The Hierarchical Structure of Romanism
Only when Roman Catholics have agreed to accept the Bible as the sole rule of faith and morals may we proceed to discuss with them more specific doctrines concerning Romanism. If they have not yet reached such a stage, it is better to wait until they have understood the importance of having a common ground of authority; doing otherwise would constitute a useless effort that would lead us nowhere. As a matter of fact, in the eventuality that our Catholic friends, after the discussion of the previous chapters, do not realize the falsity of human traditions it is exceedingly wise to give up with them, looking for better prospects. When Paul and Silas did not succeed to convert the Jews of Thessalonica they went away to Berea, finding there a much different kind of people whose wonderful attitude merited them the praise of Luke: "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so. And many indeed of them believed." Acts 17-11-12. And Jesus Christ, sending forth his apostles in their first missionary journey, warned them not to waste precious time with stubborn listeners: "And whosoever shall not receive you, nor hear your words: going forth out of that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet." Matt. 10:14. This is the right decision that we have to make when faced with similar circumstances.
On the contrary, if our Catholic friends are willing to be guided by the divine light emanating from the Bible, then we should step further presenting to them one by one the fundamental tenets of Roman Catholicism which are in open contradiction with the Word of God. And first of all, we would like to suggest taking under consideration, in this second part of our personal work, the hierarchical structure of Romanism that constitutes the cornerstone upon which is based the totalitarian power of the Roman Church. In three successive chapters we shall examine the rise of this power through the claim of Peter's primacy and his successors, through the alleged infallibility of the pope, and through the privileged position of priesthood. Only knocking down such a structure with scriptural and historical evidences may we be able to accomplish the main object of our second evangelistic effort, and that is, the demonstration of the human constitution of the Roman Catholic Church.
FROM THE PRIMACY OF PETER TO THE SUPREMACY OF THE POPE
The foundation upon which is mainly built the Roman Catholic system of religion is to be found in the traditional doctrine concerning the so-called primacy of Peter from which, at a later time, was developed that of the supremacy of the pope. This is such a basic tenet that a denial of the same would prove fatal to the whole constitution of the Church of Rome. It really constitutes the substructural support for all the claims that have been made by Romanists throughout the centuries. For this very reason they have tried to substantiate it with many scriptural passages and historical evidences that, according to them, should furnish an irrefragable proof in behalf of their alleged doctrine.
ORIGIN OF THE PRIMACY
According to the Roman Catholic position Jesus Christ established the church as a hierarchical society composed of subjects and leaders. Above this society of believers He ordained a college of apostles with the infallible authority of teaching, legislating, and judging all things concerning doctrine and morals. But because in every organized body there is need of a head or president to whom the other members must obey and be subject, so Christ in his church appointed one to have full authority and primacy both upon the faithful and upon the bishops. Conclusion of such a reasoning is that Peter was made by divine right "the first pope and bishop of Rome, Prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Jesus Christ, and human foundation of the Church." (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 402)
Cardinal Gibbons asserts the primacy of Peter and his successors as follows: "Our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of His Holy Church, and that the same spiritual supremacy has always resided in the Popes, or Bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter. Consequently, to be true the laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy where Peter rules in the person of his successor." (Faith of Our Fathers, p. 95)
In explaining such a doctrine, the theologians go on to say that this primacy is not merely one of honor but of jurisdiction which comprises the power of legislating, of judging, and of securing obedience and submission by appropriate sanctions. It is universal, that is affecting all Christians; it is ordinary because inherent to the office and therefore is permanent; it comes directly from Christ and pis exercised immediately (not necessarily through bishops) over the faithful; it is independent of the civil power and from it there is no appeal, not even to an ecumenical council. (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 412)
This last affirmation was made a dogmatic pronouncement at the Council of Florence (1439) against those Romanists who believed that the authority of the general council was superior to that of the Roman chair. In a famous canon of that council the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and of the supremacy of the pope was definitely asserted: "We define the holy apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff to have primacy over the whole earth, and the Roman Pontiff to be himself the successor of the Blessed Peter, chief of the Apostles, and the true Vicar of Christ, and to exist as head of the whole Church and father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him, in the Blessed Peter, our Lord Jesus Christ has committed full power of feeding, governing and directing the universal Church, even as is contained both in the acts of the ecumenical councils and in the sacred canons." The same definition was permanently restated in the later Councils of Trent and Vatican in which curses were also fulminated against holders of different views. No Catholic bishop alone or assembled in council would dare today to put in doubt the absolute power placed in the hands of one man, even knowing that it is a bare-faced usurpation. The glorious freedom enjoyed by the leaders of the primitive church has been lost forever by the so-called successors of the apostles, who are nothing more than puppets or tools in the hand of a religious tyrant who can loose or bind the consciences of the faithful, can open or shut at will the doors of Christ's kingdom.
PETER'S PRIMACY EXAMINED
In order to be fair and honest with our Catholic friends we must be willing to admit that Peter since the beginning of his calling received a particular attention from the Lord which eventually resulted in a position of pre-eminence exercised both during the ministry of Jesus and the early years of the church. In fact, with prophetic insight into Simon's character, Jesus at once conferred upon him the surname of Cephas, or Peter, that is, "stone" John 1:35:42). He is always named first in the lists of the apostles (Matt. 10:2; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14; Acts 1:13). In the more intimate circle of the most favored three disciples, he is likewise always named first (Matt. 17:1; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14:33; Luke 8:51; 9:28). He was the natural spokesman of the apostolic band. He was the first to confess Jesus as the Christ of God, but was equally favored to dissuade him from his chosen path of suffering, receiving from Christ the appropriate praise and blame (Matt. 16:16-23; Mark 8:29-33). He was treated with distinguished honor by the Lord, and was granted a special appearance after the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:5).
As exhibited in the earlier chapters of the Acts, he was instrumental in the establishment of the church of Christ. It was by his bold and strong hands that the church was led in every step. It was he who moved the disciples to fill up the broken ranks of the apostolate (Acts 1:15); it was he who proclaimed to the assembled multitudes the meaning of the Pentecostal effusion (2:14); he was the leader in the public healing of the lame man and in the subsequent sermon and defense (3:4-12; 4:8); it was by his voice that Ananias and Sapphira were rebuked (5:3-8). Above all, it was by his hand that the door of salvation was opened alike to the Jews in the great sermon at Pentecost (2:10-38) and to the Gentiles in the case of Cornelius (10).
However, this pre-eminence has nothing to do with the so-called primacy advocated by Romanists. It was only a pre-eminence of honor due to Peter's ardor, earnestness, courage, vigor, impetuosity of disposition, and sincere love toward Christ rather than an official appointment or election to the task. It was a chairmanship among equals without any special privilege of jurisdiction over his fellow-apostles which would have been contrary to the spirit of Christ who warned his disciples with such symptomatic words: "You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them and they that are the greater exercise power over them. It shall not be so among you." Matt. 20:25-26. The special mission entrusted to Peter was carried out by the apostle with a spirit of humility and submission to the suggestions of others that is in striking contrast with the absolute power exercised by the Roman papacy. Besides, it was a mission personal to Peter and not transmissable to others. As a matter of fact, as soon as the foundations of the church had been laid, Peter took a subordinate place, and in the humble labors to spread the boundaries of the kingdom of Christ disappeared from the page of history. In the church at Jerusalem James takes henceforth the lead-ing place (Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 2:9-12). The door had been opened to the Gentiles, and Paul now becomes the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7). As the apostle to the circumcision (Gal. 2:8), Peter prosecuted henceforth his less brilliant work, wherever Jews could be found, and contentedly left Jerusalem to James and the Gentile world to Paul. The book of Acts closes its account of him at the meeting at Jerusalem (15) when his policy of breaking down the barriers for the Gentiles met with universal acceptance. We hear of him afterward at Antioch (Gal. 2:11), possibly at Corinth (1 Cor. 1:12), and certainly as prosecuting his work through missionary journeys, taking his wife with him (1 Cor. 9:5). Finally he glorified God by a martyr's death (John 21:19). Beyond this, Scripture tells us nothing of his fortunes, labors, sufferings, or successes, except what can be learned from his two epistles. In them he stands before us in a singularly beautiful humility, not pressing the recognition of personal claims to leadership upon the Christian community, but following up the teaching of Paul or of Jude with his own and exhorting his readers to hold fast to the common faith. (Westminster Dictionary, p. 473)
In this scriptural picture of Peter there is no room for dictatorial assumptions made by unscrupulous men in order to build up a precedent for later claims. The inspired records have no hint whatever about Peter being the absolute leader of the church, the first pope and vicar of Christ. These are conclusions that came into being much later as a result of a long and dreadful struggle between Eastern and Western churches for the domination of Christendom. Consequently, the pre-eminence of Peter can not be confused with the papal primacy of the bishop of Rome; it is a democratic leadership intended to lead the faithful and not to dominate them, to serve and minister unto them rather than to command them, just as Christ ordered his followers: "Whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister. And he that will be the first among you shall be your servant." Matt. 20:26-27. The leaders of the church of Christ, namely evangelists, elders, and deacons, must not be masters or absolute rulers, but only stewards or administrators of the flock committed unto them. They must uphold the Word of God and not teach commandments of men, as the popes of Rome have done and do. That is why Peter's primacy can not be taken as a precedent to prove the totalitarian supremacy of the Roman see.
Furthermore, if it was the intention of Jesus to create Peter and his successors supreme monarchs of the universal church, He should have said so in the Scriptures. Not only is Christ silent on that matter, but He thinks so little about giving a head to his church that when He promised to the apostles the power of judging the twelve tribes of Israel (Matt. 19:28), He promised them twelve thrones, one for each one, without saying that that of Peter would have been higher than the others. Undoubtedly an equal authority was given to all the apostles when first sent forth by Christ (Matt. 10:1-15), in the great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20), in the promise of the Holy Spirit (John 20:21-23), and in the power of loosing and binding (Matt. 18:18). Such instances necessarily preclude the primacy of one of them. Besides, when Paul gives a detailed list of the officers of the church in 1 Cor. 12:28 and in Eph. 4:11 he fails to mention either by name or character such a fundamental office like that of pope or vicar of Christ. How could Paul, the greatest doctor of the church, forget to mention the papacy if this was really of divine institution? Neither did he make any reference in all his letters to Peter's primacy; nay, he says to have labored more abundantly than they all and to be not a whit behind the very chiefest apostles (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 11:5). If this primacy was truly in existence, if, in other words, the church had in its constitution a supreme head, why have all the inspired writers been silent about it? Is it possible that when the edifice of the Christian doctrine was in full development there could have been forgotten the foundation, the cornerstone? The truth is that neither the evidences of Scripture nor the logical deductions of reason can support the Roman Catholic doctrine of the primacy of Peter and his successors.
WAS PETER EVER IN ROME?
Though Romanists today affirm that the presence of Peter in Rome was not essential for the transmission of his primacy to the Roman bishops, yet they feel that a proof of it would demonstrate beyond doubt the supremacy of that apostolic see over the Christian world. And indeed if Peter did not live and die in Rome, it would be impossible for us to understand how they could consistently claim that he was the first bishop of the eternal city. In such a case the apostolic succession of the popes would lack the first ring of the chain and, consequently, the whole edifice of the Roman primacy would fall in ruin. That is why they have used hands and teeth in order to establish a tradition that has proved to be so useful in behalf of this Catholic claim.
It is the Roman Catholic position that Peter, after his release from prison (Acts 12), went to Rome (the "other place" of Acts 12:17) and there established a Christian community, over which he presided, as a monarchial bishop, for twenty-five years (A. D. 42-67), the period which a newly-elected pope is warned on the morning of his coronation that he is not likely to surpass ("Annos Petri non superabis"). This theory is indeed of considerable antiquity, having been traced back with great probability to Hippolytus (A. D. 235); but it is sufficiently refuted by the fact that Paul's epistle to the Romans, which must have reached Rome in the middle of Peter's alleged episcopate, contains no greetings or even mention of him and his work there. On the contrary, it is implied that no apostle has yet visited it. For such is the inference that must be drawn from Rom. 1:11, in which Paul expresses his wish to see the Roman Christians in order that he might impart some spiritual gifts to the end that they might be established. Besides, from Rome Paul wrote several letters in which no message is sent from Peter, while in the very last of them he complains of being left alone and that only Luke was with him. The conclusion is that neither at the time of Paul's letter nor during his permanence in Rome, do we have evidence of the presence of Peter in the capital of the empire. Hence, Irenaeus was mistaken in calling Peter, as well as Paul, the "founders" of the church of Rome.
A Priori, it would seem a sufficient explanation of the genesis of the Roman church to suppose that it came into existence by the fortuitous confluence to the capital of persons who had already been converted to Christianity in other parts of the empire. "Sojourners of Rome" (that is, Jews and proselytes domiciled in Rome) are said to have witnessed the outpouring of the Spirit on the nucleus of the Christian brotherhood (Acts 2:10); some of them may well have been amongst the three thousand who were converted on the day of Pentecost, and may have carried the Christian faith with them back to the imperial city. It follows therefore that the origin of the church of Rome is not to be ascribed, as in the case of some other cities, to the exertions of some missionary arriving with the express intention of evangelizing the city, but was due to silent and spontaneous growth. (The Epistle to the Romans by N. P. Williams)
As to Peter's martyrdom the prophecy in John 21:18-19 is in harmony with early tradition in pointing to a violent death. But of the time and place of that death we know nothing with even approximate probability. The only historical mention of him for more than a hundred years afterwards is in Clement of Rome (Epistl. 1, 5, 4), who set before the Corinthians the example of "Peter, who through zeal undertook not one or two but numerous labors, and so having born witness went to the place that was due to him." It is sometimes supposed that an indication of the place in which he "bore witness" or "suffered martyrdom" is afforded by the phrase "among us," namely Romans, in the next chapter; but this, though possible, is quite uncertain. Likewise uncertain is the testimony of Ignatius who, writing to the Romans (c. 4), said of Peter and Paul that "in their death they were not divided." But from the beginning of the last quarter of the second century the testimony to the presence and death of Peter at Rome is almost uniform; the tradition, whatever may have been its foundation in fact, had firmly established itself. Dyonisius of Corinth (Euseb. Hist. Ecd., vol. 2, 25, 8) says that Peter and Paul founded the church at Corinth together and then proceeded to Italy; the Muratorian Fragment (A. D. 170) refers to the "passion of Peter," that is, his martyrdom in Rome; the presbyter Gaius (Eus. H. E., vol. 2, 25, 7) early in the third century says that he saw the tombs of the two apostles Peter and Paul at Rome; in Tertullian (Scorp., c. 15; De Praescr. c. 24-36) the tradition is fairly established, and no later Latin father expresses any doubt of it.
