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  • « Blind Until God Opens our Eyes | Main | Jeremiah Burroughs on Preaching »

    A Refutation of Roman Catholicism

    Up until recently, Fred Neissen was Roman Catholic, but his faith in Catholicism has been shattered by considering the insurmountable obstacles involved in legitimating papal elections. Although his essay is a bit roughhewn, the basic argument is sound as well as devastating. At the end of his post he explains that anyone should feel entirely free to use this essay.

    A reply to Mr. Stephen Ray - Introduction
    Are we to choose “sola tiara”?

    A reply to Stephen Ray, based on the crucial question “who’s the true pope?” and his essay “Are the Books of the New Testament “Self-Authenticating” or was the Catholic Church Necessary to Define the Canon of Scripture?”

    Roman Catholic apologist Stephen Ray has pointed out in his spiritual autobiography “Crossing the Tiber” that the doctrine of sola scriptura became a stumbling block for him. Ever since his conversion he tries to convince Protestants that sola sciptura is wrong. But my investigations into the problem “Who is the true pope?” have led me to conclude that the alternative he(and every other Roman Catholic) provides, is far from being logically conclusive.

    Many parts of this essay have already appeared in my postings on CatholicAnswersForums, here is the link: http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=120670.

    Nevertheless I thought it expedient to supply a bit of further material and to show how the Roman Catholic attack on “sola scriptura” wholly fails because the Catholic alternative offered, sola tiara, is very illogical indeed.

    Well, I’ll proceed in three steps: first, I will show that the Catholic has no authority, no standard whatsoever that may help him to decide who’s the true pope; second, that the legends the Roman Catholics have put forth to create such a standard are just these: legends; third, that this very fact makes Stephen Ray’s attack on “sola scriptura” appear extremely weak.

    A reply to Mr. Stephen Ray - Part 1

    1) About the impossibility to know who is Peter’s successor
    As early as the fourth century, we find ourselves in a very awkward position: two popes have been elected.

    This is already a violation of the electory-rules as perceived by the time around the fourth century.

    St. Cyprian tells us in regard to the election of Pope St. Cornelius (251) that the comprovincial bishops, the clergy, and the people all took part in it: "He was made bishop by the decree of God and of His Church, by the testimony of nearly all the clergy, by the college of aged bishops [sacerdotum], and of good men"(Ep. Iv ad Anton., n. 8). And a precisely similar ground is alleged by the Roman priests in their letter to Emperor Honorius regarding the validity of the election of Boniface I (A. D. 418; P. L., XX, 750). (1)

    As an ideal and norm may be called the often quoted passage of a letter of Leo the Great(440-461): All those can’t be hold to be a bishop, qui nec a clericis sunt electi, nec a plebibus expetiti. And already Coelestin I.(422-432) stated: Nullus invitis detur episcopus. Cleri, plebis et ordinis consensus ac desiderium requiratur. (2)

    Damasus finally emerges victorious. But this happened in a very strange way:

    Not all papal elections came off so easily. The election of St. Damasus, a contemporary of Ambrose, was rough and bloody. Upon the death of Damasus’ predecessor, rioting broke out in Rome. Damasus and a man named Ursinus were chosen by two different factions among the clergy. The civil authorities, who favored Damasus, had to intervene to settle the dispute, but not before some thugs who supported Damasus had attacked partisans of his rival gathered in what would become the basilica of St. Mary Major. They left over 100 dead before finishing their rampage. Damasus, who had an extraordinarily long pontificate of 18 years, went on to become one of the most important popes in this period of church history, especially remembered because of his friendship with St. Jerome, whom he encouraged in his translation of the Bible into Latin. (3)

    Damasus was a very important pope, especially as regards the development of the doctrine of papal primacy. But how are we to decide he was the true pope? Why not Ursinus? Obviously Ursinus must have been an anti-pope because he had not got enough troops and arms to fight his rival. Therefore we are to decide who’s the true pope by checking who has got most troops and arms? (By the way, I think Benedict XVI. and the modern popes wouldn’t be pleased with such a test. The Swiss Gard is not very impressive.)

    History provided us with so many examples of ambigious papal elections that I do not know on which to focus would be best for the purpose of this essay.

    You can really find no standard that helps you to decide the legitimacy of the Pontiff reigning.

    Constantine II. was introduced by force of arms into his office. But this was the normal procedure during the saeculum obscurum, this was what many popes counted as legitimate did, and therefore I don’t understand why he is counted among the anti-popes, instead that his rival and successor, Stephen III., is being called so. (4)

    Even a Roman Catholic church historian has to conclude that the saeculum obscurum was a time of distress for the papacy:

    The election of the bishop of Rome, because of the political and emblematic importance of that see, continued to be especially troubled well into the modern period. While many elections took place without incident, many others were marred by rivalries among contending parties and led to confusion about who was rightly to be considered the bishop of Rome. Although it was agreed that the election lay in the hands of the “clergy and people” of the city of Rome, lack of clear procedures made manipulation of the election easy for those who wanted to seize for themselves or their families this prestigious and lucrative prize. (5)

    This and other examples from church-history provide ample evidence that we can only know that a pope is legitimate, if he has been elected according to the electoral process set out, decreed by his predecessors(or , if it has often been changed, by his last predecessor). Now it seems to me that many popes, who were accepted as popes, did obtain the papal throne in an illegitimate manner. This is especially true as regards the saeculum obscurum.

