December 1, 2020

A (Very) Short Overview Of The Papacy: Part Deux

Martha of Ireland took us on a short, fun ride through the lives of some of the more colorful Popes this morning. Now she explores the role of Pope in history, as well as the reason we have Popes. I am always enlightened when I read what Martha shares, but this is something the Holy Spirit is working deep into my heart. My hope is that it will challenge and encourage you as well.

At this point, you’re probably saying, “Good God almighty, woman, this is the perfect reason why the office of the Papacy is a travesty!”  Well, to all those of you who say “Catholics have a Pope” – with the corollary, overt or implied, “And we don’t” – I’d just like to say “Oh yes you do, and his name is Paul.”  Every time I’ve followed a recommended link to a preacher or minister on justification or what have you, it’s all Galatians this and Corinthians that.  For every one time I’ve seen “Jesus says in Matthew…” or “John’s Gospel tells us…”, I’ve seen ten or more “Paul says…”.  You may call ’em Epistles, but you treat ’em like Encyclicals.

And now that I’ve insulted the 98% of the readership that aren’t Episcopalian…

To try and be a little more serious, here’s a link to a television series from 1997, based on a book by Eamon Duffy, entitled Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes.

It’s a good overview and isn’t afraid to delve into the messiness of it all.  I think it slightly over-emphasises the politics at the beginning, but the political situation in Galilee, the Province of Judaea as a whole, Rome and the Empire and its division between East and West over the first four centuries of the Christian Era do affect how the Church survived and developed.  It’s also not afraid to suggest that Church history isn’t as smooth as it has been represented, and indeed that some of the Popes may even have been legendary (as to that, I’m a lot more easy on the matter of coincidence; I’m as prepared to accept that there may genuinely have been a man named Sixtus who became the sixth Pope because there are examples of doctors named “Blood” and race car drivers named “Speed” ).

There are two objections that are, or used to be, raised against the Papacy.  The first was the assumption of temporal power.  With the loss of the Papal States and the reduction of such claims to the Vatican City State, this is of less concern nowadays – though there are always the die-hards who claim that the Pope is trying to take over governments or impose his rule.  Personally, I think it’s a very good thing that this power has been lost, and I can’t think of one person who would like to see it back (maybe there’s some Ultra-Super-Maximum-Really Radical Traditionalist in a cave somewhere, but I’ve never seen a call for ‘Restore the Papal States!’ even by those who would like to see the triregnum worn again).

So how did this come about in the first place?  Because when the Empire split – when Constantine picked up and went off to Byzantium – that naturally left a power vacuum.  When the civil power is busy establishing itself in the Eastern half of the Empire, or removing the seat of Western power to a different city, and when the barbarian hordes are streaming in over the Alps, who is left?  In the 5th century, the prestige and honour of the office meant that Pope Leo I was one of the three envoys sent by the Emperor to negotiate with Attila the Hun and persuade him not to sack Rome.  In the 6th century, when the Emperor was reigning from the East and the Lombards were invading and pillaging Italy, it was left up to Gregory I to take charge of the territories abandoned by the secular powers.

What organisation is set up to handle charitable donations, has a hierarchical structure and a centralised authority, has bases pretty much everywhere, and is a recognized and respected authority?  Could it be along the lines of this story?

Someone had to step up and take the lead.  As Eamon Duffy describes it in his book and series, the Roman Catholic Church – and the office of the Papacy – is the oldest surviving institute on Earth.  Empires and dynasties have fallen and risen, the city of Rome itself became a backwater left behind by the progress of history, but the Church remains.  And at the head of the Church, Peter.

And this is the second and most divisive element: the assumption of spiritual power.

Actually, I’m going to swerve aside here for a moment and say that it’s not just Catholics who have a Pope.  The Copts have one, also; in fact, the Patriarch of Alexandria was the first to assume the title.  And the various Orthodox and Oriental Churches are led by Patriarchs who, while they may not claim the same authority or exercise it in the same way as the Latin understanding, do indeed have authority and precedence (even if it is expressed as primus inter pares).

My point being there has to be someone with whom the buck stops.  There has to be someone who is the last resort, the last court of appeal.  For the East, that person was the Emperor, and the same attitude crept into Reformation Europe – Henry in England declared himself Supreme Head of the Church (softened by his successors to Supreme Governor), and the princes of Europe, whether Catholic or Protestant, were quite happy to carve out spiritual as well as temporal authority for themselves: cuius regio, eius religio, an attitude supported by the Reformers as well, as we see with Luther throwing his support behind the German princes in the matter of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1525.  Lutheran princes and English monarchs were just as happy to persecute for heresy as their Catholic counterparts, though generally both sides were more interested in the politics and the temporal power accruing from such struggles.  What lands did we see State Churches arising in (do we still see surviving to this day?) where you could be fined for non-attendance at compulsory religious services?  Church of England – where the Lords Spiritual sit in the House of Lords, one of the two Chambers of the British Parliament.  On the other hand, Catholic clergy are forbidden to run for or take up any public office.  The Caesaro-papism of the Orthodox Churches, Lutheran churches in the Nordic countries, Germany’s state-deducted “church tax”, Bismarck’s Kulturkampf and the Falk Laws; China’s Patriotic Catholic Association…ask the 17th and 18th century Dissenters and Non-Conformists how freely Protestant England allowed them to exercise their conscience when it came to the Church of England by Law Established.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the Reformation happened not despite the Papacy, but because of the Papacy.  Not the obvious reasons, but that it was enabled precisely because for centuries the Catholic Church had been fighting the attempts of secular rulers to run local church affairs as one more branch of their temporal power.  Ironically, because of the attitude that religion was free from external interference, this spurred on the Reformers to stand up and exercise that freedom of conscience.

“But…but…the Inquisition!”

Which one?  The Spanish Inquisition, which is what most people mean?  There were several Inquisitions – there was one at Rome, also.  But the Spanish Inquisition is another example of temporal political exercise of power.  The monarchs who had just driven out the Muslim rulers were seeking a means of unifying the individual provinces of Spain.  They embarked on a programme of cultural identity politics – can you say “culture wars” and “America was founded as a Christian nation and has always been a Christian nation”? – that was just as much about creating an ideal of national identity and either assimilating or purging any ‘foreign’ elements – Jews and Muslims.  It was under the direct control of the monarchy and often came into conflict with the Papacy.

Anyway, back to my main topic:

And 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. And 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.


And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.


So when they had eaten breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Feed My lambs.”

He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?”

He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”

He said to him, “Tend My sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?”

And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep.  Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.” This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.”

These are the verses upon which all the claims rest.  That Peter was given authority and responsibility above the rest of the Twelve.  That this authority and responsibility devolves upon his successors.  That, just as it seemed necessary to the Twelve to elect one to fill the place of Judas, that those appointed after them share in the teaching office of the Apostles.

That is what the Magisterium is: not just a collection of Tradition and writings, but a living thing, as the Word of God is a living Person, not just a collection of writings gathered in a canon.  The Pope and the bishops in communion have the duty to exercise this teaching office – as Paul exercised his teaching office, writing his Epistles to the churches he had founded and guiding them.

The Pope has much less power than what is popularly imagined.  He can and does claim my obedience in matters of faith and morals.  He cannot bind the Universal Church to eat its greens or ride a bicycle to work instead of driving an SUV.  The Pope cannot declare the Official Nut, Cereal, Beverage or Fashion Colour of the Roman Catholic Church and the Churches in Communion with Her.

The claim is that of infallibility, not of impeccability.  What that means is that we believe the Pope – any Pope – is not going to teach false doctrine.  That does not mean the Pope is sinless (and as you saw in the first half of this, there is plenty of evidence of that).  All it means is that we believe Jesus when He said the Church would be preserved.  We believe the Holy Spirit works to prevent heresy and false teaching – and that’s all.  Even the worst of the Popes didn’t, for some odd reason, mess around with things even when they could have changed disciplines to make things easier for themselves.  After all, if the Pope can marry, then he can have legitimate offspring who can inherit all the fat benefices and prime posts of the Church just like his secular family inherit titles and crowns – and yet, this was never done, despite all the grabbing and nepotism and trading of offices the noble families indulged in.

Leo X spent money like water on hunting and the arts and amusements – and also on hospitals, schools, charitable institutions; he protected the rights of the Uniate Greeks and showed favour to the Jews of Rome.  Even the disgusting Benedict IX did not use his office to declare that sin was not sin (and so absolve himself of guilt and crime), which makes him a hypocrite but not a heretic.  Men who owed their position to patronage, to buying the office, to exerting pressure and even violence against rivals, once they were in power never changed the basic doctrines (even while they were disgraces in all other ways and were grabbing temporal power in as huge swathes as they could).  And in between the infamous, there were truly pious, devout, believing men who steered the Barque of Peter.

There’s a Borgia saint (a Portuguese cousin of the Roman branch) and not because his family bought that status, but because he gave up worldly power and entered a life of religion.

The worst of them – and the worst have been very bad indeed – had yet some spark of something that preserved us from what they might have done.  The best of them – and there have been some very good ones – have had faults.  They’re men, not gods, and most assuredly not in the place of God.  Look at the history of the Church, look at all those who have been assured that today, finally, the hour is come when this thing, this mass of corruption, this superstitious nonsense is finally defeated (by the Bible in the vernacular, by the Enlightenment, by democracy, by science) and yet survives and remains.  Look at Jerusalem and Antioch and Alexandria and Constantinople, and all the churches that were honoured, established, and great when Rome was a dusty backwater relic of past greatness fit only to be used for quarrying building material from the rubble of antiquity, clinging on to its patrimony from Peter.  That’s not us or our doing, that’s the Holy Spirit.