But, besides the fact that there is an interval of more than a hundred years between what must have been, in the ordinary course of nature even if not through violence, the approximate time of Peter's death and the first tradition of the place and manner of it, there are two other important considerations which render the ordinary patristic statements doubtful. (1) One stream of tradition represents Peter as having worked at Antioch, in Asia Minor, in Babylonia, and in the "country of the Barbarians" on the northern shores of the Black Sea. This is in harmony with the geographical details of the first of the two epistles which bear his name. That epistle is addressed to the "elect who are sojourners of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia," and the "Babylon" from which it is obviously written (5:13) is best understood not as a cryptographic expression for Rome, but, like the other geographical names of the epistles of the New Testament, in a literal sense. All this, no doubt, is not inconsistent with the supposition that Peter went to Rome towards the end of his life, but it seems to exclude the theory that he made a lengthened stay there and was the founder of the Roman Church. (2) The other consideration is that the presence of Peter at Rome is almost inextricably bound up with a story of whose legendary character there can be little doubt, that of Simon Magus of the Clementines. Under the name of Simon Magus the conservative Jewish Christians, who could never forgive the admission of the Gentiles to be "fellow-heirs" with the "children of promise," seem to have represented Paul; and, throwing back into the first century, and into the personal relations between the two apostles (the violent controversies between the Catholic and the Jewish parties which came to a head in the second century), they formed a romance of which Peter was the hero, and in which, under the mask of Simon Magus, Paul played the part of the "false apostle." In course of time the original identity of Paul with Simon Magus was forgotten, and in the later forms of the legend Peter and Paul are joined together in the combat with the pretender. (Encyclopedia Britannica, vol. 18, pp. 695-696)
The probabilities of the case are evenly balanced; on the one hand it is difficult to account for the complete silence as to Peter in the Pauline letters, in the Acts, and in the writings of Josephus, silence which makes it impossible to regard Peter as the founder or the local bishop of the Roman community; on the other hand, it is difficult to suppose that so large a body of tradition had no foundation in fact, especially if we consider the approval or silence of the Oriental Church interested, like Rome, in the claim of the primacy.
Nevertheless, even agreeing with Romanists that Peter lived for a while and suffered martyrdom in Rome, it does not follow that he reigned there as a monarchical bishop or pope, exercising authority over all the church. Ireneus and Eusebius flatly assert that Linus was the first bishop of the Roman church and they do not mention Peter as having ever held that office. Furthermore, Ireneus ascribes the establishment of that church to both Paul and Peter, saying: "The blessed apostles having founded and built the church, committed the episcopal office to Linus" (Adv. Haeres., bk. 3, c. 3). We would like to ask here why should Peter and not Paul be the first bishop of Rome when both are shown as holding the same authority? Moreover, when Ignatius and other ancient writers mention Peter in relation to Rome it is always in reference to his missionary activity there and not at all in regard to his primacy which no father or bishop ever attributed to him for at least the first four hundred years. Finally, the several lists of the Roman bishops are often contradictory and while they could be useful to prove the presence of Peter in Rome, they have no weight whatever to demonstrate his primacy. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that neither scriptural nor historical evidences can allow Romanists to infer from the doubtful residence of Peter in Rome that he was also the first pope of the Catholic Church. This would be a deduction unwarranted by the premise, besides being disproved by the facts.
PETER AND THE ROCK
However, it is from the Scripture that Romanists draw their strongest inferences in behalf of Peter's primacy, and the most frequently quoted passage is Matthew 16:18-19: "And I say to 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 to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shall bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shall loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."
The Roman Catholic interpretation of this passage is that Jesus Christ promised to make Peter in recompense for his solemn profession of faith in the divinity of his Lord, the rock-foundation for the support of the building of the church in the quality of chief pastor, ruler, and governor. The Catholic Encyclopedia states that in Aramaic the word "kepha" is used for both Petros and petra and therefore these words must be identical in meaning; so that, according to Romanists, the sentence in the original language should read as follows: "Thou art a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church." Commenting this text, Cardinal Gibbons affirms: "Jesus our Lord, founded but one church, which He was pleased to build on Peter. Therefore, any church that does not recognize Peter as its foundation stone is not the Church of Christ, and therefore cannot stand, for it is not the work of God." (Faith of Our Fathers, p. 100)
While agreeing with the Cardinal that Jesus established but one church, we can not accept the conclusion that it was built on Peter alone. Not only would such a belief be against the Scripture in which is said that the church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20), but it would contradict the interpretation given to Matthew 16:18 by the early fathers of the church. In fact, the doctrine that Christ had built his church on Peter was prominently announced for the first time in the council of Chalcedon (451) with the famous words: "The twice blessed and all honored Peter who is the rock and basis of the Catholic Church and the foundation of the orthodox faith." But even then these words were not used to urge a claim to any pre-eminence by the bishop of Rome. They were spoken to give force to the condemnation of Dioscoros who was the most unpopular man in the episcopal assembly at Chalcedon. Before that time, most of the fathers referred the expression "upon this rock" to Peter's faith and confession: "Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. In this respect, St. Cyril affirms in his treatise on the Trinity: "I do believe that by the rock you must understand the unshakable faith of the apostle." Likewise St. Hilary of Poitiers, the father of the western theology, says: "The rock is that unique and blessed faith confessed by the mouth of Peter" (De Trin. bk. 2). And again in book 4: "It is upon the confession of faith that the church is built."
At the close of the fourth century St. Jerome, writing to Jovinian, made statements that are in open contradiction with posterior Roman Catholic teaching: "But you reply that the church was founded on Peter, though that same thing was done in another place upon all apostles (Matt. 18:18), and all of them received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and the solidity of the church is established equally upon them all... But why was not John chosen, who was a virgin? Peter was an apostle, and John was an apostle, the first married, the second a virgin. But Peter was nothing else than an apostle; John was both an apostle, and an evangelist and a prophet."
Elsewhere he says that "God has founded His Church upon this rock, that is, the confession of faith, and it is from this rock that the apostle Peter got his name" (Comment. on Matthew, bk. 4). He further states that Peter was made leader of the apostles because he was the oldest in the group: "Deference was paid to age because Peter was the elder. " But he emphasizes that his leadership did not infringe upon the equality and rights of others.
After him, Chrysostom, perhaps the greatest preacher of his generation, declares in unmistakable terms: "On this rock; that is, the faith of his confession. He did not say upon Peter, for it was not upon man, but upon his faith." The same interpretation was advocated also by Ambrose, the holy bishop of Milan, Gregory of Nyssa, Isidore of Pelu-sium, Theodoret, Theophanes, Theophylect, John of Damascus and many others.
Finally Augustine, probably the greatest mind of the Catholic Church, writing in the fifth century, did not hold the position of present-day Romanists as to Peter's having primacy over others, and not at all as to transmitting to others any special spiritual authority. In fact, in his sermon on Matthew 16:18 he affirms that the church was not built on Peter but on Christ: "Simon he was called before: but his name of Peter was given him by the Lord and that in figure to signify the Church. For because Christ is the Rock (Petra), Peter (Petros) is the Christian people. For the Rock (Petra) is the principal word. Therefore Peter (Petros) is from Petra, not Petra from Petros: as Christ is not called from the Christian, but the Christian from Christ. "Thou art therefore," said he, "Peter, and upon this Rock, which thou hast confessed, upon this Rock which thou hast recognized, 'Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,' I will built my Church. Upon me I will built thee, not me upon thee."
What Augustine thought on this famous passage of the gospel was the general opinion and belief of contemporary Christianity. This should be sufficient to open the eyes of our Catholic friends and recognize with all fairness that Matthew 16:18 was not always interpreted as Peter being the rock-foundation of the church. For at least 450 years, when prejudice and tradition did not disturb the mind of the fathers and when Greek was the spoken language of the people, there was hardly one of them in either the Eastern or Western Church to connect the building of the universal church on Peter with the transmission of his authority to the Roman see. Can the testimony of such I learned and holy men be discarded as obsolete and prejudiced?
But even accepting the Catholic interpretation that the rock (petra) refers to Peter (Petros), the Romanist claim for the papacy still has no proof. In this case they should demonstrate (1) that Peter alone was the founder of Christianity; but such an assumption is opposed to both Scripture and history. (2) That he was vicegerent of Christ and absolute ruler over all Christians, which is against all tone and tenor of New Testament polity. (3) That the alleged primacy of Peter was transmissible, of which there is no evidence either in the Bible or in church history. (4) That Peter's supposed transmissible supremacy was actually transmitted to the bishops of Rome, and this contradicts the historical facts of the first five centuries of Christianity. Once again Matthew 16:18 does not help the Roman Catholics a bit.
However, today, after grammatical researches made by competent scholars on this passage, the controversy could be easily solved if Peter would be considered as one of the many stones upon which the church is built. Such an interpretation is suggested from the separate and distinct meaning that Petros (a loose stone) and petra (a mass of rocks, or cliff) have in the Koine Greek. So, Matthew 16:18 should be rendered in this way: "Thou art a stone (Peter) and upon this mass of stones (all the apostles and disciples) I will build my church." This type of translation would be in accordance with the Roman Catholic position about Peter being the rock and, at the same time, would harmonize with Peter's statement in 1 Pet. 2:5, "Ye also, as living stones (lithoi), are built up a spiritual house," and also with Paul's in Ephesians 2:19-20: "Ye are fellow-citizens with the saints... being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets."
In all three of these passages Christians are spoken of as stones or a mass of rocks for a building. Peter explained that they were stones used for building a spiritual house. Does this not re-echo the true, reasonable meaning of what Jesus told him that day in Caesarea Philippi? At least, we have interpretations from both Peter and Paul clearly teaching that all Christians, not Peter alone, were stones or rocks. Besides, Paul mentioned all the apostles, and not Peter only, as being the foundation of this spiritual building, namely the church. (J. R. Mantey, Was Peter a Pope?, pp. 16-19)
PETER AND THE KEYS
According to Romanists, with the promise of the keys Jesus Christ bestowed upon Peter absolute mastery and complete domination over the church. Unquestionably in ancient times, and especially among the oriental people, the giving of the keys symbolized authority, and even today they may be taken as an emblem of power. But the interpretation given to them by Romanists is far from the meaning intended by Christ who never dreamed of establishing within his church a monarch with limitless authority. Otherwise it would be difficult to understand Matthew 23:8-10. The most reasonable explanation is that the keys committed to Peter were the keys of knowledge (Luke 11:52; Matt. 23:13); and in that case the ensuing words about binding and loosing would suggest that Peter is pictured rather as the authoritative teacher of the New Law than as the quasi-political ruler of Christendom. Jesus, in promising him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, declares that Peter will be a competent and accredited rabbi, who will be divinely helped and guided in the fulfillment of his task as the leading interpreter of his Master's mind. (Catholicism and Christianity by Cadoux, p. 388)
Centuries before John Calvin gave the very same interpretation: "The comparison of the keys is very properly applied to the office of teaching; as when Christ says (Luke 11:52) that the Scribes and Pharisees, in like manner, have the key of the kingdom of heaven, because they are expounders of the law. We know that there is no other way in which the gate of life is opened to us than by the Word of God; and hence, it follows that the key is placed, as it were, in the hands of the ministers of the Word." (Commentary on the Gospels)
The keys were the insignia of the office of scribe, the teacher of the law of God, and therefore the keys promised to Peter were not the keys by which he could lord over the church at will, but were the keys for opening the kingdom of heaven both to the Jews first and to the Gentiles later. This great commission entrusted to him by Christ in Matthew 16:19, was carried on by Peter with power and success when, on the day of Pentecost, he, as the scribe and teacher of the New Law, opened the heavenly kingdom to all Israel and to the assembled Jews of many lands, three thousand of whom were converted. Again, when the kingdom of heaven is to be opened to the Gentile nations, Peter by divine direction is assigned to the task. He preached the gospel, power of God unto salvation, to Cornelius and his household, and the first Christian converts from heathen nations were born into the kingdom of Jesus. So, the keys of the grace of God were first used by Peter in accordance with the promise of Christ. But he was not the only one to use them; also Paul and other apostles and evangelists have used them with marvelous results. Even today, and till the end of time, all those who, obeying the commandment of Christ, will go and preach the gospel to all the world, leading people to faith in Jesus and full surrender to him, will make use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. For the granting of the keys did not authorize Peter to open directly the doors of heaven by forgiving and punishing. He was granted only the privilege that all Christians have, and that is, to convince people to accept Christ's condition of salvation and then be allowed to enter into the kingdom. For Jesus and not Peter is the door: "I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved" (John 10:9); Jesus and not Peter is "the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me" (14:8). Peter was not called to give salvation, but to preach the gospel of Christ, of which he was granted the key of understanding, being the first to grasp that Jesus was the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. It is obvious therefore that with the promise of the keys Jesus Christ did not confide to Peter any primacy or spiritual dictatorship to be exercised over the church either by him or his successors.
