Primer on the Pope

On Facebook, I often share articles related to Pope Francis. If anyone keeps track, they’d probably recognize papal posts more consistently than anything else I share. Oh look, another Pope post from Patric. So what’s the big deal? Why do I care about what’s up with the Pope?

As most know, the Pope is the leader of the Catholic Church. (That is, he’s the head pastor, since Jesus is really the man in charge.) So it makes sense that the Pope’s significance relates to the fact that he speaks for Catholic Christianity in very important ways. Even the media catches on to this. For them, the Pope speaking implies the “Catholic position”—which may or may not be the case.

Pope Francis  |  AP Photo/Andrew Medichini

Now, several denominations have leading ministers, including people who govern their Christian communities in important ways. But when it comes to the Pope, his importance is not simply related to the fact that he’s a leader. After all, simply being a leader of a church may in fact be arbitrary: Does the church have to have a leader? Is the Pope just a historical accident or practical convenience that developed over time? Etc.

Instead, Catholics understand the Pope to be integral to the church’s organization. As the New Testament suggests, there are different roles or “parts” in the Body of Christ for the sake of the “unity of the faith” (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4:13). Well, the Pope is understood to be, in very real sense, part of Christ’s will for the constitution of His church.

Consider this. If one were to go backward in time, one would see that Benedict XVI served before the current pope, Francis. John Paul II served before Benedict. And so on. One pope preceded the other, and that pope was preceded by another—all the way back to the first century. (The title “Pope,” from papa, was a later development. But it simply identifies the bishop of Rome.)  265 men before Francis, one would arrive at a man named Peter, who ended his last years ministering to and organizing the Christian community in Rome.

Peter was among Jesus’ original twelve apostles, but he occupied a chief role of leadership among them. He would often speak for the twelve (Mk. 8:29; Jn. 6:67). In the four gospels, he’s often named first in the lists of Apostles—sometimes just “Peter and his companions” (Mk. 3:16; Lk. 9:32). He preached on Pentecost, the day the Holy Spirit descended and energized the young church (Acts 2). Peter was also the first to receive the revelation that the Gospel was to be given to even the Gentiles (Acts 10:9-48). He presided over the first major council of the church in Jerusalem, which decided important matters for non-Jewish converts to the Christian faith (Acts 15:7-11).

Jesus singled out Peter when he told him that he would be the “rock” upon which Christ would build his church (Matt. 16:18). In the same passage, Jesus said he would give Peter the “keys of the kingdom,” recalling the Old Testament figure of royal steward who served under the Davidic king (Matt. 16:19; Isa. 22:22). Jesus, the new Davidic king, is in effect making Peter the steward of His church. He also gives him the authority to “bind and loose,” representing the ability to make disciplinary decisions for the community.

After his Resurrection, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, makes Peter shepherd of His Church by charging him to “feed” and “tend” his “sheep” (John 21:15-19).

Clearly, then, Peter was head of the young church. But was Peter’s shepherding role only meant for the first-century church—until his martyrdom in the mid-60s? If the newfound Christian community needed leadership in the first century, surely the church in the second century—who would be without the Apostles!—would still need leadership. And this goes for the third, and the fourth, and the fifth… all the way down to the twenty-first century—especially the twenty-first century!

In fact, early Christians not only recognized the bishop of Rome as succeeding Peter in a historical sense, but also in his capacity as leader of the church as well. Consider Clement, who was bishop of Rome in the late first century—perhaps third in succession to Peter. Under his leadership, the church in Rome sent a strong letter of correction to the church in Corinth, which was experiencing serious internal division. It seems that the Corinthian church may have even appealed to Rome. Regardless, both the Roman and Corinthian Christians understood that the church of Rome had a special pastoral role in the universal church—even having the ability to mingle in the affairs of Christian communities in other parts of the world.

We get a hint of the reasoning for this from a second-century Christian, Irenaeus of Lyons. In his work Against Heresies, Irenaeus explains how one can discern what is in fact authentic Christianity—as opposed to the Gnostic counterfeits of his day.  After emphasizing the need to consult those churches founded by the Apostles and the bishops who succeeded them, he goes on to highlight the church of Rome as the preeminent model of Christian orthodoxy. Because of its “superior origin” in Peter and Paul, “all the faithful in the whole world” must agree with it. He then goes on to list the twelve bishops of Rome since Peter, from whom “the preaching of the truth has come down to us.”

