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Monday, April 14, 2008

Papal Ponderings

Edit: I bumped this up because I expanded on two sections, taking into account some of the comments on the article.

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:

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.

I think they read the same. Jesus is naming Peter as his steward, and giving him the power of binding and loosing from debts.



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.

12 comments:

Joy said...

Wow, excellent post. Very clear. For some reason (probably the fact that humans in general don't like or trust authority figures) the Pope seems to be a big obstacle for many Protestants and I think you did a great job addressing these concerns.

Tracy said...

Way to go Kelly!!

faithful catholic said...

Here is a direct quote from Candy's post of 8/27/07 on headcoverings:

"Without an heirarchy, there'd be anarchy - chaos. This is one of the reasons why in the family unit, the husband is the spiritual head, and the wife is to submit to him. Colossians 3:18 says "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as it is fit in the Lord." Thus, wives are to be under their own husbands, and they are to submit to him as it is fit in the Lord. This is a reoccuring Biblical principle for all Christian marriages. Husbands have the harder task, as Ephesians 5:25 shows: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;"



And then she has the. . . . well, she says "it is false teaching to place a man in the role of head of the church?" WHAAAAAT? Oh well, really I am not surprised. She is totally clueless.

Oh yeah, and as I was hunting for this "hierarchy" quote , I ran across one where she said something along the lines of "I agree with Paul" meaning St. Paul. I thought holy cow, if she only knew how ridiculous that sounds. As if anyone would question something written by St. Paul if Candy disagreed with it. She cracks me up.

Erika S. said...

Kelly- Great post. i always enjoy reading your posts. May I ask where did you getting or have gotten a degree? In what? i am thinking about stating a BA at Catholic Distance University and would love your opinion. (Distance is the only way to go as I am not able to attend a formal U)

Annie C said...

Excellent excellent piece Kelly. Thank you for it.

The Pope speaks infallibly when he speaks in union with the magisterium on matters of faith and morals. 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. That has only been done three or four times.

I've always wanted to be clear on that one, does anyone know when or on what topics?

Blondie said...

I ran across one where she said something along the lines of "I agree with Paul" meaning St. Paul. I thought holy cow, if she only knew how ridiculous that sounds. As if anyone would question something written by St. Paul if Candy disagreed with it. She cracks me up.

LOL, that is funny.

motherofmany said...

I think a lot of what non-Protestants perceive to be doctrinal differences are what you would define as disciplines or practices. There are some major doctrinal differences, such as infant/believers' baptism, whether it is necessary to salvation, and the extent or absence of church heirarchy. But in general terms, doctrines are usually universal.

I don't know of a Protestant denomination that does not hold to the sinlessness of Christ, his crucifiction, resurrection, and ascention, the necessity of his sacrifice for salvation to man, his current place at the right hand of the Father, and his promised return for his bride church.

The differences in non-Catholic churches are often types of baptism (sprinkle, pour, immerse), musical instruments or not, and type/extent of evangelism. The differences that seem to be fractures from the outside are really matters of personal conviction, and we see them as not preventing anyone from attaining salvation, since even Paul parted ways with his long-time partner over differences in administration.

motherofmany said...

Faithful Catholic,

IN general, Protestant churches believe there must be a system of authority to prevent anarchy, just as Paul said when he established the role of husbands in charge of the family. But in that same passage, he says husbands are the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church. 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. I know when this discussion came up before, the point was made that Christ did use the apostles as secretaries to write the epistles/scriptures, but for us the difference there was that he was writing down the doctrines for the whole church that would come after. These were the general guidelines, available to anyone who wanted to know what the church followed (including agnostics/atheists who would not have personal communication with Christ through prayer) and that personal revelation and application would always be founded on them.

Kelly said...

I don't know of a Protestant denomination that does not hold to the sinlessness of Christ, his crucifixion, resurrection, and ascention, the necessity of his sacrifice for salvation to man, his current place at the right hand of the Father, and his promised return for his bride church.

Yes, but the Catholic church affirms all of these things as well. So, the Pope isn't changing doctrine either. But I think I might be missing your point, somehow, so feel free to elaborate.

Kelly said...

May I ask where did you getting or have gotten a degree? In what? i am thinking about stating a BA at Catholic Distance University and would love your opinion.

Erika, I have a BA in Religious Studies from a state university. I would dearly love to get a MA in Theology or History of Christianity, and I consider it every time I have a baby turn two. But in the end, I decide to stick with childrearing for this season of my life, and save school for when I get to my last baby.

So, I'm afraid I'm not up on the best distance programs. The only advice I would give it either make sure you stick with the same program the whole way through, or make sure the credits transfer. If you start with a distance program, and then end up settling in a city with a good university, you might want to take some classes there, so you'd want to be able to transfer the credits.

Kelly said...

PS Erika, my college roommate was also a Religious Studies major, and she's a lurker here. One day, she'll finally register with Blogger, and then there'll be no end of her commenting! ;)

motherofmany said...

Kelly,

I agree with what you said. In general, Catholics and Protestant share a great deal of doctrine. (I wasn't referring to the pope at all in that answer but to the differences in Protestant chuches that seem so 'splintered'). Most of the differences in Protestant churches are practice or application and not doctrine.