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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Roots of the Papacy: A Quick Thought

Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio gives us a brief look at the papacy in Biblical history that begins with the "Master of the Palace" or prime minister of the Davidic kings. Given the words of the Lord in Matthew 16:13-20, this is the role that was being given to Simon Peter: a rock-like foundation, just as Eliakim in Isaiah 22 is a sure peg on which to hang things firmly. It suddenly hit me while Dr. D'Ambrosio was talking about papal infallibility that even the most fired-up anti-Catholic has no problems with infallibility per se. They do, however, scoff at the idea of papal infallibility. What's the difference? The former is a given gift of certitude in truth that every Christian ascribes to certain key people, e.g., the prophets and the writers of the Bible. We can't claim that the Bible is inerrant and inspired without accepting that the writers of the Bible were infallible in what they wrote therein. Papal infallibility, however, is treated differently. To Protestants, it is not possible simply because the premise is that the Pope is the anti-Christ. I wish they'd dig a bit deeper, however, and explain how they are so sure of this. There have been over 250 popes so far in the last 2000 years, and how they could all have been anti-Christs is beyond me and beyond the evidence (or lack thereof). Another point worth making is that Protestants seem to miss a very, very crucial point that they are implying even while being unconscious of it: in opposing papal infallibility, they have no choice but to substitute but their own. Something to think and pray about.


Lito said...


To protestants the word anti from the Greek is taken in two senses. First Anti means that one is against Christ. The Pope is not against Christ in his confession.

But there is a second sense of anti - one who stands on behalf but denies Christ in reality. This according to the Reformers fits the pope. He stands on behalf of the Christ, sits above the Church but in his practice and doctrine denies Christ.

The point Jeff is that of the gospel. The Reformers were very careful for the gospel to be restored to the church. If Jesus fully paid for my sins, past present and future, if he purchased my righteousness and it is mine by faith then, there is no need for indulgences. His sacrifice and him alone is sufficient to be trusted. The church becomes people of God, the redeemed with Christ as their head shepherd, their high priest, the mediator betwen God and man. This the Reformers believed. They staked their salvation on Christ alone, not on an organization or tradition but on the person of Christ himself revealed in scripture.



purple_kangaroo said...

Hello! I'm a Protestant with several dear family and friends who have converted to Catholicism. They are people we respect, and so my husband and I have done a lot of research trying to understand and evaluate the Catholic church and what it teaches. We have tried to approach it with an open mind and have found more common ground than we expected.

All that to tell you that I'm not a troll. I've had you on my bloglines subscription for a while. :)

I do think that the issue of infallibility is the crux of the difference between Protestants and Catholics. But I think you've seriously misrepresented or misunderstood the Protestant position here.

I don't think most Protestants view the pope as the antichrist--we largely view him as a human leader who has overstepped the bounds of his God-given authority, putting himself so to speak in the place of God, contrary to passages like I Tim 2:5.

One thing I think you misunderstand is that Protestants, for the most part, don't believe that the apostles and the writers of Scripture were infallible. That's the basis of protestant and reformed theology--that God is the only one who is infallible. So Paul wasn't infallible when he wrote Scripture--God was infallible in the way he communicated it to Paul. In both the Old and New Testaments there are multiple stories of prophets and apostles--people who spoke for God in certain situations--making mistakes or being wrong, even in theology, doctrine or practice they were teaching. Thus we have prophets being rebuked by God, apostles rebuking each other, and Paul clarifying when he is speaking for God and when he is speaking of his own accord.

You said, "We can't claim that the Bible is inerrant and inspired without accepting that the writers of the Bible were infallible in what they wrote therein."

If I send my 4-year-old to give a message to my 2-year-old that Mommy says it's time to come downstairs for dinner, insofar as she conveys that message accurately she is speaking for me. But that doesn't mean that she is speaking for me in everything, or even necessarily that everything she says when attempting to speak for me is accurate. It's not the messenger that's infallible in this case; the infallibility lies with the message itself and whether it fits with what I intended to communicate or not.

