The Power of the Pope


Stand by for wall-to-wall coverage.  As we’ve seen so many times over recent years, the media loves a huge story.  And this one will be about as big as they come.  Expect an obsession over the death of this Pope, which will amount to a virtual blackout of most other news.  His Polish background and his influential contribution to Eastern Europe’s rebellion against the communist regimes of the Soviet Union virtually guarantee that we’ll be treated to weeks of round the clock deification of Karol Wojtyla, titled Pope John Paul, II.


            No question, Karol Wojtyla played a pivotal role in European politics over the past two and a half decades, undeniably emboldening the downtrodden nations of Eastern Europe to defy the former Soviet Union.  He was undeniably a very well educated man who probably meant well.  Positive political developments, however, in no way serve to legitimize the de facto influence wielded by the “office of the papacy.”  The power which accompanies the position is simply a fact of modern politics, and of social importance due to the fact that many millions in many cultures around the world regard the man in that position as wielding divine authority on earth.


            The banner at the bottom of the screen when I tuned in the news this morning read, “President Bush prays for the holy father.”  Will all the news organizations and even our elected leadership meekly engage in this blasphemy?  It sounds like an acknowledgement of the pope’s claim to divine authority!  Does political and social power mean that reporters and politicians must verbally sanction the false notion of papal infallibility?   And how logical is it that a “college of cardinals” can enter into a “conclave” and “elect” another pope, conferring in the process the ability to speak with infallibility?  Will he be a “converted” Jew, a black man or an Italian?  Regardless of who is chosen, he will undoubtedly wield enormous power, and be treated with great deference by every politician on earth.


            The issue of papal authority is one that Garner Ted Armstrong addressed in some detail which makes timely and interesting reading in the context of the death of the current pope and the imminent “election” of the next man who will fill the position which will no doubt play a crucial role in rapidly unfolding world events.   Consider now what GTA had to say on the issue of Apostolic Authority.


            “It is impossible to read the four gospels without concluding that Peter was accorded a special place among them; listed first at the head of the twelve (Matthew 10:2), and privy to unique occasions in the experiences of Christ (Mark 5:37; Matthew 17:1; Mark 14:33).


“Peter was a man of strong will, physical strength, and absolute devotion to Jesus Christ. Yet, for all his courage and dedication, he was yet carnal; he did not receive God’s Holy Spirit until the day of Pentecost following Christ’s ascension. Thus, we see him first fiercely proclaiming his loyalty to Christ, then vehemently denying he ever knew the man during Christ’s trial and crucifixion. That Peter was a leader among the twelve; that he was one of the three most often with Jesus Christ; that he was the one whose words are preserved for us on Pentecost – of these facts there can be no doubt.


            “But was Peter the chief apostle? Was he given absolute authority over the others? Did he alone have the so-called primacy? Was he the head of the church; empowered with the authority to ‘set doctrine,’ establish all church customs, and with the power to excommunicate any of his contemporaries? Did he have the power to appoint a successor – no matter his qualifications; in his sole subjective discretion – and did Christ command the church to follow that appointed successor no matter what? Are such claims valid in Scripture?


“Catholic Authority”


            “The Roman Catholic Church derives its authority, not solely from the Scriptures, but from two other sources as well, each of which is claimed to have equal authority with Scripture, according to Catholic doctrine. They are: (1) The traditions of the ‘fathers’ of the Catholic Church; (2) The pronouncements of the pope when speaking ex cathedra from the so-called ‘Holy See’ in Rome. The Bible is only one of three authorities by which Catholic doctrine and practice, Catholic dogma, is established. As we shall see, where the Bible and tradition clash, tradition usually prevails.


“Popes Not In Unbroken Succession”


            “Though the Catholic Church claims ‘church fathers’ as one of their authorities, they seem to reject the pronouncements of these same fathers, accepting only selectively from their writings as they desire. Notice what Cyprian, pupil of Tertullian, said about so-called ‘apostolic succession.’ Cyprian lived from A.D. 200 until 258. He died more than 70 years before the famous Council of Nicea. In the introductory notes on Cyprians writings (The Anti-Nicene Fathers by Roberts and Donaldson): ‘It [Cyprian’s writings] embodies no hierarchical assumption no ‘lordship over God’s heritage,’ but is conceived in the spirit of St. Peter when he disclaimed all this, and said, ‘The presbyters who are among you I exhort, who am also a presbyter.’ …nothing can be more delusive than the idea that the medieval system [of Catholic Church government] derives any support from Cyprian’s theory of the episcopate or of church organization. His was the system of universal parity and community of bishops. In his scheme the apostolate was perpetuated in the episcopate’ (Ante-Nicene Fathers,  Vol. V, p. 263, emphasis mine).


            “Cyprian knew the apostles were succeeded by the ministry of the church; the ‘episcopate,’ consisting of ‘presbyters’ or ‘bishops,’ meaning, merely, ‘overseers,’ or pastors of churches! Notice what he wrote concerning the so-called primacy of Peter, ‘For neither did Peter, whom first the Lord chose…when Paul disputed with him afterwards about circumcision, claim anything to himself insolently, nor arrogantly assume anything; SO AS TO SAY THAT HE HELD THE PRIMACY, and that he ought rather to be obeyed by novices and those lately come’ (Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. V, p. 377; emphasis mine).


            “No, Peter never claimed any primacy. One looks through scripture in vain to find Peter giving orders to the others. Rather, we find Peter being sent by others (Acts 8:14); being openly rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2:11). Cyprian lived only 100 years after the death of John, during that ‘dark century’ when only sketchy information comes to us concerning the condition of the church. Yet, even this man, a student of Tertullian, denies that Peter ever arrogated to himself any title of ‘chief apostle,’ or that he, or any other ministers (presbyter) in the church claimed Peter had any ‘primacy.’


            “Who, then, are you to believe? Do you accept the Bible as the authority concerning claims about the ‘primacy of Peter,’ or do you accept the claims of men? In the first century, there were those who ‘said’ they were ‘apostles.’ But they lied. We shall see, later, how God congratulated the members of His true church for ‘trying’ them who made such preposterous claims. How did they ‘try’ those who said they were apostles? Why, they compared what these men said with scripture. We are commanded to do the same thing today; to ‘prove all things,’ and hold fast to that which is good.


            “It would require a book-length article to convey all the dozens of proofs from history concerning the gradual development of the Roman Catholic governmental hierarchy, and space precludes this. However, historical evidence abounds to disprove the claim of unbroken succession of ‘popes’ from the time of the apostles.


            “The development of an hierarchical structure, with Rome finally recognized as the supreme headquarters of the Romish Church required many centuries. The apostate church of the second century, after the death of the last surviving apostle, John, knew only of  bishops; pastors of local churches. Over the succeeding decades, the leading bishops of larger cities became known as ‘metropolitans.’ Eventually, there were five ‘patriarchs’ in the church, located in such cities as Alexandria, Constantinople, Antioch, and Rome.


            “Centuries later, there were only two ‘great patriarchs,’ in Constantinople and in Rome. Old age, internicene conflicts and warfare had eliminated the others. The history of the development of Catholic hierarchical government includes the time when two leaders, each claiming primacy, were busily ‘excommunicating’ each other!


            “It was not until the late 1800s, in  comparatively modern times, that the pope, when speaking from the official seat in St. Peters in Rome, is infallible in matters of church custom and doctrine. (For historical references, see boxes.)


            “For the Bible absolutely proves Peter was never regarded as the head of the church; he was never given authority over the other apostles, and he was definitely not the first pope!” 


Mark Armstrong

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Further Reading:
See Word from: Protestant Churches Accept Papal Authority