All the Popes are like the first Pope, Peter, who was rebuked by Jesus Himself as “Satan” only moments after his declaration of faith in Christ; who denied his Lord three times and repented bitterly; who went along with the Judaizers for the sake of not rocking the boat; yet who was sent the vision from God to back up Paul; who went to Rome, yet in popular legend was persuaded to flee persecution until, on the outskirts of Rome, he met Jesus “going to Rome, to be crucified again” and returned to be executed on the cross of shame, whose (reputed) bones are at the heart and foundation of the massive, glorious structure of St. Peter’s and are still the rock upon which the Church rests as She clings to the hand of Her Saviour, crying “Lord, save me!  Preserve me as You promised!”



  1. Thank you for your kindness in inviting me to write these, Jeff, and for the beautiful and appropriate art you selected to accompany the pieces.

    I’ve left out several points I wanted to address, but fire away in the comments and we’ll thrash it all out!

  2. I think many of us “happy enough protestants” would disagree with the infallibility claims in regards to doctrine. Great article though.

    • The doctrine of infallibility is narrow but penetrating. It doesn’t meant the Pope Bruce the 19th can decide off the top of his little pointy head that Mary was actually a Roman matron who’d been married three times already and was pregnant by Alexander the Great, for instance. It doesn’t even mean that Pope Jerry the 8th can say “From now on, the Mass will be celebrated using rice crackers for the coeliacs in the congregation” (and that’s a lively topic, just to take one).

      It says that when the Pope is exercising the teaching office of the Church to define dogma, in conjunction with the sensus fidelium (and that’s another concept that causes much argument), considering the teaching of the Magisterium that has gone before, he will be preserved from error because the Holy Spirit is at work in the Body of Christ and because, in the verse quoted above, Jesus has assured us that the gates of Hell will not prevail.

      It doesn’t mean Pope Jim will be a good man. It doesn’t mean Pope Tom will never make a mistake. It doesn’t mean that the Church will be correct in Her pronouncements on science (at this point we all bow our heads and reverently murmur “The Galileo affair”), politics, or dress hemlines and the length they should be. All it means is that past teaching, the Scriptures, and the core doctrines cannot be contradicted, and heresy cannot (will not) be made official teaching.

      It’s tricky, because on a purely human level, the claims sound absurd and outrageous – and if we’re looking at the hierarchy and the bureaucracy as a human institution, they are absurd. It’s the supernatural element, though, that is at stake here.

      And so far, only two dogmas have been defined using Papal Infallibility: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the doctrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin.

      Even the encylicals, which are the ordinary teaching and governing documents, don’t invoke infallibility. When Pope John Paul II issued his Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” in 1994 on the ordination of women, he did not invoke infallibility (which ironically gives hope to the very persons who would most decry the use or even the existence of such a notion, because they can always say “If it wasn’t defined under infallibility, it can always be revisited”), Even the most thundering past denunciations of Protestants as heretics didn’t involve infallibility. That’s why popes have to be very, very careful and are generally very, very reluctant to invoke this power, because it’s going to be set in stone as part of the universal, binding, irrevocable teaching of the Church for centuries. Five hundred years down the line, Pope Mike is going to be bound by what Pope Greg defined ex cathedra.

      Speaking from inside Catholicism, it does amuse me (in a black-humour sort of way) when both those from the fringe on the left and on the right want the Pope to use this big stick much more freely than he does: the very liberal are pinning their hopes on “The next Pope for sure!” who will introduce all the reforms they want; the irony here is that they argue that individual conscience trumps blanket imposition, yet they want women’s ordination/divorce and re-marriage/anti-capitalism/name-your-cause to be made a matter of settled teaching that has to be accepted by all and can’t be changed. Meanwhile, the politically-conservative (I distinguish from the socially-conservative because I’m socially- but not so much politically-conservative myself) who are all about “This are the rules, and you Have. To. Obey.” want mass excommunications and anathemas – except when it comes to their pet doctrines, like capitalism or torture – excuse me, enhanced interrogation. Then suddenly it’s all “Oh, but the Catechism says nothing about ____ and anyway, how do you define _____???”, not to mention that the Pope (current or former) is a bleeding-heart liberal or unworldly scholar because growing up in occupied Poland or Nazi Germany during the Second World War means he has/had no concept of what real hardship and real evil looks like.

      This is also why I tend to scream softly and gently pull my hair out when a big, splashy story about “Church changes teaching on…” appears in the media, because No. Just, no. That’s part of the problem with having one, coherent, interconnected system of philosophy: outsiders tend to treat, say, ‘fish on Fridays’ as being on the same level of seriousness as the Real Presence. Discipline can be changed, the same way secular society can repeal laws; doctrines can be re-visited and re-examined. Dogmas stay the same.

  3. BTW, I love your writing and wanted to find out more about you, but I noticed there isn’t any bio information on Martha of Ireland… very mysterious…
    Are you iMonk’s equivalent of “The Stig”?

    • Some say she lives in a hermitage on Skellig Michil. Some say she once levitated in front of a Marian grotto. We say – she’s a bad-tempered Irishwoman who’s your stereotypical Bad Catholic!


  4. I’m an Orthodox Christian. I was raised Catholic. I find this all, ummm, interesting. ;D

    Today is the Feast of the Ascension! In this, Martha, we can both delight and agree:
    “Thou hast ascended in glory, O Christ our God!”

    Be blessed…


    • We all know that the real Pope(s) live on Mount Athos, Laura 😉

      “God goes up with shouts of joy, the Lord goes up with trumpet blasts!”

  5. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict) has a book titled Called to Communion that gives insight into the dichotomy of Peter being at once the rock and the skandalon (stumbling block), showing how it is God who works through the bishop of Rome.

  6. i think for many non-Catholics the concept of being an immoral person while retaining a confered spiritual title a bit problematic…

    to keep with the concept of ‘false apostles’ Paul addressed on more than one occasion that talk the talk, but are not devoted to living out the truths they espouse, i must side with those that do wonder how such a contradiction can be ‘preserved’ by tradition…

    i think there are very current ‘Protestant’ versions of new Apostles claiming similar authority: C. Peter Wagner anybody? if the concept of being a valid Pope continues despite the life one lives, then the claims of Todd Bentley being a divinely anointed healer that had, well, a bit of a moral problem, worthy of consideration. you see, the Protestants do the same thing with their darlings of movements deemed ‘of God’.

    when Jesus said He will build His church, it was not the organizational variety that evolved thru the machinations of men. and if Jesus is truly the Head of the Church, His Body, then the idea of a CEO type that was setup to oversee the ‘business’ end of church things something contrary to His ‘servant of all’ concept of kingdom leadership…

    personally i have had a big issue with the idea that Christian character, moral fortitude, true conversion+commitment to the gospel is indeed separate from any perceived spiritual authority or title or leadership role whether real or imagined. and if Jesus really, really had a role or title or headship in mind like that i would be ready to seriously consider the teachings of the Jesus Seminar…

    “Do as I say, not as I do?” but i have the ‘official’ title & Papal regalia & insignia to proclaim it??? there is a big disconnect here that is not easily dismissed by either tradition or Apostolic succession. it appears that no matter the human agent being promoted, ultimately it is seeking the Head of the Church that is the true Image of what being a Christian should be like. and the original Apostles did not intend to confer any type of church leadership to ungodly, immoral, unrepentant, worldly, unsanctified, selfish, power hungry control types. if any Pope did not emulate Peter in his personal witness, let alone Jesus the Christ, then the tradition jumped the track at that point. why the desire to champion a so-called Papal position when the character of those that claimed such exhibited the worst fruit of men corrupted by lust, power, intrigue, worldly comfort? makes no sense to me…

    • Sure, Joseph. That’s why I kicked off with all the scandal – and God knows, there has been enough of it to choke an elephant (white or not).

      If we’re talking about the Church and Her leaders and servants as humans, then it’s nonsense. Or if you like, it’s the exact same as the Twelve, where only one (John) stood by all the way to the foot of the Cross and the other eleven ranged from Peter’s bluster and denial with oaths and curses to Judas’ treachery, and the rest of them not exactly covering themselves in glory either (Thomas who was so profoundly material that he could have had a best-seller a la Bart Erhman with “Show me proof or you’re all nuts!”, despite having been there for the raising of the dead and casting out of demons, for example).

      So we pretty much started as we meant to go on.

      But unjust judges (like the infamous ‘hanging judge’ Judge Jeffreys) or wicked kings or murderous doctors or venal politicans don’t mean we give up on law or medicine or government. It’s a fallen world and we’re not what we should be. That’s why we need a Saviour in the first place, last place, and all the places in-between.

      • sorry Martha, the “we are all sinners” argument, or the idea of secular government being on par with true spiritual authority not going to make it for this skeptical saint…

        if The Church is an earthly kingdom+government, then the concept of title or position or rule intended to keep order even with immoral people in charge seems plausible…

        however, it breaks down when speaking of the kingdom & the purpose of the church being in the world, but not of it…

        i believe there are no such caveats in the rules of the kingdom. no such exemptions of status or role or title. in the kingdom there is one Golden Standard. and there is no way to get around Him…

        i can accept the idea of religious tradition wanting to ‘preserve’ organizational hierarchy, prestige, authority, headship, influence. as such there is no difference between such a fiefdom & any of the earthly forms of government it resembles. but if the kingdom is truly not of the this world, & in fact, contrary to such organizational arrangements (Luke 22:24-26), then my reticence remains unconvinced.

        i am not going to make any other statements pro/con regarding the topic since my own personal faith & experience not the one others will be measured against. i simply find it unplausible from both a logical perspective let alone a spiritual one. it will remain one of those theological ‘head scratcher conundrums’ for me i suppose…

        good historical presentation though. kudos.