Above all, the role of the Pope is for the sake of the Church’s unity. “A primacy is given to Peter,” says third-century Cyprian of Carthage, “whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church.” The bishop of Rome occupies this so-called “chair of Peter,” from which “sacerdotal unity has its source.” The Pope is the visible head of the church. Like Peter, who often spoke as representative of the twelve, the Pope is able to definitively speak for the faith of the church. He’s not there to change the faith. He doesn’t receive special divine revelation, like a prophet. No, his sole purpose is to guard the apostolic teaching and shepherd Christ’s flock in their walk of faith. Contrary to all the media hype whenever there’s a new pope, the church’s doctrine’s isn’t going to change just because there’s a new occupant in Peter’s chair. Pope Francis once affirmed how he was a faithful “son of the church” when asked about his teaching. It’s simply not the Pope’s job to concoct doctrine out of the blue.

At this point, it would be good to clarify what it means for the Pope to be infallible, because it’s often misunderstood. Basically, because the Holy Spirit guides the church, and because the Pope is the visible representative of the church, then it follows that God will not allow the Pope to lead the church astray on matters of the faith. Because Christ promised that the “gates of hell” would “not prevail” against the church (Matt. 16:18), then the Pope will never declare as official dogma something that is actually false. So, for example, the Pope will never officially proclaim that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. If something like this could happen, then the church would be seriously misled, and Christ’s promise would seem to have been broken.

Note that infallibility does not protect the Pope from sin. He’s a mere mortal like anyone else, with his own weaknesses and capacity for scandal. Thankfully, the church has been quite blessed in recent decades with exceptionally holy fathers. And most have sought to serve the church—some even to the point of martyrdom. That said, one shouldn’t be shocked to run into a real scoundrel here or there. (I’m thinking of a few Renaissance popes.) Even Peter denied Christ.

The Pope’s infallibility is not separated from the church’s infallibility. Rather, because the Pope is sign of the church’s unity, the Pope’s role offers a particular manifestation of it. Infallibility is a negative gift: it’s simply the freedom from doctrinal error. It’s not divine inspiration. The Pope’s words are not God’s words. And, of course, not everything the Pope says is infallible. At all. In fact, it’s understood to be reserved only for those solemn occasions when the Pope is definitively settling a matter of faith to be held by the entire church.  Mind you, this doesn’t happen often. The most recent was in 1950 when Pope Pius XII’s dogmatically defined Mary’s assumption into Heaven.

St. Gregory the Great, one of the greatest figures of the early medieval papacy. Pope until 604, Gregory was a talented administrator, a prolific writer, and a famed contributor to the liturgy. At a time when the empire was centered in Constantinople, Pope Gregory acted as a strong leader for the people of Rome.

The Pope in the modern world has the same basic role as did Peter nearly 2,000 years ago: to confirm his brethren in the faith. The Pope acts as teacher on a daily basis when he gives speeches and homilies for special events and liturgies. More exceptionally, the Pope exercises his teaching authority when he writes official documents ranging from encyclicals, like Francis’ recent one on the environment, to the weightier apostolic constitutions, which deal with important doctrinal matters. As pastor, the Pope meets with his fellow bishops, visits other countries, and attends special events such as World Youth Day.

By expressing the papacy as a role of service—something Francis is quite good at—the Pope is able to bring Christ to others as he sets an example of what it means to be follower of Christ. One traditional title of the Pope, going all the way back to St. Gregory the Great, is servus servorum Dei, or Servant of the Servants of God. This encapsulates the type of leadership the Pope is called to. After all, according to Christ, the “greatest” or “first” is the one who is “servant of all” (Mk. 9:34-36).

Pope Francis washes the feet of refugees.

Now the elephant in the room. Catholics understand the papal office to be an essential part of the church’s original “constitution” and therefore consider alternative church structures to be lacking an important gift. In this way, the Pope is (meant to be) pastor of all Christians. But what about Christians who aren’t Catholic? Naturally, non-Catholic Christians have historically had their own thoughts on the papacy, ranging from respect to repudiation. Eastern Orthodox and other Christians who recognize the Pope’s historical primacy tend to downplay the biblical foundations for Rome’s authority—as opposed to the Catholic emphasis on the role of Peter, for example. Still, many view the Pope as an important witness to and teacher of the Christian faith.

