The Roman Catholic pope has often been the most powerful religious and political figure on earth. This is true today, even though the pope no longer has at his disposal the armies and navies of past Roman pontiffs. The papacy is crucial to Roman Catholicism, which is destined to play a vital role in the last days prior to Christ's second coming. Therefore we must take time to understand the papacy in relation to both the Church and the world. How did the papal office arise? What is its significance today? The Vatican's constituency of 980 million followers is at least three times the number of citizens in any Western democracy and is exceeded only by the population of China. Even more important, these 980 million people are scattered throughout the world, many of them holding high political, military, and commercial positions in non-Catholic countries. Moreover, the pope has thousands of secret agents worldwide. They include Jesuits, the Knights of Columbus, Knights of Malta, Opus Dei, and others. The Vatican's Intelligence Service and its field resources are second to none.
Politically the pope's power is exercised mostly behind the scenes, at times in cooperation with and at other times in opposition to the CIA, British Intelligence, Israeli Mossad, and other intelligence services. Remember, the pope's 980 million subjects are bound to him by religious ties, which are far stronger than any political loyalties could ever be. No secular government can compete with the motivational power of religious belief.
The typical Roman Catholic, though he may disagree with his church on such issues as homosexuality, abortion, extramarital sex, contraceptives, and the necessity for confession, nevertheless believes that, when it comes time for him to die, Rome holds his only hope. The pope as Christ's Vicar gives a visible reality and practical expression to that hope. The extraordinary position of the pope in relation to members of the Church was expressed succinctly in Rome's La Civilta Cattolica, which a papal brief described in the mid-nineteenth century as "the purest journalistic organ of true Church doctrine"2:
It is not enough for the people only to know that the Pope is the head of the Church ... they must also understand that their own faith and religious life flow from him; that in him is the bond which unites Catholics to one another, and the power which strengthens and the light which guides them; that he is the dispenser of spiritual graces, the giver of the benefits of religion, the upholder of justice, and the protector of the oppressed.3
Similar words have been spoken by the followers of Joseph Smith, Sun Myung Moon, and other cult leaders. The pope is "another Christ" and "God on earth" to his followers, and, as Vatican II says, he can be judged by neither man nor tribunal.4
Check Your Mind at the Door
Check Your Mind at the Door
The pope, and therefore the Church through him as its head, both claim to be infallible. Ordinary Catholics must not question anything the pope or Church have to say concerning faith and morals. The councils and catechisms have for centuries declared the need for such total submission and still insist upon it today. The Catholic World reminded all Roman Catholics in the United States at the time of the First Vatican Council:
Each individual must receive the faith and law from the Church ... with unquestioning submission and obedience of the intellect and the will.... We have no right to ask reasons of the Church, any more than of Almighty God.... We are to take with unquestioning docility whatever instruction the Church gives us.5
Here we have as clear a denial of individual moral responsibility as can be found in any cult. The same requirement of unthinking submission is demanded in Vatican II. The Code of Canon Law likewise reasserts the same rule:
The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.6
When it comes to faith and morals and the way of salvation, Catholics must check their minds at the door and accept whatever the Church says. They can't even study the Bible for themselves because only the Magisterium can interpret it. Obviously, this prohibition against freedom of conscience is related to the total suppression of basic human rights for all mankind everywhere, which is the unchanging goal of Roman Catholicism.
To understand Roman Catholicism one must ignore the public posturing and public-relations-motivated profile offered by the Catholic Church. The face that Rome shows to the world varies from country to country depending upon the control it has and what it can effect. Instead, we must look to Catholicism's official doctrines, which never change.
Vatican II is thought by most Catholics and non-Catholics to have liberalized Catholicism. In fact, it reaffirmed the canons and decrees of previous key councils: "This sacred council accepts loyally the venerable faith of our ancestors ... and it proposes again the decrees of the Second Council of Nicea, of the Council of Florence, and of the Council of Trent."7 The Council of Trent denounced the Reformation and damned evangelicals' beliefs with more than 100 anathemas. All of these condemnations of the gospel of God's grace are endorsed and reaffirmed by Vatican II. As for the pope, Vatican II clearly states:
The Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office [not the holiness of his life], when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful ... he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals. For that reason his definitions are rightly said to be irreformable ... in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal.
