Doctrinal Changes Refute Infallibility of the Pope.

Q. Christ established the catholic church (small “c”), not the Catholic church. Does the “Church” since the time of the Council of Carthage on look like the church of Christ? No.

A. There was no ecumenical Council of Carthage. There were local bishop’s councils in Carthage, Africa. The first of these was held nearly a hundred years before the Bible was canonized. If, as you say the Church established by Christ was already lost to history, then how can you trust the canon of the New Testament? This same Catholic, universal Christian Church closed the canon of scripture in the early 400’s. Who Decided the Books of the Bible? This was a major factor in my entering the Catholic Church. I could find no way to accept the authority of the Canon of Scripture while at the very same time saying that the Church, the bishops, the council, the Popes who decided the canon and closed it, were supposedly apostate already. How can Protestants trust the canon and not trust the people who made the decision by the power of God?

But of course, I do believe that Hell has not overcome the Church established by Christ, just as He promised in Matt. 16:18 so I believe it has existed continuously since it was founded by CHRIST.

Q. Purgatory was not taught until the 4th century and was not formally recognized until the 16th century.

A. This is simply not historically true. Please see my post: Early Fathers on Purgatory taken from Catholic Answers

Q. If the Catholic church is governed by “infallible” men, then how can the church traditions and doctrines change?

A. Catholic Doctrine does NOT change. Please see this POST. What doctrine do you think has changed? Over time we as we study scripture and teachings of the Fathers, our understanding deepens and develops. But all of our doctrines remain. And the Tradition of the Church with a capital “T” does not change either. Our practices and disciplines can and do change. Like eating fish on Friday. And no pope has taught error to the whole church. Please see my post

Q. How could Popes be excommunicated if they are infallible.

A. Easy. There might even be popes in Hell. I hope you will read the above post but to be brief, infallibility refers to the fact that God protects His Church by ensuring that the pope, whenever he teaches on Faith and Morals to the Whole Church will never teach error. God will prevent this. The Pope is not perfectly sinless. Neither is every word from his mouth infallible. He only exercises God’s empowering infallibility when he teaches on faith and morals to the whole church.

Q. God is the only infallible One. He is the same today as he was yesterday, and will remain the same for all of eternity.

A. God is certainly infallible but He is able to produce infallibility in a man to accomplish His purposes. For instance, sacred scripture is all written by men who, we both believe, were used by God to teach infallibly in the written word.

Q. I thank you for such a kind intelligent debate!

A. You are most welcome.

23 Responses to Doctrinal Changes Refute Infallibility of the Pope.

  1. Constantine says:

    Hi bfhu,
    You wrote: “Catholic Doctrine does NOT change.”

    But Catholic Doctrine does, in fact, change.

    Let’s look at just example, the dogmatic doctrine of the papacy. For example, it is a dogmatic teaching of the Church that

    “The successors of Peter in the Primacy are the Bishops of Rome.”

    History tells us that “primacy” did not exist in Rome until the end of the 5th century. Until that time the bishops of all the local churches were co-equals, as pertains to authority. After the Council of Nicaea the head of the Universal Christian Church was the Roman Emperor located in Constantinople and not any bishop of Rome. In fact, more than a hundred years after the Council of Nicaea, the church at Constantinople had “primacy” over the church at Rome as recorded in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. As regards “successors of Peter…” it is obvious that the Roman Emperor was not a successor of Peter and, yet, had primacy over the Church. We know that many popes through the time of the Renaissance were political appointees or pawns of wealthy families and not descended from any apostolic tradition. Some, in fact, were never bishops of Rome. So, primacy in the Church has resided in various offices and in various locales, all being indications of the changing nature of Church doctrine.

    Another dogmatic assertion regarding the papacy is,

    “The Pope possesses full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the whole Catholic Church, not merely in matters of faith and morals, but also in Church discipline and in the government of the Church.”