    I think the following example greatly illustrates why it is very important to know what a former pontiff thought about how the election of his successor should take place:

    As Pope Stehpen IX. dies in Florence, in Rome there is immediately elected Benedict X. to be the next pope, though Stephen had it orderd on his dying-bed that the cardinals should wait for the election of a new pope until Hildebrand, the later Pope Gregory VII., had returned from his journey to Germany. (6)

    Benedict X. is notoriously regarded as an anti-pope. Why? I can see no other reason for this than that his predecessor was a reformer and wanted, by securing the influential presence of Hildebrand in the electorial process, to make a reformer obtain the papal office again.

    The story continues: In 1059 Nicholas held a council in the Lateran and issued the Decree "In Nomine", a papal-election-decree, described by the New Catholic Encyclopedia thus:

    According to this constitution, the cardinal bishops are first to meet and discuss the candidates for the papacy, and select the names of the most worthy. They are then to summon the other cardinals and, together with them, proceed to an election. Finally, the assent of the rest of the clergy and the laity to the result of the suffrage is to be sought. The choice is to be made from the Roman Clergy, unless a fit candidate cannot be found among them. In the election regard is to be had for the rights of the Holy Roman emperor, who in turn is to be requested to show similar respect for the Apostolic See. In case the election cannot be held in Rome, it can validly be held elsewhere. (7)

    Let’s examine what this decree is all about:

    “The newer science has largely followed the thesis of Krause that the papal election decree served, amongst other tings, to the post-eventu-sanction of the elevation of Nicholas to the papacy. Because his election was in many instances in conflict with tradition, while Benedict X. stood on the floor of the ecclesiastical written and practical tradition.

    Gerhard was elected to the Roman Bishopric not in Rome, but in Siene. Because his future bishop-city[Rome] was barred to him;there reigned Benedict X. Thereofore, in a circumstance of necessity, acording to the papal-election-decree, an election could take place outside Rome.And the elected was to take on the papal authority to reign the holy Roman Church even before the enthronisation: Nicholas had in the beginning of 1059, still before he was enthroned, held a synod in Sutri, but was not enthroned before the 24th of January. But Benedict had, like to this day was common, only after his consecration, which followed his election, token on the papal reigning office. Nicholas was only by the majority of cardinal-bishops and few Roman emigrants elected, but Benedict X. was elevated by the clergy and the people. To make it short, according to a traditional perspective, Benedict had been elected canonically soundly. But for the reformers[Nicholas’ party] it was important to show that Bendict’s elevation was irregular. Because only a vacant cathedra Petri could be filled again with a new bishop. In this they succeeded by declaring the participation of the cardinal-bishops in papal election to be the decisive criterium of a canonical election.” (8)

    But we are really in a mess. To keep Apostolic Succession in Petrine office going, it is, as, for example, the case of Benedict X. shows, to know and follow what the last pope has decided on the future election. But what if he has so decided, but his will is not carried through, but rather ignored, and an offspring of illegitimate popes flows out of this ignorance?

    Let’s examine this:

    “Alberic left this power, in 953, to a still more disreputable son, Octavian, and this last representative of the remarkable dynasty dragged the Papacy to the lowest depth. In 955 he resolved, as the Roman See fell vacant, to unite the temporal and spiritual powers in his own person, and he ascended the Papal throne under the assumed name of John XII. There was not a crime in the penitentials that John XII did not introduce into the "sacred palace." The palace of Caligula or of Nero in ancient Rome had not witnessed more wanton scenes than the Lateran Palace now exhibited. Liutprand tells us (De Rebus Gestis Othonis, iv) how John, pressed by a rival, appealed to the Emperor Otto, and when Otto came to Rome the Romans brought up against their spiritual father a list of crimes which would, they said, "make a comedian blush for shame"; and a comedian was the lowest thing they knew. The Romans were lenient, as we have seen, but they could not tolerate a Pope who committed murder, perjury, adultery, incest (with his two sisters), rape, and sacrilege. Before the synod convoked by Otto it was proved that John had "turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel," cut out the eyes of or castrated those who criticised him, raped girls and women who came to pray in St. Peter's, gambled, cursed, drunk to the devil.... There was, in brief, nothing that he had not done.