... the faithful, for their part, are obliged to submit to their bishops' decision, made in the name of Christ, in matters of faith and morals, and to adhere to it with a ready and respectful allegiance of mind. This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and that one sincerely adhere to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention ....8
Obliged to submit to their bishops' decision. .. submission of the will and intellect must be given ... ! That gives Rome incredible power over devout Catholics. That every Catholic does not obey is not the point; the point is that such wording is the unchangeable teaching and intent of the Church, not only for its members but for all mankind.
While many Catholics rebel against certain Church doctrines, they remain nominally attached to the Church, though they may only attend on Christmas or Easter. When it comes, however, to their hope of someday being released from purgatory and getting to heaven, no Catholic can question the Church or he would cease to be under its protection and thus be damned. Vatican II clearly says:
This holy Council teaches ... that the Church ... is necessary for salvation.... Hence, they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.9
Remember that Hitler and Mussolini remained Catholics to the end and were never excommunicated from the Church. So did thousands of the worst Nazi war criminals, whom the Vatican smuggled out of Europe into safe havens in South America. Such archcriminals are honored with Catholic funerals and, like Mafia members, die with the assurance that their Church will continue to say Masses in order to get them out of purgatory and eventually into heaven. It is an insurance policy that very few allow to lapse completely.
"Impeccability" Versus "Infallibility'
The required blind faith in the pronouncements of the pope and the clergy seems to make sense because the Roman Church is the largest and oldest. Surely so many billions of religious people couldn't be wrong for the past 1500 years! Faith is also bolstered by the assurance that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church, the one which alone can be traced back to the original apostles, and that its papal authority comes directly from Christ through Peter by a long and unbroken line of apostolic succession.
As proof, the Church provides a list of its popes (thus far 263) all the way back to Peter. Few Catholics know that popes quarreled and fought with one another, excommunicated one another, and sometimes even killed each other. It is difficult to find even a few among the popes after the fifth century who exhibited the basic Christian virtues. Their lives as recorded in the Catholic Encyclopedia read like an unbelievable soap opera of lust, madness, mayhem, and murder. Nevertheless, all of these master criminals, poisoners, adulterers, and mass murderers are considered to have been infallible when they spoke ex cathedra-that is, made dogmatic pronouncements upon faith and morals to the whole church.
Catholic apologists argue that there is a difference between impeccability in character and conduct, which the popes certainly did not have, and infallibility in faith and morals, which every Catholic must believe they had.10 What folly to believe that a man who in his life denies the faith and is habitually immoral is nevertheless infallible when he speaks of faith and morals!
Knowledgeable Catholics readily admit that many popes were incredibly evil. But that fact, it is argued, simply proves they were human and allows one to disagree with them in good conscience. To the Catholic it makes good sense that, in spite of the undeniable wickedness of her clergy, the Roman Catholic Church must be mankind's only hope. After all, it was established by Christ Himself, who made Peter the first pope. That is supposedly proved by the Scripture "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18), which we will deal with in detail later.
The Unknown Dogma
Contrary to what Roman Catholics are taught, the papal office did not originate with Peter. It was centuries before the Bishop of Rome attempted to dominate the rest of the Church, and many centuries more before this primacy was generally accepted. Leo the Great's letter to Flavian in 449 was not accepted until the Council of Chalcedon had approved it. "[Pope] Leo [I] himself acknowledged that his treatise could not become a rule of faith till it was confirmed by the bishops."11
There were eight councils of the Church before the schism in 1054 split it into Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, when the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople excommunicated each other. None of these eight councils was called by the Bishop of Rome, but by the emperor, who also put his stamp of approval upon their decrees. As for papal authority, one Catholic historian reminds us:
Pope Pelagius (556-60) talks of heretics separating themselves from the Apostolic Sees, that is, Rome, Jerusalem, Alexandria plus Constantinople. In all the early writings of the hierarchy there is no mention of a special role for the Bishop of Rome, nor yet the special name of `Pope.' . . . Of the eighty or so heresies in the first six centuries, not one refers to the authority of the Bishop of Rome, not one is settled by the Bishop of Rome.... No one attacks the [supreme] authority of the Roman pontiff, because no one has heard of it.12
The Easter Synod of 680 called by Pope Agatho was the first ecclesiastical body that asserted the primacy of Rome over the rest of the Church, but this was not an ecumenical council of the entire Church, so its decision was not generally accepted. As Catholic historian Peter de Rosa
... not one of the early Fathers of the church saw in the Bible any reference to papal jurisdiction over the church. On the contrary, they take it for granted that bishops, especially metropolitans, have the full right to govern and administer their own territory without interference from anyone. The Eastern church never accepted papal supremacy; Rome's attempt to impose it led to the schism.