On the flip side, during the Protestant Reformation, some reformers said damning things about the Pope—some going so far as to call him the antichrist! Even today, it is not hard to find groups that strongly reject the Pope. As unfortunate as that may be, today the Pope is increasingly playing a key role in ecumenical dialogue. More and more, the Pope meets with other Christian figures to give a common witness in faith and charity.

While in the past rejection of the papacy may have been an inevitable consequence of separation from the Catholic Church, there is arguably no inherent reason why non-Catholics today cannot recognize the Pope’s ancient—and even biblical—roots and thereby appreciate his role as a global Christian leader.

Pope Francis smiles with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby at the end of vespers prayers at the monastery church of San Gregorio al Celio in Rome
Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury (left) & Pope Francis (right)





34 thoughts on “Primer on the Pope”

    1. This response overviews the reformers’ criticism of the papacy. Naturally, if you’re going to justify splitting off of the Catholic Church, you’re going to have to distance yourself from the Bishop of Rome. It’s no wonder they called the pope the “antichrist.” It wouldn’t make sense for Calvin and Luther to be all friendly towards the office of Pope and then think they are fully able to go out and start their own churches.


      1. Okay, Patric. The Lord Jesus Christ is enough for unity, only one Head – Himself. I praise God that the Lord called me out of an institution where I never heard the Gospel and that He found me, delivering me from sin and death.

        John Calvin did not start a church, he was called to serve in various churches.


      2. Mormons also profess Jesus Christ. So do Jehovah Witnesses. Do you think that simply professing Christ is enough to be one in faith? Catholics don’t disagree that Christ is head of the church. But he has also given various roles to the members of his body, the church. The Bible uses the term “bishop” which means overseer. Christ gave us pastors. The Pope is the pastor of the church on Earth, just as Peter was the leader of the early church community. Also, just because one is “born Catholic” does not mean every experience you have in the church will be ideal. Besides, Catholics fully acknowledge that God works outside the visible Catholic Church. Any person who is baptized is related to Christ and the church, though imperfectly if not benefitting from all the gifts Christ wanted, like the Eucharist or the papacy.


      3. I am sorry you never heard the gospel. It’s the fault of other Catholics, if they never presented Christ to you. But please note that every Catholic Mass is a celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, with multiple scriptural readings from both Old Testament, psalms, and the New Testament. The Eucharist and the liturgy have been the center of Christian worship since the first century. Remember Justin Martyr in the second century who described Christian practices to the Roman government at the time. He explains the readings of scripture and the Eucharist, which he says Christians profess to be Christ’s own body and blood. I just don’t want you to leave the Eucharist. You can always have a personal relationship with Christ in the fullness of his church.


  1. I prefer not to make my theology from novel innovations of men but instead rely on the consistent understanding of the nature of the church from the first century on. The author of that response even quotes Cyprian of Carthage, in some weird attempt to show that he didn’t have a catholic notion of the papacy. All one has to do is read Cyprian’s Unity of the Church and see that he clearly sees the bishop of Rome as playing a central role in the church. Cyprian says one who breaks off of Peter is in schism. Surely the author of that post would not agree with Cyprian there.


  2. Patric, thank you for being concerned. There are some things about my upbringing and education I appreciate. For one thing in the lesson from the Gospels I regularly heard the Lord’s warnings about hell and this gave me a fear of God. But I can’t go back. I appreciate Communion, the Lord’s Supper. Protestants and Evangelicals need to be reverent. In our church the Pastor always warns us not to partake unworthily. I believe Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is seated at the right hand of the Father from whence He will return to us, and that He is spiritually with us as we share the bread and wine, remembering His death until He returns.

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    1. As long as we can say with Ignatius, who knew the apostles Peter and Paul, that the Eucharist is the “the flesh of Jesus Christ, the same flesh which suffered for our sins,” then we are of apostolic faith. Anything less is not what the church has passed on from the Apostles and Christ’s own words, who told us that his his flesh is “real food” and his blood is “real drink” (John 6). God bless!