    We have already shown that the Emperor, not the bishop of Rome had “supreme power of jurisdiction” in the early church. But a more recent example is the Council of Constance (1414-1418). This Council was convened to resolve the “the Great Schism” in which three popes reigned. In its work it had to depose these three popes and elect another. In the words of the Catholic encyclopedia, the Council was “legitimately called in the Holy Spirit”, and …”the council, independently of the pope, was the final depository of supreme ecclesiastical authority.” So this is just one more example of how the “supreme power of jurisdiction” has changed in the Church. And, interestingly enough, this Council has never been modified or rescinded. So who possesses the “supreme authority of jurisdiction” now? Hmmm.

    Ironically, and indication of further change to the dogmatic teachings of the Church, Vatican I, in an effort to trump the power established at Constance, put under anathema anyone who should seek the advice of a Church Council over that of the pope. So, currently, not only do we see many changes in this one doctrine, but also we see institutional confusion because both the Constance and Vatican I are still in effect!

    So we must say that Catholic doctrine does, in fact change. In just the one example of the doctrine of the papacy, we see that “primacy” in the Church has changed from no pope (before 5th century), to multiple popes (14th century), to popes not located in Rome and to Church Councils. We see that “supreme authority” has changed from secular rulers, to popes, to Councils and then back to the pope. That’s quite a lot of change, bfhu. And that’s just one of the Church’s doctrines!

    I wish you a Blessed New Year!

  2. Joel says:


    Your statement that the Emperor had supreme power of jurisdiction in the early church is simply mistaken. The claim seems silly in light of the multiple Christian persecutions carried out under state direction all the way up to the Fourth Century. Then even after Constantine legalized the practice of Christianity throughout the empire we still had Julian the Apostate as the emperor fifty years later. You surely do not mean to imply he was the head of the Christian Church do you?

    Here is an excerpt of a letter written in the year 250:
    “Cornelius was made bishop by the judgement of God and of His Christ. This was by the terstomony of almost all the clergy, by the election of the people who were then present, and by the assembly of ancient priests and good men…. This occurred when the place of Fabien, that is when the place of Peter and the degree of the priestly chair, was vacant.”
    We can plainly see in the Third Century the Chair of Peter was an important position in the church. It is in fact unique. No one refers to “the place of James” or “the place of Andrew” or “the place of Thomas” or the chair of any Apostle other than Peter.

    Here is part of a letter from St. Jerome to Pope Damasus written in 376:
    “Since the East, rent asunder by feuds of long standing, it is tearing to shreds the seamless robe of the Lord…I think it my duty to consult the chair of Peter…
    I am terrified by your eminence, yet your benevolence attracts me. From the priest I claim preservation of the victim, from the shepard the due protection of the sheep. Away with all trace of pride; let Roman majesty withdraw. It is the successor of the fisherman that I address myself, to the disciple of the cross.
    As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none save your Beatitude, that is, with the cair of Peter. For this, I know, is the Rock on which the Church is built…”
    St. Jerome make very clear the distinction that the successor ofs of Peter enjoy. It hardly seems to me that he shares in something equal to his fellow bishops. There are too many quotes to write them all down so let it suffice to explain that quotes simmilar to this are found written in every century from the Second to the Fifth.

  3. Michael says:

    Nice to meet you on this Blog again, happy New Year, but, please, do not succumb to a temptation and introduce again a biblical argument against the Catholic Church.

    Regarding the historical argument, I am fairly confident that it is not result of your own research based on original historical sources – if it were, I would be first to welcome in the Blog such an expert because the knowledge of historical facts, in a two thousand years’ long span of history, whether I liked them or found them embarrassing, would contribute to my knowledge of truth, which leads to God who is the Truth in an absolute sense – but most likely (please, tell me if I am wrong) a reproduction in your own words of what can be found in your Community’s and other publications, all of which are themselves second hand summaries, and not based on an original investigation of primary historical sources.

    So, one must take, I am sure you would agree, the reliability of your account of history with a pinch of salt.