    John had fled to Tivoli, and with cool assurance he wrote to excommunicate the whole synod! The clergy and the Emperor deposed him and elected Leo VIII (963). But the Romans could never long endure the presence of a German ruler, and their surly conduct soon drove out Otto. We are told that John's agents distributed money freely, and that all the courtesans in Rome — a very large body — were assiduous in his cause (Liutprand, xvii and xviii). The Romans, at all events, flung out Leo, and welcomed their "legitimate" and remarkable pontiff to the chair of Peter once more. After a few weeks spent in cutting off the noses and tongues of his critics, John turned again to his gay ways. But he died three months after his return. Tradition said that he was struck dead by the devil while he was paying his attentions to a married woman in an obscure part of Rome. But we wonder what grudge the devil had against him, and we should not err much, probably, if we attributed the violent death of this "divinely inspired" successor of Nicholas I to the knife of a jealous husband.” (9)

    Note that John XII. excommunicated, cut off from the church, the whole synod, all its members! Certainly those members couldn’t proceed to a valid election.
    2006-07-03 17:32:12 GMTComments: 0 |Permanent Link

    A reply to Mr. Stephen Ray - Part 2

    2) The legends set forth by Roman Catholics

    I think there are four major legends concerning the papacy and the question “who holds the true office”:

    1) It doesn’t matter who’s the true pope. This is an idle question.
    Well, it IS an idle question if you are an Orthodox or Protestant Christian, but certainly not if you’re a Roman Catholic one! One can only say such a thing if one hasn’t fathomed yet what Roman Catholic ecclesiology is all about.

    2) There may have been some, or even many popes illegitimate who are counted as true popes in the offical list. But that doesn’t matter.

    I think it matters very much. For one thing, I want to argue from the indefectibility of the church:

    We're basing many doctrines on our simple trust that God will guide his church. For instance, it is impossible for us to ascertain historically if our parish priest was ordained in a direct lineage, running for two millenia, back to Jesus Christ, who first laid his hands on the Apostles. But we nevertheless trust that Christ will make sure that our parish priest stands in this succession, because(as we believe) he wanted the priesthood and he'll make sure that it will last on undefiled unto the end of days.

    Or let's take the canonization of saints. If I read through the "visions" of many of these saints, I get the impression that they were simply liars. St. Catherine Siena prohesied for the Dominicans that Mary wasn't born immaculately conceived. St. Bernard Clairvaux preached that the Crusade he lead was the will of God. It ended in a desaster, a very terrifying one. I could endlessly go on. And nobody knows if these persons have died without mortal sin. Maybe they just behaved like sins but commited various sins behind the scenes, so to say. But why do I nevertheless trust that those persons solemnly invoked at mass are in heaven and will intercede for us? Because I believe in the holy Catholic Church, and my Catholic sense tells me that it is highly unlikely that God will allow that His Church prays to a soul that burns in hell.

    Again, much the same holds true for the doctrine of Papal infallibility. MAny church doctrines are based on this simple trust that God will guide his church. BUT if there have been many illegitimate popes, which were nevertheless recognized as popes by the church and reigned as such, then I would have to admit that God has let fallen His Church for many, many years into complete error. But if he has allowed THIS, how can I still believe in Apostolic Succession and the truthfullness of canonizations of saints etc.?

    Saints are simply called saints because they are recognized as saints. St. Thomas Aquinas writes: “In the church there can be no damnable error. But this would be such, if one who was really a sinner, were venerated as a saint.”

    Well, those who made up legend number 2) reply to Thomas: “This is wrong! In the church there can be damnable error. Many popes recognized as popes were no true popes at all.”

    But do they know where their position leads them to? First of all, they have to stop venerating the saints; because it would be idle to venerate the saints the church venerates when she might be in damnable error and those supposed saints are really burning in hell.

    Secondly, they would make the whole sacramental system falter, because they do not believe, properly speaking, in the indefectibility of the church anymore. So why believe that is has historically happened that since Jesus Christ there has been an uninterrupted line of laying on of hands right down to your parish-priest?

    I also proposed another argument why legend number 2) fails. I’m quoting myself now from CatholicAnswersforums:

    Only a pope can make cardinals. But if a pope reigns as pope whose election was really invalid, he is just this:invalid: and can’t create cardinals; he has no power to do so. But if he nevertheless reigns as pope and creates cardinals and those cardinals are present in subsequent elections – may the proceedings even by regular! – those elections are null and void because a part of the cardinals present weren’t truly cardinals etc.

    This even holds true before the time of the cardinalate began. For the pope, in his capacity as bishop of Rome, canonically introduced the clergy of Rome into their offices - the very clergy that was to elect the next pope.

    The creation of cardinals and the canonical introduction of clergy into their offices has nothing to do with ordinations, but with jurisdiction.