      1. Patric,

        Rather than answer your argument, let me tell you what I believe and confess about the Sacrament or Ordinance of The Lord’s Supper:

        Westminster Confession of Faith

        Chapter XXIX – Of the Lord’s Supper

        I. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.[1]

        II. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead;[2] but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same:[3] so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect.[4]

        III. The Lord Jesus has, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people, to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants;[5] but to none who are not then present in the congregation.[6]

        IV. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest, or any other alone;[7] as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people,[8] worshipping the elements, the lifting them up, or carrying them about, for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.[9]

        V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ;[10] albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.[11]

        VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.[12]

        VII. Worthy receivers, outwardly partaking of the visible elements, in this sacrament,[13] do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally but spiritually, receive and feed upon, Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.[14]

        VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament; yet, they receive not the thing signified thereby; but, by their unworthy coming thereunto, are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ, while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries,[15] or be admitted thereunto.[16]

        The footnotes are Scriptural references in my printed copy. There are so many of these that often they fill half or more than half of many pages. The Westminster Assembly, which formulated the Confession, met from 1643-1647.


      2. You approve of a document written by men, no? Why should we place our trust in this theological description? What authority did these men have to determine doctrine for the church? There are some aspects of the Eucharist I agree with here, and other aspects that are not the same as Catholic belief or historic Christian belief prior to the reformation. Seeing that both you and I use the scriptures, how should we know which interpretation is correct? Did Jesus not want us to know what the Eucharist truly is? Since both Christians who think the Lord’s Supper is completely symbolic and those who think it is Christ’s real presence both use the scriptures, how can we go to the Bible alone? Did not Christ establish a church with Peter at its head so that Christ’s flock may be guided to the fullness of truth? Isn’t this why the Spirit was given to the church? I know I am asking much, but these are just things we should all think about when choosing to adopt our Christian worldview. Does it make sense to use the Bible and yet reject the church that determined and declared its official table of contents? Etc.


  3. And again I’d ask you if you are able to say with Ignatius of Antioch, who was associated with the Apostles and perhaps even ordained by Peter, that the Eucharist is truly the “flesh” of Jesus – “the same flesh which suffered for our sins”


    1. So then as a Christian, how do we know what to believe? Wouldn’t Christ want us to have confidence in something he told his followers to do “in memory of me”? But with Protestantism, there are as many views on this essential sacrament as there are Protestants. Not so with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. These traditions have the same understanding and both go back to apostolic times, with leadership who succeed bishops and churches founded by the Apostles. What makes more sense: that random disaffected Catholics (Luther and Calvin) would suddenly get the Eucharist right–or one of their followers, OR that the church that has existed for 2,000 years that has in fact maintained the same understanding has, in fact, maintained Christ’s original teaching?


  4. Patric, I will try to answer your comment which begins, “You approve of a document written by men, no? Why should we place our trust in this theological description?”

    You were responding to my comment that began, “Rather than answer your argument, let me tell you what I believe and confess about the Sacrament or Ordinance of The Lord’s Supper:…” In giving my view about the Lord’s Supper, I was not going to ‘reinvent the wheel’. I don’t have the knowledge and wisdom. It was best to give you a statement of Christian men who were assembled to determine answers to questions such as this, as they prepared a Protestant statement of faith. Why place trust in this? I don’t trust it per se, but it does state the Biblical view clearly. You asked, “What authority did these men have to determine doctrine for the church?” By God-given authority through the faith gained through God’s Word. Apostolic Succession hasn’t protected the Church of Rome from error.

    You asked me, “Does it make sense to use the Bible and yet reject the church that determined and declared its official table of contents?” The Canon wasn’t determined by the early Church but recognized and affirmed.


    1. You have to have a church that can authoritatively define the canon of scripture to have a canon of scripture. Or else there would still be various lists and disagreements…

      The fact is the early church disagreed over which books were authentic New Testament. 2 Peter and Revelation were often excluded, and others like the Didache and Clement’s letter were accepted.

      If you don’t have an authoritative church, you can’t have an authoritative determination on what is God-inspired scripture. Otherwise, you just have the opinion of men. You see?

      But you accept the Catholic Church’s decision on the NT canon, so I again wonder: why accept the Catholic Church’s ability to officially declare (or “recognize”) inspired scripture and decide on the correct list from all the lists that were available, and yet NOT accept this church’s continuing authority? Matt 16:18 says that the gates of hell would not prevail against the church. But it seems you disagree that the gates of hell did obstruct the church at some point since the fourth century, when the Catholic Church officially determined the canon.


  5. Patric, from what I read it took a while to finalize the New Testament Canon, and it wasn’t finalized by the church of Rome alone; the church was not the unified monolith that later appeared in history.