So, with Scripture, it's not that Paul was infallible. It's the message God communicated through him that was infallible--and it would have been the same whether God chose Paul, another person, or some other means of communicating that message. The reason we trust Scripture is God's word and is infallible is not because of some special inherent infallibility in the messengers--it's because God Himself promised to keep the message pure and said that this particular message was an accurate communication of His Word.

Mark Congdon said...

One thing strikes me as odd about Dr. D'Ambrosio's article. He draws a connection between Isaiah 22 and Peter very well. That is a fascinating parallel, and useful in understanding Peter's role.

He then makes a connection between that and papal infallibility. The odd thing is... I don't think that the "Master of the Palace" had any such guarantee of infallibility. So, the parallels, useful as they may be, appear to have nothing to do with the infallibility of Peter. D'Ambrosio appears to draw the connection purely from the picture of the "solid peg"... but it doesn't appear to me that the "solid peg" imagery in Isaiah had anything to do with doctrinal infallibility.

Jeff Tan said...

Oops.. There was no intention to say that all Protestants consider the pope to be the anti-Christ. Many do, many don't.

I made an error in alluding infallibility to the writers of Scripture: "Infallibility must be carefully distinguished both from Inspiration and from Revelation.

Inspiration signifies a special positive Divine influence and assistance by reason of which the human agent is not merely preserved from liability to error but is so guided and controlled that what he says or writes is truly the word of God, that God Himself is the principal author of the inspired utterance; but infallibility merely implies exemption from liability to error. ...

Revelation, on the other hand, means the making known by God, supernaturally of some truth hitherto unknown, or at least not vouched for by Divine authority; whereas infallibility is concerned with the interpretation and effective safeguarding of truths already revealed."
-- Catholic Encyclopedia

So infallibility simply excempts the declaration from the possibility of error and this has absolutely nothing to do with the speaker. The pope and the Church are as prone to sin as we are, but we trust their limited infallibility (only in faith and morals, and only spoken definitively for the universal, i.e., catholic, Church) because we trust in Christ's promises. When he declares that Peter may authoritatively open and shut on earth as on Heaven, he does not mean that Peter is so privileged as to command. He means that Peter is so privileged as to serve the will of God. This is infallibility: the impossibility of teaching in error because God will not allow it. That is exactly why we trust the inerrancy of Scripture. Of course, Scripture goes beyond infallibility as it is furthermore revealed and inspired.

As for the link between Eliakim and Simon Peter, connecting that to papal infallibility is not at all strange when analyzing the authority that was granted: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven" (Matt 16:19) and "Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, When he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open." (Is 22:22) In Jewish terms, to shut and to loose refers to teach what is lawful or unlawful. But when we say "on earth as in Heaven," in whichever order, cannot mean that Heaven must conform to earth. It is always earth that conforms to Heaven. As I said above, infallibility is not so much authority as it is servitude. Hence, papal infallibility should not be mistaken for a man's authority to command God. It is always man's servitude to the will of God, as voiced on earth, guided from error by the Holy Spirit.

This again is not a problem for protestants per se who ajudge Scriptures to be inspired and inerrant. This is most certainly not a problem for Evangelicals who believe that Scripture is self-attesting and that every sincere reader will be preserved from erroneous interpretation by the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps my thesis in all of this is that one cannot appeal to the impossibility of God leading a man away from error in teaching doctrine. We know that it is possible because it has happened before when writers of Scripture were inspired to write exactly what they did. Furthermore, Evangelicals (many, if not most) will also trust in such personal guidance for each and every sincere, born-again reader of Scriptures. What I wanted to point out about the latter is that this is in stark contrast to this: they also say that this cannot happen when the Pope reads the same Bible. Now this is not in the context of binding consciences as the Pope does for the Catholics, for it is an unhappy Christian who will say that the truth he/she is led to by the Holy Spirit could be false for another Christian reading the Bible.

Mark Congdon said...


Thanks for the response.

For my part, I would never suggest that papal infallibility is impossible. It is completely within God's ability and prerogative to protect Peter and his descendants from error in faith and morals.

The question for me is... did God give such a promise? The evidence is very limited, it seems to me... particularly for an authority of such amazing magnitude.

With regard to Eliakim, let me clarify... are you suggesting that Eliakim (and others in his position) had infallibility in the same way the Pope does?