... one looks in vain in the first millennium for a single doctrine or piece of legislation imposed by Rome alone on the rest of the church. The only general laws came out of Councils such as Nicaea. In any case, how could the Bishop of Rome have exercised universal jurisdiction in those early centuries when there was no [Roman] Curia, when other bishops brooked no interference in their dioceses from anyone, when Rome issued no dispensations and demanded no tribute or taxation, when all bishops, not just the Bishop of Rome, had the power to bind and loose, when no bishop or church or individual was censured by Rome?
Further, for centuries, the Bishop of Rome was chosen by the local citizens-clergy and laity. If he had jurisdiction over the universal church, would not the rest of the world want a say in his appointment? When he was believed to have [universal] supremacy the rest of the church did demand a say in his election. This came about only in the Middle Ages.13
From Calvary to Regal Pontiff
It requires ingenious interpolation to derive from the simple statement "On this rock I will build my church" a Petrine office, apostolic succession, papal infallibility, and all the pomp, ceremony, and power surrounding the pope today. As one Catholic writer rather sarcastically points out: “. . . it required [great] skill to take statements made by a poor Carpenter to an equally poor fisherman and apply them to a regal pontiff who was soon to be called Lord of the World."14
Yet such is the only biblical foundation upon which the entire superstructure of the Roman Catholic Church has been built. It includes an infallible papacy, apostolic succession, an intricate hierarchy of priests, bishops, archbishops, cardinals et al, the magisterium of bishops which alone can interpret the Bible, the requirement that for his alleged infallibility the pope must speak ex cathedra to the entire Church on matters of faith or morals, etc. etc. That none of these concepts is even remotely suggested, much less specifically stated, either in Matthew 16:18 or elsewhere in Scripture is dismissed by Catholic apologists, who then look to "tradition" for support. There they enter a maze of deceit and actual fraud.
It took centuries of developing ingenious arguments to finally arrive at the theory that the Christ who had "nowhere to lay his head" (Matthew 8:20), who lived in poverty and was crucified naked, was to be represented by a regal pontiff who possessed more than one palace containing in excess of 1100 rooms each, was waited upon day and night by scores of servants, and wore the finest gold-embroidered silk robes! That Christ passed on to Peter such pomp and luxuries, which neither of them knew, is both ludicrous and blasphemous.
The glories and powers enjoyed by popes are not even remotely related to Peter's life of purity and poverty. This fisherman-apostle said, "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6). Nor were papal luxuries and pompous claims of authority over kings and kingdoms known in the Church until centuries later as ambitious popes gradually extended and solidified their authority and control over earthly rulers. Popes began to call themselves by such titles as "supreme ruler of the world" and "king of kings." Others claiming to be "God on earth," even the "redeemer" who "hung on the cross as Christ did," asserted that "Jesus put the popes on the same level as God."15 Peter would have denounced such pretentious fraud as blasphemy.
Rome had been the capital of the empire before Constantine moved his palace to the East, and it continued to be regarded as the capital of the western half of the empire. With the Emperor Constantine installed in the city of Constantinople (Istanbul today), the pope developed near absolute power, not only as the head of the Church but as the emperor of the West.
When the empire later fell, it was the papacy which gave the fragmented remains its continuity. Thomas Hobbes would say, "The papacy is no other than the ghost of the deceased Roman Empire, sitting crowned upon the grave thereof."