    The gates of Hell have not and will never prevail against Christ’s Church – He promised us this. This is the reason why the Reformation was necessary. The church of Rome had apostatized. Gregory the Great predicted that this would happen when the title “Universal Bishop” was adopted (Gregory’s statement because John of Constantinople had used this).

    You asked good questions: “So then as a Christian, how do we know what to believe? Wouldn’t Christ want us to have confidence in something he told his followers to do ‘in memory of me’?”

    Yes, of course He wants us to have confidence. His Word is completely trustworthy, but He regularly spoke against the traditions of men. Which churches claims to follow Tradition? The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches do.

    Patric, you wrote, “Not so with Catholicism and Orthodoxy. But with Protestantism, there are as many views on this essential sacrament as there are Protestants.” You’re joking, right? Basically there are four views that I know of Transubstantiation (Roman Catholic), Consubstantiation (Lutheran), Memorial only (Zwinglian), and Spiritual (Reformed).

    You wrote, “These traditions have the same understanding and both go back to apostolic times, with leadership who succeed bishops and churches founded by the Apostles.” Apostolic succession has become a sham. Should we count succession through villains like the Borgias, Innocent III, Hildebrand, and Gregory VIII, who had medals struck to commemorate the Massacre of Reformed Christians (Huguenots) in Paris?

    Patric, you wrote this also: “What makes more sense: that random disaffected Catholics (Luther and Calvin) would suddenly get the Eucharist right–or one of their followers, OR that the church that has existed for 2,000 years that has in fact maintained the same understanding has, in fact, maintained Christ’s original teaching?” Christ did not teach what the Church of Rome teaches, nor did the aposles, and their immediate successors. Jesus said, “Do this in memory of Me,” not “Sacrifice Me for sins till time ends.” Christ died “once for all.”

    My faith is firmly planted. I confess and believe that Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, God in the flesh, saved His people including me from their sins and gave us His Spirit and His Word. He sometimes worked through councils to protect the truth. The gates of Hell have not and will never prevail against His church.


    1. (1) I never claimed the individual Roman church canonized scripture, but that the Catholic Church did. The Catholic Church in the fourth century was headed by the bishop of the Roman church nonetheless. The overall point is the church’s authority, as signified by “binding and loosing” in Matthew 18:18 and as manifested in Acts 15 when the church leaders (headed by Peter) made a binding decision about Gentile inclusion in the church. Likewise, the church continues to have this binding ability. This is the church that Christ promised that hell would not win over — the church that can make binding decisions throughout the centuries.

      (2) Traditions of men in the context of the Pharisaical tradition that altered God’s commands. To make your argument, you have to show that Catholic/Orthodox tradition is somehow Pharisaical tradition, which rejected the Messiah, or that Catholic tradition is somehow opposed to God’s word. You can’t just assert this as fact. Obviously I don’t think so.

      (3) Paul commanded tradition to be maintained, and this is how Christian teaching and practice was preached and passed on. How else would churches know the truth before scripture was written?

      (4) I have no idea which prediction you refer to, but it doesn’t matter, since a private theological reflection is not God’s word or a manifestation of the church’s teaching authority. Besides, Pope Gregory and the Church of his time CLEARLY affirmed papal primacy. It would be silly to argue otherwise.

      (5) 2 views are too much when it comes to the Eucharist, for Christ said that unless we partake of it, we have no life in him (John 6). Besides, the point is that with Protestantism, with sola scriptura and no objective teaching authority, any and all interpretations can come about. Compare this to the first 1000 years of Christianity which affirmed universally–East and West–that the Eucharist becomes Christ’s body and blood. Remember Ignatiius statement? He knew Peter, Paul, and John.

      (6)Sins to not cancel out God’s grace. The idea that sins cancel God’s ability to work through the sacraments or his ministers is an old controversy. Augustine fought against this view, held by Donatists, over 1500 years ago.

      (7) you caricature the catholic teaching on the mass. I can only refer you to the evidence that early Christians in both 1st and 2nd century understood the Eucharist as a sacrifice. See Didache, Clement of Rome, Ignatiius, and Justin Martyr in my blog post on the 2nd century church.