        • As the man says “You gotta serve somebody”.

          It may not be the Pope, but it’ll be someone. Even if it’s just you and your Bible, it’ll be dependent on who put that Bible into your hands and taught you the principles of interpretation.

          Even if it’s a Perfect Church of One – where did those Scriptures come from in the first place? Why four Gospels and not five? Who says and how does he/do they get to say?

          As for the Kingdom on Earth, even in the very first days, we see a necessity to sort out administration and lines of command in Acts 6:

          “1And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.

          2Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.

          3Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

          4But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.”

          “In the world and not of it” still means in the world.

          • I believe the “man” was referring to serving God or the devil (even if we elevate Dylan to inspired status :-))

            The argument that exercising free will and rationality is equal to the type of religious authority weilded by the pope is extremely odd to me. Yes, I am colored by my tradition and training, but that is a far cry from the top-down bureaucratic authority you are talking about.

          • See, that’s the idea – that it is top-down religious authority. The reality is, though, that it’s exercised in concert with all his brother bishops. The Pope should (ideally) be expressing the mind of the Church.

            He has the last word, but that’s more of an emergency brake rather than anything else – the ultimate means of keeping us from going off the rails. He is a shepherd, and sheep will run themselves over cliffs. Now, when the shepherds are wolves, you’ve got trouble. But sheep running off in all different directions themselves get into trouble, too.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Even if it’s a Perfect Church of One – where did those Scriptures come from in the first place?

            Hint: They weren’t dictated word-for-word by God in Kynge Jaymes Englyshe.

            More like the bishops of Martha’s and my church (and Orthocuban’s — they were one and the same back then) kept the local Shirley Mac Laines from rewriting it in their own “modern” image back when years AD were in the low three digits. Kept them from rewriting it by force if necessary.

    • Now, the corollary of all that is, as I said, that there has to be someone in charge. Even the denominations, movements, churches, groups and all the others who arose before, during and after the Reformation ended up with some form of government or some body that has the last say.

      Because ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ and if there is no pope, someone will always be tempted to step in. Like the princes and kings, who assumed (or tried to assume) the spiritual authority as an offshoot of their temporal authority. Or as you say, the self-anointed prophets who make themselves into little popes – and there’s even a Catholic version of that, in the sad tale of Pope Michael I, an American who lives in Kansas and maintains he is the true Head of the Church. Another example of the irony that the very conservative traditionalists who went wild about Vatican II reforms to the point of declaring that they alone were the true faithful who were maintaining the historic apostolic faith in its fullness and purity ended up as sedevacantists (literally, “empty-seaters”, as they maintain that the Chair of Peter is vacant and no legitimate Pope has been elected since Pius X, Pius XII or John XXIII) and have now splintered into groups like this: the universal church, the Body of Christ, reduced to six people and one of them the Pope.

      The office of the Papacy does have checks on it, but most importantly, we do believe it was instituted by Christ and is maintained by the Holy Spirit. The duties remain as laid on Peter: strengthen your brethren, feed My sheep and My lambs.

      • “Now, the corollary of all that is, as I said, that there has to be someone in charge. Even the denominations, movements, churches, groups and all the others who arose before, during and after the Reformation ended up with some form of government or some body that has the last say.”

        The “last say” is really Christ, as He is the Head of the church. However, in regards to church structure, how much formal structure is too much, and does there have to be 1 person at the top? Likewise, there is plenty of indication in Scripture that several held positions of authority in the early church. If Galatians is any indication, Paul did not get the email that said Peter was in charge ;^)

        Before the Great Schism, Rome had a place of honor, but it was still seen as 1st “among equals”.

        • But Paul in Galatians does make a big deal of meeting Peter, and particularly of how he stood up to Peter. That indicates that Peter was perceived to have some special authority, or some ‘casting vote’, or something about him that was even more than the rest of the Apostles. He doesn’t say “James and Thomas agreed with me” or “You all know that Peter cannot tell us what to do” or the likes:

          “18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.”

          “11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.”

          What’s so special about Peter that Paul should want to be known to him? That he stands up and publically opposes him?

          I don’t maintain that the role and functions of the papacy did not develop over time, or that in the first days (including those of Peter) that he functioned in precisely the same identical manner as, say, Benedict does today. I do say that he and his successors were perceived to have some overarching authority that made their voice important.

          • Rick’s point, I believe, was not that Peter was not a leader in the church, but that he was in no wise considered anything like infallible in his leadership, teaching or example, nor did he retain that position of leadership through his life (James seems to be more in charge by the end of Acts).

          • Daniel-

            Thanks, and yes, you are correct about my point.

          • Rick and Daniel: I would recommend Fortescue’s The Early Papacy to the Synod of Chalcedon 451 for a look at the primacy–more than first among equals–given to the bishop of Rome by bishops both East and West even prior to the year 451.

          • If Peter is seen as the first pope, and Paul stands up to him in Galatians 1, does that make Paul the first Protestant reformer?

            You did say earlier that we Protestants use Paul as a kind of pope (or in this case anti-pope).

          • Ted, even women(!) admonished popes and rebuked them–see St. Catherine of Siena’s life where she did this multiple times.

          • Devin,

            I agree that even before the fifth century the bishop of Rome exercised some sort of primacy, (though Church historian Michael Walsh notes that “Papal authority as it is now exercised, with its accompanying doctrine of Papal infallibility, cannot be found in theories about the Papal role expressed by early Popes and other Christians the first 500 years”). The question that concerns me is whether this was a move by the Spirit, in line with the teachings of Jesus and the inspired New Testament, or was it something…less.

            In any case, I don’t think a anything like a line of succession can be built. As Philip Schaff, one of the greatest church historians, writes: the oldest links in the chain of Roman bishops are veiled in impenetrable darkness.

          • And to Ted’s point, the rebuke by Paul was different than popes being later rebuked for two reasons:

            First, it was not about personal indescretions, but a doctrinal issue at the very heart of the gospel.
            Second, Paul’s rebuke and correction of Peter has the authority of divine writ.

          • Daniel,

            Regarding the rebuke, Peter knew very well what he should be doing–God had powerfully demonstrated the Gentiles’ inclusion in salvation and the Church–but in weakness he waffled in his behavior. So it was not a doctrinal pronouncement.

            Schaff was, of course, a Protestant. 🙂 If we’re talking the first four bishops of Rome, sure we don’t know much about them other than their names (excepting Clement). But succession itself is testified to by Clement, Irenaeus, and many others. It was the clear way that rightful authority was transmitted in the early Church. Why else in the year 325 would the Church’s bishops meet in an ecumenical council and make a binding, dogmatic pronouncement on Arianism?

          • Devin,

            I don’t understand how this could not be a doctrinal issue. It centered on what the gospel meant! To make a distinction between Peter’s behaviour about a doctrinal question and his teaching about a doctrinal question seems artificial if he is the undisputed head of the Church!

            And the statements from Clement and the others would have to be examined in context. I suspect that many of us read back our meaning of “apostolic succession” into their words.

          • Devin Rose: But Paul beat all the women to it!

            Daniel: I don’t think Luther was attacking a personal indiscretion so much as he was a doctrinal issue, same as Paul was—namely, that of sola fide. The selling of indulgences could be considered a personal indiscretion, but it was the final straw in the load on the camel’s back.

            My argument about Paul being the first reformer falls apart unless the Catholics insist that Peter is the first pope. Martha???

          • This is cool. Can’t keep up with the cross-posting.

          • Ted, I wasn’t thinking of Luther, but responding to the women mentioned in Devon’s comment

          • Gotta go; sorry to leave a good discussion.


          • Ted, Paul does seem to me to be testing or putting up his authority against Peter’s leadership or headship or influence or example, in a way that he doesn’t do to any others. He doesn’t deal with Apollos, for example, in the same way – and yes, I know, Apollos is a whipper-snapper who pops up out of nowhere and needs to be set straight by the older and wiser heads.

            Paul is writing to different congregations, not just teaching them, but obviously instructing them as to how they should comport themselves. He certainly doesn’t seem to have the idea that ‘Right, I planted you and now I’m on to the next town and you can run along for yourselves’. The funny thing to me is that Protestants (in general) seem quite comfortable with Paul being the father and head of a whole bunch of churches that he regards as his spiritual children to rebuke, and guide, and be involved in their proceedings on an on-going basis, yet bring up the notion of the Pope in a similar role, and suddenly it’s chills down the spine 🙂

          • Paul makes a point of correcting Peter and telling the Galatians about it because Peter was the one (not Apollos) making the error the Galatians were falling into.

            You are right, I don’t have a problem with Paul giving instructions to local churches in his epistles because oh his unique status as “apostle to the gentiles” and the fact that he was writing under inspiration at a time when the church had only the Hebrew Bible.

          • Martha, I see what you mean now about Paul as a pope to Protestants. But he could be seen as a counterpart of Luther too, if Peter was at all considered “pope” back in those days, and I don’t think that’s likely. So your point is better. But Paul probably more resembled a bishop (as well as missionary).

            I don’t even think the office of pope was a problem for the early reformers, nor was the veneration of Mary so much, nor the images and icons. Luther and Co. could have made peace with these practices, but the real problem was the grace/works matter, sola fide, and the selling of indulgences that illustrated the problem. And Rome’s unwillingness to acknowledge anything wrong. Had Rome been willing, and recanted, we might all be calling Luther “Saint Martin”.