    To make my point clear: the members of the FSSPX are validly ordained but they don't have any jurisdiction whatsoever(and, as far as I know, their bishops do not claim it either). Despite their ordinations being valid, their actions are illegal and therefore completely void of any canonical value. Well, the bishop of Rome is not chosen in a sacramental rite(which can be performed by clergy lacking jurisdiction), but in a canonical election. Therefore, the clergy and the cardinals(and especialy the cardinals since they are solely created by a true pope) must be in a legal position in order to perform a canonical election. Even before the conclave, the Roman bishop called bishops and priests to Rome and gave them churches, titular churches. Because they held these churches(by right!) they were canonically enabled to perform, or lead, the elections. And now you see why it is THAT important that a true Roman bishop sits on the chair of St. Peter, a true, canonically elected pope who can canonically impose rights upon persons. (10)

    I’m effectively saying this: only the Roman Bishop has the legal authority to introduce the Roman clergy into their offices; because they hold these offices, they are commissioned to do the next canonical election. But if he’s not true pope he has no authority whatsoever to introduce them into their offices: their possession of these offices is therefore illicit. They just happen to be, by chance, so to say, those priests and bishops who elect the next pope, but they have no right whatsoever to do so since only clergy canonically introduced into their offices can elect a pope. For instance, if a host of clergy entered Rome and wanted to elect the new pope we would say, no, you can’t do so, because though you are clergy, you are not ROMAN clergy because you have not been canonically introduced into the Roman offices by a Roman bishop. Now those clergy introduced by a false, uncanonical pope, that nevertheless elects the pope, has no right whatsoever to do so, has not anymore right than the clergy who happened to be present at Rome by chance.

    And this is why the apostolic succession in Petrine office has long failed down since. The sedisvacantists may gather some clergy in Rome and elect their own pope against Benedict XVI. This sedisvacantist-pope will surely be as much a pope as is Benedict XVI.

    The saeculum obscurum, as I think, provided us with whole series of uncanonical popes.

    After his death (1003) a new power, the Counts of Tusculum, gradually overshadowed and appropriated the Papacy, and the long night approached its darkest hour. After vigorous fights with the Romans one of the counts secured the tiara and the title of Benedict VIII. He fiercely suppressed the riots of the Romans, and, strange to say, for he was quite unscrupulous, attempted some reform of the Church. At his death his brother purchased the votes of the electors, and succeeded him. John XIX soberly enjoyed his purchase for nine years. Then a member of the family, by the customary bribery, bought the tiara for his own son, a boy of eleven, and the Papal record is stained with the fifteen years' pontificate of Benedict IX.

    Benedict's particular vices have not earned immortality. "They were so horrible that I shudder to tell them," says one of his successors, Victor II (Dialogues, Bk. iii). Rudolph Glaber (Historia, v, 5) makes the same remark about "the turpitude of his [the Pope's] life and conversation." Bishop Bonitho (Liber ad Amicum, v) is content to mention "adulteries and murders." We gather that unnatural vice, which was then very prevalent in the Church, was the most flagrant offence of the young Pope. He was assuredly one of the "few bad Popes."

    In the first year of his reign the Romans plotted against the young Pope's life, and he fled. In 1037 he induced the Emperor Conrad to restore him, and he enlivened the Lateran Palace for seven years. Then the Romans again fell furiously upon his supporters, and, while they spattered Rome with blood in the traditional manner, the young Pope went courting a cousin in the provinces. He was recalled by his relatives, who bloodily crushed the Romans and their anti-Pope; but his thoughts were with his pretty cousin, and in the next year he sold the Papacy to his uncle (for the annual Peter's Pence which was to come from pious England) and decided to wed his lover.

    The uncle, John Gratian, was a highly respectable ecclesiastic, with large ideas of reform, and not a little ambition. He assumed the name of Victor III, and took his seat as Vicar of Christ. In another part of Rome sat the rival Vicar, the anti-Pope made by the Romans, Silvester II. In time, Benedict IX failed to get his bride, and he returned and set up a third "chair of Peter." He held the Lateran Palace; Silvester occupied St. Peter's and the Vatican Palace (which now begins to find mention); Victor III had to be content with Sta. Maria Maggiore. To finish with the long history of this phase of Papal degradation, the pious new Emperor of Germany, Henry III, came to Rome, cleared out the three of them, and set Pope Clement II, an austere and virtuous prelate, upon the defiled and despised throne of the rulers of Papal Christendom — the "Holy See." (11)

    Benedict seized the papal throne in an uncanonical manner - he was no true pope at all. But this succesion of uncanonical popes continued till Henry III. settled the issue(of course,if my argument is correct, this wasn’t a canonical election either: Henry III. proposed a candidate to the Roman clergy and this candidate was elected by the Roman clergy – the very Roman clergy introduced by the former illicit series of popes).

    3) If the whole of Christendom accepts a pope to be pope, he is pope regardless of his invalid election(if there has been an election at all)

    Well, first of all my Catholic sense rebels against such an assertion. Has the Catholic church become a democracy? If we all believe Cardinal Caspar to be the true pope, does Benedict XVI. thereby cease to be pope?