  6. Hi, Patric, in response to your first point, it is clear that the keys, the ability to bind and loose and judge, belonged to all the apostles if you use the Jerusalem Council as an example. The apostles and elders met together working inn concert. In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas put the essential question to the assembly, of whether Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised. Peter full of God’s Spirit answered so well to the point that the burden of the Law was impossible for the Jews themselves so why bring the Gentiles under a load they couldn’t bear. James gave his judgment that there were only a few essentials that the Gentiles should observe and listed them. A letter to the Asian churches was written and delegates from the apostles and elders delivered it. They worked in concert to the edification of the Gentile churches.


    1. Only Peter was named Peter, meaning “Rock,” which makes sense of Jesus’ declaration that he would be the “rock” of the church. Only Peter received the Keys. Whatever share the entire church, and the apostles and apostolic leaders (bishops, elders, etc) have in the keys, it is clear that Peter receives them with some sense of primacy. The keys of the kingdom refer back to Isaiah where there was *one* chief steward (like a prime minister), under the King, in the Davidic household. You are right that the Apostles and leaders acted in concert. The pope is never to act alone apart from the church. Rather, like in Acts 15, the pope is to stand up and declare the faith of the church – like Peter did.


  7. Patric, you wrote this second point:

    (2) Traditions of men in the context of the Pharisaical tradition that altered God’s commands. To make your argument, you have to show that Catholic/Orthodox tradition is somehow Pharisaical tradition, which rejected the Messiah, or that Catholic tradition is somehow opposed to God’s word. You can’t just assert this as fact. Obviously I don’t think so.

    Catholic and Orthodox certainly don’t follow Pharisaical traditions, I agree. However these two churches do hold to Tradition as essential. In correcting the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus was speaking against the traditionalists of His own day.


    1. I would agree we can’t exalt our own traditions to the neglect of God’s word.

      But the point is where we disagree: whether or no Catholic/Orthodox Tradition is a reflection of God’s revelation or not. I think Tradition is, because without it, we wouldn’t have essential Christian beliefs and practices like the Bible or Sunday worship or the Trinity doctrine


  8. Patric, you wrote:

    (3) Paul commanded tradition to be maintained, and this is how Christian teaching and practice was preached and passed on. How else would churches know the truth before scripture was written?

    The infant Church had the Septuagint (the Tanakh, the Jewish Canon in Greek), and the apostolic letters were written very early. How the Lord’s Supper was to be celebrated and coverings for women’s hair were explained in letters. I’m sorry to say that many non-apostolic traditions were invented later.


  9. Patric, but you believe that Gregory the Great, Gregory I, was infallible on matters of faith. And Gregory pleaded in a letter with the John of Constantinople, not to use for himself the title of Ecumenical or Universal Bishop because it was a stumbling block to the unity of the Church and would cause dissension. Gregory used the following argument with John that no believer in recorded history had used such a title:

    “Certainly Peter, the first of the apostles, himself a member of the holy and universal Church, Paul, Andrew, John – what were they but heads of particular communities? And yet all were members under one Head [Jesus Christ]. And (to bind all together in a short girth of speech) the saints before the law, the saints under the law, the saints under grace, all these making up the Lord’s Body, were constituted as members of the Church, and not one of them has wished himself to be called universal. Now let your Holiness acknowledge to what extent you swell within yourself in desiring to be called by that name by which no one presumed to be called who was truly holy.”


    1. He declares Peter to be first of the Apostles, which is the Catholic belief. The practice of using certain titles can be good or impractical or just bad. But it doesn’t change the fact that Gregory accepted papal primacy.
      “Your most sweet holiness, [Bishop Eulogius of Alexandria], has spoken much in your letter to me about the chair of Saint Peter, prince of the apostles, saying that he himself now sits on it in the persons of his successors. And indeed I acknowledge myself to be unworthy . . . I gladly accepted all that has been said, in that he has spoken to me about Peter’s chair, who occupies Peter’s chair. And, though special honor to myself in no wise delights me . . . who can be ignorant that holy Church has been made firm in the solidity of the prince of the apostles, who derived his name from the firmness of his mind, so as to be called Peter from petra. And to him it is said by the voice of the Truth, ‘To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven’ [Matt. 16:19]. And again it is said to him, ‘And when you are converted, strengthen your brethren’ [Luke 22:32]. And once more, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me? Feed my sheep’ [John 21:17]” (Letters 40 [A.D. 597]).


    1. I do believe that the evidence suggests otherwise, even if it was not a heightened theology. Nothing in the first or second century was as precise as it is today. That’s the nature of theology. Even the Trinity took centuries of development. It was still unclear in the second and third century what it meant for Christ to be God, for example.