W.H.C. Frend, Emeritus Professor of Ecclesiastical History, in his classic The Rise of Christianity, points out that by the middle of the fifth century the Church "had become the most powerful single factor in the lives of the peoples of the empire. The Virgin and the saints had replaced the [pagan] gods as patrons of cities."16 Pope Leo 1(440-61) boasted that St. Peter and St. Paul had "replaced Romulus and Remus as the city's [Rome's] protecting patrons."17 Frend writes that "Christian Rome was the legitimate successor of pagan Rome ... Christ had triumphed [and] Rome was ready to extend its sway to the heavens themselves."18
Shameless Revision of History
Such was the ambition of most of those who were scrambling onto the alleged throne of Peter and at times warring with one another to gain it. Using the name of Christ and piously making the sign of the cross, they labored mightily to satisfy their lust for power and pleasure and wealth. No justification for making themselves the absolute and infallible rulers over the Church, much less the world, could be found in the writings of the early Fathers and certainly not in Scripture. Therefore the popes had to find other support. The means they chose was to rewrite history by manufacturing allegedly historical documents. The first of these bold forgeries was The Donation of Constantine, which we have already mentioned. It was followed by pseudo-Isidorian Decretals, which were early papal decrees allegedly compiled by Archbishop Isidore (560-636) but actually fabricated in the ninth century. These frauds became the foundation for much "tradition" still relied upon today.
Catholic historian J.H. Ignaz von Dollinger writes that prior "to the time of the Isidorian Decretals no serious attempt was made anywhere to introduce the neo-Roman theory of infallibility. The popes did not dream of laying claim to such a privilege."19 He goes on to explain that these fraudulent Decretals would -
gradually, but surely, change the whole constitution and government of the Church. It would be difficult to find in all history a second instance of so successful and yet so clumsy a forgery.
For three centuries past [he wrote in 1869] it [the fabrication] has been exposed, yet the principles it introduced and brought into practice have taken such deep root in the soil of the Church, and have so grown into her life, that the exposure of the fraud has produced no result in shaking the dominant system.20
The Isidorian Decretals involved about a hundred concocted decrees allegedly promulgated by the earliest popes, along with counterfeit writings of supposed Church authorities and synods.
These fabrications were just what Nicholas I (858-67) needed to justify his claims that the popes "held the place of God on earth" with absolute authority over kings, including even the right to "command massacres" of those who opposed them-all in the name of Christ.
The popes who followed Nicholas were only too happy to emulate his ways, and each of them used his predecessors' actions to justify his own, thus building an ever-larger case for infallibility, but upon a fraudulent foundation. Writing in the nineteenth century, Church historian R.W. Thompson, himself a Catholic, comments:
Such times as these were adapted to the practice of any kind of imposture and fraud which the popes and clergy considered necessary to strengthen the authority of the papacy.... the personal interest [and] ambition of Innocent III led him to preserve all these forgeries with care, so that ... the "pious fraud" might become sanctified by time. .. The result he hoped and sought for has been accomplished....
[These] false Decretals, which are now universally considered to have been bold and unblushing forgeries ... constitute the cornerstone of that enormous system of wrong and usurpation which has since been built up by the papacy, to revive which Pope Pius IX has now put forth his Encyclical and Syllabus [of Errors] ....21
Devout Catholics would be shocked to learn that much of the "apostolic tradition" they have been told supports Roman Catholicism (and is to be regarded upon the same level as Scripture) was actually a deliberately manufactured fraud. The doctrines built upon these forgeries became so interwoven into Catholicism that even after the hoax was exposed the popes were reluctant to make the necessary corrections. Pope after infallible pope endorsed the counterfeit. To make a clean break from centuries of accumulated lies would tear apart the very fabric of Roman Catholicism.
Pope Pius IX relied upon the fraud, though it had already been exposed for three centuries, to build his case for pressuring the bishops to make papal infallibility an official dogma at Vatican I. But the testimony of history conclusively refutes both apostolic succession and papal infallibility.