    I do not claim a knowledge of the Church’s history, but off hand – others will come up with more details, I am sure – I suggest that one can find a historical indication of the papal Primacy in the New Testament: Mt. 16: 17-19, Jn 21: 15-17. I also have one, I wold say: significant – because it comes from the Orthodox sources who deny the Primacy, not as such, but as conceived by the Catholic Church – albeit, admittedly, second hand information: “We know that the Church of Rome took over the position of ‘Church-with-priority’ at the end of the first century” (Fr. N. Atanassieff, in J.Meyendorff’s The Primacy of Peter, 1992). And there is a letter of Pope Julius to the Arian bishops 341, rebuking them for not writing to him about their dispute with the Church of Alexandria, so that “from here justice would be determined.” And you claim: “History tells us that ‘primacy’ did not exist in Rome until the end of the 5th century.”

    Now, I cannot speak for BFHU, but you should have made sure of what she meant by the word “change”. Whatever bfhu meant, you must not conceive the Catholic articulation of a doctrine as something that, once made, can subsequently be only photocopied; and that its meaning, once proposed for a belief, is at the outset a full meaning, closed to any deeper understanding. The articulation (statement, formulation) is only a linguistic expression of an inner meaning, and can be rearticulated subsequently to express the meaning more adequately. And the meaning itself is to be conceived as a “seed” that can develop into a “plant”: what is originally contained in it implicitly, is subsequently unfolded and become more and more explicit. If I am too abstract for your way of thinking, by all means let me know, but please, do not fight the Windmill believing to be the Knight.

    This brings me back to our debate in an earlier Post, which I have lost the track of, but the following is fundamental, and I am fairly sure that I quoted it:

    “The office of interpreting authentically the word of God, whether scriptural or traditional, has been entrusted exclusively to the living voice of the Church’s magisterium, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ” (DV 10/2, and it is adopted by the CCC 85).

    By way of explanation: (1) “authentically”, stands for officially, authoritatively, in the true meaning; (2) the “word of God” refers to the scripture and tradition (DV 10/1, CCC 97); (5) “tradition” refers to all that the Church as a community hands on “in her doctrine, life and worship” (DV 8/1, CCC 98), and includes documents of the magisterium as they are promulgated in the course of time (DV 10/3, CCC 95); (4) “living voice” is the voice at the time, for us: the present voice; (5) “magisterium”, is the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him; (6) “Jesus Christ” is God the Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, begotten from eternity of God the Father, the First Person of the Trinity, who (I mean God the Son) assumed human nature in time, being conceived in the womb of Mary by God the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity.

    The Petrine scriptural texts (Mt, Jn etc.) have been authentically interpreted but the magisterium as referring to the Primacy of the bishops of Rome, the first bishop being St. Peter himself. Likewise authentically interpreted by the same magisterium, is the whole tradition from the beginning, which includes the “life” of the Church, one aspect of that life being the historical events you hinted at in your account.

    The most recent articulation and the most complete understanding of this doctrine is in the Vatican II document Lumen Gentium 18-27, and in the CCC 857-861, 880-896 and some other places of the CCC.

    That the “successors of Peter in the Primacy are the Bishops of Rome” means, that whoever is a bishop of Rome he is by that very fact the successor of St. Peter in the Primacy over the whole Church. It doesn’t mean that he always exercises that Primacy, or if he does, that he does it always in the same way.

    “After the Council of Nicea the head of the Universal Christian Church was the Roman Emperor located in Constantinople and not any bishop of Rome.” This is a bit of an overstatement, to put it charitably. The Emperor Constantine has summoned the Council of Nicea, presided over it, but did not interfere in the debate. The powers of the bishops of Rome are not political powers, but the spiritual; and if the emperors made a political pressure on the early Church, that didn’t mean more than the pressure of Sultans over the Greek Church of the Ottoman Empire.

    “the church at Constantinople had ‘primacy’ over the church at Rome as recorded in the canons of the Council of Chalcedon.” Windmill again. For a council to be universal, ecumenical, valid for the whole Church, the Pope must approve of it, and to my knowledge the Pope approved the dogmatic decree of Calcedon but not its confirmation of the primacy of Constantinople.