PETER AND THE SHEEP
Another famous passage used by Romanists in support of the theory of primacy is John 21:15-17, called by the theologians the fulfillment of the promise: "Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He said to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep."
According to Romanists, in this passage Jesus Christ endowed Peter with power of feeding and ruling the whole Christian sheepfold without any exception or limitation. The promise made to him in Matthew 16:18-19 is here fulfilled by charging him with spiritual supremacy both over the lambs, in which are symbolized the faithful, and over the sheep which stand for the clergy. But such an interpretation is absolutely gratuitous being in disagreement with the facts recorded in the Bible. First of all, the threefold question of Jesus is related to the three-fold denial of the Master by Peter. That is why the Lord prayed for him, "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not." Peter badly needed this divine assistance because the Wicked One was sifting him like wheat (Luke 22:31-32). The result of the prayer was that, even though Peter denied thrice his Lord, in the end he was restored to the grace of God. But because this denial was public, Jesus Christ wanted also public the restoration of his passionate apostle. Hence, three times He asked Peter if he loved him. It was a triple confession of love which was exceedingly convenient after his triple negation of Jesus. Naturally, after his confirmation in faith and love, the Lord told him to feed again his lambs and sheep. There is nothing spectacular in this. Peter was selected together with the others to become a fisherman of souls, and now that Jesus Christ is sure of his repentance and conversion reconfides unto Peter the previous task of preaching the gospel, of strengthening the brethren, of feeding the flock. Had any other apostle committed the same fault, surely Jesus would have acted with him as He did with Peter. However, it must be born in mind that the task of feeding the lambs and sheep was not exclusively entrusted to Peter, as Romanists assert; it was the mission assigned to all as shown in Matthew 18:18; 28:18-20 and John 20:21-23, and as the disciples also practiced in their oral and written instructions. In other words, Christ did not give Peter any special commitment that was not also conferred upon all apostles. Not even this passage, therefore, can be used by our Catholic friends as a proof in behalf of the alleged primacy of Peter and, consequently, of the Roman see.
PETER'S PRIMACY UNSCRIPTURAL
All those who read the Bible without prejudice can scarcely believe how the Roman Catholic Church has succeeded to build up from a pre-eminence of honor, and in any case personal to Peter, a monarchical system patterned after the example of the most despotic nations in the world. And yet millions of people blindly believe in a doctrine which has no particle of evidence in the New Testament. In fact, Peter's primacy cannot be supported Scripturally because Jesus Christ has not established in the church an office higher than that of an apostle, and even this was not transmissible any more than the office of the prophets in the Old Testament. A successor was indeed appointed to Judas because he had ceased to be an apostle; but not to James, the son of Zebedee, or to any other of the Twelve. So even accepting Peter as having exercised full leadership over his fellow-apostles and over the church, his so-called primacy would have ended at his death. However, we find in the Bible that the relations between all the apostles were on the basis of complete equality. Inspired writers and early fathers of the church, as we have already seen, never dreamed of any kind of primacy for Peter. As a matter of fact, if there was a leader in the Jerusalem church it was James, the brother of the Lord, and not Peter. Besides, in Gal. 2:9 Paul mentions James and John as being reputed pillars together with Peter whom he also withstood to the face, because he was to be blamed (2:14). Romanists say that it was a matter of discipline and, consequently, not involving the authority of Peter; but no pope today would tolerate an inferior accusing him publicly of (1) inconsistency, (2) practical calumny of Christ, (3) transgression of the law, and (4) making void the gift of God (Gal. 2:14-21). It is also evident that Paul exercised more jurisdiction upon the primitive churches than Peter or any other apostle. Furthermore, in the first century Christianity reigned with an equality and a democratic government that could not agree with papal despotism. In fact, when a successor to Judas was being selected, it was not Peter to appoint him, but the multitude of the believers by a democratic vote elected Matthias (Acts 1:15-26). Likewise the seven deacons were selected by the brethren and not appointed by a vicar of Christ (Acts 6:3). Moreover in the Jerusalem council, while James enjoyed the presidency, the final decrees in favor of the converts from the Gentiles were issued not in the name of Peter, but in the name of the apostles, of the elders, and of the brethren (Acts 15). When Paul and Barnabas returned from their first missionary journey, they did not go to see Peter, but reported directly to the church at Antioch (Acts 14:26). On Paul's return from his third journey he did not report to Peter, but went unto "James; and all the elders were assembled" (Acts 21:18).
That there was no general recognition of Peter's I primacy in early times is also shown from Paul's statement in 1 Cor. 1:12, where one party claimed to be of Paul, one of Apollos, one of Cephas, and one of Christ. In Galatians 2:7-8 Paul implies that Peter had no jurisdiction whatever over him by saying, "When they had seen that to me was committed the gospel of the uncircumcision, as to Peter was that of the circumcision." It is clear that the authority of Peter, if he had any, was not universal, like that of the pope, but limited to the Jewish population whose center was Jerusalem, and not Rome. Finally, the most decisive arguments against Peter's primacy are the silence of Peter himself, who never seemed to realize his high position, and the not less amazing conduct of his immediate disciple Mark who, in spite of the intimate contacts and relationship that he enjoyed with the apostle, has left us no hint about the leading role played by the alleged first vicar of Christ. Can Romanists imagine a pope like Peter? If yes, they must prove why did he not know it. The crucial point of the whole issue is that neither Jesus nor the inspired writers have ever said that the church was built on Peter alone; Peter himself was plainly aware of the truth that "other foundation can no man lay, but that which is laid: which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11). Though not perfect in the flesh, Peter was never guilty of the charge of usurping the place of honor that the Holy Spirit ascribes exclusively to Christ. "And he is the head of the body, the church; who is the beginning, the firstborn from the death, and that in all things he may hold the primacy" (Col. 1:18). On the contrary, he feels equal among equals, brother among brethren, calling himself an elder and exhorting in all humility the other elders in order that they might exercise the oversight willingly without lording over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, they would receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away (1 Pet. 5:1-4).
PAPAL SUPREMACY, A RESULT OF TRADITION
For this very reason Peter, not having claimed any primacy of jurisdiction for himself, could not possibly transmit to others an authority that was not his. Conseqently, the theory that all the prerogatives conferred upon Peter were not to cease at his death but were to be handed down to his successors from generation to generation, is without foundation. Even admitting that Peter resided in Rome and ordained a plurality of elders, as was the custom of the churches of Christ everywhere, it can not follow that only one was elected pope. In this respect, the testimony of Clement, supposed to have been the fourth Roman bishop from Peter, is unquestionable. Writing to the Corinthians, in fact, at the close of the first century he clearly implies that the church at Rome, as well as that at Corinth, had still a plurality of bishops. The truth is that the supremacy of the popes can in no way be derived from a humble and peaceful apostle like Peter. It is instead a result of tradition originated and developed little by little by the ambition of the later bishops of the capital of the empire. As early as the second century the church of Rome began to put forward unprecedented claims to a certain superiority among other churches; claims which were favored by various circumstances. First of all, the Roman church itself had, from the first, been associated with that severer type of Christian belief which had its chief seat at Jerusalem; and, after the holy city and its temple were alike razed to the ground by Titus (70 A. D. ), much of the reverence which had belonged to Jerusalem was transferred to Rome. Besides, Rome was the most powerful center of attraction for all Christians as having been illustrated by the preaching and martyrdom of Paul and perhaps of Peter. But the circumstance that was most conducive to the acceptance of the papal pretensions was the creation of a new office in the ecclesiastical organization, that of the metropolitan. The chief cities or metropoleis of the several Roman provinces were from the first selected as the seats of the principal Christian churches — Rome, Antioch, Corinth, Ephesus, and Thessalonica respectively representing the chief ecclesiastical centers of Italy, Syria, Achaia, Asia and Macedonia. In this manner we are able to understand how the bishop of Rome successively assumed the more extended authority of a metropolitan (325) and, later on, also the authority of a patriarch (345).
But no external event exercised a more potent influence on the early history of the Roman Church than the removal of the seat of imperial power to Constantinople (330). For more than a century from that event it was not a little doubtful whether the patriarch of "Nova Roma" (New Rome) might not succeed in asserting an authority to which even the Western pontiff might be compelled to defer. It became accordingly an object of primary importance with the latter to dissociate as far as possible in the mind of Christendom the notion of an ecclesiastical supremacy derived, like that at Constantinople, mainly from the political importance of the capital from the conception of that supremacy which he himself claimed as the representative of the inalienable authority and privileges conferred on Peter and his successors. From henceforth it was the key-note to the utterances of the Roman primate that his supremacy, as a tradition from apostolic times, could never depart from him and his successors, and that, as representing the authority of the two chief apostles, it had claims upon the obedience and reverence of the whole Christian church such as no other apostolic see could produce. To the ultimate assertion of these pretensions the long and fierce struggle carried on between the followers of Arius and the supporters of orthodoxy materially contributed. The appeal to the arbitration of Rome, preferred both by Athanasius and by the Arian party, placed Julius I (337-352) in the proud position of the recognized protector of the orthodox faith. In the year 339 Athanasius himself visited the Western capital and resided there for three years. His presence and exhortation confirmed the Roman pontiff still further in his policy; and from this time we perceive the see of Rome assuming, more distinctly than before, the right to define doctrine and the function of maintaining the true standard of faith amid the numerous heresies that were then troubling the church.
Furthermore, with the division of the empire in the year 395 the authority of the bishop of Rome became more and more firmly established, so that it was rather easy for a man of the caliber of Leo I (440-461) to set forth in its definite form the totalitarian system of papal supremacy. With the help of the emperor Valentinian III, who uttered an edict proclaiming the Roman see a supreme court of appeal for all the bishops, Leo succeeded to place the primacy of Rome upon a triple basis—the merits of Peter, the majesty of the city of Rome, and the authority of a council (Chalcedon 451?). In a letter to the Illyrian bishops this energetic pope stated, "That on him as the successor of the apostle Peter on whom as the reward of his faith, the Lord had conferred the primacy of apostolic rank and on whom he had firmly grounded the universal Church, was devolved the care of all the churches, to participate in which, he intended his colleagues, the other bishops." With such a peremptory declaration the destiny of Christianity was sealed forever while the papal supremacy marked the beginning of a glorious era whose forward march has not yet been stopped. (Encyclopedia Britannica, pp. 489-492)
However, it was not without opposition and struggle that the bishops of Rome succeeded in imposing their authority on the Christian world. Opposition that shows beyond doubt the human origin of the Roman Catholic claims. It can be said in all truth that the supremacy of the pope is a man-made institution, and that the same fathers quoted by Romanists in behalf of its divine origin may be cited by us to prove the contrary. In fact, here is Ireneus who, while he seems to exalt the Roman see for its apostolic principality (Adv. Haer., bk. 3, c. 3), in another notable instance repudiates the claims of the Roman bishop to dictate to the bishops of other dioceses. This was on the occasion of a sentence of excommunication pronounced by Victor I (190-202) upon certain oriental bishops on account of their refusal to celebrate Easter at a particular time. Again, we find Tertullian implicitly intimating his disapproval in his treatise De Pudicitia (sect. 1) of the assumption by the Roman bishop of the titles of "pontifex maximus" (supreme pontiff) and "episcopus episcoporum" (bishop of bishops); in another of his treatises (De Virg. Velandis, Migne, Patrol., pp. 767-8), he distinctly impugns the claim made by Zephyrinus (202-218) of a certain superiority in the Roman see derived as a tradition from Peter. It was during this time that Origen, visiting Rome, uttered the famous dictum: "For if you hold that the whole church was built by God on Peter alone, what will you say concerning John, the son of thunder, and each of the other apostles?" (Migne, Patrol. Graeca, vol. 13, 397).
Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (246-258), while affirming the equality of bishops one with another, explicitly condemns the undue interference of the Roman bishop in the affairs of other dioceses with words such as these: "None of us has ever dared to proclaim himself bishop of bishops, forcing with tyrannical terror the obedience of his colleagues... but all are expecting the judgment of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only one who has the authority of appointing us in the government of His church, and the right of judging our actions" (Epist. 69).
Later on Jerome expressly attributed the institution of the episcopal order itself to the necessity of repressing the numerous schisms in the church, warning consequently the bishops that their office, with its involved authority over presbyters, was to be regarded rather as the result of custom and tradition than of divine appointment (Ad Tit., 1, 7). As regarding any special supremacy attached to the Roman episcopate, the evidence afforded by another passage in Jerome is not less notable. In one of his most important letters (Ad Rusticum: Migne, Patrol., 22, 932) he fully recognizes the expediency and value of a central supreme authority, vested in a single individual. In support of his position he adduces examples from the animal kingdom, from the imperial power, from the military power, from the judicial power, and then goes on to say, "so again each church has its one bishop, its one arch-presbyter, its one archdeacon, every ecclesiastical grade relying on its leader," but to the clinching example derivable from the supreme pontiff himself, no reference is made. It seems, accordingly, an inevitable inference that by one of the greatest of the Latin fathers, who was also secretary of pope Damascus, writing at the close of the fourth century, the Roman theory of popedom was unrecognized. (Encyclopedia Britannica, ibid.)
Another remarkable evidence against papal supremacy is shown by the position of Augustine (430) who, being secretary at the Council of Carthage, enacted the following impressive decree: "Anyone who appeals to those overseas (Rome) shall not be received by the communion of the bishops of Africa." The leaders of the African church had so little respect toward the bishop of Rome as to excommunicate anyone who would have asked help of him. These same leaders in the sixth Council of Carthage wrote to the Roman bishop, Celestine, warning him to refuse any appeal made by bishops, elders and deacons of Africa; to abstain from sending legates or commissioners to them; in a word, to refrain from introducing human pride in the church. This was an eloquent accusation against the ambition of the bishop of Rome whose pretensions of supremacy had encountered the disagreement of the greatest representatives of the Latin fathers.
