Church History

What to Think About Bad Popes

by Steve Ray on February 16, 2018

Written by Dave Armstrong and used with permission:

BAD POPES: REPLIES TO A SINCERE INQUIRER, February 15, 2018, by Dave Armstrong

God made an everlasting covenant with King David, even though he was an adulterer and murderer.

Dave writes: “As this was originally private correspondence, my correspondent’s exact words will be paraphrased, not cited. Her “words” will be in blue.”

* * * * *

How can you believe in a succession of popes since so many have been terrible sinners?

It’s not based on sinlessness (that’s called impeccability) but on office. We believe that God protects the Church from teaching error, by His power (not the power of sinful men). How is this possible? It’s entirely possible because God is God and can accomplish whatever He wants. Secondly, it has already happened in greater measure in the inspired Scripture, which was written by sinful men like Moses, David, Paul, and Peter (murderers, adulterers, and people who would deny knowing Jesus). Yet it is inspired and infallible. Likewise, God uses sinful men as bishops and popes and protects the faithful from receiving false teaching.

Titus 1:7-9  “For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy, and self-controlled; he must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it.”

If the pope is the head of all the bishops, wouldn’t he also have to (above all) be of this high level of character?

Most of them have been, especially in the last 150-200 years. This is the ideal, but you and I know full well that people don’t always live up to biblical standards (we need only look at ourselves, for starters). We see the tension between the ideal and the real, in, for example, 1 John 1:6-10:

1 John 1:6-7 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth; but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

1 John 1:8-10 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

All have sin, that needs to be confessed and cleansed; to deny one’s sin is to be a liar.

Thus, there have been some bad popes. This is not unexpected, based on Scripture. See my papers:

– Sins and Sinners in the Catholic Church
– Are Sinful Church Leaders a Disproof of Catholicism?
– The ‘Bad Popes’: How Many Of ‘Em Were There? How ‘Bad’ Were They?

Of what purpose is a bad pope who is still a true pope? You simply accept that and say that God has His reasons?

Yes, because He used King David and made an everlasting covenant with Him and made Jesus His descendant, even though David was an adulterer and murderer. Jesus called Judas to be His disciple, and Judas was called both a disciple and “elect.” The Bible shows how a successor was chosen when Judas killed himself. Jesus made Peter the leader of the Church, knowing that he would deny him three times.

I’m not trying to be contentious; I really want to understand these things. I feel somewhat led to the Catholic Church. I have heard that I must accept all Catholic teachings to do so.

That’s right, because it is a teaching passed down from the apostles. One doesn’t pick and choose and decide what they will accept, but rather, decide in faith that God has one true Church that He has protected all these centuries. God can do it. He has enough power to do that!

I have hope that I can better understand these things if they are explained to me. I don’t feel like I am a Protestant any longer. I think they have many of their own problems and have not figured everything out themselves.

I hope my answers have been helpful to you. God bless you as you consider where God might be leading you. Pray, pray, pray! The Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, as the Bible says.

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STEVE RAY HERE: I would like to add three quotes to correct people’s idea that it is wrong or incorrect to criticize a priest, bishop or Pope. Any criticism must be done with great respect, integrity and deference. I think the case of Saint Paul confronting Saint Peter in the book of Galatians shows that no Pope is above criticism (Gal 2:11-14).

Remember also the strong rebuke St  Catherine of Siena wrote to Pope Gregory IX  and she was made a Doctor of the Church.

Consider these three quotes (which can be multiplied):

St. Thomas Aquinas: “If the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly. Hence Paul, who was Peter’s subject, rebuked him in public, on account of the imminent danger of scandal concerning faith, and, as the gloss of Augustine says on Galatians 2:11, “Peter gave an example to superiors, that if at any time they should happen to stray from the straight path, they should not disdain to be reproved by their subjects.” http://www.newadvent.org/summa/3033.htm

“Now it can be said briefly that those who defend blindly and indiscriminately any judgment whatsoever of the Supreme Pontiff concerning every matter weaken the authority of the Apostolic See; they do not support it; they subvert it; they do not fortify it… . Peter has no need of our lies; he has no need of our adulation.” – Melchior Cano, Bishop and Theologian of the Council of Trent

Code of Canon Law #212 §3. “According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they [the Christian faithful] possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

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Did the Church Ever Support Slavery?

by Steve Ray on January 25, 2018

By Steve Weidenkopf   September 18, 2017

Many years ago I attended a conference organized by a national Catholic organization on the topics of marriage and human sexuality. One of the speakers was a professor from Creighton University who, in the middle of his talk on contraception, launched into a long tangent about how the Church had never condemned slavery in the past, which “proved” that the Church had made a mistake, and so perhaps it’s teaching on contraception would be viewed as incorrect in the future (a viewpoint he agreed with).

