Why I Could Never Become a Catholic – Part 6: The Papacy

26 Oct

Roman Catholics claim that the Pope is, through an unbroken line of apostolic succession, the heir to the first “Bishop of Rome”. They further assert that that first Bishop was none other than St Peter the Apostle, to whom, they maintain, Jesus entrusted his church, thus making him the chief apostle.

This supposed supremacy gained an apparent legal status from forged documents that the Roman Catholic Church knowingly used for centuries despite their being known to be false. Out of these claims arose the dogma that the church is protected from “sliding into the error of heresy” through papal infallibility.

But such claims, as we shall see, are not substantiated in either the Holy Scriptures, the writings of the Early Church or Ecclesiastical history.

So let us start by examining what the Roman Catholic Church says on the subject.

1.Consequently, we declare state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.” Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam, (18th November, 1302)

2.We teach and declare that, according to the gospel evidence, a primacy of jurisdiction over the whole church of God was immediately and directly promised to the blessed apostle Peter and conferred on him by Christ the lord.” The First Vatican Council, chapter 1

3.and so, supported by the clear witness of holy Scripture, and adhering to the manifest and explicit decrees both of our predecessors the Roman Pontiff’s and of general councils, we promulgate anew the definition of the ecumenical Council of Florence, which must be believed by all faithful Christians, namely that the apostolic see and the Roman Pontiff hold a worldwide primacy, and that the Roman Pontiff is the successor of blessed Peter, the Prince of the apostles, true Vicar of Christ, head of the whole church and father and teacher of all Christian people. To him, in blessed Peter, full power has been given by our Lord Jesus Christ to tend, rule and govern the universal Church. All this is to be found in the acts of the ecumenical councils and the sacred canons.” The First Vatican Council, chapter 3.

The catechism of the Catholic Church states the following:

4.Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Our Lord then declared to him: “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Christ, the “living Stone”, thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.” (CCC 552)

5.The Roman Pontiff and the bishops are ‘authentic teachers, that is, teachers endowed with the authority of Christ, who preach the faith to the people entrusted to them, the faith to be believed and put into practice.’ The ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Pope and the bishops in communion with him teach the faithful the truth to believe, the charity to practice, the beatitude to hope for.” (CCC 2034)

Thus, the whole edifice stands or falls on a) whether Matthew 16 – the only place that Jesus made the declaration to Peter – is interpreted correctly or not; and b) whether Peter was ever Bishop of Rome.

But before we examine the scriptural claim we must first dispose of the Papal Bull, Unam Sanctam.

In Unam Sanctam the Roman Catholic Church yet again imposes conditions on salvation that are not biblical. The condition that “every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff” is heretical and distracts the Catholic faithful from true salvation, which is dependent on faith in Christ alone, by making them subject to whatever the papacy decides is necessary for salvation, irrespective of the Word of God. In addition, through this requirement, the papacy has usurped God’s place as the ultimate judge of all humankind, condemning all non-Catholics to perdition on the basis of a man-made doctrine.

These are the actions, not of holy men, but of despots who fear losing temporal power (as we shall see later).

A. The Primacy of Peter as Supreme Apostle

The catechism justifies Peter’s holding first place by citing the listing of the 12 disciples in Mark 3: 16, in which (like the other synoptic listings[1]) Peter is the first named. This in itself is weak evidence, given that all the synoptic gospels state that Jesus first called Peter and Andrew and then James and John, thus it is natural that he heads the list and that he, with James and John (who may have been cousins of Jesus) form Jesus’ inner circle[2] (Mark 5:37; 9:2; 13:3; 14.33) . St John’s Gospel, however, tells us that the first disciple was Andrew, who brought his brother Simon to Jesus, who, on seeing him, named him Cephas, which is translated as Peter (John 1:42). Thus, if John is correct, Simon bore the name Peter from the outset and not just after his divinely inspired revelation of the true identity of Jesus as suggested by Matthew.

They also justify their claim of primacy in that Jesus appeared to Peter before the rest of the 12:

34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” (Luke 24:34)

5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” (I Corinthians 15:5)

Given the corroboration of St Paul in I Corinthians 15, we can assume that the Simon mentioned is Peter (and not Simon the Zealot), but given that it is inserted at the end of the account of the appearance of Jesus to two men on the road to Emmaus, it is not clear whether the appearance preceded their meeting or not. Thus, the evidence for primacy here is weak at best.

Moreover, according to St John, Jesus first appeared to Mary Magdalene (John 20:10-18); and that is corroborated by St Matthew who reports that the first appearance was to “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary” (Matthew 28:9-10)) before any of the 12. Thus if we were to follow the Catholic argument to its logical conclusion, Mary Magdalene had primacy over the 12 disciples.

While it may be that during Christ’s ministry, Peter had a precedence (albeit with James and John) through his impetuousness, this did not last long into the post Ascension period as the early church moved from being entirely Jewish to largely gentile.

St Paul refers to the “acknowledged pillars” of the early church, as “James and Cephas and John” (Galatians 2: 9). Here we see a triumvirate – James the Brother of Jesus; Peter, Apostle to the Jews; and St John the Evangelist  – offering the “right hand of fellowship” to Paul and Barnabas for their work with the Gentiles. Later in the same chapter (Galatians 2:11-14) St Paul rebukes St Peter, suggesting that he had risen in the eyes of the church to a similar status: Apostle to the Gentiles.

Surely, if Peter were supreme among the Apostles he would have been mentioned first by Paul instead of James; and surely Peter would have made the final decision and not James, the brother of Jesus, at the Council of Jerusalem had he been the supreme apostle (Acts 15:19).

Surprisingly, the Catholic Church did not make use of Matthew 16:18 until the mid-third century.  The first pope to have appealed to the classic “you are Peter” text as the basis for Roman primacy was Pope Stephen I (254-257). But does his claim have any validity?