      Regardless, this is why I am thankful Christ has given us living teachers in the bishops, who succeed the Apostles. That way we do not have to constantly search history in order to determine what faith is. You yourself have pointed out that Christ has given us pastors and teachers. I agree, but I only think it makes sense to remember that Christ has given his ministers the ability to “bind and loose” and make significant decisions for the entire Body of Christ, like in Acts 15 when Peter, the Apostles, and the elders (or priests) met in council to determine the nature of salvation and Gentile inclusion.

      So for the Mass and the Eucharist, for example, I look to the Bible, yes, and history. But here is where I think both Protestantism and Orthodoxy fail. Protestantism largely has the Bible. Orthodoxy largely has the Bible and historical tradition, yes. But Catholicism has largely maintained the Bible, historical tradition, and the fullness of an authoritative, living voice in the church’s leadership in union with Peter. Only with the latter can the entire church come together and say “Yes, this is not only of us but of the Holy Spirit, who is with us today to settle this dispute.” Remember in Acts after the decision, the leaders said that the decision was of both THEM and the HOLY SPIRIT. The Spirit is there to guide the entire church, imperfect as it is, and its shepherds, who are also sinners.


  10. Patric, I just answered at length and lost it. Oh, computers!

    Briefly, the things you mentioned, like the Trinity and worship on the Lord’s day – all of this is addressed in the Bible. The Lord gave teachers to us (see Ephesians) who defended the Bible doctrine of the Trinity in the Christological formulations of the early councils, and for this we must thank God for this and for these men! Also, worship on the Lord’s day is seen in Acts and referred to in the Epistles – John even received the Revelation on the Lord’s day – wonderful!

    No, the Tradition of the Catholic and Orthodox churches does not always reflect God’s revelation, the Bible. I hope to post on this soon. Do you want me to leave a link here when I’ve published my post?


    1. You are right! As a Catholic, I do believe that essential Christian teaching is either explicitly addressed or implicitly hinted at in the Sacred Scriptures. However, the Bible is just that — a collection of scriptures with different genres, writing styles, and authors. Indeed it is God’s inerrant Word, but it is not a single straightforward theological or church “how-to” manual. This is partly why Christ did not only give us his word but, as you point out, teachers. This is the “rock” principle from my post “He Built His City on Rock and Scroll” (of course whether or not you agree “rock” is Peter does not matter on this general point). But where I think your flaw is IS thinking these teachers were the Apostles only or other men stuck “back then” in the past. Thing is, these same leaders — the bishops — who guided the church in the first few centuries have continued to guide the church since then. They’ve been there all along, as has the bishop of Rome and his various responsibilities through the ages.

      So, whereas the Bible does indeed suggest the Trinity or Sunday worship, these are by no means straightforward. If they were, there would not be groups throughout history that have rejected them and still use the Bible. Even today, groups like JWs and Mormons reject the Trinity and Seventh Day Adventists reject Sunday worship. The purpose of having a living authority in the church’s leaders (bishops and pastors) is so that Christ’s church can official settle an issue… like the precise nature of the Trinity, which the church had to constantly deal with in the early centuries. The Trinity was not an easy win. It was fought and fought over with many nuances and misunderstandings.


  11. Patric, thank you for your patient answer. I will try to answer well. You wrote:

    “But where I think your flaw is IS thinking these teachers were the Apostles only or other men stuck ‘back then’ in the past. Thing is, these same leaders — the bishops — who guided the church in the first few centuries have continued to guide the church since then. They’ve been there all along, as has the bishop of Rome and his various responsibilities through the ages.”

    Yes, we still have teachers, but not through formal apostolic succession – it is not possible. It would mean that the torch had been handed down from believer to unbeliever to believer, and so in. Wherever the Word of God is taken – even if by the printed page – believers will be born again by the incorruptible Word and so a part of Christ’s Body will be there. Your church’s teachings have changed over time. They aren’t as monolithic as you believe. Some teachings have remained, chiefly those dogmas that have to do with your church itself and its authority.

    About the Rock on which the Church was built:

    1 Corinthians 10

    1 Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. 5 But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.

    Romans 9:33
    As it is written:
    “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense,
    And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”

    It is clear that the Rock is Jesus Christ, Who is Lord and God.


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