On Popes and Protestants (Part 1)
On Popes and Protestants
by Pastor David
I’d like to share a pastoral word for us as a church family. Given the publicity and coverage even on the world news level, I think it’s important to ask ourselves how the Bible informs our look at the world. It certainly teaches us to be marked by grace and truth, being neither ungracious nor untruthful, a commitment I hope you’ll sense even as you read this.
On March 13, Pope Francis was elected as the 266th pontiff of the Roman Catholic church. Besides being the first non-European Pope in over 1,200 years, Pope Francis is also unique in that he’s the first Jesuit to be Pope. The circumstances that led to his election are also unusual, as his predecessor Benedict XVI was the first Pope to resign in the last 598 years. What is not unusual is the amount of attention Benedict’s resignation and Francis’s election has received. Why all the media attention, and how should we as Protestants be thinking about all this?
A place to start this week would be to understand some basics that Catholics teach about the Pope. I think this will inform us why there has been so much attention on this one religious leader. The word “pope” in Greek translates out to “papa” or “daddy.” Much more than a mere ceremonial figure, the Catholic church teaches that the Pope is the ultimate leader of the one true church in the world. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (937), “The Pope enjoys, by divine institution, 'supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls' ". TheConstitution "Pastor Aeternus", cap. 3 declares, “We teach, moreover, and declare that, by the disposition ofGod, theRoman Church possesses supremeordinary authority over allChurches, and that thejurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, which istrueepiscopaljurisdiction is immediate in itscharacter (Enchir., n. 1827).”
Catholic doctrine teaches that Jesus himself established the idea of a supreme head and made Peter the first Pope, usingMatthew 16:17-19 andJohn 21:15-17 as its biblical support. They go on to argue that Peter was the bishop of Rome, and that anyone who succeeds Peter in Rome also gets his supreme headship. This is another reason Catholics care so much who becomes the leader in Rome.
Roman Catholic leadership is arranged as a hierarchical priesthood with the Pope alone at the top. The Pope wears different ceremonial garments that set him apart, is the only leader who carries a staff with a cross on it, and has power attributed only to him. Most notable in that category is the Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. While Catholics are quick to point out that the Pope is human and can make mistakes in non-spiritual matters, their doctrine clearly states that there is an arena where it is impossible for the pope to be in error. The Augustine Club at Columbia University explains, “On some subjects, like sports and manufacturing, his judgment is liable to be very faulty. The doctrine simply means that the Pope is divinely protected from error when, acting in his official capacity as chief shepherd of the Catholic fold, he promulgates a decision which is binding on the conscience of all Catholics throughout the world. In other words, his infallibility is limited to his specialty--the Faith of Jesus Christ.”
The Pope is the uniquely central head of one of if not the largest religious organization in the world, a reality that explains all the recent attention. In next week’s pastoral word we’ll turn our attention to some practical takeaways and mindsets we should have given these recent events.