Let us do a little exegesis on the key verses in Matthew 16 – the context for which is that Jesus had been asking his disciples who people thought he was – in which Peter made his declaration that Jesus is the Messiah.

17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’” (Matthew 16:17-19)

First, the promise contained in verse 18, on which the Catholic claim for the papacy is predicated, is not found in the earlier synoptic Gospels of Mark (8:27-39) or Luke (9:18-27). Catholics claim this is because Peter was too humble to allow Mark to include it (though this is not a plausible pretext given that the Gospel did not appear until after the martyrdom of Peter (and Paul)) and that Luke suppressed it for fear of persecution (equally unlikely given the early Christian view of martyrdom). These claims are even more improbable if Matthew wrote his Gospel first as many Catholics still claim (despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary).

Second, when we look at the Greek text of Matthew 16, we notice something odd in verse 18 that is not obvious in our English translations.

κἀγὼ δέ σοι λέγω ὅτι σὺ εἶ Πέτρος, καὶ ἐπὶ ταύτῃ τῇ πέτρᾳ οἰκοδομήσω μου τὴν ἐκκλησίαν, καὶ πύλαι ᾅδου οὐ κατισχύσουσιν αὐτῆς.

Notice the two underlined words Πέτρος (Petros) and πέτρα (petra) are of a different gender and, thus, have a related but different meaning. The first, Petros (masculine), which was the name given to Peter by Christ, refers to a large, moveable stone, whereas the second, petra (feminine) refers to bedrock; ie the former can be shaken loose (like the rocks in a landslide), while the second is fixed and immovable (like the Rock of Gibraltar). In the New Testament, apart from in John 1:42 to which we’ll come in a moment, Petros is only used as the name for Peter.

As in English, there is no distinction in Aramaic which has just a single word, Kipha, for rock. This is the root of the word used by Jesus on first meeting Peter:

42 He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’” (which is translated Peter). John 1:42

In the Greek text of John 1:42, the word Κηφᾶς (Kephas) is translated as Πέτρος (Petros) to elucidate its meaning. However, appealing to the Aramaic, as Catholics are wont to do, is pointless in the case of Matthew 16:18 as the text is entirely in Greek and there is no Hebrew version extant (if ever one existed, which itself is moot).

So why would Matthew – and remember this verse is only to be found in Matthew – record this distinction if Jesus had not made it? Could it be that Jesus used the masculine form, not just because Peter was a man, but because he knew Peter’s impetuous and unstable character (Mark 8:32-34; Matthew 14:29-30; Luke 22:57-58; Galatians 2:11-14)? This is more plausible to my mind that the Catholic explanation.

But if Jesus was not referring to Peter when he used petra, to whom was he alluding? To answer this question one has to examine how the word rock is used elsewhere in the Bible.

In the Old Testament the word rock is sometimes used to describe God (eg Deuteronomy 32:4; II Samuel 22:2-3; Psalm 18:2,31, 46; Psalm 78:35; Isaiah 17:10; Isaiah 44:8; Habakkuk 1:12) but never used to describe any human.

In the New Testament, apart from Matthew 16, petra (or one of its declensions) only occurs 5 other times, two of which (Mark 15:46, Matthew 27:60) refer to Jesus’ tomb as being hewn from solid rock (petra); and three of which are used to refer to Christ:

4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock (petras) that followed them, and the rock (petra) was Christ. (I Corinthians 10:4)

33 as it is written, ‘See, I am laying in Zion a stone that will make people stumble, a rock (petran) that will make them fall, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.’” (Romans 9:33)

8 and ‘A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock (petra) that makes them fall.’”
(I Peter 2:8a).

Thus, it would be entirely inconsistent with the rest of scripture for petra to refer to Peter and the most logical conclusion is that Jesus was referring to himself using a well known Old Testament title for God that signified absolute protection and salvation, against which “gates of Hades will not prevail”.

Augustine of Hippo, having initially taken the traditional Catholic view seems to have realised his error as he writes:

For it was not said to him, ‘Thou art the rock.’(petra), but ‘Thou art Peter.’ (Petros). For Christ was the rock whom Simon confessing, as the whole Church confesses Him.” (Retractions 1:21)[3]

Moving on to Matthew 16:19:

19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind (δήσῃς – dēsēs) on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose (λύσῃς – lysēs) on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”

The Catholic Church sees this as being further confirmation that Peter was the supreme disciple as the words “you bind” and “you loose” are rendered in the singular in Greek. Yet this promise is not exclusive to Peter, which is what one would expect were he to be the supreme apostle.

Origen (an early 3rd century Church Father) in his exegesis of these verses says:

“But if you suppose that upon that one Peter only the whole church is built by God, what would you say about John the son of thunder or each one of the Apostles? Shall we otherwise dare to say, that against Peter in particular the gates of Hades shall not prevail, but that they shall prevail against the other Apostles and the perfect? Does not the saying previously made, ‘The gates of Hades shall not prevail against it’, hold in regard to all and in the case of each of them? And also the saying, ‘Upon this rock I will build My church’? Are the keys of the kingdom of heaven given by the Lord to Peter only, and will no other of the blessed receive them?” [Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, Book XII, 11]

His contemporary, Cyprian of Carthage, seems to agree as he writes in his First Treatise, On the Unity of the Church:

Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity[4].” (Chapter 4)

St John Chrysostom (a fourth century theologian, whose authority is widely accepted by both the Eastern and Western churches) concurs as he describes St John in the following manner:

For the son of thunder, the beloved of Christ, the pillar of the Churches throughout the world, who holds the keys of heaven, who drank the cup of Christ, and was baptized with His baptism, who lay upon his Master’s bosom with much confidence…” [Homily on the Gospel of St John 1:2].

Clearly, as late as the 4th century, it was believed that all the apostles, and not just Peter alone, were granted the “keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.”