    “Until that time (i.e. end of the 5th century) the bishops of all the local churches were co-equals, as pertains to authority.” – The question to be addressed from the historical viewpoint is: was this state of affairs, if true, merely the matter of fact at the time when the question of primacy was not addressed, or the question was addressed and the facts confirm that the primacy was denied. Have you any evidence either way ?

    At least during the first two centuries of persecution, the Church was struggling for a survival, and who would have bothered about the Primacy. We have a modern example of the persecuted underground Ukrainian Catholic Church, which took a recourse to what would have been, under normal circumstances, a straightforward denial of Primacy, i.e. the consecration of bishops without approval of the Pope. According to you, Stalin would have had a “primacy” over the Ukrainian Church?

    The Church is the living entity and addresses various doctrinal issues as the circumstances demand. Much of the doctrine is taken for granted rather than articulated. It took more than two centuries to define, in explicit terms, the divinity of Christ, and the Nicea did it, not for fun, but because the Arians denied it.

    “We know that many popes through the time of the Renaissance were political appointees or pawns of wealthy families and not descended from any apostolic tradition. Some, in fact, were never bishops of Rome.” – I am sorry, but you do not seem to realize that one can be an appointee or pawn of wealthy family, and yet, if already a bishop or consecrated prior to or at the time of enthronment as a Pope, can still be in apostolic succession.

    The phrase “descent from the apostolic tradition” suggests that I should better explain yet another matter. A person can be consecrated as bishop only by another bishop, and the latter again by another bishop etc., and this line constitutes the apostolic succession. To be a bishop of any place one doesn’t have to be consecrated for that place, he can be moved from another place. To be eventually a bishop of Rome one doesn’t have to be consecrated by the existing bishop of Rome; that is not what the successorship of St. Peter is about. One can be consecrated bishop anywhere, but what makes him the successor of St. Peter is the enthronement on the see of Rome.The episcopacy is a sacrament, the papacy, is one of the specific functions of the episcopacy, but not itself a sacrament. If you wish, I will explain what is a sacrament, what is the essence of it or, technically: symbolic reality, res et sacramentum.

    “the Council of Constance (1414-1418)… was convened to resolve the ‘the Great Schism’ in which three popes reigned”. No, two claimed to have reigned, and had their respective followers; but they were not the popes; one that was, Gregory XII, voluntarily resigned to permit the election of his successor. The Church is always without a pope in the interval between decease of one and enthronement of another, and on some occasions the see was vacant for a considerable time. So, the bizarre affair you are trying to capitalize on, was sad, but it only demonstrates that the Catholic Church is God’s Church, which can’t be destroyed even by the antipopes or corrupt popes. At the most, if you think your account is historically accurate, one should interpret the events thus: there was a long interval without a real pope, or it wasn’t clear who he was; not that there were three.

    But really, Constantine, if there was dispute among you about the identity of your true founder, I would leave a decision to you, and wouldn’t venture to decide it for you. O.K.? So, the Catholic Church holds that Gregory XII was legitimate, and Martin V was his successor; while the other two claimants were illegitimate. That should be enough for you. After all, even now when an individual is elected, the reality of his papacy is entirely dependent on recognition by the Church: he can’t simply claim it.

    “ the Council was “legitimately called in the Holy Spirit”, and …”the council, independently of the pope, was the final depository of supreme ecclesiastical authority.” Again, your meddling in matters you do not understand. First of all, the quotation seems to be doctored: it definitely doesn’t agree with what I have. Could you check it and tell us the source ? My text runs: the Council “has its power immediately from Christ, which every state and dignity, even if it be the papal dignity, must obey in what concerns faith….” etc. A decree has to be approved by the pope to have a binding force, and you did not tell us who approved of it. Even if it were approved, that would only mean that the pope is bound by the decree he himself has approved of, which is obvious. But the Council cannot issue a binding document without him. “So this is just one more example of how the ‘supreme power of jurisdiction’ has changed in the Church.” is yet another example of meddling in matters one even doesn’t try to understand.