    But this is clearly ruled out by the Great Western Schism. The Roman line, that appears in the offical lists as the legitimate line, was not that much supprted. The Pisan popes had more fellows behind them. And I think that epsecially in the Western Schism it appears that to know who’s the true pope is of extreme importance. Don’t forget that the conciliarist decrees were passed at Constance and that this Council DEPOSED a pope, who was at this time still much more regarded as true pope than the Roman pope Gregory VII. Was. In either way, if Gregory VII. was not true pope the solemn dogma of Vatican I, that the pope is above council and can be judged by no one, would be disproven. The church can’t define faith against the facts of history, which, if they pertain to the faith, are dogmatic facts. So you can only uphold Catholicism by insisting that it doesn’t matter just HOW MUCH support the valid pope gets. (12)

    Another idea occurs to me: it is generally acknowledged that during the Gregorian Reform a change happened: Western Christendom was centralized as it never was before. But before this, and especially in the messy seaculum obscurum, I do not think that the whole of Western bishops, or even the greater part, got to know who succeeded on Peter’s throne, especially as such successions changed quickly(just a year or so, months, even only weeks).

    This is the proper place to adress the assertion one commentator on my thesis made. He wrote:

    “Except that is not historically feasable, nor does the later canon fundamentally change the character of the divine authority of the Cardinal, which comes from their ordination as a bishop. A cardinal is a particularly "honored" bishop, but as a point of preistly authority, is still "just" a bishop. As stated before, even if all the cardinals and Pope was removed from the living earth, the bishops have every religious/divine authority to appoint a new "Bishop of Rome". Where the argument breaks down is with some people's ideas of what part of the preistly "authority" matters.

    My contention is that all the definitions of indefectibility and innerrency derive from the divine character of the bishop's "authority", not their adiministrative authority to govern the organization. This is far different from, say, Mormon veiws on preistly authority wherein it is precisely the administrative authority granted through one's "calling" that matters, and thus they see an easy case for defectibility. If their Prophet and all twelve apostles were suddenly killed, they would have (according to their own interpretation of priestly keys and whatnot) to start over.

    Though canon requires, as a matter of administration, that a "Cardinal" must be made by a "Pope", who then is the only one who is validly capable of electing a future "pope", the end point is, despite the extra titles and charisms of their particular stations, and despite all the extra attention and homage many give them, the nature of their preistly ordination is that they are still Bishops. Thus, as far as the divine continuity of the Church is concerned, it is indefectible, despite the issue of valid popes and their retinue of cardinals.

    Otherwise, you end up with a circular argument: Only a pope makes cardinals, but only cardinals make popes; which came first, the Chicken or the egg; and which do you establish first when both get lost in the legalisms they created? But remember the KEY: the AUTHORITY to do any of this, including creating the canon which creates such a mess, resides in the divine character of the preisthood, not the secular/administrative function.” (13)

    For one thing, this whole argument runs up to the following conclusion: He who is accepted most bishops as pope, is pope. But this assesment, strangely democratic in itself, is ruled out by the Great Western Schism, when most bishops regarded John XXIII. to be the legitimate successor of Peter.

    I think my opponent has also left the path of Catholic ecclesiology and turned to Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology. The pope is very different from a mere priest or a bishop, because he is bishop of bishops and the seat of infallability: no matter how many councils are called by the bihsops, even if the whole episcopacy turns against him, his judgement on faith and morals is still true ex sese. (By the way, if my opponents assertion is true we would find ourselves in a strange situation: though we could not discard the popes judgments as pope – since they are either, when dogmatic, infallible or, when legislative, cannot be called into question – but could simply plot out a majority of bishops who declare that the pope is not true pope anymore and they are going to chose another one amongst their midst.)

    No priest and no bishop can be made pope unles he has been canonically elected. I agree with my “opponent”(I don’t like to call him thus because he was very friendly to me) that if there was only one bishop on earth anymore, then he would be the pope. But this is obviously not the case. There are thousands of bishops. Who is the true pope among them? This is the question at stake here. Who of them is to rule the entire church, who is to make indulgences, who is to canonize the saints, who is to travel around the orld and smile on TV, who is to make definitions of the faith ex sese, non ex consensu ecclesia irreformable? This can just pertain to one man, not to every priest or bishop. In fact, I believe my “opponent” has conceded a great point to the (former) sedisvacantists. Some of them obtained illicit bishop-ordinations, made their own conclaves and issued their own popes. How are you to refute their claim? If the divine authority of the church soleley resides in the priesthood, then every priest may feel free to pronounce himself to be the pope and to issue dogmatic definitions.

    4) He is true pope who is accepted by the Roman populace.

    This is ruled out by the sheer facts of history. Just to give you one example:

    “A new power, the Counts of Tusculum, gradually overshadowed and appropriated the Papacy, and the long night approached its darkest hour. After vigorous fights with the Romans one of the counts secured the tiara and the title of Benedict VIII. He fiercely suppressed the riots of the Romans, and, strange to say, for he was quite unscrupulous, attempted some reform of the Church.” (14)

    Benedict VIII. is counted among the true popes.


    Please also check 3) and the example of Nicholas V.

    5) He is true pope who resides in Rome.
    For one thing, this somewhat lunatic mystification of the City of Rome bewilders me.

    But this argument does not hold, for there was something like an Avignon exile, lasting for more than sixty years – Rome therefore isn’t intrinsically bound to the papacy.

    This argument also fails on another ground: it happened some times in history that those who were thought anti-popes – and as such appear in the offical lists – actually resided in Rome!