And indeed, just two chapters later, in Matthew 18, where we find Jesus talking to all twelve disciples, we have scriptural backing for their teaching as we read in verse 18:

18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind (δήσητε – dēsēte) on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose (λύσητε – lysēte) on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Notice the change of the form of the verbs for bind and loose from the singular in Matthew 16:19 to the plural in Matthew 18:18. This binding and loosing – just as was the forgiveness or retention of sins (John 20:23) – clearly was granted to all the Disciples equally, and by extension, through his calling to be Apostle to the Gentiles, to St Paul also.

But what exactly did Jesus mean by binding and loosing, which The Jewish New Testament renders as “prohibit” and “permit”?

In rabbinic teaching, questions of Law were decided by whether Jews had to be bound by the letter of the Law or could be loosed from their strictures because of a special circumstance. Jesus used this rabbinic style in his teaching. For example, He bound his disciples not to judge others (Matthew 7:1-5) but loosed His followers from the strict observance of the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28). Thus, there is responsibility to decide any ethical issues that may arise through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in the light of the Gospel of Christ so that God is glorified. Quite a challenge for an entire church, let alone one man! Hence, in the early church at Jerusalem, we find the three “acknowledged pillars” supported by a Council (Acts 15).

Nowhere in the New Testament do we find any evidence that Peter ruled over any of the other apostles, nor anywhere in Scripture do any of the other apostles or Gospel writers refer to him that way.

Moreover, if Jesus had truly appointed Peter the head of the apostles, he surely would have said so when the disciples were arguing who was the greatest among them (Mark 9:33-34; Luke 22:24-30; Matthew 18:1[5]). Yet Jesus makes no mention of Peter (or any other disciple), but instead tells them how greatness is measured in the Kingdom of Heaven:

“‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” (Mark 9:35b-37)[6]

This was a lesson that Jesus reinforced in a most memorable fashion during the last supper when he washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17). The Son of God took on the role of a humble slave – how different from the pomp and splendour of the papacy!

The Catholic Encyclopaedia in its article on “Infallibility” cites Luke 22:31-32 in defence of Peter’s supposed supremacy, and thus the infallibility of “his successors”,claiming:

This special prayer of Christ was for Peter alone in his capacity as head of the Church, as is clear from the text and context; and since we cannot doubt the efficacy of Christ’s prayer, it followed that to St. Peter and his successors the office was personally committed of authoritatively confirming the brethren — other bishops, and believers generally — in the faith; and this implies infallibility.”

Despite their assertions to the contrary, it is they who have lifted the verses from their context.  The preceding verses treat all the apostles equally (verse 30 ending “and you will sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.“) with no special mention of Peter having any greater status than the other 11; the succeeding verses (35 – 38) give instructions for the future to all twelve apostles.

The assumption that Christ prayed for Peter as “in his capacity as Head of the Church” is highly debatable.  Though Christ is indeed head of the church, at the point Christ prayed for Peter, there was no “church” to head.  It is much more probable that Jesus was praying for his impetuous and unstable friend, who He knew would, despite his bluster to the contrary, deny Him not once but thrice.

The next phrase, on which the Encyclopaedia so relies, “when once you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32), need not suppose any special leadership over his fellow apostles, but rather, through his greater fall and restoration, being better able to help them to be stronger in their following of the Risen Christ than they had been when they fled.

Furthermore, part of the fulfilment of that prayer was Jesus’ threefold restoration of Peter (John 21:15-19), which, though the Catholic Encyclopaedia claims it as another marker of Peter’s special status as the supreme authority, does not imply (let alone state) that Peter alone would feed the sheep (as noted elsewhere, the Apostle John outlived Peter by many years and the Apostle Paul left more of our New Testament than either of them).

Thus, all the evidence from the Gospels is that Peter had no special commission from Christ to lead the Church and must beg the question as to whether Peter saw himself as supreme apostle or head of the church.

When we look at the writings of Peter, nowhere does he refer to himself in that way – indeed, the opposite is true as in 1 Peter 5:1 he writes:

To the elders among you, I appeal as a co-elder…”

Surely if Peter were the supreme apostle he would have declared it here, if not at the start of his two letters, in which he describes himself as “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:1) and “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,” (2 Peter 1:1), which is similar to the way St Paul opens most of his letters (cf Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1: 1; Galatians 1: 1; Ephesians 1: 1; Colossians 1: 1; 1 Timothy 1: 1; Titus 1: 1).

Thus, it appears that these claims of supremacy do not have their warrant in Scripture but come from a tradition that post dates the time of Peter and Paul, who were, according to Catholic tradition, both martyred in Rome.

So let us now see whether there is any warrant in the claim that Peter was the first Bishop of Rome.

B. Peter as the first Bishop of Rome

First it should be noted that the role of apostle, by its very nature, was itinerant and missiological and thus wholly incompatible with the office of bishop, which was (and is) territorial and gubernatorial.

Second, there was no agreement in the terms used to describe church leaders in the time of the Apostles or even immediately after, ie during the period of the Early Church Fathers. While the terms bishops (overseers) and deacons (I Timothy 3:1-13) increasingly came to be used, the terms presbyters (elders), pastors and presidents were also common (see Justin Apology 1 65-66; 1 Clement).

Neither Clement of Rome (who is claimed by the Catholic Church as an episcopal successor to St Peter) in his letter to the Corinthians (c 96 ad), nor Ignatius of Antioch in his Epistle to Rome (c 108 ad), give any evidence of there being a monarchical bishop in Rome.

Clement opens his letter in the following manner:

The Church of God which sojourneth in Rome to the Church of God which sojourneth in Corinth, to them which are called and sanctified by the will of God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to you and peace from Almighty God through Jesus Christ be multiplied.” (1 Clement, Prologue:1).

Surely had he been Bishop of Rome he would have said so in his greeting, but he does not. He merely writes from one church to another, without any claim of superiority of supremacy. Nor is there any mention of a single ruling bishop, either in Rome or in Corinth, in the remainder of the Epistle.