            But popes are certainly a problem for Protestants today. It’s what we’re expected to believe, not even knowing why.

          • Devin-

            “Why else in the year 325 would the Church’s bishops meet in an ecumenical council and make a binding, dogmatic pronouncement on Arianism?”

            But that is a good example of the position for (many) Protestants: it was a wide consensus of churches represented. It was not a pronouncement of just 1 person.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        …the sad tale of Pope Michael I, an American who lives in Kansas and maintains he is the true Head of the Church.

        There’s a sidebar in Conspiracy Theories and Secret Societies for Dummies listing Pope Mike I and some of the others (betcha didn’t know the Vatican’s really in a general store in rural Kansas!)

        …as they maintain that the Chair of Peter is vacant and no legitimate Pope has been elected since Pius X, Pius XII or John XXIII) and have now splintered into groups like this: the universal church, the Body of Christ, reduced to six people and one of them the Pope.

        This sounds like another turn of phrase from the same book: “Ten guys in socks chanting in the living room Syndrome.”

    • Our Protestant leaders may lack official title, but still exert a great deal of influence in the western Christian world…Some hang on every word that John Piper, John MacArthur, and John Calvin (also known as I John, II John, and III John in some circles), Rick Warren, Billy Graham, TD Jakes, or Joyce Meyer might utter, while others look to politics, pop culture, or denominational affiliation for their “Protestant Pope” (Anyone ever heard of Ted Haggard? Pat Robertson? Jerry Falwell?). The more level-headed, and perhaps cerebral of us called John Stott “The Evangelical Pope” for a generation!

      Let’s not pretend that Protestant leadership has been without its own share of scandal, while we throw stones at those dirty ol’ Catholics. From Piper’s name-calling to Haggard’s and Swaggart’s escapades, significant Protestant leaders have done some pretty ugly things, both morally and theologically…our own untitled “Popes” have done plenty to hurt the cause of Christ. I think Miss Martha makes a good point that though many of the Popes may have been perfectly flawed, but there weren’t so many that were outright apostate…..(coughing as I say the names Jefferts Schori and Osteen).

      Now, if you’ll all excuse me, I’m going to go steam my clergy collars and pray the Lorica on my Anglican beads.

      Thanks, Miss Martha, for the wonderful writing! When does the book come out? :o)

      • Any book-writing will have to be a pulse-pounding thriller of the End Times with Headless Unicorn Guy doing the actual writing while I loll around stuffing my face with the new season Wexford strawberries and languidly throwing out plot suggestions (e.g. call the Anti-Christ Pope “Sixtus VI” and make him Cardinal Sestito) in collaboration with nedbrek, as may be seen in the comment thread over on the first half of this post.

        Since me and Headless are not able to speak from personal experience with regards to the sweet bonds of matrimony and seven-day sex challenges, that means nedbrek will have to write all the sex scenes (there have to be romance scenes between the rock-jawed hero and the voluptuous heroine, naturally!) Me and Headless will handle all the evil cackling, racking and iron maidening of heretics, and convoluted plots extending over centuries to concentrate power into the wizened claws of the Pope, culminating in the incarnation of Anti-Christ in the person of said Cardinal due to Augustinian* cloning experiments with DNA extracted from the Shroud of Turin.

        *Yes, Augustinian, not Jesuit**. Remember, the Father of Genetics, Fr. Gregor Mendel, was the abbot of an Augustinian monastery in the Austo-Hungarian Empire, and studied physics under Christian Doppler himself.

        ** Yes, the Jesuits will be there, of course. They can be responsible for the exotic Chinese technology that was smuggled to the Vatican from their missions while the Church repressed scientific enquiry in Europe in order to keep this knowledge for itself.


      • textjunkie says

        No, I don’t excuse you. Keep your insults re: my Presiding Bishop to yourself, thanks very much.

        • re: my Presiding Bishop…

          wasn’t she raised Roman Catholic???

          • textjunkie says

            Yeah, in her early childhood. If that’s the tongue-in-cheek meaning Lee was pointing at, I’ll take my blood pressure down. Didn’t seem like it from the context.

          • No one should take extra BP meds! Almost everything I write is tongue-in-cheek! Though I am ACNA, I’m not a cradle Episcopalian, so I do generally try to avoid the bitter rapport…please forgive me if I did enter that arena, and stir emotions. Sometimes I have difficulty following my own advice to folks who get involved deeply in the negative rapport…”Always remember, keep Jesus at the center of the conversation.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        (also known as I John, II John, and III John in some circles)

        AKA “One-Eyed John, Two-Eyed John, and Three-Eyed John.”
        — J Vernon Magee

    • Don’t forget “Pope Haggard” from Colorado Springs. That has all the sensation of scandel!! Drugs, prostitutes, and Colorado’s Amendment 2 as the backdrop!!!

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Not to mention CELEBRITY cameo in that New Christian Sex Comedy movie IMonk mentioned a few days ago!

  7. textjunkie says

    I’ll definitely agree that someone ends up in charge, though being Episcopalian and/or raised in a representative democracy, I like have a body of representatives at the top rather than a single person. (If you think the Presiding Bishop of TEC is like a Pope you haven’t seen General Convention in full steam. 😉 (Though recently linked memos seem to indicate the Archbishop of Canterbury can behave like a full-blooded Borgia when he gets going. 😉

    There’s a real distinction in how the power works when there’s a single heartbeat at the end of it, rather than a really messy mass of contradictory opinions.

    • There is definitely a difference when there’s someone who can say “Okay, that’s enough, both of you sit down and be quiet!”

      The tussle between the Franciscans and the Dominicans (and the uproar in the universities this engendered) about the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is one example; they both broadly agreed that Mary was without Original Sin, but they disagreed on was this from the very moment of her conception or not, and this dragged on with accusations of heresy flying around on both sides from some time in the mid-13th century up to the early 17th, when Pope Gregory XV told both sides to cool it until the Holy See defined the question (he “imposed absolute silence (in scriptis et sermonibus etiam privatis)”, according to the “Catholic Encylopedia”) – which it eventually did in 1854.

      Vatican time is in no hurry, as you can see 🙂

      Another example would be the Assumption; did Mary die or was she assumed body and soul into Heaven while still alive? The Eastern church says she died; the Catholic church has no formal decision one way or the other (the inclination is towards a consensus that she did die, but you’re free to think she didn’t). Now, maybe in another hundred years there will be a dogmatic decision on this – or not. But only if it gets to the point of hair-pulling and bloody noses, and then the Holy Father will divide the combatants and tell them “If you don’t sit down and behave, you’re going to bed without any supper!”


      • textjunkie says

        Yeah, that’s what I say to my friends who are Catholic but still get unhappy about the church’s views on homosexuality and women priests and all that–the church has been known to change its mind, but dang, it can take centuries…! Makes 40 years’ arguing about women’s ordination look downright hasty.

      • “… he Holy Father will divide the combatants and tell them “If you don’t sit down and behave, you’re going to bed without any supper!”

        Or perhaps:
        “You can’t have your pudding if you don’t eat your meat!” 😉

  8. With all this talk about Popes, I just have to tell you that I finished the second book that Pope Benedict XVI wrote about Jesus, this one being about the events of Holy Week, including the resurrection and ascension.

    Here are some beautiful words from Pope Benedict on page 286, “Christ, at the Father’s right hand, is not far away from us. At most, we are far from him, but the path that joins us to one another is open. And this path is not a matter of space-travel of a cosmic-geographical nature: it is the ‘space travel’ of the heart, from the dimension of self-enclosed isolation to the new dimension of world-embracing divine love!”

    I say Amen to that! I really like his writing. I think non-Catholics will find nothing opposed to what they believe about Jesus and the Church in this book. There are only a couple references to Mary that may cause them some pause, but when they hit those paragraphs, I recommend they skip over the paragraphs and keep on going! Also, he says a few things that may make some people feel that he believes ALL people will be saved through Jesus. I know he would LIKE all to be saved and I know that he prays for that to happen. What else would we expect that he would do? He preaches God reconciling the world to Himself through Jesus. He preaches Jesus coming to the world in the flesh, remaining with us forever through the Spirit even though we don’t see him physically and coming back to judge and reign forever. This is Christianity and it is truly amazing that this message has been transmitted through the centuries. Even the corrupt bishops throughout history have not been able to stifle the message of Jesus! The Holy Spirit has a lot to do with that. We can see Christians behaving badly; we can see ourselves committing the same sins over and over again and yet there is that gentle Holy Spirit who reminds us of who Jesus was and is and who we are as children of God.

    • That’s exactly the point, Joanie: you look at it as a human concern, and it’s impossible to imagine how the hell it survived past the third century, particularly with the shenanigans of some of the popes.

      It has to be the Holy Spirit, which is reassuring for the faithful; we’re not depending in the end on fallible men but on the Spirit working through the Church to preserve the Bride.

      It’s scary, of course, that they are fallible men who have their hands on the tiller, but there is this grain of comfort: no matter how badly they muck it up, they can’t quite run the ship aground.

    • Lovely thought especially as we round the corner to Pentecost on this the Feast of the Ascension.

  9. Martha, thank you for your well written essay.

    I see a couple arguments here that I would like to break down in individual comments.

    First is the argument that popehood is, if not universal across denominations and traditions, pretty close. You write, “it’s not just Catholics who have a Pope”, and then list several Christian traditions and their leaders. Your point, as you say, is that “there has to be someone with whom the buck stops”.

    The form of the argument seems to be, then:

    P1: all, or almost all, Christian traditions have some sort of authority figure
    P2: they do this because of the need to have “someplace the buck stops”
    C: therefore, the roman papacy is no worse than other traditions.