    I just mention one example:

    Antipope Anacletus resided in Rome while the supposedly “true” Pontiff was outside Rome! (15) We’ve already considered the case of Benedict X., who also was, in the beginning of the strive, in Rome, while Nicholas stayed outside it. The at least temporal residence in Rome is also documented as concerns the anti-popes Clement III., Theodoricus, Victor IV., etc. (16)

    Another great example is Nicholas V. During the Avignon-exile, it occurred to Ludwig of Bavaria that a pope who does not reside in Rome is no true pope at all. He send out the anti-pope Nicholas V. to Rome who was elected by the Roman populace! It is true that after two years he resigned but if we stick to the legend that there is something extraordinary about Rome or the Roman populace, then we should conclude that every Catholic at those times was, when Nicholas V. took his office, under the moral obligation to forsake the Avignon-popes and adhere to Nicholas. (This is, be the way, still another illustration of the point I made concerning the schism of Benedict and Nicholas: it is absolutely important to know what the predecessor of the pope has decreed or confirmed(if only by silence) as to the electoral process; the Avignon-popes can only have been true popes because their predecessors had decided that the election belongs solely to the cardinals.)

    6) But, but, but: isn’t it true that none of those suspect popes of, say, the saeculum obscurum has issued a solemn dogmatic statement? Who fails to see in all this God’s holy providence protecting the papacy?

    Well, there isn’t anything providential about this. According to Döllinger, Pope and Council, no point of doctrine was finally decided by the Roman Pontiffs in the first ten centuries of Christianity. You should also read Brian Tierney, The Origins of Papal Infallibility 1150-1350. It’s a masterful work. As the invention of the doctrine of papal infallibility was first heard of in Rome, John XXII. took a very skeptical approach towards this novelty; just read his bull Quia quorundam on http://www.papalencyclicals.net/John22/qquor-e.htm

    7) But, but, but, if God has sustained the papacy even through the saeculum obscurum, doesn’t this mean that God has firmly established it?

    No, I rather think that the very fact that the papacy has been driven into the saeculum obscurum and other messy situations, that make it impossible for us to decide who’s the true pope, clearly reveal that God does not sustain the papacy.
    2006-07-03 12:44:16 GMTComments: 0 |Permanent Link

    A reply to Mr. Stephen Ray - Part 3

    3) About the illogical premises underlying “sola tiara”

    I hope you have followed my argument with honesty. If so, I encourage you to check it against history. I just took out some examples of history, but if you really study the history of popes and papal elections more closely, you’ll find an abundant amount of examples.

    I’ll quote now extensively from the essay by Steve Ray mentioned in the title. You can find it here: http://www.catholic-convert.com/Portals/0/Documents/NTSelfAuthenticating.doc

    I’ll endeavour to show that “sola scriptura”, whatever may be the shortcomings of this principle(if there are any), is far better than sola tiara.

    It is one thing to prove a doctrine from a book that is proven authoritative. It is quite another thing to prove the authority of a book, from that book, before the book itself is proven authoritative. These two are very different situations.

    I agree. It is one thing to prove a doctrine, proclaimed by the papacy, if the papacy has proven authorative, but is it quite another thing to do so if were are not even aware of who’s the authorative pope.

    The Catholic sees another source of criterion[to establish the canon of the New Testament]—Christ still working through his body on earth through the Holy Spirit. Peter, being invested with the office of Royal Steward or Prime Minister (cp. Matt. 16 and Is. 22, and read my paper on “An Old Testament Basis for the Primacy and Succession of Peter”) was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven that accompany that office. The person (Peter) may die, but the office doesn’t.

    That’s all very pious talk; but Mr. Ray has forgotten to tell his Protestant friend that we have no clue at all who actually holds the succession from Peter, and therefore no clue at all who is to decide authoratively.

    Swiss Reformer John Calvin (1509-64) also had a precarious view of Scripture in the sense of how one knows inspired text and the formation of the canon. He simply makes it a matter of internal witness, a subjective criteria. Calvin wrote, “Let it therefore be held as fixed, that those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture; that Scripture, carrying its own evidence along with it [self-authenticating], deigns not to submit to proofs and arguments; but owes the full conviction with which we ought to receive it to the testimony of the Spirit. Enlightened by him, we no longer believe, either on our own judgment or that of others, that the Scriptures are from God; but in a way superior to human judgment, feel perfectly assured . . . in holding it, [that] we hold unassailable truth; not like miserable men, whose minds are enslaved by superstition, but because we feel a divine energy living and breathing in it” (Institutes of the Christian Religion [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983], 1: vii, 3).

    This reminds me of an incident. I already discussed the problem “Who’s the true pope” shortly on a German internet-forum and was told by one participant that we do not have but a “moral certainty” as to who’s the true pope. We can’t be sure, after all, but at least morally certain. Calvin said that he is quite certain, because he feels it, that the canon of the New Testament is right; Ray would undoubtedly say(since there is no objective standard to decide this), that he feels morally quite certain that the current pope Benedict XVI. is true pope. He can only base himself, like Calvin, on his subjective decision. So why attack Calvin? Ray isn’t any better. Honesty should compel him to say this as it is.