Likewise, Ignatius of Antioch, who was a monarchical bishop, names other monarchical bishops (most frequently Polycarp of Smyrna) in the eight epistles he wrote shortly before his martyrdom, addressing the letters to them by name or office. Yet his Epistle to the Romans has no mention of any bishop by name or office.

Thus, while there is evidence of monarchical bishops in Jerusalem in the 1st century ad (“James, the first that had obtained the episcopal seat in Jerusalem after the ascension of our Saviour..”,[ Eusebius Church History] – which explains his supremacy at the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15 and why he alone of the “acknowledged pillars” remained in Jerusalem) and in Asia Minor in the early 2nd century (eg Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch), the evidence from the Apostolic Fathers very strongly suggests that there was no office of bishop in Rome at this time.

The reason for this difference between Rome and Asia Minor lies in the different organisational structures of the Jewish synagogues that would have sheltered the fledgling churches. In Antioch the synagogues and early churches were centrally organised, whereas in Rome the synagogues were independent, appointed their own leaders and conducted their own worship. It is natural that the first churches would have adopted familiar rather than novel organisational structures.

Despite there being little biblical evidence of Peter’s apostolic ministry, the Catholic writer SK Ray in his book “Upon this Rock” (published 1999) describes Peter’s supposed apostolic ministry in the following manner:

42-49 First sojourn in Rome…
54-57 Second sojourn in Rome; Gospel of Mark written under Peter’s direction…
62-67 Third sojourn in Rome; canonical Epistles of Peter…
67 Martyrdom in Rome and burial near the Necropolis at the Vatican

But is there any shred of evidence to support Ray’s assertions?

The earliest mention of Peter and Paul as joint founders of the Roman Church first appears in the late 2nd century in a list of bishops compiled by Iraeneus of Lyons; and Peter and Paul’s being martyred on opposite sides of the Tiber first occurs in the writings of Origen of Alexandria (early 3rd century).

While Paul’s presence in Rome is attested (Acts 28:14-31), there is no such scriptural evidence of Peter’s having been in Rome[7], let alone his being martyred there. While Clement refers to Peter’s martyrdom he gives no indication that it was in Rome (1 Clement 5:4). Indeed the only sources that make this claim prior to the late 2nd century are apocryphal and of dubious validity. Neither is it supported archaeologically, as the man who found the alleged tomb of St Peter in Rome doubts its veracity. Further contrary archaeological evidence is contained in the book “Gli Scavi del Dominus Flevit” written by P. B. Bagatti and J. T. Milik (both Roman Catholic priests) and published in 1958, which describes the discovery of the grave of Simon Bar-Jona in Jerusalem, close by those of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Pope Pius XII was cognizant of the fact but he, and his six successors, have not seen fit to either deny or acknowledge it.

Again, had Peter been the founder of the Roman church and Bishop of Rome, Paul would surely have mentioned him in his Epistle to the Romans or in his second letter to Timothy, which was written from Rome during his second incarceration. Yet, he does not (though he mentions 27 others in Romans 16!). Even more to the point, it is implausible that Luke, careful historian that he was, would not have reported the fact in the closing chapter of Acts. Yet Luke’s account makes no mention of Peter but instead writes that when Paul called the Leaders of the Jews together they informed him:

21…We neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren who came reported or spoken any evil of you. 22 But we desire to hear from you what you think; for concerning this sect, we know that it is spoken against everywhere.” 23 So when they had appointed him a day, many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening” (Acts 28:21-23)

It is utterly inconceivable that Peter, the Apostle to the Jews, would not have preached to the synagogues of Rome and so the most logical conclusion is that Peter had never visited Rome prior to Paul’s arrival. Hence, he could not have possibly founded the Church of Rome.

Neither could Paul have been the founder of the Church in Rome as he writes:

20 Thus I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

‘Those who have never been told of him shall see,
and those who have never heard of him shall understand.’

22 This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, with no further place for me in these regions, I desire, as I have for many years, to come to you 24 when I go to Spain. For I do hope to see you on my journey and to be sent on by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a little while.” (Romans 15:20-24)

Thus, there must have been churches there prior to his arrival or he could not have written to them; a fact which is corroborated by Luke :

“15 The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage.” (Acts 28:15)

Interestingly, Clement of Rome (who would have known Paul) throws doubt on Paul’s martyrdom being in Rome as he writes:

…and come to the extreme limit of the West, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects.” (1 Clement 5:6).

In no wise could Rome have been described as “the extreme limits of the West”, and surely had the martyrdom been in Rome, Clement would have written under the Senate or the Emperor and not “under the prefects”.

Therefore, given that neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church of Rome and its being unclear that either of them was actually martyred there, it is hard to see why Rome should have precedence over the more ancient churches of Jerusalem, Antioch or Samaria.

Moreover, if Rome had held such a special position in the early church, surely the Apostle John (the longest lived of all the apostles), whose writings encouraged true Christians to faithfulness, would have written of its importance to the faithful under his care.

Yet, the scriptural evidence from St John is the polar opposite. In his Revelation he refers to Rome as “Babylon the great” describing her as a wanton fornicator, out of which the people of God should flee (Revelation 18:2-5); and as “the great whore who corrupted the earth with her fornication”, who will fall under divine judgement to avenge “the blood of his servants” (Revelation 19:2).

This description of Rome is in stark contrast to the description of Jerusalem two chapters further on:

…the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” and as “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:2,9b)

Clearly, for the Apostle John, it is Jerusalem and not Rome, which is the holy city and, as the Orthodox Churches claim, “The Mother of all Churches”.

Thus, as we have seen there is no primacy for Peter or for Rome in either scripture or early Church History; rather both scripture and the first Christians point us in the opposite direction, leading us to conclude that it is just another man-made tradition – based on the kind “profane myths and old wives’ tales” that Paul warned Timothy about (I Timothy 4:7) – to promote power for the Roman pontificate.