    “And, interestingly enough, this Council has never been modified or rescinded. So who possesses the ‘supreme authority of jurisdiction’ now? Hmmm.” – Of course that Council has never been modified or rescinded, because one cannot repeat the history in a modified form. Of course, an ecumenical council has the supreme power of jurisdiction, but the Pope is an essential part of the Council, not an entity separated from it. So, the “Coucil” without him is not the Council. He, however, can exercise his powers alone too, because the councils only meet from time to time, and without his approval they cannot meet at all. So, the meddling continues.

    And continues again: “So, currently, not only do we see many changes in this one doctrine, but also we see institutional confusion because both the Constance and Vatican I are still in effect!” – They are not both in effect, and there is no confusion, except in your grasp of the Catholic doctrine. Vatican I decree contains a dogmatic definition, which is irrevocable, and supersedes the Constancy, which, in the sense as you conceive it, has never been accepted by the Church at large.

    Do, please, take on board, that any new decree is promoted by the living magisterium of the time, and if it deals with the same subject as the previous decrees, takes them all into consideration as constitutive of the tradition, the authentic interpretation of that entire tradition on the subject under consideration is entrusted exclusively to the same living magisterium. Each of the earlier decrees, or any other aspect of the tradition, has a certain value because it throws light on some aspect of the revealed truth, from a particular angle, and the aim of a new document is to discern what is most essential for the time when the new document is prepared.

    “So we must say that Catholic doctrine does, in fact change.” – It depends what you mean by the word “change”. The doctrine is essentially always the same, and cannot be contradicted, and in that sense changed. This, however, doesn’t mean that the articulation of the doctrine cannot be more adequate, or that the insight into its inner meaning cannot be deepened. In both senses the doctrine unfolds with time, as the seed unfolds into a plant.

  4. Robert says:


    You’re right. “Does not change” means, “the Church does not negate irreformable doctrine.” It does not mean, “does not change” in the sense of “does not progress,” for after all, we Catholics hold to development of doctrine.


  5. bfhu says:

    As I was exploring the Catholic Church before my reception I naturally had to look into the case of the Pope who was condemned as a heretic, Honorius I. In reading this article in the Catholic Encyclopedia, HONORIUS I somethings mentioned in telling the story convinced me that the Bishop of Rome was indeed seen, in all the ancient world, as the highest authority in the Church. They were all the more convincing because the writer was not defeding the primacy of the Bishop of Rome at all…he was just telling the story of the events leading up to response to heresy that later got him condemned, for inaction and NOT teaching what he should have taught.

    You can read the article by clicking on the link above. But what convinced me was the heretics and everyone else took their case to Rome for approval. They did not go to Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, or Jerusalem. I found this to be very telling. And this was in the early 600’s A.D.

  6. Michael says:

    JOEL, please do give more quotes “found written in every century from the Second to the Fifth” – it is not essential but it would be useful, because CONSTANTINE claims that ” ‘primacy’ did not exist in Rome until the end of the 5th century”. The BFHU’s reference to Honorius seems irrelevant to what Constantine claims.

  7. Joel says:

    In the Second Century we have the writings of Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons and author of Against Heresies. He wrote:
    “…pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul, that Church which has the tradition and faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the Apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.”
    That needs no interpretation.

    In the Third Century we have the letter from St. Cyprian, who was the bishop of Carthage, which was already mentioned in my first post. As a companion to that we have this quote from the same man:
    “In this place Peter, upon whom the Church had to be built, speaks as representing the Church, for our instruction. For although the proud and arrogant multitude of them that refuse to obey may take themselves off, still the Church never departs from Christ, and the Church is made up of the people united to their priest and the flock that cleaves to its shepherd. Hence you should know that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and that if anyone be not with the bishop he is not in the Church…”
    Some argument may be made that the bishop referred to here means any local bishop, but it falls apart under scrutiny.