    If I don’t have this right, please correct me.

    I would argue the following points:

    First, I would deny the first premise. It seems to me to be a hasty generalization, for several, or even dozens, of examples would not establish it to be anything like normative. Also, it seems to me that the premise in this context also commits the fallacy of equivocation, since the nature, type, and effect of the different authorities is likely to be so different that the concept of a spiritual authority does not mean the same thing across the discussion.

    I would argue premise two is begging the question, since this is part of the argument to be debated, not a conclusion accepted by all.

    Thus the conclusion (or anything like a justification of papal authority) is not supported by the above premises.

    • I think Martha pointed out in an earlier comment that there is some authority for you–even if it is your own interpretation of Scripture, in which case the ultimate interpretive authority is yourself.

      • I would argue that everyone who exercises free will is, in some way, his own authority, even if he uses that free will to submit to an earthly man in all things religious. However, to equate this with the type of orginizational authority used to bind the conscience, actions and teachings of others seems to be very confused.

        • Hmmm, the difference isn’t in whether one person uses his free will and reason but with the object that is discovered.

          I would assume that your conscience is bound by the sixty-six-book (Protestant) Bible? But for it to be bound by that, you also need to have conscience-binding certainty in the canon itself (that tells you the Bible has those exact sixty-six books), and I would argue that, if you accept Protestantism’s founding principles, you cannot have conscience-binding certainty in your canon (or in any canon). In any event, this probably goes beyond the scope of this article. I’d recommend this post from Called to Communion: If you are interested in the other topic, you can search that same site for sola scriptura vs. solo scriptura and “the tu quoque”. God bless!

  10. Martha,

    Wonderful defense of the Papacy! And I say this has a “happy enough protestant.” I will not swim the Tiber, but I do appreciate a good defense when I see one.

    The best title I have heard for Peter in the New Testament was that he was the “prime minister.” Some Catholic apologists like Scott Hahn have used that title as well to explain the Papacy, which makes the Papacy sound better than it really is.

    For instance, prime ministers can be voted out of office if the parliament votes “no confidence.” To my knowledge, this has never happened in the history of the Roman church, and probably never will. The issue is the stance of papal infallibility; if the pope is infallible when he proclaims doctrines relating to faith and morals, he can’t voted out on account of no confidence.

    From there we arrive at a situation in which the Pope is responsible for appointing all bishops all over the world. Which means that a Latin bishop is essentially a priest who can ordain and not much else. Latin bishops below the Pope derive their authority from the Pope, not from themselves. Isn’t a strict, centralized structure like this bound to have serious, but perfectly avoidable problems?

    I’m not arguing against episcopacy per se, but the peculiar version of it that exists in the Roman church.

  11. I would suggest that evangelicals have their “Pope’s” today….just minus the language. Who are some of these Pope’s?

    John Piper
    Mark Driscoll
    Your Super Star Mega Church Pastor
    Billy Graham
    Pat Robertson
    the late great Jerry Falwell (here in Virginia that is among the Baptists…)
    the late great Bill Bright (in CCC circles….)

    In some ways I don’t think evangelicals are far off from Catholcis on this issue. The difference is that Catholics don’t worship the Pope, yet many fundys worship John Piper or Mark Driscoll. Every word that John Piper utters might as well be from the good Lord himself!! Let’s face it and cut the crap. There are fundygelicals who do the very thing they accuse the Catholics of doing. End of story…

    • Sweet Jesus…I left out the gracious leader from Graceless to You ministries!! Mr. John MacArthur 😯

  12. Martha

    Regarding the biblical evidence, I would note that only the first of these could actually be construed as supporting some sort of special leadership position for Peter. The command to “strengthen your brothers” is something that could be said to any of the twelve, and does not denote leadership but service. The beautiful exchange in the last chapter of John is detailed to show that just as Peter denied the Lord three times, Jesus restored him three times to his apostleship.

    The passage in Matthew 16 is key, then, and all recognize it as central to the claim of Peter being linked to the papacy.

    Your give a standard Catholic interpretation of the passage, that is, that Jesus was saying he would build the church on Peter, the rock. I would offer the following points that may add light to the discussion;

    • Peter is called “petros” (a stone), while Jesus said he would build his church on “ta petra” (the rock). The first (petros) is in the masculine gender, the second (ta petra) in the feminine, which is unexpected if a straight identification is intended.
    • Petros is generally a smaller stone than petra (think rock instead of cliff).
    • Petros has a second person pronoun as a companion, while petra is used with a third person pronoun.
    • In the symbolism employed by Jesus, Peter is designated as the one who opens the doors to the kingdom. It would be odd (though possible) for a person to occupy two roles, e.g., the foundation and door-opener, at the same time in the same metaphorical illustration.
    • Thus, while there is obviously a word-play between “Peter” and “rock,” noted New Testament scholar Robert Mounce noted, with considerable force, that had Jesus intended to affirm clearly that Peter was to be the “foundation” of the church, he simply could have said: “And upon you I will build my church”
    • Frequently the “church fathers” are appealed to as proof that the early Christians believed that Peter was the “rock” upon which the church was founded. However, as Dreyer and Weller have shown, “Only sixteen out of the eighty-four early church fathers believed that the Lord referred to Peter when He said ‘this rock’”
    • If this conversation between Christ and Peter was intended to establish the fact that the church was to be built upon Peter himself (with the implication of successors), it is strange indeed that Mark, who produced his Gospel record from the vantage point of Peter (see Eusebius, 2.15), totally omits the exchange (see Mk. 8:27-30).
    • Even if Jesus did intend these words to be understood that Peter was the rock, the nature of that statement would have to be defined in light of the servant-leadership mandate of Jesus, not in organizational terms. It would also need to fit with the rest of the New Testament teaching that Peter was in serious doctrinal error at one point, and that James seems to be the leader of the church by the end of Acts.
    • Finally, and most importantly, this passage says absolutely nothing about Peter passing on this authority to successors of any kind. Nothing. Zip. Nada. It is simply not there. There is absolutely no way this passage can be used to justify some sort of organizational succession. It is not only absent from the discussion, the whole idea seems quite foreign to the discussion and the context.

    • Daniel, one of the pope’s titles is the “servants of the servants of God.” The pope is a servant-leader.

      The earliest Christians testify to apostolic succession and the authority of the bishops, Clement, Ignatius, Irenaeus, and so on.

      • My point was not whether popes can sometimes exercise servant leadership but whether orginizational and bureaucratic leadership was what Jesus had in mind in the context.

        As to succession, again, my point was not whether some sort of succession can or can not be treaced, (i think it impossible and Phillip Schaff, perhaps the greatest recent church historian, agrees). Rather, I was arguing the passage itself nowhere speaks of succession.

        • Daniel,

          Yes this passage doesn’t speak of succession. The best glimpse we get into succession in the Bible is Paul -> Timothy or Titus.

          Calling it organizational/bureaucratic leadership makes it sound negative, but the take Acts 15 when the Apostles and elders convened the Council of Jerusalem–an organizational action–in which they then ordered up a bureaucratic document with their decision to be disseminated throughout the churches by the bureaucratic hierarchy. You see what I’m getting at I think.

          • Devin

            I am glad you are agreeing that Matthew 16 is irrelevent to papal succession (and thus, the primacy of the pope today).

            We can analyze the statements in the pastorals if you want to base anything on those. Unfortuanately, i need to get off line soon, so will leave that up to you.

            The Acts 15 council is instructive; Peter gives his opinion, but James gives the “judgment” (verse 19) that the rest then follow. Thus, I do not see what you apparently see here.

            As I said, I need to leave. May I say that though we obviously disagree, I appreciate and respect your viewpoints and thoughts, and am glad for the tone of the “argument”.



          • Daniel,

            Just to be clear, I conceded that Matthew 16, in my opinion, does not seem to explicitly support apostolic succession. However, I think it strongly supports Petrine primacy. Apostolic succession is more strongly supported in other verses, as I alluded to, and has strong support in the writings of the early Christians.

            God bless! I appreciate your irenic tone as well,

        • In defense of a papacy, or episcopal form of government, let’s remember that the Church developed withing the Roman Empire, a monolith of hierarchy. Although the Church’s roots are in Judaism, the structure formed as if it were Roman. Acts 15, as Devin pointed out, is a good example of hierarchy developing and councils forming. 1 Timothy 3 outlines the qualifications for bishop (episcopon, or overseer) and deacon. An episcopal form of church government (episcopal referring to bishop/overseer) probably seemed as natural to them as a congregational form seems to us democratic Americans with our Congregational and Baptist churches.

          • You do realize that the terms translated bishop (or overseer) elder and pastor are used synonymously in the New Testament, right? They referred to a leader of a local congregation (and not what most people mean by bishop today).

            I’m not an expert, but the council of Acts 15 (again, with James presiding), seems more inline with the notion of “elders” which developed in Judaism than with the beauracracy of the Roman Empire. But again, I may be wrong.

          • Daniel, I guess I’m thinking of what developed over a longer period. And I won’t dispute that episcopon (literally “overseer” and etymologically where we get “bishop”) can also mean pastor or elder. But In 1 Timothy 3 Paul makes a distinction between bishop and deacon, which can mean servant or waiter. A deacon also seems to be a person in leadership because he (or she, in the case of Phoebe, but that’s another story) must also meet certain moral requirements. So there does seem to be a hierarchy developing.

          • Yes and I would point out that as early as the year 107, St. Ignatius’ martyrdom, he explicitly calls out the three-fold hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon, telling the faithful to obey their bishop.