That being the case, how did the Church in Rome manage to propagate and maintain such folklore?

C. Fake Foundations and Forgeries

It should be remembered that history and biography in the first centuries after Christ incorporated legend as well as fact and so must be treated differently from modern biography and history. Though their accuracy is in doubt, it does not mean that the writers necessarily set out to deceive but merely acted in accordance with the practices of their age. That said, however, there were also deliberate forgeries on which the Papacy relied long after they had been exposed as fraudulent.

With competing claims from other churches, it became important to trace the Roman See back to Peter[8] so as to justify Rome’s supposed supremacy. But whence came the list of “popes” – though the title “Pope” was not used until over two centuries later when it was adopted by Siricius (384-399 ad) and the title only became restricted to the “Bishop of Rome” by an edict of Pope Gregory VI in 1073 – between Peter and the first clearly identifiable Bishop of Rome, Anicetus (c 157 ad)?

The earliest verifiable list of popes dates from the writings of Iraeneus of Lyons in his “Against Heresies” (III 3:3) at the end of the 2nd century. The list contains names but no dates. His source is unknown but possibly was Hegesippus[9] , who had lived a half century earlier. Moreover, Iraeneus is the first to claim the joint founding of “the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul” [Against Heresies III 3:2], which, as we have clearly demonstrated above, is clearly false.

Eusebius of Caesarea, writing in the early part of the following century, appears uncritically to follow Iraeneus’ list in his Ecclesiastical History (Book V:6). However, the list in his Chronicle is slightly different (though admittedly these could be due to scribal errors).

However, Volume 4 of The Catholic Encyclopaedia (1908) lists 4 “varieties of order” for the earliest “popes” (sic). While some may be down to copying errors and variants of the name Anencletus, others are more fundamental in that they change the position of Clement from 3rd or 4th place to 2nd:

“1) Linus, Cletus, Clemens (Hegesippus, ap. Epiphanium, Canon of Mass).
  Linus, Anencletus, Clemens (Irenaeus, Africanus ap. Eusebium).
  Linus, Anacletus, Clemens (Jerome).
  2) Linus, Cletus, Anacletus, Clemens (Poem against Marcion),
  3) Linus, Clemens, Cletus, Anacletus [Hippolytus (?), “Liberian Catal.”- “Liber. Pont.”].
  4) Linus, Clemens, Anacletus (Optatus, Augustine).”

The late third century document, Apostolic Constitutions (which was considered to be of “apostolic origin” until the mid-seventh century) makes the same assumption as Iraeneus that Peter and Paul were co-founders of the church in Rome, but diverges from his order of succession and counters the claim that all Bishops of Rome were ordained by Peter, as it states:

Of the church of Rome, Linus the son of Claudia was the first, ordained by Paul; and Clemens, after Linus’ death, the second, ordained by me Peter” (Book VII, Section IV/Chapter XLVI)

Thus, the only consensus (with the exception of Tertullian, who places Clement first) is that Linus was the first “Bishop of Rome”.

Nothing definite is actually known about “Pope” Linus, though it is claimed that he was not martyred (why not if he was the “Bishop of Rome”?). It appears that his name has been randomly plucked from II Timothy 4:21, on the grounds that his greetings (along with others) are sent by Paul to Timothy. This does not necessarily imply that he was a permanent resident of Rome or even a church leader there (none of those listed in II Timothy 4 are in the list in Romans 16); rather, it suggests that it is someone that Timothy knows from one of the churches in Asia Minor (just as it is unlikely that Clement of Rome is the same Clement in Philippians 4). Thus, we have in Scripture two names, mentioned just once each, linked to Paul rather than Peter, who supposedly “ordained” them as his successor.

None of the early “Bishops of Rome” – Linus, Cletus, Clement – are mentioned by Polycarp, Papias or Ignatius (the Apostolic Fathers) in any of their writings; nor do they appear in the Didache or the apocryphal Epistle of Barnabas. In short, the earliest post-apostolic literature is entirely devoid of evidence of them or their being “Bishops of Rome”.

There is another fundamental problem for the Catholic mythology of unbroken apostolic succession through Rome. These early “Popes” (sic), who supposedly through Peter have primacy over all the rest of the Church worldwide, held office during the latter years of St John, the last surviving Apostle. But it is hard to see how that could be as the Bible tells us that there was no higher status than that of apostle (I Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). The only authority any bishop would have had was derived from the apostle that appointed them (eg Polycarp of Smyrna, who had been a disciple of St John). It is absolutely absurd, given that Peter had no primacy other than, at best, “first among equals”, to claim that the first few “Popes” (who were no more than presbyters) would have had authority over a living Apostle, who had not just been an eye witness to Christ’s ministry and resurrection, but who had been in Jesus’ inner circle of disciples and described as “the disciple Jesus loved”.

As is so often the case when looking at Roman Catholic propaganda, the early book of Popes, “Liber Pontificalis”, which appears to have been based on an earlier document (Catalogus Liberianus), was falsely attributed to St Jerome[10]. This kind of attribution is not an isolated instance. As we will see, the Catholic Church knowingly used fake documentation to promote and protect its political agenda throughout the Middle Ages (and beyond). The mythology of Jerome being the author is maintained in the entry of The Catholic Encyclopedia and in the order attributed to him (Peter first, Linus next, then Anacletus and Clement in fourth place) in the extended version Annuario Pontificio, which is published annually by the Vatican. However, modern scholarship has subjected it to rigorous scrutiny and Philippe Levillain has exposed it as an “unofficial instrument of pontifical propaganda.”

