April 17, 2009

Closing the Debate on Papal Infallibility

Closing remarks to a debate regarding papal infallibility last 2000, from James White of Alpha and Omega Ministries:

Let’s review what we have seen thus far this evening. A guide that leads you down the wrong path is not an infallible guide. A guide that leads you to jump off a cliff is not an infallible guide. A guide that has to constantly double-back and make corrections in his guidance is not an infallible guide. “Woops” is not a valid excuse for one who claims to be infallible. “We made a mistake, we are going to go back and take a second shot at this” does not work when you are telling folks they have to believe everything you have to say to be right with God. In light of this, we have seen how Zosimus had to say “woops” when Augustine and the North African bishops corrected him and refused his direct command, as bishop of Rome, to accept Pelagius and Caelestius back into communion. He reversed himself and his “mature examination” upon which he had commanded, by the authority of his Apostolic See, the North Africans to reverse course. Instead, he reversed course and contradicted everything he had said before. Who, here, was the infallible guide, Zosimus, or the North African bishops led by Augustine? We have seen how the entire Papacy had to say “woops” with reference to Honorius who was condemned by not one, not two, but three Ecumenical Councils, and every Pope who took the oath of the papal office for the space of three hundred years. We saw how Pope Leo II likewise anathematized Honorius and said that he had “permitted her who was undefiled to be polluted by profane teaching.” If someone had followed the understanding of the bishop of Rome during those years, they would have embraced formal heresy. We have likewise seen how Cardinal Bellarmine had to come up with a lie to cover for Sixtus V’s not-quite-as-infallible-as-we-thought Vulgate, a woops of truly biblical proportions.

In each of these instances we have seen that it would have been impossible, on the grounds taken by Rome today, to know if the Pope was speaking the truth or not.

Finally, I reiterate what I believe is an inescapable argument against belief in the infallibility of the Pope. You can’t have any confidence that the interpretation you hold this evening of the current Pope’s teaching is actually right. You may understand Ut Unum Sint or Veritatis Splendor or Redemptoris Mater one way, but history teaches you one thing without contradiction: fifty years from now, or a hundred years from now, the understanding of the same documents, the same doctrines, may be substantially different than it is today. You may accept a Papal teaching today as authoritative that will not only be abandoned in the future, but may be contradicted in the future. A person who accepted the doctrinal content of Honorius’ first letter to Sergius and died in that state would find himself anathematized by the next three ecumenical councils. Remember, Honorius’ heretical letters existed for more than 45 years before the official correction of their error. A person who accepted Zosimus’ considered and careful conclusion in his encyclical Magnum Pondus, as bishop of Rome, that Pelagius and Coelestius were Catholic and orthodox would likewise take heresy into his very soul. The simple fact of the matter is, you don’t know that what you think the Pope is currently teaching is what he is teaching, and what’s more, you have no way of knowing if what he really is teaching today will be considered orthodox and proper a hundred years from now.

And so I urge you to consider the contrast between the uncertain guide that is the bishop of Rome and the certain guide that is God’s Holy Word. While the bishop of Rome is subject to ignorance, political intrigue, abuse of power, sin, greed, and lust, the Scriptures are subject to none of these things. The Scriptures have never led any person into Arianism, Pelagianism, or Monotheletism. Only men’s own traditions, lusts, and sin have caused them to reject God’s truth in the Scriptures and enter into error. The fault has always been that of man, never that of the infallible guide that is the inspired and Holy Word of God. No matter how challenging the exegetical task of understanding even the most difficult passages of Scripture, in comparison with attempting to sort through the maze of Roman history, the volumes of papal encyclicals, the tomes of canon law, the numerous false decretals and forgeries, the reversals and clarifications and canons and decrees and everything else Rome offers the exegetical task of understanding Scripture is nigh unto simplistic. Give me Romans 8 any day over the code of canon law.

No comments:

Post a Comment