But even after Leo I had succeeded to insure papal primacy over most of the churches, still no Roman bishop ever claimed the title of universal bishop until after the close of the sixth century. And when John, bishop of Constantinople, in 588 A. D. assumed for the first time this title, the presumptuous pretension was denounced by Gregory of Rome as vain, execrable, anti-Christian, blasphemous, infernal and diabolical. Writing to John he says in part: "You know it, my brother; hath not the venerable council of Chalcedon conferred the honorary title of universal upon the bishops of this apostolic See, whereof I am, by God's will, the servant? And yet none of us hath permitted this title to be given him; none has assumed this bold title, lest by assuming a special episcopate, we should seem to refuse it to all the brethren... But far from Christians be this blasphemous name by which all honor is taken from all other priests, while it is foolishly arrogated by one." And to the emperor Mauritius he writes: "I am bold to say, that whosoever adopts or affects the title of universal bishop has the pride and character of anti-Christ, and is in some manner his forerunner in this haughty quality of elevating himself above the rest of his order. And indeed both the one and the other seem to split upon the same rock; for as pride makes anti-Christ strain his pretensions upon the Godhead, so whoever is ambitious to be called the only or universal prelate, arrogates to himself a distinguished superiority, and rises, as it were, upon the ruins of the rest."
Nevertheless what Gregory condemned as a crime was accomplished two years after his death by a less scrupulous man, Boniface III, who obtained from the emperor Phocas, a most cruel and bloodthirsty tyrant, the title with the privilege of handing it down to his successors. Thus Boniface III became the first recognized Universal Bishop of Rome and the "man of sin" predicted by Paul and the "anti-Christ" suggested by Gregory, was fully developed and revealed in the year A. D. 606. (The Bible vs. Romanism by Trice, pp. 67-68)
The above historical evidences irrefutably prove that the supremacy of the popes is far from being a divine institution; it is nothing less than a usurpation that progressed from century to century until its final affirmation as an absolute politico-religious power that is above any earthly potentate or tribunal and can be judged by God alone. That is why we urge our Catholic friends to study accurately and without prejudice the Bible and the history of the early church and they will find that Christ, and not the pope, is the Universal Bishop of all Christians, the Chief Shepherd of the whole religious flock, the only appointed and imperishable Head of the church on earth. "And (God) hath subjected all things under his feet and hath made him head over all the church." Eph. 1:22.Back to Table of Contents
INFALLIBILITY OF THE POPE
The most important deduction that has been inferred from the doctrine of the primacy of Peter and his successors is the infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals. And indeed, admitting that Peter was the rock-foundation of the church and the only keeper of the keys of Christ's kingdom with supreme authority over all the faithful, it must follow that he was also divinely endowed with personal infallibility in teaching and ruling them. For it would be unthinkable that the head of an institution aimed at the salvation of souls could possibly lead them into error. Now, Roman Catholics reason that because the church was not to cease at the death of Peter, but was to continue pure and without error till the end of time, it was absolutely necessary that the same privilege of infallibility should have been transmitted to his successors, the bishops of Rome. Hence, the apparently logical conclusion that the popes in their official capacity of universal pastors and teachers of the whole church have always enjoyed divine infallibility in defining doctrines concerning morals or revealed truths. Thus, in the Vatican Council (1870) it was made clear that the dogma of papal infallibility was not a new doctrine but rather "a tradition handed down from the beginning of Christian faith," implicitly contained in the teaching of the church up to that time, and, consequently, there was not bestowed upon the pope any new power or something given him that he did not already possess. The Vatican Council declared it to be "a dogma of divine revelation that when the Roman Pontiff speaks ex cathedra—that is, when he, using his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his apostolic authority, defines a doctrine of faith and morals to be held by the whole Church—he, by the divine assistance promised him in blessed Peter, possesses that infallibility with which the divine Redeemer was pleased to invest his Church in the definition of doctrine on faith and morals, and that, therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable in their own nature and not because of the consent of the Church." (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 267) That such a dogmatic pronouncement in behalf of papal infallibility has neither foundation in the Bible nor support from the history of the church shall be seen in the present chapter.
MEANING OF INFALLIBILITY
By infallibility is understood the incapability of teaching what is false. It is a fact or quality of not being liable to err. Of course, such a privilege can be granted by God alone, because it is not in the nature of man to possess this miraculous guidance and enlightenment. Only the apostles and inspired writers were endowed by the Holy Spirit with this unique privilege of immunity from error when speaking or writing the revealed truths of God. But as soon as the New Testament was completed, the infallibility or inerrancy remained an exclusive quality of the Holy Scriptures. Therefore the pretention of the popes in being immune from error while defining doctrines concerning faith or morals is a novelty which can not be traced back to the apostolic times. It is a further step on the way of apostasy from Christ.
Roman Catholics are very sensitive about their belief in papal infallibility, and therefore they do not like to be misrepresented in any way. Consequently, our Christian brethren must be exceedingly careful in understanding this doctrine before affording any discussion with them on this matter. First of all, they ought to know that infallibility does not mean inspiration or that the pope may receive divine revelations. Romanists freely admit that only the apostles and holy writers were endowed with the gift of inspiration. In this respect, the Vatican Council states: "For the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter in order that they might spread abroad new doc-which He reveals, but that, under His assistance, they guard inviolably and with fidelity explain the revelation or deposit of faith handed down by the Apostles." (Sess. 4, c. 4)
Besides, infallibility does not mean that the pope is impeccable or incapable of moral wrong. As a human being he can make mistakes and commit sins and it is certainly possible for him to go to hell like any other mortal man. He must earn his way to eternal salvation, confessing his sins and overcoming the temptations of the devil in the same way the faithful are commanded to do. Father Con-way in his Question Box makes this interesting comment: "Infallibility does not mean that the Pope is incapable of committing sin. He may commit sin like any other Catholic, and he is bound like any other Catholic to use the same divine means of pardon, the Sacrament of Penance. Infallibility in not a personal, but a divine, official prerogative, given by Christ to Peter and his successors to keep them free from error in defining the content of the Gospel. Infallibility has nothing whatever to do with the personal moral character of the Pope." (p. 215)
Moreover, the inerrability of the pope does not extend to natural sciences, politics, history, or medicine. He may speak on these matters erroneously without endangering the infallibility of his office. Catholics readily admit that in certain realms outside faith and morals the popes have committed blunders. In this respect, the Roman Catholic position is stated by John B. Harney as follows: "We do not believe that the Pope is infallible, or has any special divine assistance in dealing with other branches of human knowledge, such as astronomy, geology, and physical sciences.
"We do not believe that the Pope is infallible in discussing other questions which might have a slight bearing on religious truths, or even a direct and intimate relation with them, except under the conditions and circumstances which have been already specified.
"We do not believe that the Pope can make known new truths or proclaim new revelations.
"We do not believe that the infallibility of the Pope is due in any way, shape, or degree to himself or to any other man. It is not the product of his abilities, his studious researches, or his keen vision. Neither is it dependent on his character. A scholarly Pope is no more infallible than one whose talents are mediocre. A saint Pope is no more infallible than one whose behavior is stained with deadly sins." (The Popes, Infallible Teachers, pp. 8-9)
Furthermore, infallibility does not affect the doctrinal opinions of the pope as a private teacher even when he expounds doctrines concerning faith and morals. For instance, the commentaries on Holy Scriptures, the theological treatises, the explanations on Canon Law, the sermons to the people made by any pope are subject to criticism and error as the work of any other Catholic writer. When Benedictus XIV published his works of theology and Canon Law, he did candidly say that in writing books the popes express their own private belief without making any official pronouncement as universal judges and teachers of the church, and therefore their opinion is not binding upon the faithful.
Finally, infallibility does not allow the pope to invent a new doctrine, to break a divine law, or to alter the revealed Word of God. He is only the expounder, the official guardian of the deposit of truth, the chief interpreter of the will of God in order to insure the continuity of the church from generation to generation without change or error.
From the above explanations it clearly follows that the pope is preserved from error only in these four conditions: (1) When he speaks ex cathedra, from the chair of Peter, as supreme teacher of the universal church; (2) when he defines a doctrine, giving an absolute final decision; (3) when he treats of faith and morals, including the whole revealed Word of God, and all truths of philosophy and facts of history which are essential to the preservation, explanation and defense of the content of revelation - v. g., the existence of substance, the fact that St. Peter was bishop of Rome, the interpretation of the Holy Scripture and the writings of the true and false teachers of the gospel; (4) when he clearly manifests his intention to bind the universal church. (American Catholic Quarterly, 1893, p. 677)
The theologians explain further that the privilege of infallibility is not a quality inherent in any person, but an assistance attached to the office, the papacy. However, such a quality is personal in the sense that it is inherited by apostolic succession from Peter, and not from the see. Besides, it is personal because it cannot be delegated to others. In a word, the dogma of papal infallibility has been defined in such a way in order to reduce to a minimum the many inconsistencies and mistakes committed by the previous popes. If difficulties arise new interpretations are invented so as to safeguard the truthfulness of the dogmatic definition. So, when Roman Congregations and two popes, Paul V and Urban VIII, were involved in the condemnation of Galileo's theory in defense of the Copernican system against the Ptolemaic, the theologians came out, saying: "We readily grant that these Congregations were wrong in condemning Galileo...and that the two Popes erred, not only as private persons, but as the heads of these Congregations, whose decrees were valueless unless approved by the Pope. But the decisions of the Congregations, even when approved by the supreme Pontiff, are not infallible, unless the Pope makes them his own, and promulgates them in his own name, with all the conditions required for an ex cathedra definition" (Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae, by Tanquerey, vol. 1, p. 496). Likewise, when Pius VII in restoring the Jesuits contradicted pope Clement XIV who suppressed them, another excuse was set forth: "Infallibility does not belong to the Pope as supreme legislator and judge in matters of discipline, but only as supreme teacher in defining doctrine to be held by the Universal Church, as explained above. He is by no means infallible, therefore, either in suppressing a religious order or in restoring it, and so Catholics can answer that the Pope may in such I cases have erred." (Conway, Question Box, p. 225)
The truth of the matter is that whatever explanation Romanists may produce in defense of their dogma, they will always find themselves at a complete loss when asked to prove the infallibility of the pope with scriptural and historical evidences. They may write volumes upon volumes on the subject, but will never be able to answer the question why it took 1870 years to define a dogma which, they say, is clearly revealed in the Bible and fully proved by the facts of history.
Despite the efforts that Romanists have made in order to substantiate the dogma of papal infallibility with quotations from the Scripture, we may say in all truth that in the New Testament there is no hint whatever about such a doctrine. The passages usually presented are the same which were quoted for proving the primacy of Peter and his successors, namely Matthew 16:18-19, in which Christ makes the solemn promise of building his church on Peter as one of the many living stones of this spiritual house, granting him the keys of the kingdom of heaven and giving him the power of binding and loosing; Luke 22:31-32, where Jesus in view of the imminent betrayal of his most ardent disciple, prayed for the triumph of Peter's faith in time of temptation; John 21:15-17, in which our Lord charges Peter to feed his lambs and his sheep; Matthew 28:19-20, where Christ promises to be with the disciples until the end of the world; and John 14:16-17, in which Jesus says that the Holy Spirit would abide with the church forever. From such passages Catholics hastily draw the conclusion that the pope is infallible. Every one may see the falsity of a reasoning like this.
First of all, the promises made by Christ to Peter are not exclusive; Peter did not enjoy special privileges; what was promised to him was also given to all the apostles, as we have already explained in the previous chapter. We beg our Catholic friends to read Matthew 18:18 and John 20:22-23. But even in granting that Peter was endowed with special privileges, it does not follow that these have been transmitted to the popes. There is no passage of Scripture to prove this. We do believe that Peter, his fellow-apostles and all the holy writers were infallible when speaking or writing the Word of God. They truly enjoyed the special assistance of the Holy Spirit, because entrusted with the gift of inspiration. They were laying down the foundations of Christianity and therefore they surely needed divine power in preaching, writing, and guiding the first Christian believers. But after the church was firmly established, after the New Testament was written down, why expect extraordinary means in the ordinary administration of the Word? Now the infallibility is no more in the interpreter, but in the Word itself. That is why we are commanded neither to take from it nor to add to it. Can our Catholic friends deny that through dogmatic definitions the Word of God has been substituted with human traditions? Of course they do, but without producing Scriptures to substantiate their claims.
In the Conway Question Box, p. 97, there is this typical example of Roman Catholic sophistic reasoning on the matter: "If a Protestant call the doctrine of infallibility an addition to the faith because only defined in late years, on the same principle he ought logically to call the doctrines of the divinity of Christ (defined in A. D. 325) and the divinity of the Holy Ghost (defined in A. D. 381) new doctrines." Evidently Father Conway forgot to remark that while the divinity of Christ and the Holy Ghost constitute fundamental doctrines of the New Testament, the dogma of the infallibility of the pope is not even hinted at in the Bible. Scriptural doctrines have no need of definitions but need only be reaffirmed against eventual heresiarchs, while unscriptural doctrines must have them in order to be accepted by the gullible and naive.
Furthermore, the apostles had no successors; they are still ruling the Christian world through the words of the Bible. The examples and teachings set forth by them are still in charge without exception. No one would dare to deny such an obvious thing. How, then, is it possible to affirm that the supernatural infallibility entrusted to them has been handed down to a succession of men many of whom were neither learned nor holy? Every one knows that, besides the infallibility, Peter was also endowed with the gift of inspiration and the power of working miracles; how is it that only one of these gifts has been claimed by the popes? Could Peter possibly limit the transmission of only one of his miraculous prerogatives to his alleged successors when all were personal to him? These and other questions crowd our mind when discussing the doctrine of papal infallibility. Can our Catholic friends give us a satisfactory answer? We do not believe they can, because the Scripture not only does not support any such claim, but it is expressly said there that all men, with no exception, are liars: "But God is true and every man a liar (Rom. 3:4), while the Psalmist sang: "I said in my excess: Every man is a liar (115:11).