This Liber Pontificalis also formed the “historical” framework for the forged documents known as the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals , which were inserted into a genuine collection of material during the mid-9th century. The forgeries include approximately 100 forged papal letters apparently written by Bishops of Rome during the first three centuries, partially falsified council texts and papal letters from the 4th to 8th centuries and the earlier (non-Isidorian) forgery “The Donation of Constantine”. Where the False Decretals appear to have been written to preserve Episcopal independence from Rome (which benefited the Holy Roman Emperors), the Vatican used them to bring the episcopacy under more direct control, despite the blatant anachronisms, of which the clerical scholars who used them must have been all too aware (they were exposed in the 14th century after they were no longer of any use to the Vatican, though there are very few published versions since that time).

The Donation of Constantine” (Constitutum Domini Constantini) was a forged document that purported to be a Roman Imperial decree written in gold letters by the Emperor Constantine I himself. The Donation ceded vast regions of the Western Empire to the Catholic Church and established the Bishops of Rome (ie Popes), from Sylvester I forward, as being above all other Bishops, supposedly in gratitude for Sylvester having healed Constantine from leprosy. It was invoked in 1054 by Pope Leo IX (the first to do so), who quoted a large portion of it in a letter to the Patriarch of Constantinople, and in the investiture conflicts between the Papacy and Western secular powers throughout the 11th and 12th centuries. Parts of it were included in canon law, further legitimising the Papal claims and ensuring that the document’s validity would be asserted well into the 15th century.

However, by the 15th century the Renaissance had started and there was a new scepticism, from which the Catholic Church was not immune. A number of people, all from within the Catholic Church, separately declared the document a fraud.

The first to declare The Donation (along with the False Decretals) fraudulent and apocryphal was the German theologian, Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa, in 1433; the same conclusion was independently reached by Reginald Peacocke, Bishop of Chichester (1450-57); and in the 1453, Enea Piccolomini, Bishop of Sienna (later Pope Pius II), wrote a tract (which was never published) admitting it to be fake. Though the Vatican would not officially acknowledge the veracity of these claims until the mid 16th century, references to The Donation, from the time of Pius II onwards, are conspicuously lacking in church documents!

Though not the first, but by far the most influential was the Catholic Priest and scholar of classical Latin, Lorenzo Valla, whose critique was widely circulated from 1440 (though not published officially until 1517 – the same year as Luther’s 95 Theses). He demonstrated the falsity of the document through textual criticism which illuminated stylistic errors and exposed numerous anachronisms (eg sloppily calling Byzantium “Constantinople” and referring to it as a patriarchy long before the Empire ever divided) [Valla 95].

Not content with proving beyond doubt that it was a forgery, Valla also berated the papacy for its continued use of the document:

“…either to supine ignorance, or to gross avarice which is the slave of idols, or to pride of empire of which cruelty is ever the companion. For during some centuries now, either they have not known that the Donation of Constantine is spurious and forged, or else they themselves forged it, and their successors walking in the same way of deceit as their elders have defended as true what they knew to be false, dishonouring the majesty of the pontificate, dishonouring the memory of ancient pontiffs, dishonouring the Christian religion, confounding everything with murders, disasters and crimes.” [Valla 25, 27]

As Valla notes, another feature of the Papacy that undermines its claims is the personal and political behaviour of so many of its incumbents throughout the centuries.

D. Seduced by Secular Power

In their “Epistle to Pope Francis” the Orthodox Metropolitans have a section covering some three and a half pages on the secularisation of the Vatican. [11]

The Papal States, which were created by political manoeuvring and falsified documents, covered most of central Italy (including the city of Rome) from 756 ad until they were absorbed into the newly united Italy in 1870 by the Piedmont led forces. So used to secular rule were the Popes that, on losing Rome, Pope Pius IX ordered that the Vatican doors be shut and claimed that he was a “prisoner in the Vatican”.

While the “Holy See” is – and always has been – distinct from the Vatican City State, which came into being through the Lateran Treaty of 1929 (signed by the fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini), it is listed in the Almanach de Gotha under “Reigning Sovereign Houses”, where it is stated:

Since medieval times the episcopal see of Rome has been recognized as a sovereign entity. The Holy See (not the State of Vatican City) maintains formal diplomatic relations with 179 sovereign states…

Of the Vatican it states:

Vatican City is an ecclesiastical or sacerdotal-monarchical state, ruled by the Bishop of Rome-the Pope. The highest state functionaries are all Catholic clergymen of various national origins. It is the sovereign territory of the Holy See (Sancta Sedes) and the location of the Pope’s residence, referred to as the Apostolic Palace.”

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes that from the time of Sixtus IV (who augmented the Vatican’s coffers by taxing the Roman brothels and their 6,800 prostitutes[12]) to The Reformation “the secular interests of the papacy were of paramount importance.”

As the Canadian freelance writer Mark Owen has pointed out, internationally the Pope “is not subject to any authority on earth.” and as Lord Acton notably stated “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”.  Though the Papacy is supposed to reflect the spiritual leadership of St Peter and the Holy Apostles, the behaviour of numerous popes rather than being “spiritual”  endorses Lord Acton’s adage to such an extent that one might wonder whether they were subject to God either.

Popes traditionally expected to be (and were) treated as royalty, to such an extent that supplicants were to kiss the bared foot of the pope, though now bowing (or courtesying) and kissing his papal ring, to show allegiance is all that is required.  This is a far cry from their alleged founder, St Peter who, when Cornelius fell at his feet, acted humbly:

 25 …Peter made him get up, saying, ‘Stand up; I am only a mortal.’” (Acts 10:25) .[13]

The history of the papacy is riddled with nepotism and internecine strife, reflecting the struggles of leading families to take and maintain power, not just over the Papal States but over the kingdoms of the Western World. Little wonder that in Protestant states Catholic clergy were often seen as agents of a hostile, foreign power.