    • Daniel,

      I didn’t respond to the big list of arguments you made about Peter/the rock in Matthew 16, but a friend of mine who also reads this site told me that some response should be made. Catholic Answers has good articles on these questions: here’s one that tackles the whole Peter/petros/petra/kepha thing:

      Catholics have solid rebuttals to all these arguments. One’s bias and preconceptions influence greatly which side of this issue one accepts.

      • From that site: “Note that Christ did not speak to the disciples in Greek”

        How do they know that? People in Europe speak 5 or 6 languages. Is it totally unbelievable that Jews living in the wake of the Greek empire would not speak Greek? Wasn’t that a big source of conflict in the culture, those who had mixed Greek practices with Judaism?

      • Devin,
        Thanks. I read the article, and it was helpful. I would note, though, that even if entirely true it only interacts with the first three point I made. Also, the real issue, as nedbrek alluded to, is whether Jesus and the disciples were actually speaking Aramaic. Most biblical scholars I have read believe the disciples and Jesus were trilingual: Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew, and that for the most part it is impossible to tell which language they were using at a particular point.

  13. Aidan Clevinger says


    I suppose my biggest objection would be that you (unintentionally, I’m sure) mischaracterize some of the Protestant (especially the Lutheran) objections to the idea of the Pope. It’s not that he claims authority. That would be fine. It’s that he claims that others MUST bow to his authority, and that said authority is divinely instituted. This is intolerable from the Scriptural point of view – look at Galatians. Paul, who was an Apostle of Christ, did not seek ordination or blessing from Peter – he didn’t even meet the man until years AFTER his ministry began. And you yourself admit that he went along with the Judaizers. Isn’t that supporting false doctrine? And doesn’t that do away with the idea of papal infallibility? And what about the rest of history?. Once, the Pope declared it heresy to believe that the Earth went round the Sun. Now he accepts it as a matter of scientific fact (other Christians made this transition, too, but they didn’t claim infallibility in all things doctrinal). Once, the Pope was perfectly willing to let people buy their way out of Purgatory. Now (unless I’m very much mistaken), this is almost universally anathemized by the modern Popes. Once, the Pope said that unless you believe in his identity as the Vicar of Christ you were outisde the Church and were damned. Now, the Pope concedes that there can be Christians in other denominations.

    So how, then, is the Pope infallible when it comes to his teaching?

    Furthermore, the biggest beef that we have with the Pope isn’t even his claims to authority. It’s that claim coupled with the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of works salvation. THAT’S the real kicker – or at least it is for the Lutherans. We would disagree strongly if the Pope claimed apostolic succession and doctrinal infallibility for himself, but so long as he still preached the Gospel it wouldn’t be quite as much of a big deal. But since he DOESN’T, since he outlaws the preaching of salvation by faith in Christ’s merits alone, then yes, we have an enormous deal with that. Just as we have an enormous deal with the doctrine of the Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Jehovah’s WItnesses, etc.

    I guess this is my position: I do not doubt your personal Christianity and faith in Christ. Nor do I doubt that there are many Catholics who are also Christians, just as there are many Lutherans who are in fact apostates. But I can’t exactly extend the right hand of fellowship to the Roman Catholic Church as an institution. And I still think that the Pope is the Antichrist. Blame Melancthon for that one.

    Sorry if this is long-winded/scatter-brained. And it really was a well-written essay.



    • Okay, to take a random example: Purgatory.

      The notion of indulgences and the Treasury of Merits and that suffrages can help the souls there to ‘shorten’ their penance (in whatever context ‘shorten’ makes sense) has never been abandoned. So it’s not a case of ‘Pope Joe said you could get out of Purgatory but Pope Jack says you can’t’.

      The selling of indulgences and allowing it to be a business is simony and that’s what is condemned (and there were objections at the time, and before that, about corruption and misuing the offices of the church as a money-making racket).

      The infallibility consists in a consistent, maintained, reasonably-developed stream of teaching. From that point, the teaching on Purgatory has not changed. Now, you can say that a cynical Pope who didn’t care if such a place existed used it as a money-making racket, and that’s fine (I’m not saying that’s what you are saying, just that I see why people can have this attitude and it’s not an unreasonable attitude to have). But what did not happen was that a pontiff in need of cash invented the doctrine, then two centuries later his succesors said ‘okay, that won’t fly any more because people don’t believe in fairy tales’ and dumped it all, lock, stock and barrel.

      And Purgatory has not been defined ‘infallibly’, that is, the conditions or state have not been set down as “You must believe that all the souls are suffering, or in material fire, or that it is measured out in a set date of years”. What would be inconsistent teaching would be if, for example, a Pope tried to say that Purgatory was a second chance after death (at the particular judgement, you don’t make it into Heaven, but you can dodge Hell and scrape through) – no, the souls in Purgatory are saved. Or if he tried to teach that Purgatory replaced Hell – that Hell as such didn’t exist, that the souls suffering in Hell would actually be freed and go to Heaven in the Last Days so that Hell no longer existed. Or that people on Earth could ‘take on’ the sins of those in Purgatory (I’m thinking here of the concepts of the ‘sineaters’). Or that the graces did not ultimately all derive from God – that it was by our works alone we did it.

      Things like that.

      • That’s how it is supposed to work in theory. The problem is that all teachings are subject to the interpretation of the Magesterium today (even past Magesterial teachings can only be officially interpreted by today’s Magesterium).

        This reduces the notion of “Scripture, Tradition, and Magesterium” to Solo Magesterium.

        That’s what always makes me chuckle at conservative Catholics who bemoan radicals who are trying to overturn the current traditions (for example: male only ordination).

        It’s just a matter of convincing the Magesteria, however long it takes.

        • Exactly right, Nedbrek.

          One of the great problems of papal authority, of course, is what happens when popes contradict previous popes on matters of doctrine or church practice, though each pope is infallible” when teaching such things/

          The first Vatican council declared:

          ‘when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA…he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable (“First Dogmatic…,” 1870, 4.9).”

          In other words, when the pope speaks in his official capacity, it is both infallible and unchangeable.

          But what happens when recognized popes teach different things?

          Pope Zosimus (417-418 A.D.) reversed the pronouncement of a previous pope. He also retracted a doctrinal pronouncement that he himself had previously made. Pope Honorious was condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681 A.D.). (This means that Honorious made doctrinal statements which are contrary to the Roman Catholic faith.) He was also condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo II, as well as by every other pope until the eleventh century. So here we have “infallible” popes condemning another “infallible” pope as a heretic. In 1870, the First Vatican Council abolished “infallible” papal decrees and the decrees of two “infallible” councils.

          The doctrine of the Assumption of Mary was officially declared to be a dogma of the Roman Catholic faith on November 1, 1950. This means that every Roman Catholic is required to believe this doctrine without questioning it. However, as we will see, the teaching of the Assumption of Mary originated with heretical writings which were officially condemned by the early Church.
          In 495 A.D., Pope Gelasius issued a decree which rejected this teaching as heresy and its proponents as heretics. In the sixth century, Pope Hormisdas also condemned as heretics those authors who taught the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary. Here we have “infallible” popes declaring a doctrine to be a heresy. Then on November 1, 1950, we have Pope Pius XII (another “infallible” pope) declaring the same doctrine to be official Roman Catholic doctrine, which all Catholics are required to believe.
          So before November 1, 1950, any Catholic who believed in the Assumption of Mary was a heretic (because of “infallible” declarations of popes). But after November 1, 1950, any Catholic who failed to believe in the Assumption of Mary was a heretic (because of the “infallible” declaration of Pope Pius XII). Please read that sentence again.
          We could go on. In 1864, Pope Pius IX “infallibly” declared that the idea that people have a right to freedom of conscience and freedom of worship is “insanity,” “evil,” “depraved,” and “reprobate”. He also declared that non-Catholics who live in Catholic countries should not be allowed to publicly practice their religion. In 1888, Pope Leo XIII “infallibly” declared that freedom of thought and freedom of worship are wrong. But The Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) produced a document entitled “Declaration on Religious Liberty” which states that all people have a right to freedom of religion.
          Of course, as Martha noted in her previous post, even which popes are recognized as legitimate (and thus infallible) changes according to the epoch.

          As you well put it, “This reduces the notion of “Scripture, Tradition, and Magesterium” to Solo Magesterium.”

          • Again, gentlemen, you’re misunderstanding. The doctrine of the Assumption was not, before 1950, taught under the charism of infallibility – as I gave the example, John Paul II did not, for instance, issue the decision on women’s ordination under the charism of infallibility. So although the question has been silenced, still you would not incur the penalty of heresy for discussing it – you’d be censured for disobedience, but that’s a different matter.

            The popes you mention were giving their opinions based on their understanding of theology and the arguments of theologians – and you know what? That’s permitted! BUT – if Gelasius or Honorius or whoever had made a pronouncement “ex cathedra”, that would be a different matter.

            And one way of identifying an anti-pope is when he starts teaching heresy.

          • Daniel, were all of these papal decisions proclaimed ex cathedra, and therefore infallible? As I understand, very few decisions have been made through this infallible status.


            I’m not really promoting the papacy, but I’d like to defend it at least as far as it deserves. Pope? No pope? Doesn’t matter to this non-Catholic. Me, I’m pretty low-church baptist, and a bit counter-cultural even within that, so the popes don’t scare me none. But they are at least interesting.

          • Cross-posting again. Thanks, Martha, I think you answered my question.

          • Martha, I don’t think you can argue that these were not official pronouncements. They were the official statement of doctrine by the pope while he was in office. A nineteenth century distinction of what is ex cathedra and what is not does not invalidate that.

            The point about Mary’s assumption is that it was both rejected as heresy by a pope and affirmed as doctrine by another pope. I don’t see how your first paragraph interacts with that point.

