from Ex Cathedra: An Historical and Scriptural Analysis of Papal Infallibility: (i recommend reading all the chapters.)
Historical Evidence of Papal Error
Keeping in mind the confidence of the papacy in its alleged inability to teach erroneous doctrine, it is interesting to note that Rome nevertheless admits that, over the years, many errors have nevertheless occurred. For instance, in the 1960s, Paul VI "de-canonized" over three hundred saints, declaring them to be fraudulent and not to be prayed to. One such example was Saint Christopher, who was supposed to have carried the Christ child. Since Christopher is a Greek name, the question was raised: What was a Greek doing in a Jewish city in the first place? Because of this realization, Christopher was, as were many others, stripped of his holy title. Can we not therefore conclude that for centuries, the Roman church was guilty of promoting idolatry in the form of prayer to false saints?
During the years of the Inquisition, many were tortured and put to death for the "blasphemous sin" of eating meat on Friday. One of the official pronouncements of Vatican II (1962-1965), however, was that it was no longer considered a sin against God to eat meat on Friay, although voluntary abstinence was suggested as a personal sacrifice. In this case, the papacy's error is inexcusable, for it was one that cost many innocent men their lives. Pope John Paul II went so far as to declare the Inquisition the "greatest error in Church history."
Historical instances of obvious papal fallibility, such as those above, are available in abundance. Victor I (189-199) first approved of Montanism in 192, and then later condemned it. Honorius (625-638) taught the heresy of Monothelism, which denied that Christ simultaneously possessed two separate natures -- human and divine. He was later condemned as a heretic by the Third Council of Constantinople in 680. Marcellinus (296-304) entered the Temple of Vesta and offered incense to the pagan goddess. Liberius (352-366) consented to the condemnation of Athanasius, the "great defender of the Deity of Christ," and made a profession of Arianism that he might be recalled from exile and reinstated in his seat.
In 1431, Eugene IV (1431-1447) declared Joan of Arc guilty of practicing witchcraft and condemned her to be burned at the stake. In 1919, however, Benedict XV (1914-1922) canonized her as a saint. In 1633, the astronomer Galileo was brought to trial by the Jesuits for claiming that the earth and all the other planets revolved around the sun. An earlier papal decree entitled De Revolutionibus had denounced the heliocentric view as heretical and "utterly contrary to the Holy Scriptures."(1) Galileo's claims were consequently condemned as heretical and dangerous, and he was tortured and imprisoned.
Gregory I (590) declared that anyone who believed it was not necessary to take both the bread and wine at Mass was to be excommunicated; Innocent III (1215) stated that anyone who believed it was necessary was to be excommunicated. Paschal II (1099-1118) and Eugene III (1145-1153) authorized dueling; Julius II (1503-1513) and Pius VII (1800=1823) forbade it. Hadrian II (867-872) declared civil marriages to be valid; Pius VII condemned them. Sixtus V (1585-1590) published an edition of the Bible and recommended it to be read; Pius VII condemned the reading of it, claiming the edition to be full of errors. Clement XIV (1769-1774) abolished the order of the Jesuits; Paul III (1534-1549) permitted it and Pius VII re-established it. The list of such errors is quite lengthy, but the foregoing examples sufficiently prove our point.
Addressing the 85th General Congregation of the Vatican Council in 1870, in which Pius IX declared the papacy to be infallible, Bishop Joseph George Strossmayer of Germany, together with twenty-one archbishops and sixty-four bishops, announced, "Venerable brethren... history raises its voice to assure us that some popes have erred." When the above evidence is taken into consideration, Strossmayer's words seem to have been somewhat of an understatement. He continued by saying, "Oh, venerable brethren, to maintain such an enormity would be to betray Christ worse than Judas. Let us turn to the teachings of the Apostles, since without them we have only error, darkness, and false tradition."(2) As would be expected, Pius IX ordered Strossmayer to withdraw his "heretical" statements under the threat of excommunication of both and his supporters. Unfortunately, Strossmayer later complied.