In his book “Vicars of Christ” the Catholic historian Peter de Rosa observes that

Popes had mistresses as young as fifteen years of age, were guilty of incest and sexual perversions of every sort, had innumerable children, were murdered in the very act of adultery…”

I do not intend to give an extensive list of Popes whose actions were, in the words of Valla “dishonouring [to] the Christian religion”, but to briefly look at a few of the most notorious so as to highlight the papal licentiousness and corruption which, in part, fuelled the Reformation.

John XII (955 – 964)

As with all Popes of his time, he involved himself in political intrigues. Yet, what marks him out is his sexual depravity. He reputedly held orgies in the Vatican and on holy sites, thus defiling them; raped anyone who spurned his advances (including his two sisters); and had sex with his niece. He was believed to have had a Cardinal, who opposed him, castrated and then murdered.

Benedict IX (1032 – 1044; 1045; 1047 – 1048)

Benedict was the youngest ever Pope and the only man to have held the papacy on three separate occasions. He was the nephew of his two predecessors and had the Papacy obtained for him as “an heirloom” by his father.

He was the first openly homosexual pope and had a reputation for rape and murder, which Pope Victor III roundly denounced in his third book of Dialogues, writing:

his rapes, murders and other unspeakable acts. His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it.”

He was driven from Rome twice but with the help of the Holy Roman Emperor was restored. He was paid a large sum by his godfather to give up the Papacy but shortly afterwards had a change of heart and returned to take Rome by force. He was eventually driven out by German troops and excommunicated.

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in a rare condemnation of a pope, understatedly describes him as “…a disgrace to the Chair of Peter.”

Alexander VI (1492 – 1503)

Possibly the most political and worldly, Rodrigo Borgia was the nephew of Pope Callista III. He gained the Cathedra through family ties and simony, only securing the 2/3 majority through his own vote.

Despite the prohibition on married clergy, he not only was married but had numerous mistresses and as many as ten illegitimate children who he gave church and political positions. His son Cesare (a Cardinal) is suspected of several murders of opponents of his father; his daughter, Lucrezia, who was married three times for large dowries (with the marriages rapidly receiving papal annulments, had an illegitimate son who was claimed by 2 separate Papal Bulls as either her father’s or brother’s (both of which would have involved incest) – she also sat in as substitute for her father at an official father Vatican meeting.

He also involved himself in political machinations, interfering in the politics of France, Italy and Naples. When his scheming backfired and caused him financial loss, he “proceeded to strengthen his position by repleting his treasury in ways that were more than dubious.” [The Catholic Encyclopedia].

Julius II (1503 – 1513)

This incumbent of the throne of Peter bought his election (having twice before failed in his attempt). He, like Alexander VI, was notorious womaniser who had numerous bastards and was rumoured to be so syphilitic that he dared not bare his foot for the ritual kissing. However, it is not his promiscuity that The Catholic Encyclopedia focuses on but his worldliness, saying of his pontificate – without criticism – that he saw his chief task as

“…the firm establishment and the extension of the temporal power. For the accomplishment of this task no pope was ever better suited than Julius, whom nature and circumstances had hewn out for a soldier.”

Julius III (1550 – 1555)

Surprisingly for the time, he was duly elected – without bribery, simony or nepotism – after a 10 week convocation. He involved himself in political intrigues and raided the Vatican’s coffers to build himself a luxury palace, Villa Giula. He decorated it to reveal his sexual perversion – sodomizing young boys, which was celebrated and defended in a poem by Giovanni Della Casa. He notoriously bestowed red hats on them and created his favourite a cardinal-nephew, a position which bestowed considerable power.

Little wonder that the reformer Martin Luther was to write of Rome

If there is a Hell, Rome is built over it. It is an abyss from whence issues every kind of sin.”

E. Infallibility

There are a number of assumptions that are essential to support the Catholic Doctrine of Infallibility.  If one cannot accept these underlying assumptions, which often have no clear Biblical basis, the doctrine is left tottering on the sole authority of Peter being the first Bishop of Rome and the Pope’s being his direct heir through an “unbroken apostolic succession”, for which, as we have seen above, there is no credible evidence.

The Catholic Encyclopaedia lists the following assumed ecclesiological truths:

that Christ founded His Church as a visible and perfect society;
• that He intended it to be absolutely universal and imposed upon all men a solemn obligation actually to belong to it, unless inculpable ignorance should excuse them;
• that He wished this Church to be one, with a visible corporate unity of faith, government, and worship; 
• in order to secure this threefold unity, He bestowed on the Apostles and their legitimate successors in the hierarchy — and on them exclusively — the plenitude of teaching, governing, and liturgical powers with which He wished this Church to be endowed.

The first two assumptions are patent nonsense.  There is no evidence in the Gospels that Christ intended the Church on earth to be “a visible and perfect society” but rather a group of people, sinners all, who strive to follow the way of the cross as His disciples, and who, through having accepted Jesus’ Lordship and forgiveness of their sins, finally arrive at the place He has prepared for them (John 14:2).

Nor is there any evidence that Jesus ever imposed his Gospel on anyone (to do so would be contrary to the Doctrine of Freewill).  He did not even place any obligation on those who he forgave and/or healed (eg the Woman caught in Adultery or the paralytic)  or on the Rich Young Ruler who walked away when he found Jesus command too difficult to follow.  In fact, Jesus actually turned people away through difficult teaching (eg Luke 9:57-62; Luke 14: 25-27; John 6:66).  True, salvation is in Jesus name, but His kingdom is not of this world and such forced obligation, which has more than a whiff of the infamous Inquisition, smacks of the kind of despotism displayed by those that so often sat upon the papal throne in earlier ages.

The problem with the third and fourth assumptions is not that they lack Scriptural warrant – in the way the first two do – but in that they try to make Holy Writ fit their premise rather than their premise fit the revealed Word of God.