HISTORY AGAINST INFALLIBILITY
If the Bible is silent about this supernatural prerogative claimed by the popes, the church's history shows beyond doubt that while for many centuries papal infallibility was completely unknown in Christendom, the gradual affirmation of it was never recognized as of divine institution by large sections of the Roman Catholic Church itself, and when in 1870 it was finally imposed as a dogma of faith a great number of the Vatican fathers were opposed to it, as we shall see later on.
First of all, the early history of the church, even after the successful recognition of the alleged primacy of the bishops of Rome in the fifth century, does not offer any hint about the gift of infallibility that is said to be attached to the papal office. As a matter of fact, not only is there no pope who for at least fourteen hundred years ever claimed such a divine privilege, but in many ecumenical councils, like those of Constance (1414-18) and Basel (1431-47), the very superiority of the pope above a general council was emphatically denied. By affirming that the infallibility was accorded only to the council, as the representative body of the universal church, they implicitly excluded any personal privilege resting on the pope, as head of the Christian community. This same theory was upheld till the Vatican Council by the majority of Roman Catholic bishops outside Italy, who generally followed the teaching set forth in a document called "the Gallican liberties," in which was stressed the idea that, although the pope had the principal share in questions of faith, his decrees and judgment however were not at all irreformable without the consent of the entire church. And Febronius (1701-90), also a Roman bishop, more radically than the others maintained "that the power of the keys was lodged in the whole body of the faithful, though it was to be exercised by the clergy; that every bishop had unlimited power of dispensation, condemnation of heresy, administration, etc. in his own diocese; that the Holy See was not superior to the rest of the bishops as a body or to a general council; and that the bishops should restrain the activity of the Holy See." (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 202)
It is correct to say, therefore, that papal infallibility can not be traced back to apostolic or subapostolic times, as Romanists claim, it being one of the latest products to come out from that enormous forge of human doctrines which is the Vatican See.
1. Neither can papal infallibility be proved by examining the very actions and doctrinal pronouncements of many popes. Though Catholics say that infallibility has nothing to do with papal decisions unless made ex cathedra, yet it cannot be denied that in showing the contradictions and errors in which the popes have fallen down through the ages the cause of infallibility is obviously weakened if not completely nullified. And indeed we cannot understand how the popes may still be considered infallible when publicly erring in matters of doctrine, faith, morals and discipline. The explanations given by Romanists in such cases are not at all convincing. Here are some of many instances of papal fallibility that we derive from Roman Catholic sources:
Pope Victor (190-202) while in a previous decree approving the heresy of Montanism in another one condemned it.
Pope Marcellinus (292-303) was a public idolator, entering the temple of Vesta and offering incense to the goddess. To the excuse that it was an act of weakness it may well be answered that a true vicar of Christ would have rather died than become an apostate.
Pope Liberius (352-366) approved of the condemnation of St. Athanasius, the opponent of Arianism, by Arian bishops, and he himself subscribed a semi-Arian profession of faith in order to be called back from exile and restored to his see.
Pope Gelasius (492-96) made a dictum concerning the Lord's Supper which is in striking contrast with the later decree of the Council of Trent. He affirmed that while the sacrament of the body and blood of our Lord is indeed a divine thing, "nevertheless the substance or nature of the bread and wine cease not to exist." On the contrary, the Trent fathers proclaimed as a dogma of faith that "by the consecration of the bread and wine, the whole substance of the bread is converted into the substance of the body of Christ, and the whole substance of the wine is converted into the substance of his blood; which conversion is suitably and properly called by the Catholic Church, Transubstantiation."
Pope Gregory I (590-604) called antichrist whoever would have taken the title of Universal Bishop, while Boniface III (607-8) obtained such a title from the parricide emperor Phocas for himself and his successors. The same Gregory forbade any priest to celebrate mass alone, "for there ought to be present," he says, "some to whom he may speak, and who, in like manner, ought to answer him, and he must withal, remember that saying of Christ, 'Where two or three are gathered together in my name I will be present with them' " (Liber Capitularis, c. 7). However, the Council of Trent, in the canon 8, Sess. 22, declared, in open contradiction to this earlier decision, that "if anyone hall say that private masses, in which the priest alone doth sacramentally communicate, are unlawful, and, therefore, ought to be abrogated, let him be accursed."
Pope Honorius (625-38) adhered to the heresy of Monothelism when, writing to Sergios, patriarch of Constantinople, he affirmed that "there being only one principle of action, or one direction of the will in Christ, therefore there must be one will also." For this reason he was anathematized in the sixth ecumenical Council (3 Constantinople, 680-1).
Pope Hadrian II (867-72) declared civil marriages to be valid, while Pius VII (1823) condemned them as being invalid.
Pope Paschal II (1099-1118), who in the earlier years of his pontificate instigated the cruel and unnatural revolt of the young prince Henry (afterwards the emperor Henry V) against his own father, "was reduced to the degrading necessity of being disclaimed by the clergy, of being forced to retract his own impeccable decrees, of being taunted in his own day with heresy, and abandoned as a feeble traitor to the rights of the church" (Milman, Hist. of Latin Christ). He, and later on Eugenius III (1145-53), condemned the duel as sinful which was instead allowed by Julius II (1509) and Pius IV (1560).
Pope Clement XIV (1769-74) suppressed the Jesuits with a public and solemn document (Dominus and Re-demptor Noster) for "its restlessness of spirit and audacity of action," while Pius VII restored them again in the Church.
Pope Sixtus V (1585-90) published an edition of the Bible recommending its reading in a Bull (the most solemn and weighty form of papal letter), and Pius VII condemned the reading of it.
Pius XII, after having promulgated two infallible pronouncements in the field of morals, one on the question of the Rotary Club on January 11, 1951, and the other on Birth Control on October 29, 1951, had to retract them because of the unfavorable reaction stirred up at the hand of the American Roman Catholic clergy and laity.
These are the historical facts that show beyond all reasonable doubt the little reliability of papal infallibility. How can our Catholic friends be sure of the seriousness of their dogma when founded on such enormously controversial foundations?
2. But the cause of infallibility becomes further shaken if we consider the moral character of quite a few popes. The reason that infallibility does not require either impeccability or goodness of life is not enough to solve such a grave problem. Romanists cannot easily dissociate the alleged Sacredness of the papal office from the unspeakable corruption that has crept into it at the hand of its unworthy officers. The example of Judas in the apostolic college is not fitting, because he neither received the Holy Spirit nor was made "custodian of the keys of the kingdom of heaven, infallible interpreter of God's holy Word and Christ's vicegerent on earth." We cannot see how the gift of infallibility could possibly abide in the souls of such monsters like those recorded in the history of the popes. These so-called holy links in the unbroken chain of papal succession are nothing less than common criminals and as such should be considered. Would it not be offensive to the sanctity of the Holy Spirit to admit that He gave assistance and guidance to such execrable popes? And yet Romanists, because of the dogma of infallibility, are compelled to accept and defend such an absurdity. But let us see a few horrible facts available in any book of Roman Catholic history:
Pope Vigilius (540-55), the nominee of Theodora and her pliant slave, bought the papacy from Belisarius, general of the emperor Justinian, becoming a mere vassal of the courtezans on the imperial throne. However, he was unfaithful to the promise and refused to pay. The historians say that under him "the papal office was dishonoured as it had never been before, at once by the signal unworthiness of its bearer and by the indignities heaped upon him by the savage malice of his foes." (Encyclop. Britannica, vol. 19, p. 493)
Pope John VIII (872-82) was indeed a monster of blood and cruelty. "He commended the unnatural barbarity of Athanasius, bishop of Napes, who put out the eyes of his own brother, Sergius, duke of the same city, and sent him in that state to the pope, to answer to a charge of rebellion against the Holy See." (Hist, of Romanism, by Bowling, p. 217)
Pope Stephen VI (VII? 896-97) is remembered only for the inhuman manner in which he treated the lifeless corpse of his predecessor Formosus. As Platina relates the pope rescinded the acts of Formosus, compelled those ordained by him to be reordained, dragged his dead body from the tomb, beheaded him, as though he were alive and then threw him into the Tiber. Writing about him, Baronius comments at his death: "Thus perished this villanous man who entered the sheepfold as a thief and a robber; and who in the retribution of God, ended his days by the infamous death of the halter." (Annales, vol. x, p. 742)
Pope Sergius III (904-11) cohabited with the notorious prostitute Marozia and her daughter, having a son by the first who became, later on, pope through the influence of his licentious mother.
Pope John X (915), lover of the courtezan Theodora, was raised to the papacy by her intrigues.
Pope John XI (931), bastard son of Sergius III and Marozia, was such an infamous vicar of Christ that Baronius was forced to exclaim in his Annales: "The Holy Roman Church has been vilely corrupted by a monster like him. "
Pope John XII (955-63), was one of the worst pontiffs ever to ascend the papal throne; because of his wickednesses, tyranny and debauchery he was summoned to appear before a council in order to meet the accusations brought against him by the Roman people, and having failed to appear, was formally deposed.
Pope Benedict IX (1033-45), a lad scarcely twelve years of age, was brought to the office by the counts of Tusculum through whom for nearly half a century the popedom became a mere apanage in their family. Benedict soon threw off even the external decencies of his office, and his pontificate was disgraced by every conceivable excess. As he grew to manhood his rule in conjunction with that of his brother, who was appointed the patrician prefect of the city, resembled that of two bandits. The scandal attaching to his administration culminated when it was known that, in order to win the hand of a lady for whom he had conceived a passion, he had sold the pontifical office itself to another member of the Tusculan house, John, the arch-presbyter, who took the name of Gregory VI. (Encydop. Brit., vol. 19, p. 497)
The moral degradation and degeneracy of the Roman see during a period of two hundred years is so revolting that Cardinal Baronius in his Annales exclaim horrified: "Oh! what was then the face of the Holy Roman Church! how filthy, when the vilest and most powerful prostitutes ruled in the court of Rome! by whose arbitrary sway dioceses were made and unmade, bishops were consecrated, and which is inexpressibly horrible to be mentioned false popes, their paramours, were thrust into the chair of St. Peter, who, in being numbered as popes, serve no purpose except to fill up the catalogues of the popes of Rome. For who can say that persons thrust into the popedom without any law by harlots of this sort, were legitimate popes of Rome? In this manner lust supported by secular power, excited to frenzy, in the rage for domination, ruled in all things." (Quoted from Hist. of Romanism by Dowling, p. 219)
But even after this indescribable age there have been several popes unworthy of their office. They have committed every kind of crime from poisoning to adultery, from concubinage to simony, from robbery to sacrilege. Here is Eugenius III (1145) who imitated pope Vigilius in buying the papal chair and to whom St. Bernard dared to say: "Can you show me in this great city of Rome anyone who recognizes you pope that did not receive gold or silver?" Here is John XXIII (1410-15), the notorious Balthasar Cossa, who poisoned his predecessor Alexander V, and because of his crime of immorality and simony was deposed by the Council of Constance. Here is Alexander VI (1492), elected through bribery and whose papal record is one of the most infamous of all. Among his debaucheries he is said to have been the lover of his daughter Lucrezia, while from, the Roman matron Vanozia he is said to have acknowledged five children, among whom Cardinal Caesar Borgia, not unworthy son of such a father. But it would be too long to mention all the wickednesses and depravations committed by the so-called vicars of Jesus Christ, these few should suffice for our Catholic friends to see the incompatibility and absurdity of the claim of papal infallibility. They may read the History of the Popes by the renowned Catholic historian Ludwig Pastor, and find out for themselves the truth about their most holy fathers. They will learn also that the divine gift of infallibility could not have been bestowed upon such sinful men without involving irreverence and disrespect for that true church of Jesus Christ, of which they are said to have been visible heads.
3. Furthermore, papal infallibility can not be substantiated by an unbroken line of popes, beginning from Peter till the Vatican Council when that doctrine was officially defined as a dogma of faith, because Romanists have not succeeded to join together the missing links of the chain. There are many contradictions in the official lists of the popes produced by Catholic authorities, and in those lists are included many antipopes in order to link the gaps of the broken line. For instance, Benedict V (964) and Boniface VII (984) were antipopes and their names stand in the official lists of the bishops of Rome. The early records about them extant in the works of Ireneus, Eusebius, in the Catalogus (list) Liberianus (366), Catalogus Felicianus (530), and above all in the Liber Pontificalis (book of the popes) are so inaccurate and confused that Clement, for example, is placed by one source right after Peter, and by another one in the third and even fourth place from him. For this reason Donald Attwater in his Catholic Dictionary, p. 548, before listing the bishops of Rome, is forced to make the following remark: "There are some discrepancies in the lists of the popes, owing to conflicting records and the uncertain status of certain Pontiffs; the following is an attempt to record historical probabilities. Family names, when known are given in brackets, and the date of accession follows. The dates up to the third century are extremely uncertain."
Besides, there have been popes who, even though canonically elected, were afterwards substituted by force with others who did not have reasonable claims to the office, and, consequently, lost their place in the list. Such was the case of Anacletus II (1134) in the struggle that arose between him and Innocent II, who was brought to the Roman see by the imperial forces of Lothair, although technically, at least, Anacletus had the better claim to the papacy, having been elected by a majority of Cardinals.