    I know a Coptic biblical scholar named Abuna Matta el-Meskeen who lives in a monastery in Egypt who has written, I am told, over two hundred books in Arabic, including commentaries of most New Testament books. We spent a good bit of time with him in the deserts outside Alexandria (where Athanasius spent many years in exile). He says he doesn’t consider the book of Revelation to be inspired or canonical. He says he just ignores it. Who is to say he is wrong? What criteria would you appeal to?

    Well, we know many sedisvacantists that will tell us that the curent pope(and all popes since Vatican II) is not a pope at all. They say they don’t consider him to be a conical pope. They just ignore him. Who is to say that they are wrong?

    And they diverse sedisvacantist sects who have elected their own popes(17): who is to say that they are wrong? What critieria would Mr. Ray appeal to?

    I know R. C. Sproul admits that the classic Protestant position is that we only have a “fallible collection of infallible books”.11 I would never have admitted to that three years ago. I would have (and I think you would have to) fought to the death on that one. A fallible collection is not very assuring. If I was still an Evangelical and had to struggle over Sproul’s statement, I think, like others, I would have seriously been pushed toward agnosticism.

    Well, as a Catholic, or as one who is at least still very fixed in the Catholic mindset, I would not be that rash in calling the position of Protestants illogical. Maybe the way in which Evangelicals tend to prove the authority of Scripture is hardly tenable. But I do not know if sola scriptura is wrong. I have not yet made up my mind. What strikes me is that even the epistle of the canon Ray constantly refers to as “the weakest chain” contains no novel doctrine at all, but just constantly repeats the same doctrine and the same exhortations you can also find in the Pauline epistles. 2 Peter derives its authencity, I would say, from the early Christians, in the community of which it grew and was fixed. You can only find this simple, eloquent faith of the first Christians there: Chirst has redeemed us, he is risen, he’ll come back. There hardly can be found any theme in 2 Peter that cannot be found in the Pauline epistles. 2 Peter tells us nothing about novel doctrines, it does not inflict the Immaculate Conception, Papal Infallibility(I may nastily ask: WHOSE papal infallibility?), indulgences, or whatever upon us, but just reflects the teaching of the holy early Christian community. Therefore, I would conclude that Protestantism is not really about “Scripture alone” but “Antiquity alone” or “Apostolic faith alone”.

    I deem this position is far more assuring than “sola tiara”. I’ll shortly explain how and why.

    So, we’re back to the fact that Scripture is inspired, but you have demonstrated nothing to show me what Scripture is from a Protestant theology. It is like saying to me as we walk through a used bookstore filled with rare books, “all special books are valuable.” I would probably agree with you. My next question would be, “which books are special”? You would try to give me some general criteria that would not work (written by an apostle, Luther’s requirement that it preach Christ, Calvin’s subjective internal witness, etc.). You would say “They are self-authenticating; it is obvious.” However, there may be fifty other people in the store mulling over thousands of books, each coming to different conclusions as to which books are “special” and therefore “valuable”. We may even find that the confusion has been going of for many years. There are a few that most agree on but no one has the final criteria to judge them and no knows the precise number of “special” books there really are. The confusion is finally settled by the Commissioner of Rare Books. He makes a determination based on his office, expertise, and authority. Everyone accepts the final collection and the question is closed. A very inadequate illustration but it gives a shadow of the Catholic position.

    The problem with the Catholic teaching is – and Mr. Ray has failed to point this out – that the other fifty people in the store will question the authority of the Commissioner of Rare Books. What makes this Commissioner of Rare Books the true Commissioner of rare books? Why is HE to decide, and not someone else of the fifty people present who has got a different opinion?

    I really believe that we Catholics do find ourselves in a most awkward situation. Vatican I had it dogmatically defined that the pope, and only the pope, is the seat of doctrinal purity, of infallibility in the church. He’s the Commissioner to bring forth a decision. But what secures us that his decision comes to us with authority, that he is the true Commissioner? It would be interesting to know Mr Ray’s thoughts about this.

    Here we end back where we start. How do we know what books are inspired and therefore infallible? If so much was riding on this collection of books, why didn’t the apostles clarify it for us?

    Yes, here we end back where we start. How do we know which pope is canonical and therefore to decide infallible? If so much was riding on the papacy, why didn’t the apostles set out a clear-cut electorial system that would have forever secured us to know who’s Peter’s successor?
    2006-07-03 12:42:55 GMTComments: 0 |Permanent Link

    A Reply to Mr, Stephen Ray - Conclusion and Sources
    Conclusion

    Let me conclude this short essay with somehow personal remarks. I have written this very hastily down, partially because I find myself in a very anxious state of mind, not knowing where to put my feet to rest(Catholicism or Proestantism or Orthodoxy?), and partially because I am, as a young boy, not patient enough to champion thorough investigations – I rather, in a fleeting manner, make some points and pose some problems, and wait for others to expose my thoughts more cautious, more fully. I’ve even left some crucial questions out – like simonical elections.

