when the Pope upholds the Catholic teaching prohibiting birth control, for example, he is speaking infallibly.
To speak infallibly on his own, he has to use a particular formula to make it clear that that is indeed, what he is doing. This would be used to define a doctrine that has been questioned. While there is no list of infallible pronouncements, the two which are most often listed are defining the Immaculate Conception in 1854, and the Assumption of Mary in 1950. That doesn't mean that Catholics didn't hold these beliefs prior to that time. Again, these were doctrines which were being questioned, and so the doctrine was formally defined by the Pope.
When he is speaking on other matters, it is possible for the Pope to err. For example, one Pope wrote a document on music in the liturgy, where he said that the piano (back when it was a new instrument) was not suitable for liturgy, and spoke about how much better the organ was. This was not a binding document because the Pope did not use the infallible formula for the document, and because liturgical music is not considered a matter of faith and morals, but what we call discipline.
More recently, Pope Benedict wrote a book about Jesus, and he stressed that the book represented his own personal views, not an infallible Papal decree:
The Pontiff indicates in the book’s foreword that this should not be considered infallible from a magisterial point of view. "This work is not an absolute act of magisterial teaching, but merely an expression of my personal research into the face of the Lord. Therefore, everyone is free to contradict me," Pope Benedict stated.
Ecumenical councils can also be considered infallible. The Council of Nicea, for example, defined the nature of Christ, as both fully human, and fully divine, at a time when that doctrine was being questioned by the Arians.
The Catholic Church actually offers more stability than other churches because, as I said, it is almost impossible to change teachings on matters of faith. The Pope would not be able to say that Jesus was just a wise teacher, or that his resurrection should be understand metaphorically, as some protestants (okay, and I admit, heretical Catholics too) teach.
The various protestant churches have an ever changing theology. If you disagree with what your church teaches, you start another one. A church might have one theological direction under one pastor, and change under a different one. Usually the change is incremental, but if you look at the many varities you have now, versus where you started at the time of the reformation, you can see how far the theology has spread.
The Catholic Church does refer to an "unfolding" of theology. When you read the Bible, you see the seeds of what was later to be understood as the Trinity, even though it isn't explicitly stated. As time goes on, we better understand certain teachings.
Why would the Pope kiss the Koran? I really would like an answer to that one.
The Pope got a lot of criticism from Catholics about that, too. Remember that the Pope is not infallible in everything that he does. It is very possible that he made a mistake in this matter, and Catholic are free to disagree with him in that decision.
Why does the Pope insist people bow to him and kiss his ring? Did Jesus Christ teach that?
The Catholic Church is kind of like your great-Aunt's attic. We keep all kinds of old things in there. The practice of showing respect for someone, or for their office, through kissing their hand is actually pretty recent. It only developed around the 17th century, and was common in through the 18th and 19th century. Still once we got into the habit, it became difficult to stop. Just as we still bow to royalty, it is still common practice to kiss the papal ring.
However, the Pope does not insist that people bow and kiss his ring. You can see a picture here of President Bush simply shaking the Pope's hand. Hey, he's a nice guy, he understands!
Why does the Pope wear a Dagon fish hat?
I'm not sure anyone but Candy has that question, but I'll refer you again to a recent article.
Want some extra reading?
Dave Armstrong has lots to to say about the papacy.
Read Scriptural evidence for the primacy of Peter at Scripture Catholic.
Catholic Answers also has a section about the papacy.