Moreover, during the many schisms that troubled the Roman see, very often two or three popes occupied at the same time the papal chair and Catholics themselves do not know who was the infallible one during those disgraceful periods. Thus we have the absurd situation of seeing the faithful divided in the obedience to one or the other pope or antipope and the Church without any infallible head, which for Catholics is inadmissible. Especially in the Great Schism of the West, which lasted from 1378 to 1417, Christian Europe was scandalized by the contentions of the two rival popes, the one (Urban VI) holding his court at Rome, the other (Clement VII) at Geneva, each hurling anathemas, excommunications, and the foulest accusations at the other, and compared by Wyclif to "two dogs snarling over a bone." The confusion was so great that even Roman Catholic saints, like Catherine of Siena and Vincent Fer-rerio, were misled and put one against the other. In the meantime isolated scholars and divines throughout Europe, among the regular and the secular clergy alike, were pondering deeply the lesson taught by the papal history of the last six centuries, and in the place of the traditional theories of appeals to popes, to councils, or to emperors there was growing up another conception, that of the essential falsity of the axioms on which the theory of the papal supremacy and infallibility had been built up, and of Scriptural authority as the only sure and final source of guidance in deciding upon questions of doctrine and morality. Such ideas, although not yet ready to be accepted by the popular mind of the time, found later on their natural outlet in the great Reformation which freed many peoples from unbearable ecclesiastical tyranny and ambitious usurpers. This is also the right conclusion that our Catholic friends should be able to reach in their unprejudiced inquiry of unscriptural papal claims. And we really wish they will.
INFALLIBILITY AND THE VATICAN COUNCIL
But papal infallibility appears far more an ecclesiastical imposition than a mere traditional doctrine from examining the history of the Vatican Council itself, where such a tenet was finally defined to be an article of the Catholic faith. Although this Council, assembled in Rome on Dec. 8, 1869, was more deserving of the name of "ecumenical" than any other which had before obeyed the behest of emperor or pope, being attended by delegates from nearly all parts of the world, yet, as a representative body, it was very unequally composed, because the numerous holders of the Italian bishoprics (many of which are of but small extent) constituted a large majority of the entire number. A proposal to rectify this practical inequality by dividing the whole Council into eight or six sections representing national elements was summarily rejected. On the other hand, the superiority of the minority (those opposed to infallibility) in learning and reputation was obvious. It included such names as Schwarzenbey, Mathieu, Darboy, Rauscher, Simor, Ginoulhiac, MacHale, Dupanloup, Ketteler, Strossmayer, Clifford, Kenrick, Maret, and Hefele; while in the long list of those who eventually recorded their placets in favour of the new decree scarcely a name of real eminence appears. Dr. Dollinger, the foremost scholar of Catholic Germany, was not among the "fathers" of the Council, but his disapproval of the new dogma was notorious, as also was that of the Comte de Montalembert in France. In order to make sure the triumph of the infallibilists pope Pius IX, a few days before the opening, issued a brief Multipliciter inter, prescribing the mode of conciliar procedure and effectually fettering the Council from the outset, so that it had never even the shadow of freedom which ostensibly was allowed to the Tridentine Synod. After protracted sittings, extending over seven months, and characterized mainly by a series of discreditable maneuvers designed to break the firm phalanx of the minority, who could only record their protests and utter eloquent remonstrances, the Constitution (as it was termed) was finally laid before the Council. This Constitution ( now usually cited as Pastor Aeternus) asserted the following propositions:
1. "That a proper primacy of jurisdiction over the whole Church was conferred upon Peter directly and singly, and not mediately through any delegation to him, as chief minister in the Church, of a primacy held by the Church corporately.
2. "That this Petrine primacy vests by divine institution and right in the line of Roman Pontiffs.
3. "That the pope's jurisdiction is immediate in all churches — that is, he is the universal ordinary, the actual bishop of every see (all other bishops being merely his curates and deputies), and is not a remote or merely appellate authority - so that in questions not of faith and morals alone, but of discipline and government also, all the faithful, of whatever rite or dignity, both pastors and laity, are bound, individually and collectively, to submit themselves thereto.
4. "That it is unlawful to appeal from the judgment of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical council, as though to a higher authority.
5. "That the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra, and defines a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the Universal Church, is infallible, and such definitions are accordingly irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church."
This document was voted upon in the congregation of 13th July, 1870, consisting of 671 members. Of these 451 voted in the affirmative; 88 voted against it; 62 voted placet juxta modum, meaning that they would accept it if it were seriously modified; and 70 did not vote at all. Now, by the canonical theory of councils such a division of opinion as this voided the decision of the majority, and made it null. For, while a bare majority in a council suffices to pass a mere disciplinary canon, being a variable matter, contrariwise, to enact a dogmatic decree requires practical unanimity, since nothing can be imposed as of faith for which the two attesting notes of universal prevalence and historical continuity cannot be adduced. And, as the dissent of any appreciable number denotes that they do not know it as the local tradition of their several dioceses, it thereby destroys the claim to these notes. Not only so; but in view of the character in which bishops appear at councils, as representing their laity, it is clear that the size and population of their several dioceses have to be taken into account when estimating the weight attached to their individual testimony as to the reception of any dogma within their jurisdictions. Tried by this standard, the opposition was very much more Important than its muster-roll seems to indicate, for it included the bishops from many of the most populous Roman Catholic dioceses, such as the archbishop of Paris, with 2,000,000 Catholics, Breslau with 1,700,000, Cologne with 1,400,000, Vienna with about the same number, and Cambrai with 1,300,000; whereas 62 bishops of the Papal States, for example, represented no more than 700,000 altogether, apart from the hundred and more titulars who had no flocks at all. This matter may be summed up thus: every vote cast for the new dogma stood for 142,570 folks; but every vote cast against it stood for 492,520. Nor is this all: a council claiming to be ecumenical must speak with the consent of both East and West. But, even if the very large concession be made that the Uniat churches in communion with Rome are in truth the lawful representatives of the Ancient Oriental Church, the fact remains that the number and rank of the Orientals in the minority was such as to make the vote at best only a Latin one. So, in any way the voting was neither fair nor in accordance with the general rules of the councils.
Immediately after this preliminary voting, nearly all the bishops of the minority abruptly quitted Rome, after previously discharging a protest against the proceedings. But they were given to understand that each of them would have two papers tendered to him for his signature in the ensuing session, one being a profession of adhesion to the infallibility dogma, the other a resignation of his diocese in case he refused such adhesion. And they had good reason to think that the pope, who had declared that he meant to be proclaimed infallible "without limitation," and had shown open enmity to more than one of their number, would employ direct coercion in the event of continued resistance, bringing his temporal power as sovereign of Rome to bear on the rebels within his territory. Accordingly, when the public session was held on 18th July, 1870, while 535 bishops voted for the Constitution Pastor Aeternus, only two, those of Ajaccio and of Little Rock, Ark., remained to utter their "non placet." The pope thereupon confirmed the decree, and the new dogma was definitely sanctioned. (Encyclop. Brit., vol. 17, p. 734; vol. 24, p. 112)
Such an unprecedented imposition that annihilated the independence of the episcopate, abrogated the teaching and attesting functions of the dispersive church, and contracted the Roman Catholic creed into the single article of belief in the pope, was to be discounted very soon with the secession of many great scholars and universities from the jurisdiction of Rome, who constituted another branch of Christendom, the Old Catholic Church. And indeed if it were not for the ignorance and indifference of the faithful on religious matters, it is certain that the Roman Catholic Church would have perhaps witnessed its greatest schism. Nevertheless, the fact remains that the definition of papal infallibility was imposed by "an aggressive, insolent faction," headed by the Jesuits and the Roman Curia with the result of "forcing consciences in the service of an unchristian tyranny, of reducing many pious and upright men to distress and want, and of persecuting those who had but stood steadfast in their allegiance to the ancient faith." (Protest of the German Bishops). It seems strange that by one of the most singular ironies of history two months after the proclamation of this autocratic dogma there was effected the overthrow of the temporal power of the papacy and the occupation of Rome by the troops of the king of Italy. This is a subject which calls for serious meditation on the part of our Catholic friends who still believe in the divine institution of the dogma of infallibility.
INFALLIBILITY, A CONTRADICTORY DOCTRINE
Finally, papal infallibility is a contradictory doctrine, because instead of being an aid for the preservation of the truth, as said to be, it has been used in order to justify human tradition with biblical misinterpretations. Before and after the definition of the dogma, the popes of Rome, alone or through the councils, have imposed upon the faithful doctrines which have not the slightest support in the Scripture. And yet, in the Vatican Council the fathers proclaimed with unquestionable terms that "the Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of St. Peter that they might make a new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might religiously guard and faithfully expound the revelation of the Deposit of faith which has been handed down from the apostles."
That such a declaration has been contradicted by the facts is known to every one who has some familiarity with the so-called dogmatic pronouncements of the Roman Catholic Church. Take, for instance, the dogma of purgatory, and you will be surprised at the lack of scriptural passages required to substantiate an article of faith. Not only is there no hint in the New Testament as to allow such a belief, but the sole text produced from the Old Testament is an apocryphal one, besides being in contradiction with the doctrine of purgatory itself. Take the dogma of indulgences, and you will remain astonished at the complete absence of quotations from the Bible in support of such a doctrine. Take Mary's perpetual virginity, and you will discover that it is in open contradiction with many passages of the Scripture in which the mother of Jesus is shown as having other children besides Him. Take Mary's Immaculate Conception, and the misinterpretation of Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28 is self-evident. Take even the dogma of papal infallibility, and you will observe that neither Scripture nor the early history of the church has been offered for the definition of the doctrine. Take, finally, the bodily Assumption of Mary into heaven, and the Roman Catholic sources will candidly confess that the dogma has neither foundation in the Bible nor support from history in the first five to six hundred years of Christianity. Is it not logical therefore to conclude that papal infallibility is really and truly a contradictory doctrine whose practice each time has defiled the affirmation uttered in the Vatican Council? And if this is true, how can our Catholic friends continue to uphold a church whose main interest has been devoted to strengthen the totalitarian position of the pope rather than the practice of the revealed truths of the gospel?
It is in view of this consideration that we invite all people of good understanding and keen love for God's Word to revise their present belief in the light of the New Testament teaching in order to free themselves from eventual errors and courageously accept the truth as a pledge and a certainty of eternal salvation. Only in this way may they really honor the Holy Spirit and be assured of His assistance during their sincere investigation of the Scriptures. Would to God that each one of them could merit the praise uttered by Luke in behalf of the Bereans: "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica) who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so." Acts 17:11.Back to Table of Contents
THE PRIESTHOOD OF THE ROMAN CHURCH
In the Roman Catholic system the priesthood plays a very important and decisive role. It may well be said that it constitutes the vital and central artery of that authoritarian organization and can be rightly compared with the blood system of any animal organism. Without a powerful priesthood, in fact, there would be no possibility of controlling such a large number of faithful disseminated through the four corners of the earth, and, consequently, the whole structure of Romanism would be lacking the necessary directives coming down from the head, the pope. It is through the priests that the perimeter is tightly connected to the center, forming a monolithic, undisputed "Church-ocracy" that has no rival either in political or religious institutions. The pope stands for an absolute monarch while his army of priests—perhaps 850,000—represents his working nobility who help him in the arbitrarian government of 400 million believers. So we may affirm that in the totalitarian scheme of Roman Catholicism the Church is in a true sense the clergy, and the people must follow the hierarchy—from the pope to the least priest— with unquestioning obedience. The priests are at the side of their subjects in all stages of their lives, ministering unto them from the dawn of their existence to the close of their days. In this manner, they can control every action that in any way is related to the spiritual welfare of the faithful whose salvation is insured by the mediatory performances of the formers. In an encyclical letter to the priests of the Roman Catholic Church, pope Pius XI presents the birth to death functions of the priesthood as follows:
"The Christian, at almost every important stage of his mortal career, finds at his side the priest with power received from God, in the act of communicating or increasing that grace which is the supernatural life of his soul.
"Scarcely is he born before the priest, baptizing him, brings him a new birth to a more noble and precious life, a supernatural life, and makes him a son of God and of the Church of Jesus Christ.
"To strengthen him to fight bravely in spiritual combats, a priest invested with special dignity makes him a soldier of Christ by holy Chrism.1
"Then as soon as he is able to recognize and value the Bread of Angels, the priest gives It to him, the living and life-giving Food come down from Heaven.
"If he falls, the priest raises him up again in the name of God, and reconciles him to God with the Sacrament of Penance.
"Again, if he is called by God to found a family and to collaborate with Him in the transmission of human life throughout the world, thus increasing the number of the faithful on earth, and thereafter the ranks of the elect in Heaven, the priest is there to bless his espousals and unblemished love; and when finally, arrived at the portals of eternity, the Christian feels the need of strength and courage before presenting himself at the tribunal of the Divine Judge, the priest with the holy Oils anoints the failing members of the sick or dying Christian, and reconsecrates and comforts him.
"Thus the priest accompanies the Christian throughout the pilgrimage of this life to the gates of Heaven. He accompanies the body to its resting place in the grave with rites and prayers of immortal life. And even beyond the threshold of eternity he follows the soul to aid it with Christian suffrages, if need there be of further purification and alleviation. Thus, from the cradle to the grave the priest is ever beside the faithful, a guide, a solace, a minister of salvation and dispenser of grace and blessing." (Ad Catholici Sacerdotii, December, 1935)
(1) Blessed olive oil mixed with balm, used in the blessing of baptismal font, at Baptism, Confirmation and the consecration of bishops. Anointing with Chrism signifies the fullness and diffusion of grace.
It is obvious that such an exalted position and dignity, in which the priesthood has been placed by Romanists inthe course of time, has no foundation in the Bible, is contrary to the spirit of Christ, and is certainly a derivation from pagan and Jewish traditions. A rapid discussion on this subject should convince our Catholic friends that neither Jesus nor the apostles ever appointed in the church a privileged caste of people clothed with divine prerogatives to be handed down from one priest to another through an alleged "apostolic succession."