I did not get the opportunity at the conference to talk with this professor about his erroneous statements about the Church and slavery, so I emailed him and we engaged in a courteous exchange in which I pointed him in the direction of several papal condemnations of slavery, which he dismissed out of hand. He ignored the historical record because it did not fit with his agenda of changing Church teaching on contraception.

Sadly, this is not an uncommon tactic by those with an animus against the Church. Many believe, as this professor did, that the Church approved or at least tolerated slavery, especially of Africans and Native Americans in the New World. Scholars argued that the Church was either late in condemning slavery or actively supported it. But like many other historical myths about the Catholic Church, this one does not withstand scrutiny of the historical record.

The myth persists because there were individual Catholics who supported slavery or owned slaves. Scholars with an ax to grind use these examples as “proof” of the Church’s malfeasance without drawing the necessary distinction that what individual Catholics may do does not necessarily reflect the authoritative teaching of the Magisterium.

Moreover, scholars have routinely failed to distinguish between different types of slavery. The Church has consistently and constantly condemned the practice of “unjust servitude,” which usually entailed the enslavement of a certain race or for economic gain. But Western society since ancient times permitted just title servitude; that is, the involuntary servitude imposed on criminals or prisoners of war. Just title servitude was considered permissible as recently as 1949 when the Geneva Convention allowed nations at war to conscript prisoners of war for labor. In this case, the Church has always demanded humane treatment of slaves by their masters and even encouraged their emancipation. The failure to recognize these distinctions between types of servitude has led many scholars to declare falsely that the Church failed to condemn slavery.

The Church was born into a world where slavery was a lynchpin of society. Imperial Rome was built and sustained on the backs of slaves; the complete abolition of slavery in Rome was unthinkable and impractical. Despite societal acceptance of slavery, the Church made no distinction between slaves and freedmen in its membership. The equality of believers in a highly class-stratified society was one of the attractions that the Church held for the people of Rome.

Once Emperor Constantine legalized the Church in A.D. 313, its teachings influenced Roman laws and policies. Church funds were used by Christians to redeem slaves, especially prisoners of war. One former slave even rose to become pope (Callistus I) in the early third century! Still, slavery continued in Europe even after the collapse of imperial rule in the late fifth century, but as the Church’s influence increased the institution of slavery decreased until it was completely eradicated in Christendom.

Unfortunately, slavery returned to European society in the fifteenth century, with the conquest of the Canary Islands and the discovery of the New World. But from 1435 to 1890, a succession of popes condemned the slave trade and slavery in no uncertain terms. The first pope to do so was Eugenius IV (r. 1431-1447), who in his 1435 bull Sicut Dudum demanded that Christians free all enslaved natives of the Canary Islands within fifteen days; failure to do so would incur automatic excommunication. Thus, fifty-seven years before Columbus’s first voyage, the Roman pontiff unequivocally prohibited the enslavement of native peoples.

In 1537, Pope Paul III (r. 1534-1549) issued a bull, Sublimus Dei, which taught that native peoples were not to be enslaved. In 1591, Gregory XIV (r. 1590-1591) promulgated Cum Sicuti, which was addressed to the bishop of Manila in the Philippines and reiterated his predecessors’ prohibitions against enslaving native peoples. In the seventeenth century, Urban VIII (r. 1623-1644) promulgated Commissum Nobis (1639) in support of the Spanish king’s (Philip IV) edict prohibiting enslavement of the Indians in the New World.

The need for cheap and abundant labor in the colonies is what led to the African slave trade. This new form of bondage was also condemned by the popes, beginning with Innocent XI (r. 1676-1689). In 1741, Benedict XIV (r. 1740-1758) issued Immensa Pastorum, which reiterated that the penalty for enslaving Indians was excommunication. In 1839, Gregory XVI (r. 1831-1846) issued In Supremo to condemn the enslavement of Africans. Pope Leo XIII (r. 1878-1903) promulgated two bulls condemning slavery in 1888 and 1890.

Yet despite the many papal condemnations of slavery, European colonists continued to enslave Africans and New World natives until the nineteenth century. Papal denunciations of slavery were so harsh and so frequent that the colonial Spanish instituted a law forbidding the publication of papal documents in the colonies without prior royal approval.

It is ironic that the Church is falsely accused of either supporting slavery or failing to condemn it, when the wholesale enslavement of Christians by Muslims (estimated at one million people), especially the Ottoman Turks from the sixteenth to the eighteen century, is all but ignored. Finally, it is disingenuous to equate the immoral behavior of individual Catholics with official Church teaching. The fact that some Catholics owned slaves or participated in the slave trade is not an indictment of the Church, but rather an illustration that Catholics will sometimes ignore the clear teachings of the Church.

For more information on this and may other common anti-Catholic historical charges, see Steve Weidenkopf’s new book, The Real Story of Catholic History: Answering Twenty Centuries of Anti-Catholic Myths, available late September and available now for pre-order from Catholic Answers Press.

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This is delightful. Had to share…

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Baptists at the Council of Nicea?

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