          • “And one way of identifying an anti-pope is when he starts teaching heresy”

            And if the pope starts teaching heresy who identifies it as heresy if not the pope?

          • even before i appeared on the stage, infallible teaching regarding Mary had already been determined:

            For example, in 1950, with Munificentissimus Deus, Pope Pius XII’s infallible definition regarding the Assumption of Mary, there are attached these words:

            Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which We have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

            since i do not accept the teachings of Mary’s Immaculate Conception or Assumption, i have been declared a non-Catholic…

            in other posts weeks/months ago, i voiced my skepticism of the Marian doctrines by simply appealing to my theological understanding they are not necessary to accept the deity of Jesus as it was His Father, not His mother, that determined such an unique incarnation…

            not going to argue the point here. just pointing out that others before me in positions of power, authority, title, etc. made certain doctrines binding upon me prior to my baptism into the Roman Catholic Church. with no room to ‘wiggle’ there is a realization that any questions or doubts or even a withholding of making a conclusion one way or the other simply unacceptable. as with any issue of faith & practice the individual must determine what is really essential vs. ancillary. as with other doctrines of disputable matters i can appreciate the reasons given for such arguments, but really, my faith does not hinge on the Marian doctrines no matter which faith expression champions them…

          • See, this is exactly one of the main problems I have with Catholicism. More than anything else, it seems to me that all the disputes come down to who knows the right minute historical details about the issue. I mean, I’m all for studying Church history and theology, but it gets kind of ridiculous when what determines who’s right or wrong is whether or not some pope issued this obscure bull in the mid 13th century and how that bull has been rectified or changed in the resulting 14th century until some council saw to getting rid of it in the 15th century. Like seriously, how does this relate to practical spirituality? You might as well be arguing about how many angels can fit on the pin of a needle.

            Scholasticism anyone?

          • Radagast says


            Most of us don’t spend time in the minutia unless that’s what we’re into. and as for spirituality we have a rich history and many directions to go deeper into the faith than most dream of. Sometimes that takes us east with the eastern mystics or west with Maximus Confessor or Saint Thesa of Avilla or John of the Cross, so we have a lot to pick from.

            I have also read some of the self-help shlock or latest trend purpose driven stuff that my wife brings home. But take it from me the old stuff has a lot more depth.

          • Protestants — and I was brought up one — seem to think that “papal infallibility” means that ALL of the Pope’s advice, teaching, letters, statements, opinions etc. must be infallible.

            That is simply not what Catholics are supposed to believe.

            And I think a deeper study of church history will reveal that, in fact, it *hasn’t* historically been what Catholics believed until, perhaps, some Catholics came to believe it in the last century or two. Certainly plenty of people have in fact corrected, advised, campaigned, and seen Popes change their minds.

            (Unfortunately the Catholic church does have a tendency to deny that it HAS changed its mind: the joke goes that when the Catholic Church finally changes its mind about birth control, the encyclical will begin “As the Church has always taught…..”)

            While the formal definition of “ex cathedra” is indeed 19th century, so I think is the attitude I encountered among many pre-Vatican II Catholics, who did treat the Pope’s every word as Gospel. I think that the formal definition of exactly what was and was not infallible was in fact intended to counteract the tendency of Catholics to think _everything_ was infallible.

            Unfortunately it’s had rather the opposite effect. Just as a lot of people mistakenly believe that the “Immaculate Conception” means the birth of Jesus from a virgin, so a lot of people seize on the word “infallible” but don’t understand its limitations.

            I also, in fact, agree with many other commenters, and disagree with Martha, that human nature *requires* that there must be one leader with whom the buck stops. While senates, steering committees and so forth have their own problems and are often painfully slow to make decisions, that seems to me to be a viable way of doing things. I personally doubt that a top-down bureaucracy is something Christ had in mind for church administration.

            But on the other hand, the history of the Catholic church amply demonstrates that grass-roots innovations do work, so neither is the Catholic church as monolithically bureaucratic as many Protestants assume. (The notion of the Immaculate Conception, indeed, was very much a grass-roots movement, not something the Popes invented.)

          • This Latin nerd feels the need to point out that _solus_ needs to modify _magisterium_, so it needs to be _solum magisterium_.

  14. Paul Davis says


    Thank you for a wonderful post, the messages are flying too fast for me to consume right now.

    But I would like to add the perspective from a newly minted Catholic, who converted through a number of protestant mainlines (and some not so mainlines).

    One of the issues I found repeatedly in protestant denominations, was this lack of central authority. Luther was correct about plowboys, bibles and everyone being a pope. But my experience with that never turned out to be a good thing, instead it gave license to all kinds of theological nonsense.

    Beyond the nonsense, and this is certainly not reflected here on Internet Monk. Was just how shallow and variant the majority of Pastors in the protestant faiths were that I encountered (could just be I hit a bad batch), at each stop in our journey I made a point to sit and talk doctrine with each denominations leader. I can count on one hand, the Pastors who actually welcomed the idea of someone wanting to know what they believed and to really dig. The rest either didn’t know, didn’t think it was important, or just made up their own interpretation.

    I find the actuality of a Pope, and a magisterium to be a good thing. It sets a foundation for me to work from, that doesn’t mean that I don’t question, or agree on every point (don’t get me started on the church’s Marian issues). But to be perfectly honest (and use a little slang), I’m not sure I’m firing on all pistons anymore 🙂 I could spend literally years just figuring out the theological issues around Justification,but the reality is with a busy life, family and a full plate. I barely have time to keep up with the postings here, much less read books (and let’s be honest, if all you read is theological books, you need to step away from the computer right now, and go OUTSIDE!). But if I have questions I can always go to the Catechism and follow the Popes example.

    But it’s more than even that, it’s also that the Church and the Pope as the central authority has standards around who can be a priest and who can’t. I don’t have to worry too much about a Camping, or some rogue priest coming in and teaching a different Gospel. It CAN happen, but as we have seen in the past couple of years, the Benedict doesn’t fool around with Bishops who mess with the core of the Catholic belief. That central authority, I find is a good thing.

    But I will never become a Pope groupie like some, I look at him as the CEO of a large and diverse organization. And if he knows who I am, that’s probably a bad thing 🙂

    Simply put, I now as a Catholic find great comfort in the Papal office, and everything I’ve read about Pope Benny (my wifes term, she has penance to do for that comment), is that he has taken the office very humbly and prayerfully. I don’t think we could ask for more.


    • Actually Paul, the Internet Monk does in matter in fact deal with this very issue. The whole blog, to this day I believe, mainly deals with the problems that were inherent within Protestant Evangelical Christianity. The simple fact is, as you stated it in your post, we really do “lack a central authority” in Evangelical Christianity. Hence it is called the Evangelical Wilderness, as we have no real guide or map to help us in our spiritual journeys; we have no pope to tell us what to do, and surely no catechism or book of rules to guide our day to day lives and theologies. This is of course a double edged sword, as on one side it offers us unlimited freedom, yet on the flip side, it creates within us a sense of anxiety and dread as we oftentimes do not really know what to do with all this freedom.

      In the end though, I think we must understand, right now we live in the age of Holy Spirit. The age of prophets and apostles is long gone, and we can no longer rely on institutions and other individuals or groups to guide our spiritual lives.

      Now of course, there are a lot of problems with this view, and I am sure that this in no ways satisfies you, hence you adopted Catholicism. I fear however that many of us simply cannot do that. No matter how much some of us may desire to have someone guide and order our spiritual journeys, many of us just cannot bring ourselves to make the same leap as you did. Once Pandora’s Box has been opened, it really cannot be closed.

      • The simple fact is, as you stated it in your post, we really do “lack a central authority” in Evangelical Christianity. Hence it is called the Evangelical Wilderness, as we have no real guide or map to help us in our spiritual journeys; we have no pope to tell us what to do, and surely no catechism or book of rules to guide our day to day lives and theologies.

        well stated. for myself, i can be encouraged, challenged, taught, admonished thru the thoughtful writings of many godly men both living & dead. Pope Benedict XVI certainly a very prolific writer that has been a source of inspiration & insight to some posting here.

        Eagle characteristically lists the Evangelical Horseman of the Reformist camp. although i can find some good things in their writing/preaching, their theologcial conclusions on specific things i do not hold as tightly as they do. and if any of them attempt to declare their views of disputable matters as universal & binding upon all Christians a silly bit of posturing IMHO…

        i happen to disagree on some things with the Pastor of the faith expression i attend. i would be willing to bet we all can find something to disagree about without even trying. it does not cause me fear or consternation where i suddenly feel adrift in my own private religious boat about to be swamped by waves of heresy. my faith has been challenged enough to where a recognizable spiritual maturity results. i discovered i am very conservative in my orthodox convictions that were very much influenced by my Roman Catholic upbringing & my sincere desire to know this God of my family’s devotion. He made a very clear announcement to me when i was 20 years old. it was at that point the teachings gave way to revelation beyond mental assent & religious practice. however, this brings up a good point: what if i did not receive such a dramatic appearing of the One that simply said, “…you can go back to the way you where, or come, follow Me…”

        i think i would be more adrift in my religious practice in need of something more substantial to assure me the elusive God i sought was indeed the One being worshiped. i would have need authoritative declarations & definite methods of worship to keep me anchored to a certainty i could not manufacture myself. i am probably not making much sense here since i have had only 1/2 cup of coffee this morning. anyway, the thought provoking themes & writing styles of iMonk a very creative catalyst to theological considerations which i find extremely enjoyable…

        blessings to all…

      • Paul Davis says

        My apologies, the point I was trying to get across was that here, on this site. There is nothing shallow, no strange theology, and certainly nothing polemic. I’ve grown immeasurably from my interactions here, that’s what I was trying to get after.