MEANING AND ORIGIN OF PRIESTHOOD
The etymological derivation of the word "priest" is to be found in the contraction of the Greek term "presbyteros" which is translated in our language as presbyter or elder, meaning generally an aged, person with a mature understanding in knowledge, behavior and spiritual experience. Usually, it is taken to signify by most theologians a name of office in the early Christian church, already mentioned in the New Testament. But in the English version of the Bible, the presbyters of the New Testament are called "elders" not "priests," as we find in the Catholic Vulgate. The latter name of priests is more properly reserved for ministers of pre-Christian religions, the Semitic kohanim (sing. Kohen) or the Greek iereis (sing, iereus). In this sense, a priest is one authorized or ordained to perform sacerdotal functions on behalf of the community, particularly sacrifices and other ritual acts. He stands as a mediator between the divinity and the sinful humanity for whom he exercises a divinely given power of atonement or reconciliation. Such ministers or priests existed in all the great religions of ancient civilization, and indeed a priesthood in the sense now defined is generally found, in all parts of the world, among races which have a tribal or national religion of definite character, and not merely an unorganized mass of superstitious ideas, fears, and hopes issuing in practices of sorcery.
As to the Jewish priesthood, with which we are mainly concerned here for its profound influence exercised on some sections of Christendom, it is enough to say that it was hereditary in the family of Aaron and his sons (Ex. 28:1; 40:12-15; Num. 16:40 etc.), who were referred to as the priests the Levites, in allusion to the tribe to which they belonged (Deut. 17:9-18; Josh. 3:3; etc.). Their duty was threefold: (1) to minister at the sanctuary before the Lord, (2) to teach the people the law of God, and (3) to inquire for them the divine will by Urim and Thummim (Ex. 28:30; Num. 16:40; etc.). Their functional character developed in the course of time from the judicial administration of the law, extended to the point of exacting fines for certain offences (2 Kings 12:16; Hos. 4:8; Amos 2:8), to the higher and more privileged position of being considered as the representatives and custodians of the national holiness. The sacrificial ritual of the Priestly Code is governed exactly by this principle. The holiness of Israel centers in the sanctuary, and round the sanctuary stand the priests, who alone can approach the most holy things without profanation, and who are the guardians of Israel's sanctity, partly by protecting the one meeting-place of God and men from profane contact, and partly as the mediators of the continual atoning rites by which breaches of holiness are expiated. The bases of priestly power under this system are the unity of the altar, its inaccessibility to laymen and to the inferior ministers of the sanctuary, and the specific atoning function of the blood of priestly sacrifices.
It is precisely this evolved Hebrew priesthood that has influenced the thought and organization of Christendom throughout the centuries. In fact, the doctrine of priestly mediation and the system of priestly hierarchy, as now taught by the Roman Catholic Church, find their true origin in the priesthood of the Jews. However, the idea that presbyters and bishops are priests and the successors of the Old Testament priesthood first appears in full force in the writing of Cyprian (252), and even here it is not yet the notion of priestly mediation but that of priestly power which is insisted on. It was not until the 8th and 9th centuries that the sacrificial theory of Catholic priesthood was further developed, and this was in connection with the view that the Lord's Supper is a propitiatory sacrifice of the body and blood of Christ which only a consecrated priest can perform. When the simple ceremony of the holy Supper was supplanted step by step by a more elaborate ritual in order to fit the traditional meaning of the theological doctrine of priesthood, then the presentation of the so-called sacrifice of the mass came to be viewed as the essential priestly office, so that the early Christian presbyter was really changed into a sacerdos (priest) in the antique sense. For this reason the Reformers, in rejecting the sacrifice of the mass, deny also that there is a Christian priesthood "like the Levitical," and have either dropped the name of "priest" or use it in a quite emasculated sense. (Encyclop. Brit., vol. 19, pp. 724-30)
The basis upon which rests the Roman Catholic priesthood is to be found in the ordination or holy orders. Only through the reception of such a sacrament men may receive the power and the grace to perform the sacred duties of bishops, priests, and other ministers of the Church. The ordination is especially necessary for the celebration and offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice of the mass which, being a public action of worship in behalf of the community, requires public appointment and consecration. The main supernatural power given to any ordained priest are: to change the substance of the bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and to forgive sins in the sacrament of penance. The ordination confers a character2 so that it cannot be repeated for the same grade. The minister of holy orders is a bishop, who alone has the authority of conferring the priesthood and the episcopate.
(2) The Catholic Dictionary defines character as follows: "An indelible seal or mark on the soul, really and intrinsically inherent in the soul, produced by the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Orders. It is a spiritual and supernatural power to receive or produce something sacred; thus the character of Order gives the power to consecrate the Eucharist." (p. 96)
In order that a man may be ordained priest in a worthy manner it is necessary (1) that he be in state of grace and have good moral character, (2) that he be at least twenty-four years of age and have proper learning, and (3) that he want to dedicate his life completely to the service of the Church.
According to the Roman Catholic Church the ordination is of divine institution and must be accepted by the faithful as an article of faith. In this respect, the Council of Trent pronounced the following decree: "If anyone says that Orders or sacred Ordination is not truly a sacrament instituted by Christ the Lord ... or that it is merely a kind of rite for choosing ministers ... or that he who has once been made priest can again become a layman: let him be anathema." (Sess. 33, can. 3-4)
The consequence of the ordination is the distinction between clergy and laity, the former being the ruling class while the latter the obedient fold. There is no participation whatever of the laity in the business of the Church. Even though through Catholic Action, Knights of Columbus, and other institutions it seems that the faithful constitute a militant class in the religious organization, yet the sharp separation remains because in the back of it all there is the controlling direction of the hierarchy. Everything connected with religion in the Roman Catholic Church must pass through the crucible of the priests. In a Catholic Dictionary the meaning and position of the laity are clearly described in this way: "Those who have membership in the Church without authority. The distinction of clergy and laity is of divine institution, although not all grades of clergy are divinely instituted. Lay persons cannot exercise the power of Orders or jurisdiction, but they may be religious and rule their brethren in religion with dominative power, which is not jurisdiction. The laity have the right, legally enforceable, to receive from the clergy those spiritual aids to salvation due to them in accordance with ecclesiastical discipline. They are exhorted to join approved associations, and are forbidden to belong to condemned or dangerous societies. No lay association has any ecclesiastical status unless erected or at least approved by the competent ecclesiastical authority. Non-Catholics may not be members of a Catholic association which has a religious significance or implication, or which claim ecclesiastical sanction." (p. 296)
It is evident that without the leadership or at least the permission of the clergy Roman Catholics are hindered to engage in any social or religious activity. They are living under a paternal legislation that forbids them to move or to think for themselves. In every step of life they must have a priest to direct, guide, and govern them just as a father would do with children who have not yet reached the age of maturity. Trained in such a way since their childhood, they do not realize the loss of spiritual freedom and are happy that some one else has taken over the burden of their personal responsibility before the Lord. Hence, the only condition of salvation requested of the Roman Catholic laity by the priests is a blind obedience to their teachings whether they be in accordance or in contradiction with God's will as set forth in the Bible. We wonder how or what they will answer in the day of judgment when accused of having followed, during their earthly life, the commandments of men rather than the Word of God, of having obeyed a human priesthood instead of our High Priest and Savior Jesus Christ. Our Catholic friends should seriously meditate upon such a thought and see whether there is more assurance in following man-made doctrines or the revealed truths of God.
THE HIERARCHY AT WORK
Under the general name of hierarchy is understood the organization of the ranks and orders of the Roman Catholic clergy divided in successive grades. The hierarchy of order embraces episcopate, priesthood and diaconate considered to be of divine institution, while the sub-diaconate and minor orders (door-keeper, lector, exorcist and acolyte) are recognized as being of ecclesiastical institution. The power attributed to the hierarchy of order is mainly concerned with ritual ceremonies, worship and administration of the sacraments, which are said to constitute the normal means of salvation and the spiritual channels for the distribution of God's blessings and graces; while the hierarchy of jurisdiction exercises the ruling power over the members of the Church. At the head of this jurisdictional organization, centered mainly in the Roman Curia, is the pope, the sacred college of cardinals (highest number seventy), twelve congregations, three tribunals and five offices. The twelve congregations which surround and assist the pope in the government and administration of the Church are nothing else but departments of the central authority and form a vast network of ecclesiastical power that is felt in every corner of the Catholic world. Presided over by cardinals, who are appointed directly by the pope, these congregations make important decisions on every matter of their competence, but these decisions require papal approval in order to become final, and "have not the force of a general law unless issued by a special papal mandate." And this means that the entire jurisdiction of the Church is centralized and tightly controlled by one person, the pope, who, besides being the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic community, is also Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Metropolitan of the Roman province and Bishop of Rome. Recognized as the true and lawful vicar of Christ, the pope has almost limitless power to do and undo whatever he wishes as long as he complies with the traditions of the Church. He is in a real sense the One Voice of God speaking from Rome. Never in the history of the world has a man been exalted and worshipped so much as the person of the pope. At his coronation ceremony, when the cardinal-deacon puts on his head the famous tiara, he says: "Receive the threefold Crown of the Tiara, and know that Thou art the Father of Princes and Kings, the Ruler of the round Earth, and here below the Vicar of Jesus Christ, to Whom be honor and glory forever. Amen."
It was precisely for such a deification of the papal person that St. Bernard, addressing pope Eugenius II in his De Consideratione, exclaimed in astonishment: "I do find that St. Peter ever appeared in public loaded with and jewels, clad in silk, mounted on a white mule, surrounded by soldiers and followed by a brilliant retinue. In the glitter that environs thee, rather wouldst thou be taken for the successor of Constantine than for the successor of Peter."
Of course, the obedience due to this earthly god by his subjects, and especially by the inferior hierarchy, is absolute and constitutes one of the essential requisites for securing or holding any office. In the Constitution of the Jesuits it is admonished: "Let those who live in obedience allow themselves to be disposed of at the will of their superior like a corpse which permits one to turn and handle it any way one pleases." With such dispositions on the part of the faithful it is no wonder that everything goes on very smoothly and peacefully, and no matter what the hierarchy commands there will be always an enthusiastic response from the subjects who have been taught from their childhood that obedience to Church authority is the essence of freedom. Personal religious experience is banished by the Catholic dictionary, it being the duty of the hierarchy to do all the thinking in behalf of the faithful. Hilaire Belloc, one of the most noted British Catholic writers, expresses in this way the subjugation of the Catholic mind to the priestly guidance and direction: "The religion of the Catholic is not a mood induced by isolated personal introspection coupled with an isolated personal attempt to discover all things and the Maker of all things. It is essentially an acceptation of the religion of others; which others are the Apostolic College, the Con-ciliar decisions, and all that proceeds from the authoritative voice of the Church. For the Catholic, it is not he himself, it is the Church which can alone discover, decide and affirm." (The Contrast, p. 160)
If such is the case we would like to ask our Catholic friends how can they be so naive as to renounce their own convictions and accept without the benefit of discussion somebody else's religion? We would also like to know from them how is it possible to perform so-called meritorious acts without proper intellectual understanding and without being aware of their own personal responsibility?
HONOR ACCORDED TO THE PRIESTHOOD
Roman Catholics are used to looking at their priests with a superlative respect and veneration. They see in them the representatives of Christ and the successors of the apostles, endowed with special prerogatives derived to them through the performance of their ritual and sacramental functions, prerogatives that put them in a position superior to that of the angels. In this respect, Cardinal Gibbons states: "The exalted dignity of the Priest is derived not from the personal merits for which he may be conspicuous, but from the sublime functions which he is charged to perform. To the carnal eye the Priest looks like other men, but to the eye of faith he is exalted above the angels, because he exercises powers not given even to angels." (Faith of Our Fathers, p. 387)
Of course, in order to substantiate such a claim Romanists appeal to the Scripture quoting passages which have nothing to do with the Roman Catholic priesthood. For instance, when Paul, writing to the Corinthians, says, "For Christ therefore we are ambassadors, God, as it were, exhorting by us" (2 Cor. 5:20), he was simply stating his divine authority and inspiration, and not uttering a premise upon which is founded one of the titles given to the Roman priests. All Christians can be called in a limited sense ambassadors for Christ when preaching His holy Word. But Romanists insist that such a title is exclusive to their priesthood just as the other titles of king, shepherd, and the father are reserved for it. On the contrary, the Scripture says unmistakably that Christ is our spiritual king, because He is the only one to be called "the King of kings and the Lord of lords" (1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16); only Jesus is our good Shepherd who gave his life for his sheep (John 10:11), while imperatively forbidding his disciples to call any man father: "And call none your father upon earth: for one is your father, who is in heaven" (Matt. 23:9). Neither the apostles nor their disciples disobeyed this commandment of Jesus, although sometimes they addressed their beloved Christian converts as sons in the Lord. Spiritual sonship is not forbidden here, because it involves humility and submission, while religious paternity would imply superiority and pride. That is why Jesus commanded his disciples to abstain from such a boastful and vain title. How is it then that Romanists have encouraged the faithful to call their priests with appellatives such as these: Father, Reverend, Holiness, Eminence, Excellence, Monsignor, and so on? Are not they violating Christ's command in so doing? Our Catholic friends should not belittle this sort of ecclesiastical pride, but candidly confess that the Roman priests, while presuming to represent the person of Jesus Christ in their religious ministry, are not at all walking according to his example and teaching.
