UPDATE: In “A Reformed Farewell to Pope Benedict XVI,” Michael Horton concludes:
But this tale does clear our eyes from the foggy mists of sentimentalism. Is the Roman Catholic Church united by an unbroken succession from St. Peter? Roman Catholic theologians—and especially historians—know that an uncomplicated “yes” will not do. Are the church’s decisions irreformable? Then what about the Council of Constance? Even the Council of Basel was a duly constituted synod. Whose conclusions are binding? At the very least, Rome has compromised its claim of an unbroken unity—not only between councils and popes, but within the papal line itself. It can invent theories of “anti-popes” to preserve its claim to valid succession. But even if one were to accept the idea in principle, history has already provided too much contrary evidence. Romantic glances across the Tiber are thwarted by the reality. At the end of the day, this story provides one more reminder that the church that is created by the Word and stands under that Word, with all of its besetting sins and errors, is still the safest place to be in a fallen world and imperfect church.
Here, he briefly notes the sad events of the Great Western Schism (1309-1417) when two or three Popes excommunicated one another in one of the most infamously corrupt periods in 2,000 years of church history. This period alone is enough to debunk the foolishness of the so-called “apostolic succession,” a supposedly unbroken line of bishops of Rome all the way back to Peter.
Horton even quotes Pope Benedict himself, when he was still Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger:
For nearly half a century, the Church was split into two or three obediences that excommunicated one another, so that every Catholic lived under excommunication by one pope or another, and, in the last analysis, no one could say with certainty which of the contenders had right on his side. The Church no longer offered certainty of salvation; she had become questionable in her whole objective form—the true Church, the true pledge of salvation, had to be sought outside the institution. (Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1987), 196.
In relation to the Pope’s resignation, Dr. R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History and Historical Theology at Westminster Seminary in California, has written a brief but helpful survey of the history of the Papacy. He lists four untruths that both media and the RCC itself have used to fool the world. (I like the music video at the end of his post, the inspiration for the title of this article.)
First, don’t be fooled by claims that the Pope had universal jurisdiction over the church from the early church. “The Bishop of Rome was an influential figure in the Western Church by the 4th century (primus inter pares) but the papacy as we know it did not exist until perhaps the late sixth or early 7th century.” In fact, the “primacy” of the Pope was not recognized by any ecumenical church council until the Second Council of Lyons (1274) and the Council of Florence (1430).
Second, don’t be fooled by those who say that popes have been elected in the Vatican since the second century. “Please remember that the Vatican itself, as we see it today, did not begin to come into existence until 1506.”
Third, don’t be fooled into thinking that papal electors gathering to choose a pope began in the apostolic period. Electing a pope by a college of cardinals started in the medieval 11th century church.
Fourth, don’t be fooled by the RCC’s claim to the so-called “apostolic succession” of a clean, unbroken lineage of popes. “The lineage of popes is quite a lot more uncertain than it is made to seem. Benedict XVI’s abdication takes us back to the last pope to abdicate, Gregory XII (1415) and the marvelously messy history of the Avignon papacy (1378–1417), a story of competing ‘popes’and ‘anti-popes.'”
Clark summarizes why Protestants (and irate Roman Catholics who might stumble upon this) should not be fooled again:
Rome likes to present herself as if she were a grand dame sweeping through the corridors of history, as if things have always been as they are now in Rome. That story makes for good television—Rome does pageantry well but that is the papacy of faith, not the papacy of history. The truth is that the Roman communion as we know it now is a creature of the high and late middle ages and in essential ways, of the Lateran IV (1215), Trent (1545–63), Vatican I (1868–70), and Vatican II (1962–65). The real story of the papacy is a story of occasional virtue and piety but more frequently of venal characters, of power politics, of intrigue, and not even downright deceit. (emphasis added)
A medieval “anti-pope” that Clark mentions in his post, John XXIII (1410-15), is considered to be one of the most wicked of all the wicked popes in church history. Philip Schaff writes in “The Council of Constance, 1414-1418” (History of the Christian Church, Volume VI: The Middle Ages. A.D. 1294-1517) about John XXIII:
Having affirmed its superiority over the pope, the council proceeded to try John XXIII on seventy charges, which included almost every crime known to man. He had been unchaste from his youth, had been given to lying, was disobedient to his parents. He was guilty of simony, bought his way to the cardinalate, sold the same benefices over and over again, sold them to children, disposed of the head of John the Baptist, belonging to the nuns of St. Sylvester, Rome, to Florence, for 50,000 ducats, made merchandise of spurious bulls, committed adultery with his brother’s wife, violated nuns and other virgins, was guilty of sodomy and other nameless vices. As for doctrine, he had often denied the future life. (emphasis added)
Schaff adds a footnote to the words above from another writer:
Hardt, IV. 196-208; Mansi, XXVIII. 662-673, 715. Adam of Usk, p. 306, says, “Our pope, John XXIII, false to his promises of union, and otherwise guilty of perjuries and murders, adulteries, simonies, heresy, and other excesses, and for that he twice fled in secret, and cowardly, in vile raiment, by way of disguise, was delivered to perpetual imprisonment by the council.”
A 20th century pope named himself the same “John XXIII.” So if you googled “Pope John XXIII,” almost all the results will be about the 20th century pope. Hardly anyone knows of Pope John XXIII’s medieval version. Stranger than fiction, especially when Rome says of him, “the heinous crimes of which his opponents in the council [Council of Florence] accused him were certainly gravely exaggerated.”
Now, how is the Papacy infallible?
In reality, many evangelicals cannot sing, “We won’t get fooled again!” Why? Because most have already been fooled, not by Rome, but by their own pastors and teachers and churches. They have bought into these myths of Catholicism, especially the first one above. The biggest example is the belief that infant baptism was a Roman Catholic invention, when all church historians agree that infant baptism was universally practiced as early as the end of the 2nd century. They’ve also been fooled into thinking that certain aspects of worship belong to the Catholic system: liturgy, sacraments, confession of sin, absolution, benediction, doxologies, sursum corda, etc. In fact, any Latin word is Roman Catholic!
Certain doctrines are also taught to have been originated by the Roman church, such as the ancient creeds—Apostles’, Nicene, Athanasian—the “catholic” church, the “real presence” of Christ in the Lord’s Supper, “keys of the kingdom,” Christ’s “descent into hell,” etc.
In short, evangelicalism has been fooled by Rome itself by way of their pastors and teachers into accepting that all things concerning doctrine and worship of which they have little or no knowledge (which are legion) come from Rome.
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