In Which We Get Back to It

I hope you all gave thanks this past week with duly joyful feasting. Jehovah is indeed good to us.

I’ve let a few things fall by the wayside, and I’d like to dredge them up (if dredge is the word I want), and work through them a little bit. I’m boycotting the FV debate, and the only other thing that seems to be going on in my theological neck of the woods are discussions with Papists, so here’s one to get us up and running:

The original post was In Which the Pope is either God or ET, presenting an obviously silly dilemma which I hope illustrated in a semi-accurate fashion a difficulty with what I perceive to be the Roman doctrine of Papal infallibility.

Guido, my Byzantine Buddy, dutifully weighed in with a comment, but now seems to have done his best Brave Sir Robin impression (that or come up with something better to do with his time), leaving the following unanswered:

I have absolutely no problem with the Church creating a system of governance based upon inferences from the Scriptures, whether that is an hierarchical episcopacy, headed up by a single bishop, or a presbyterian form of representational government. And for what it’s worth, I’d be (honestly) interested in hearing your exegetical observations on the supremacy of the Roman bishop.

I don’t personally see it as necessary, but I’m happy to grant that the bishop of Rome could be the temporal leader of the church (I don’t have a theological or moral problem with that sort of government as such). My issue is primarily with claims of infallibility, which is not the same thing as claiming authority.

Indeed, you’ve changed the discussion mid-comment here. At first we are talking about Petrine Supremacy, as handed down from Jesus (an issue of governmental practice). But later on you talk of the Roman bishop as “our guarantee of sound doctrine”, which isn’t the same thing at all, and that claim would seem to require a much higher burden of proof than the former.

Perhaps (probably) my understanding of (and distaste for) the doctrine of Papal infallibility is in part due to propagandistic misconstruals by Protestants, not at all helped by the actions of many of the Popes of the 14th – 16th centuries, and shored up by some aggressive and arrogant neo-conservative Catholics. Nevertheless, any human being who claims infallibility in any way faces the conundrum presented in the original post in some shape or form.

– What are the arguments for the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome? What does this actually mean, and what theological assumptions necessitate such a doctrine?

– How do you personally deal with the historical contradictions (which in a few instances have undeniably bordered on the absurd) between holders of the bishopric of Rome (that meant as an honest question, not a rhetorical challenge)?

– Does a leader with such exceptional responsibility have no accountability? Does anyone get to play Paul’s part in correcting Peter when he falls into grievous error, and if so, who?

I am as wide open as Scott Stapp’s arms to correction and education in this matter, but I don’t think the original difficulty I presented has been addressed yet.


9 comments on “In Which We Get Back to It

  1. I don’t know that I have a bone in this, but it seems that Papal Infallibility really does come down to authority–at least for us. If the Pope has authority, then his pronouncement that he is infallible is binding on you and me. Perhaps he isn’t really, but if he really has authority, we should submit even if he is wrong.

    Anyway, just a thought.

  2. mattyonke says:


    Not avoiding your question, just thinking about it. I will comment soon.



  3. petersen,

    i appreciate the idea of submitting to authority just because they are the authority.

    however, just off the top of my head, it seems that a claim of infallibility on the part of a human requires substantial proof outside of the claimant himself. otherwise, he may be claiming (intentionally or no) to be that which he is not (God/Voice of God/Santa’s Little Helper).

    one can question and even make strides to change the established opinion or practice of one’s authority while being 100% submissive to him/it.

    not so if his pronouncements are without fault (obvs.).

    thanks for weighing in.


  4. guido,

    thanks for taking the time. look forward to hearing from you.

    – oh, and I’ll respond to your email eventually. got myself mired in a backlog of grading.


  5. petersen,

    my comment read more flip than i intended. sorry.

  6. Ben,

    I wasn’t bothered by your response, so don’t worry about it.

    I think there is a way that we can work against our authorities, but I’m not sure how to say it. If your wife saw you making a bad decision, but even when you mentioned that to her, you didn’t change your mind, how should she respond? (I don’t mean an immoral one, just a stupid one.)

    We as Protestants are also in a slightly different position than a Catholic would be.

  7. mattyonke says:

    Dammit, I’ve just scrapped my fourth draft of an answer cause there’s just too much to say. Can we talk on the phone some time?

    Frustratedly Yours,


  8. absolutely. i’ll email you my number.

  9. petersen,

    if a pronouncement of mine is infallible, then she may not, by definition, question it, regardless of how “stupid” it may appear.

    i agree that a catholic must submit to the pope as his earthly ecclesiastical authority (fallible or no). but a claim of authority is not the same thing as a claim of infallibility, and the attendant obligations of submission under each look very different.

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