Likewise, when Catholics quote from the Old Testament in order to support the ever-excellent dignity and power of their priesthood, they have no better evidences to show than passages concerning the Jewish priests or Levites. But we are not living any more under the Old Law and, therefore, we do not care about the Jewish priesthood. As a matter of fact, the Acts (6:7) tell us that when "a great multitude of the priests obeyed the faith," they were happy to renounce their previous prerogatives and privileges in order to become humble servants of the Lord, just as has been experienced today by the many Roman priests, who, in forsaking their former Church, have felt exceedingly joyful and content to depose their priestly robes and titles and to be called brothers instead of fathers, becoming equals among equals in a truly Christian community.
The superstitious attitude of the Catholic people, exploited for economical reasons by the skillful hierarchy, has forced the priests almost into a class of clever magicians. They do not seem men among men, but an isolated caste of persons, obligated to celibacy, following a rigid military routine, wearing special garments, exercising peculiar and exclusive functions through which supernatural benefits are said to be purveyed upon the faithful. By such devices they can exert full control over their people, who blindly believe that by saying certain words they may forgive sins and grant absolution, that by making the sign of the cross with their right hand upon the elements of bread and wine they may perform the astonishing Catholic miracle of transubstantiation, that by blessing certain objects and repeating certain words they may confer mysterious powers upon things. And all these actions are done with such an impressive seriousness and priestly dignity that no intelligent Catholic so far has ever doubted about their supernatural efficacy. It is hard to believe that in the twentieth century, an age of positive thinking and almost limitless enlightenment, there could still be people accepting priestly performances that clearly show unmistakable qualities of a primitive charm derived from the use of magic arts or occult power rather than from the simple gospel of Jesus Christ.
REVENUE OF THE PRIESTS
The exalted position of the priests calls for an equally distinctive maintenance of the clergy. For it would be undignified that persons, who occupy such a privileged place in society, be without adequate and decorous incomes. In this respect, the Canon Law expressly forbids the clergymen to engage in any secular jobs, businesses, or manual trades in order to safeguard the high-class standard and dignity of the priestly life. The consequence is that priests, without exception, must be fully supported by the faithful who have received from their Church a special precept concerning their grave obligation to contribute to the maintenance of the priests according to their material means. Of course, the example of the apostle Paul, who worked as tent-maker while preaching in order to avoid becoming burdensome to anyone, is not very much appreciated by the Roman priests, who have excluded themselves from the obligation of contributing part of their abundant income to the Church. Only the laity is affected by such a precept and, consequently, has been given the exclusive privilege of paying for everything.
The revenues of the priests are varied according to the different customs of the people. In the European countries the secular priests are generally entitled to the so-called benefice, which is "an ecclesiastical foundation permanently constituted, consisting of a sacred office and the right of the holder to the annual revenue from the endowment," while the religious priests (those living in monasteries or convents) receive their main income from charity. Besides this, all have right to dues or fees for masses, funerals, marriages, baptisms, and many other ecclesiastical operations. It must be born in mind that in the Roman Catholic Church the priest is paid for each step he makes in behalf of his people from the birth to the burial. Very few religious functions have been left without a fixed tax, and even for those the priest always welcomes a free donation.
As for the American priests their revenues are the highest in the Catholic world today. Even though they do not have benefices, the free-offerings given by the people and especially the high fees requested for masses and other functions are more than enough for a comfortable life. In the Eastern States of our country Catholics must usually pay for a low mass $5, for a high mass $15, for a solemn mass $45, for a marriage ceremony without mass $25, for an infant baptism $5, for confirmation $2, for a novena ("a prayer for some special object or occasion extended over a period of nine days") as much as $100. And so on. One of the most profitable activities in which the priests are engaged during the ecclesiastical year is the celebration of special prayers in behalf of the souls in purgatory for whom are made exceedingly touching appeals. On All Soul's Day (November 2) any parish priest may collect a huge amount of money at the hands of devout penitents. Naturally, all this sale of spiritual aids for material goods is not called simony by official Catholic sources.
Another lucrative source of income for Roman priests is the exploitation of shrines, miraculous medals, scapulars and, above all, relics, all means in which sorcery, fetishism and superstition are mixed together. Writing on the use and abuse of shrines and relics, Monsignor John L. Bedford, Roman bishop of Brooklyn, N. Y., highly deplores the commercialism connected with them: "It is not easy," he says, "to draw the line between devotion and superstition, but there are places at home and abroad where devotions are practiced and promoted as a means to gather money... Catholics are ashamed and non-Catholics are horrified. It is a crime to gather money—even to build a church—at such a cost to real religion... The use of relics is, of course, approved by the Church. In that use we profess unqualified faith, but we do loathe, despise and condemn the contemptible practise of applying the relic with one hand and collecting money with the other." (Homiletic and Pastoral Review, October, 1928)
But the most disgraceful means used by the American Catholic priests in order to increase their revenues are doubtless the Church organizations for dancing, gambling and the sale of alcoholic beverages to the people, all things which Catholic moralists in Italy denounce as being occasion of sin and therefore sinful. According to Roman Catholic estimates the gambling of bingo constitutes one of the main sources of income for the Church in the United States, and the game is openly encouraged everywhere. The archbishop McNicholas of Cincinnati, Ohio, made a profit of almost $1,500,000 for some thirty Catholic churches in 1939 out of bingo as played by 2,500,000 players. The annual income from gambling in the diocese of Newark, N. J., has been estimated at $4,000,000. One parish in New England maintains five Catholic missionaries in the foreign field from the profit of gambling alone.
Such a shameful enterprise of the Church has disturbed the consciences of quite a few good Catholics, and Father John A. O'Brien has dared to say: "While we would not tolerate any insinuation that our schools have come under the influence of money changers, or that they are vestibules to gambling dens, as a Catholic jokingly said to me some time ago, we can scarcely escape the accusation that with lotteries, raffles, chance books, and punch boards in the hands of the children, we are developing the gambling instinct that may lead them to the pool rooms and the gambling dens in the not too distant future." (American Freedom and Catholic Power by Blanshard, pp. 36-37)
Can our Catholic friends give us any reasonable explanation for such ungodly methods of gathering ecclesiastical revenues? Can they conciliate the holiness of the church with such sinful operations? Can they deny that for the Roman Catholic hierarchy the end always justifies the means?
CATHOLIC PRIESTHOOD UNSCRIPTURAL
That in the New Testament there is no room for a Catholic priesthood is a fact as clear as the light of the sunshine at noon-time. Not only is the word "priest" never applied to the officers of the early Christian congregations, but the very meaning of it has been subjected to successive and radical changes throughout the ages. None of the apostles has ever spoken of the elders or presbyters as priests even in relation to the Lord's Supper which, being viewed as a sacrificial action by Romanists, came to constitute the foundation-stone for the Catholic priesthood.3 Such a title in the earliest day of the church would have been most misleading, since a "Christian priest" would have meant a Levitical priest who had become a Christian. And indeed if a special class of sacrificing priests had been appointed in the New Testament church, we should expect that the Scriptures would have given us instruction regarding the office and powers committed to them. But we find nothing of this kind in the Scriptures. In Ephesians 4:11 mention is made of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, but the offices of pope, cardinal and of a sacrificing priesthood are absolutely excluded from the Christian ministry. In no place do we find either apostles or elders offering up the sacrifice of the mass daily, as the pope and all Roman Catholic priests do today, for their own sins and for the sins of the living and the dead. On the contrary, we have the direct testimony of the apostles, that the only priesthood appointed in the Christian church is the priesthood of all believers. By baptism every Christian becomes a participator in the priesthood of Jesus Christ because, being grafted in him, he can have direct communication with him, he can go before the throne of grace without any priestly mediation. It is on this ground that Peter says: "But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people." 1 Pet. 2:9. And John: "(Jesus) hath made us a kingdom and priests to God and his Father." Rev. 1:6. But this new priesthood differs from the old in that Christians are called to offer up only spiritual sacrifices: "Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." 1 Pet. 2:5. This same thought is emphasized by the apostle Paul in Romans 12:1: "I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercy of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice holy, pleasing unto God, your reasonable service."
(3) "The existence of the Christian priesthood is the outcome of the institution of the sacrifice of the Mass by Christ and of his command that this sacrifice should be repeated in his commemoration." (A Catholic Dictionary, p. 433)
Besides, there is no biblical basis for the distinction between bishops and presbyters, as advocated by Romanists. To the student of the New Testament the word "bishop" is synonymous with "presbyter," the same officer of the church being called indifferently by the one name or the other. The presbyters or elders of the Ephesian church summoned by Paul to meet him at Miletus (Acts 20:17) are in verse 28 designated by him "bishops," or "overseers," of the flock. In the pastoral epistles the words are used indifferently. Corresponding directions are given to Titus concerning the ordaining of "elders" (Tit. 1:5-7), and to Timothy for the ordination of "bishops" (1 Tim. 3:1-7), while the identity of the two is further evidenced by the use of the term "bishop" in Titus 1:7, and "elders" in 1 Timothy 3:17-19. Peter also, when exhorting the presbyters, as their "brother presbyter," to the zealous fulfillment of their charge, speaks of it as "the work of an overseer," or "bishop" (1 Pet. 5:1-2). The titles continue synonymous in the epistle of Clement of Rome (Epist. 1, 42-44). That the offices were identical in the apostolic age is also more than once asserted by St. Jerome, writing toward the close of the fourth century: "The apostle shows us plainly that presbyters and bishops are the same ... it is proved most clearly that a bishop is the same as a presbyter" (Epist. 146). The same was asserted by Chrysostom, Theodoret, and others, and may be regarded as indisputable. (Encycl. Brit., vol. 8, p. 485)
It is therefore against Scripture as well as against church history to consider the bishops as priests of the first order with full authority over all sacraments, and the presbyters as priests of the second order with limited authority derived from the bishops, as Catholics do. The truth is that not only is there no distinction between the two, but those officials, belonging to the one and same office, namely eldership, cannot be called priests in a scriptural sense by any means.
Moreover, the officers of the early church (evangelists, elders and deacons) were always chosen by the congregation and ordained by the apostles or the college of presbyters, while the modern Roman Catholic priests are selected and ordained by the bishops under the authority of the pope. The people have been excluded from the business of the Church and constitute an inferior class with a marked distinction from the ruling clergy. Instead, the brethren of the primitive church enjoyed complete equality with the leaders of the congregation who were stewards and not despots of God's people. Such a democratic right was partly retained even in the Roman Catholic Church itself for at least eleven hundred years when the faithful still had a voice in the election of their bishops and popes, but with the appointment of the cardinals at the hands of pope Leo IX (1049-1054) the voice of the people was silenced for ever.
Furthermore, the idea of a monarchical bishop presiding over a number of congregations, forming a province or diocese, is totally foreign to the early organization of the church. Whenever elders or presbyters are mentioned in the New Testament it is always in a plural sense. There is no example whatever in the apostolic age of a one man-government. Each congregation was headed by a college of presbyters helped by deacons in the administration of the flock. Besides, we do not have any hint of authority higher than that of the local congregation. A centralized power, as extant in the Roman Church today, is unknown in the Bible. Contrariwise, the qualifications of elders and deacons (local officers of the church), as clearly shown in the pastoral letters (1 Ti. 3:1-13; Tit. 1:6-9), pre-suppose that none can hold a position higher than that of his colleagues and that none should be compelled to renounce marriage. Do the Catholic priests comply with these qualifications?
Finally, the special garments worn by the Roman priests either in the exercise of their ministry or outside the church in their daily life, not only have no justification in the Bible but constitute another means for further distinction between them and their people. According to Catholic sources they were borrowed from pagan costumes and were taken as a sign of dignity rather than modesty, as is claimed. Romanists freely admit that for the first six hundred years there was no distinction in the dressing of elders and deacons from that of others. Today it would be a mortal sin for any priest to depose without a grave reason his religious robe. (Can. 136)
PRIESTHOOD OF JESUS CHRIST
When in the New Testament the word "priest" is used in the singular it refers only to Jesus Christ, the one and only high priest ordained over the house of God (Heb. 10:21). By his incarnation Jesus presented to his Father a sacrifice of all the actions of his will and body; upon the cross, He offered his own life in supreme sacrifice, thus obtaining full atonement of all sins, becoming mediator, priest and pontiff of mankind. Hence, besides Christ, we do not need any other priest to mediate and intercede for us before the throne of the Father, for He is indeed the only priest of the New Covenant, who offered up once for all the one, all-sufficient sacrifice for the remission of the sins of the world. Christ's priesthood is therefore the one and only fundamental priesthood in the Christian church.
A sacrificing priesthood of men was indeed appointed among the Jews, but the animal sacrifices offered by the priests of the Old Testament were mere types and shadows of the one sacrifice made by Jesus and which puts an end both to the Levitical priesthood and to the law. "And the others were indeed made many priests, because by reason of death they were not suffered to continue: but this (Christ), for that he continueth for ever, hath an everlasting priesthood. Whereby he is able to save for ever them that come to God by him: always living to make intercession for us." Heb. 7:23-25. Through his sacrifice Jesus "led his people to God," not leaving them outside as He entered the heavenly sanctuary, but taking them with him into spiritual nearness to the throne of grace. By divine right, therefore, He has been made a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, "Who needeth not daily (as the other priests) to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for he did once, in offering himself." Heb. 7:27. It is logical that such an inspired argument leaves no room for a special priesthood in the Christian church and, consequently, the Romanist claim of having a divinely instituted priesthood coming down directly from the apostles is simply childish. There are too many evidences, based both on the Scripture and upon the early history of Christianity, that exclude in the most absolute manner any priestly ministry in the primitive church. The Catholic priesthood is nothing else but a gradual evolution of foreign influences or traditions that crept little by little into the church and gave rise to the modern, privileged, authoritarian position of the Roman hierarchy. That is why we urge our Catholic friends to examine this matter, without prejudices, in the light of New Testament teaching, freeing themselves from their traditional mentality and seeing whether or not it is fair and honest to transform the elders or presbyters of apostolic institution into a sacrificing priesthood of human origin.Back to Table of Contents