Historical Evidence of Papal Lawlessness
In addition to having erred, many popes have exhibited gross lawlessness as well. One such example was John XII (955-964), whom The Catholic Encyclopedia described as "a course, immoral man, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general odium...."(3) John was accused of sacrilege, perjury, murder, adultery, and incest, and, on one occasion in particular, was summoned by a synod of fifty Italian and German bishops to undergo deposition. Refusing to appear before the council, he threatened his opponents with excommunication should a new pope be elected to replace him. John XII finally died on 14 May 964 -- eight days after he had been stricken by paralysis in the very act of committing adultery. One of his contemporaries summarized his life with these words: "No honest lady dared to show herself in public, for Pope John had no respect for single girls, married women, or widows -- they were sure to be defiled by him, even on the tombs of the holy apostles, Peter and Paul."(4)
"Simony," or the "act of buying and selling of the papacy," also became a serious problem. Benedict VIII (1012-1024) purchased the office of pope with open bribery. His successor, John XIX (1025-1032), who was a mere layman, likewise obtained his papal position through monetary means, dishonestly passing through all the clerical orders in a single day. Benedict IX (1033-1045) was thereafter made pope through a bargain with the most powerful families in Rome. Clement II was finally directly appointed by King Henry III because, according to one source, "no Roman clergyman could be found who was free of the pollution of simony and fornication."(5)
In light of such blatant disregard for moral purity in the lives of so many popes, one might wonder whether Romanists are required to obey such lawless leaders. Amazingly, the Catholic Encyclopedia answers in the affirmative: "A sinful pope... remains a member of the (visible) Church and is to be treated as a sinful, unjust ruler for whom we must pray, but from whom we may not withdraw our obedience."(6) What a mockery such a teaching makes of the Apostle Paul's epistle to the Roman Christians of the First Century, in which he instructs them in the thirteenth chapter to be subject to the "minister of God to thee for good" (Romans 13:4) not to a man who serves only his own wicked lusts and seeks to destroy the things of God (Revelation 13:6-7).
Infallible Popes Versus the Infallible Word of GodWhereas history clearly testifies to these and many other instances of papal error, lawlessness, indecisiveness, and general confusion, the Roman church nevertheless maintains its position that the pope is completely infallible in matters regarding faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra, or "from the Chair [of Peter]." He can make no mistakes in official declarations of what must be believed by the body of Romanists at large. The Catholic Encyclopedia makes this point very clear: "The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra -- that is in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines... a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church -- is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility... and consequently such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable."(7)
Romanists, like Protestants, claim to receive the Holy Scriptures "with piety and reverence"(8) and insist that "the Bible is everywhere true in the sense intended by the individual sacred writer."(9) It is at this point that the Romanist finds himself on the horns of a dilemma: since both the Bible and papal decrees are viewed as the inspired and infallible Word of God, which of the two possessed the higher authority in the event of a contradiction (which is not an infrequent ocurrence)? Two allegedly infallible, yet disagreeing, sources of revelation both cannot be right; one must give place to the other. This problem does not confront those who seriously heed the Apostle's warning in 1 John 4:1: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." Likewise, in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, we are commanded to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good." How are we to "try the spirits" and "prove all things"? We must do so by the written Word of God alone, as did the Bereans in the First Century (Acts 17:11). The Bible is our measuring rod, or our "once for all delivered" canon (Jude 3), by which all truths claims are to be tested. Without this sure foundation of Scripture, we are only left with our own personal judgments, or those of our fellow men -- both of which are fallible, as we have seen in the preceding chapters and will continue to see evidenced in those to follow.
1. De Revolutionibus, 5 March 1619.
2. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV, page 316..
4. The Bishop of Cremora, Luitprand, quoted by Ralph Woodrow, Babylon Mystery Religion (Palm Springs, California: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1966).
5. Henry H. Halley, Halley's Bible Handbook (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1965), page 775.
6. Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume IV, page 435.
7. Ibid., Volume VII, page 796.
8. Council of Trent, Session IV.
9. Attwater, Catholic Dictionary, page 54.