        Just as a point of reference, one of the reasons I was even open to checking out the Catholic Faith was that Michael had written about it. His loves and his hates with it, he talked about Denise’s conversion as well. Having read a great deal of the site, I knew that in many ways Michael was able to articulate what I was thinking and feeling. So given that, and that I personally didn’t find his issues with Catholicism to be insurmountable, I investigated.

        And well, here I am!.

        I still have that new Catholic smell, somehow the older Catholics can spot me no matter where I sit. Maybe Martha knows the trick to that 😉


        • “I still have that new Catholic smell, somehow the older Catholics can spot me no matter where I sit. Maybe Martha knows the trick to that ”

          Paul, a few diagnostic questions:

          – Do you sit up near or even at the front of the church?

          – Do you arrive more than five minutes before the start of Mass?

          – Following on from that one, have you ever arrived after the start of Mass and consoled yourself that “As long as I’m in time for the Gospel, I’m in time”, even if by “in time for the Gospel” you mean “Everyone is standing up and signing themselves”?

          – If you haven’t done that, why not?

          – Do you sing along with the choir?

          – Do you sing all the verses?

          – Do you really sing and not, by “singing”, do the “look down at my feet and mumble” bit instead?

          – Do you listen to the homily without looking at your watch and sighing?

          – Do you ever say “Great sermon, Father, but too short!”?

          – Do you stay for the entirety of Mass, and not take the ringing of the Sanctus bell as a signal to head out the door?

          – Do you even know what is meant by “Sanctus bell” and if you do, are you younger than forty-plus?

          – Can you idenity a passage of Scripture without having to look up the missalette/worship aid/prayer book?

          – Are you aware that, on the occasion of a holy day of obligation and a Sunday falling on the same weekend, that you can’t kill two birds with one stone by going to Saturday evening Mass?

          – If you are so aware, do you still try to get away with it anyway?

          If you indulge in some of these behaviours (and not in others), then I’m sorry to say, it’s blatantly obvious that the chrism is still wet from when you were newly confirmed and incorporated into Holy Mother Church 🙂

          • – Do you stay for the entirety of Mass, and not take the ringing of the Sanctus bell as a signal to head out the door?

            – Do you even know what is meant by “Sanctus bell” and if you do, are you younger than forty-plus?


          • And just to provide the answers to the above questions, here’s The Easy Guide to Looking like a Cradle Catholic:

            Where to sit in church: As near the back and/or exit as is physically possible. Or, if an Irish male, stand in the porch.

            When to arrive: Yes, I’ve done the “Phew! Just made it into the seat while everyone is responding ‘Glory to you, O Lord'” part myself *blushes*. This is why my Irish Mammy told us as kids that “As long as you’re in time for the Gospel, you’re in time” 😉

            Singing in church: Don’t. Ah, how fondly I remember the priest exhorting us to all sing especially now that they had the PowerPoint projector throwing the words up on the wall and the Children’s Choir had come along specially for this Mass, and every single person in the pews looking down at their feet with what you could just tell was the firm purpose of keeping their mouth shut 🙂

            (As this comedy routine from Dara Ó Briaindescribes from about 1:43 (warning: strong language) regarding singing at a wedding between a Catholic and a Protestant).

            Homilies: Only run between 3-5 minutes usually, and we still think they’re too long. Only get long ones at a Redemptorist mission or the like. No stamina.

            Running out the door at Communion: The Catholic 100-metres dash. If there were Olympic medals for it, the Irish team would be coming home laden down with gold.

            Being aware of the elements of the faith beyond “Yep, that’s an altar”: What do you think we are, some kind of fanatics?

            Actually reading the Bible, like the Pope says we should: What do you think we are, some kind of Protestant fanatics?

            Trying to get away with one Mass, two fulfilments: Sheesh, nearly five centuries and the Jesuits still haven’t gotten us off the hook on this one?

  15. Popes may be good and faithful stewards of the gospel. And they may not be.

    We have One Mediator, and that is Christ Jesus. We don’t need a religious organization to distribute God’s grace to us . The Word…alone… is the authority for believers. The Word cannot err, while ALL men are sinners.

    I happen to love the Catholic Church. Many great things have come out of that church…like Luther, for one. And there are a LOT more (Catholics), even today, who trust in Christ and His grace… alone. There are even some Lutherans who trust in Christ alone. 😀

  16. “At this point, you’re probably saying, “Good God almighty, woman, this is the perfect reason why the office of the Papacy is a travesty!”  Well, to all those of you who say “Catholics have a Pope” – with the corollary, overt or implied, “And we don’t” – I’d just like to say “Oh yes you do, and his name is Paul.”  Every time I’ve followed a recommended link to a preacher or minister on justification or what have you, it’s all Galatians this and Corinthians that.  For every one time I’ve seen “Jesus says in Matthew…” or “John’s Gospel tells us…”, I’ve seen ten or more “Paul says…”.  You may call ’em Epistles, but you treat ’em like Encyclicals.”

    Martha I love your writing style. Very witty, in the best sense of the term.

    To me, the above argument is unpersuasive.

    First, both Catholics and Protestants accept the Pauline writings as authoritative. This is not a matter of competing authorities, but whether it is wise to add another.

    Second, the types of authority we find in Paul is not entirely analogous with the way the pope exercises authority over the Roman church.

    Third, I don’t think the implication that Protestant pastors elevate Paul above the other scripture writers is true. I know for a fact I have preached more out of the old testament or the gospels than I have Paul. I’m pretty sure I have even preached more out of Johns writings. And my experience with other protestant pastors tells me I am not an anomaly. I suspect the disconnect between your experience here and mine is that your interaction with Protestant pastors has mainly been in the arena of doctrine, and Paul is the most theological of the biblical writers (especially in the area of justification).

    • Radagast says

      I’d say on average though – if you are listening to Christian Media – the focus tends to be more on Paul than the Gospels. And more frequently than not, when a protestant friend wants to talk new testament scripture, it is usually Paul and in particular Romans. So I agree whole heartedly with Martha.

      Secondly, I know there are a lot of deep thinking Protestants here – and I respect that immensely which is partly why I read this site often. But the average Joe protestant that I know on the street, when asked about something in scripture seems more often than not to say “well my Pastor says” or “I need to see how my Pastor interprets that”… to me that is the same function as the Pope in many Catholic’s lives.

      Thirdly, Martha is a hoot and she really does tell relay this stuff both from an idealistic Catholic view and what can be reality for the average Catholic. Great Job Martha.

  17. Maybe now is a good time to invoke the patron saint of fiction, Flannery O’Connor. That’s Mary Flannery O’Connor, which makes her of Irish descent and a Roman Catholic too, therefore kin to Martha of Ireland or at least kindred in spirit.

    Huol and Joseph above talked about Evangelical Christianity “lacking a central authority” hence the Evangelical Wilderness, and the reason we’re all stuck in this here blog together, like The Song That Never Ends (oh, it goes on and on, my friends).

    Back to Miss O’Connor: In her novel Wise Blood she wrote about this bizarre creature, Hazel Motes, who decided to become a preacher and so bought a blue suit (all preachers need blue suits) and an old, broke-down, rat-colored car (“A man with a good car don’t need no justification,” said Hazel) and set off to establish “The Church Without Christ” where “the blind don’t see, the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way.” Total membership of his church didn’t get above two, if I remember correctly—Hazel and his disgusting little girlfriend Sabbath Lily, herself the daughter of a country preacher.

    Recommended reading certainly, although her short stories are better, but my question is this: As a Roman Catholic, was Flannery O’Connor lampooning the Evangelical Wilderness (way, way ahead of her time and back when Michael Spencer wore diapers) and exposing the dangers of that “lack of central authority” in American religion? She lived in the South and wrote about fundamentalism and pentecostalism and independentalism, and not so much about her own Roman Catholic faith. And I think she may have hit the nail on the head with the character of Hazel Motes. None of this would be possible within Roman Catholicism or other episcopal forms of the church. Unless I’m wrong.


    • I haven’t read any of Flannery O’Connor’s work and I certainly should do, given her reputation and her interests, and the way I see her quoted with admiration by several bloggers.

      But as to the kinds of abuses that can pop up within Catholicism – oh, ho! Ted. Indeed they can! Jansenism, to take one – a 17th century, primarily French, Catholic theological stream which was eventually condemned by the Pope. The Jansenists and the Jesuits were at each other’s throats because of their variant views on grace and sinfulness. The Jansenists were accused of quasi-Calvinism (or indeed, outright Calvinism) and they had what Wikipedia describes as a “deeply pessimistic theology, [which] discouraged frequent Communion, arguing that a high degree of perfection, including purification from attachment to venial sin, was necessary before approaching the Sacrament.”

      The Port-Royal nuns who were Jansenists were described as being “as pure as angels and as proud as devils” and that was pretty much the attitude: they were exceedingly rigorous, denied free will, held to irresistable grace and – while all that is no doubt laudable – still, in dealing with ordinary human messiness, there wasn’t much hope or encouragement.

  18. Ted,

    Coincidentally, I just finished reading O’Connor’s “Wise Blood” last night. It certainly seemed to me that one important theme is the absurd hyper-sectarianism of nondenominational Protestantism.

    Not sure if we should say that Sabbath became a member of the Church of Christ without Christ. She fornicated with Hazel Motes, but had little interest in doctrinal issues, Christian or non-Christian.

  19. Did we really need two posts about Pope Impius the 666th? 😉