    Therefore every Protestant apologist who comes across this page and finds some value in the argument shall feel entirely free to use this essay, to shorten it, to broaden it, to turn-it-upside down, to do whatever with it, to just extract some thoughts from it – he shall feel free to deepen the argument and to force the Roman apologists like Mr. Ray to clarify their case they seemingly feel so safe about.

    Sources:

    (1) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12270a.htm
    (2) http://www.rewi.hu-berlin.de/online/fhi/seminar/0205sperber.htm
    (3) http://www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articletypeid=1&textID=4122&issueID=527&search=1
    (4) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Konstantin_II._%28Gegenpapst%29
    (5) http://www.americamagazine.org/gettext.cfm?articletypeid=1&textID=4122&issueID=527&search=1
    (6) http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolaus_II_%28Papst%29
    (7) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/11456a.htm
    (8) http://www.rewi.hu-berlin.de/online/fhi/seminar/0205sperber.htm I have translated his statements into English. By the way, his scholarly treaties is a great reading on papal elections during the MiddleAges.
    (9) http://www.infidels.org/library/his...ch/PandC-3.html
    Of course it is superfluous to say that I am not happy to point to an atheist-webpage, but given how hastely I wrote this essay down, I could not find another source. You may check if the facts presented are correct, at least I haven’t found a mistake yet.
    (10) http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=120670
    (11) http://www.infidels.org/library/his...ch/PandC-3.html
    (12) “On June 26, the twenty-two cardinals present (from the two former obediences) unanimously elected Peter Philargi, the Greek Archbishop of Milan, as Pope Alexander V. The Pisan Pope was recognised by France, England, Bohemia, Prussia, and northern and central Italy. The Spanish kingdoms and Scotland remained Clementine. The Urbanist obedience was reduced to parts of Italy. Whereas from 1378 until 1409 Christendom had had two putative Popes, it now had three.
    The following year, Alexander V was succeeded by the second Pisan Pope, Baldassare Cossa, who took the title John XXIII (!). Baldassare Cossa was reputed to have started his career as a pirate, and his toughness would appear to have secured him the triple tiara in 1410. In spite of his amazingly unsavoury reputation, political fortune at first favoured John XXIII, and he was actually able to take up residence for a time in Rome. In 1413, however, when the political balance went against him, John was obliged by the German king - later emperor - Sigismund to summon the General Council of Constance.”
    http://www.sedevacantist.com/schism.html
    As you may question the validity of sedisvacantist sources, I found the same assertion in a book named “Der Primat des Bischofs von Rom”, by Wolfgang Klausnitzer, currently professor for fundamental theology at the University of Bamberg: “Das Dekret Haec Sancta ist die Konsequenz der großen Krise des Konzils von Konstanz. Es war ursprünglich von Papst Johannes XXIII. einberufen worden. Johannes war der Nachfolger von Alexander V., der auf dem Konzil von Pisa gewählt worden war. Neben der Pisaner Obödienz, der der größere Teil der Christenheit angehörte[to whom the greater part of Christianity belonged], standen aber noch die römische Papstlinie und in der Reihe der Päpste von Avignon Papst Benedikt XIII.“
    (13) http://forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=120670
    (14) http://www.infidels.org/library/his...ch/PandC-3.html
    (15) Check out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope_Anacletus_II
    and
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Innocent_II
    (16) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope_Clement_III; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antipope_Theodoric;
    http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_IV._%28Gregor%29
    (17) Of course I’m pointing to Linus II., Pius XIII., etc. For instance, check out: http://www.truecatholic.org/pope/

    The original essay can be found here.


    Posted by John on July 4, 2006 04:31 PM

    Comments

    This article is certainly worthy of being cleaned up and distributed widely. I've spent much of the last three years studying both Catholic and Protestant doctrine, and have come to rest (though not completely) in the thorougly reformed OPC. I've noticed that many, many, many Catholic arguments against Protestant doctrines (like sola Scriptura) attack seemingly circular arguments made by Protestants, while leaving their own circular reasoning wide open to criticism. Both sides tend to ignore the planks in their own eyes!

    Any argument for ultimate authority seems to become somewhat circular, or at least a very tight spiral. But, as Mr. Neissen points out in his article, the divine authority of Scripture is far better attested than the authority of the long, splintered, and wavering line of Papal succession.

    Regarding how you can know who is the true Pope: there's a stone with a sword in it. Whoever can pull the sword out of the stone is the true Pope. Oh, wait a minute...that's something else...

    Yeah, you're thinking of the Church of England ;-)

    This is a dim-witted attack on the Truth of the Papacy. You are expecting modern clarity of conditions and circumstances, say 1800 yrs ago. Sorry, it's not that simple. There is a direct, unbroken line of teaching from the Chair of Peter that has given Catholics the Trut of what Christ did and taught when he walked the earth. The alternative? How many new Protestant churches spring up every week, with the REAL truth about the Gospel.
    Please, get real.

    Good try, Mike.

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