Christ clearly intended the Church to be one (John 17:11, 21), but the assumption, once again, goes beyond what is written so as to insist on uniformity over unity.[14] Christ does not meet the needs of his followers uniformly with “off the peg” solutions but with the most personal “bespoke” remedies that treat each and every person as an individual (cf Mary of Bethany (Luke 10:38-42); the Penitent Thief (Luke 23:39-43); Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18); Thomas (John 20:24-29); Paul (Acts 9)) .

The fourth assumption, while at first sight appearing valid, is so narrowly interpreted as to restrict “legitimacy” to St Peter and his successors alone. This interpretation neither recognises the obviously equal right to “Apostolic Succession” (assuming one accepts such a doctrine) of the verifiably more ancient churches of the East, nor the addition (without the aid or oversight of Peter) of St Paul to the group of Apostles. The ecumenical movement, on the other hand, promotes the whole Church coming together as one in Christ, but recognises that the Holy Spirit leads in different ways that bring more people to Christ than any one “Church” could without resorting to the enforced “religion” of the second assumption (which is so fundamental to radical Islam).

Finally, the greatest danger arising from such a Doctrine of Infallibility, especially when combined with the view that all other Churches are in “error”, is that it instils a false sense of security that it is impossible for the Roman Catholic Church to ever fall into heresy.  This is compounded by the fact that Papal Infallibility is non-falsifiable (ie it cannot be proved to be false). When a Pope speaks ex-cathedra on matters of doctrine and faith he is deemed infallible, but if the teaching is later proved to be wrong, he is deemed to have spoken only in a personal capacity as a theologian.  Such an argument, however, quickly becomes circular and self-serving.  While effectively thwarting any debate or serious cross-examination  of dubious doctrine or papal malpractice, it requires a blind acceptance of the supposed divine and unchallengeable authority of the Magesterium;  Yet, as we have  seen in earlier sections, the Magesterium has already unwittingly succumbed to heresy – heresies to which they stubbornly cling.

Conclusion

As we have seen, there is no scriptural basis for the claims of the Roman Catholic Church that the Pope is the apostolic successor to St Peter; in fact Scripture counters such a view.  Neither is there any evidence in the Apostolic Fathers and Early Church History that there was ever a monarchical bishop in Rome prior to the middle of 2nd century; nor that Rome had any supremacy over any of the other churches – without which any claim to papal infallibility is void.  Instead, to maintain both its Spiritual and Temporal power, the Papacy relied on Mediaeval documents which have long been debunked and their fraudulence proved beyond doubt.  Moreover, the behaviour of many of the occupants of the “Cathedra” of Peter (sic) demonstrate that the Papacy was not so much a spiritual authority as a temporal power that permitted all manner of excesses that are utterly incompatible with the Christian faith; and, while such manifest unrestrained behaviour appears to be a thing of the past, even today, from behind the shield of “Infallibility” blatant heresies are not just tolerated but actively promoted as doctrines of the Church.

As Christ taught “You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:16; Luke 6:44)

Endnotes

[1]  St John never actually lists the names of all 12 disciples but refers to them as “the Twelve” in chapter 6. He identifies 9 by name in various chapters.

[2]  It has been suggested that the reason that Andrew did not accompany the other three was that he was a more stable character and good administrator and so was left in charge of the other disciples.   If Andrew was the younger of the brothers, his name would always (by the tradition of the time) be given after that of Peter, despite his honour of having been the first disciple.

[3]  Augustine does, however, hedge his bets by saying that readers should make up their own minds as to which explanation is more plausible.

[4]  It is clear from his citing Ephesians 4:4-6 that the unity he speaks of is of Christ.

[5]  Matthew tends to sanitise Mark’s account – here by having the disciples ask a question rather than argue and by having the mother of James and John ask to sit at Jesus right and left hand, rather than James and John themselves.

[6]  Verses 36 and 37 were taken up by both Luke (9:48) and Matthew (18:4-5) in their renditions of the incident.

[7]  Catholics claim that because Peter closes his first epistle “13 Your sister church in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings; and so does my son Mark.” (1 Peter 5: 13) that Peter must have been in Rome (as John in his Revelation refers to Rome as “Babylon”). Setting aside whether Peter actually wrote this letter (the boundaries of the province mentioned in 1:1 were not established until 72ad), there were at least 2 Babylons in the 1st century – one in Mesopotamia and another in Egypt, both of which had strong Jewish communities. In Paul’s 2nd letter to Timothy, which it is agreed was written from Rome c 65ad, he asks him to bring Mark with him – if Peter and Mark were already in Rome this would not be necessary.

[8]  The Orthodox Church, following the Church Fathers, claim that the apostolic succession was through the churches of Asia Minor and, in particular, the Church at Smyrna, where Polycarp had been appointed by the Apostle John. They also claim that the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch were older than Rome. Interestingly, after the Great Schism, though there is no evidence to support it, they claim that the Church at Byzantium was founded by St Andrew, one suspects to counter Peter’s supposed founding of Rome.

[9]  Eusebius, who quotes him extensively, is the only known source for the writings of Hegesippus, which are no longer extant. Thus, whether Hegesippus was listing a college of Presbyters that led the church in Rome rather than a succession of Bishops must remain moot.

[10]  An apocryphal letter, supposedly from Jerome to Pope Damasus I, was included in the preface of all mediaeval copies to authenticate it.

[11] The Epistle to Pope Francis by Andrew, Metropolitan of Dryinoupolis, Pogoniani & Konitsa and Seraphim, Metropolitan of Piraeus & Faliro, Section II “The Secularization and Spiritual Decline of The Vatican” (pp 6 -10),  10th April, 2014

[12]  Leading Pope Pius II to declare that Rome was the only city run by bastards (the sons of Popes and Cardinals).

[13]  See also Acts 14:12-15 in which Paul and Barnabas tear their clothes when mistaken for the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes saying “15 ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you..” (v15a)

[14]  The Roman Catholic Church has not always been able to maintain its own unity, let alone unify the worldwide church, as witnessed by the era of the Avignon Popes.

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