    Here is a nice quote from the bishop of Cordova, Hosius, who was a defender of Athanasius at Nicaea. After Constantine died Constance was the sole emperor and an Arian. He tried to have Athanasius condemned and this was a response to Constance regarding that incident.
    “…Cease, I implore you in these proceedings. Remember that you are but mortal; and be fearful of the day of judgment and keep yourself pure with that day in view. Do not interfere in matters ecclesiastical, nor give us orders on such questions, but learn about them from us. If any man stole the Empire from you, he would be resisting the ordinance of God: in the same way you on your part should be afraid lest, in taking upon yourself the governance of the Church, you incur the guilt of a grave offence. ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.’ We are not permitted to exercise an earthly rule; and you Sire are not permitted to burn incense….”
    This spells out in no uncertain terms the separation of ecclesial and secular authority after the time of Constantine.

    In the Fourth Century we have the wonderful confession of St. Jerome, Patriarch of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, regarding the authority of the pope.

    In the beginning of the Fifth Century there was an African Synod that defied the orders of the pope and in this instance the exception proves the rule. In this case a bishop deposed one of his priests and the pope reinstated him. A letter was sent from Carthage to Rome complaining about the decision in Rome to reinstate the priest against the wishes of the local metropolitan.

    Unfortunately I have to leave for work now but will follow with three more quotes from Roman emperors regarding the authority of the pope.

  8. Constantine says:

    Greetings, Friends and thank you for your kind responses.

    I must confess (no pun intended!) to feeling guilty about the length of my last post – but then I saw Michael’s response! Thank you, Michael – and others. I am traveling for the next few days and unable to give your responses the time they deserve. But I hope to do so by Wednesday or Thursday.

    Until then, peace!

  9. Joel says:

    Here is a quote by Emperor Gratian in 382 during the pontifficate of Pope Damasus regarding the trial of bishops:
    “…We request your Clemency, that your Piety would think fit to order that if any shall have been condemned by the judgement either of Damasus or of ourselves, who are Catholics, and shall unjustly wish to retain his church, or shall through contumacy refuse to attend when summoned by a synod of bishops, that he be brought to Rome either by those illustrious men, the Praetorian Prefects of your Italy or by the Vicar (of the city); or, if a question of this kind arise in more distant parts, that the examination be committed by the local courts to the Metropolitan; or if the Metropolitan be himself the accused, that he should be ordered to go without delay to Rome, or to be such judges as the Bishop of Rome appoint….If there should be any suspicion of favor or unfairness on the part of the Metropolitan or of any other bishop, then let him have the right of appeal to the Bishop of Rome, or to a synod of at least fifteen bishops of his neighborhood.”

    Here is one by Emperor Theodosius I in 380:
    “It is our desire that the various nations which are subject to our Clemency and Moderation, should continue in the profession of that religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter, as it hath been preserved by faithful tradition; and which is now professed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic holiness. According to the apostolic teaching and the doctrine of the Gospel, let us believe the one deity of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, in equal majesty and in a holy Trinity. We authorize the followers of this law to assume the title of Catholic Christians; but as for the others, since, in our judgement, they are foolish madmen, we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give their conveticles the name of churches….”

    Finally the Primacy of the Pope is again declaired by Emperor Valentinian III in 445:
    “We are convinced that the only defence for us and for our Empire is in the favor of the God of Heaven: and in order to deserve this favor it is our first care to support the Christian faith and its venerable religion. Therefore, inasmuch as the pre-eminence of the Apostolic See is assured by the merit of St. Peter, the first of the bishops, by the leading position of the city of Rome and also by the authority of the holy Synod, let not presumption strive to attempt anything contrary to the authority of that See. For the peace of the churches will only then be everywhere preserved when the body acknowledge its ruler. Hitherto this has been observed without violation; but Hilary, Bishop of Arles, as we have learnt from the report of that venerable man Leo, the pope of Rome, has with contumacious presumption ventured upon certain unlawful proceedings; and thus an abominable confusion has invaded the church beyond the Alps….By such presumptuous acts confidence in the Empire, and respect for our rule is destroyed. Therefore in the first place we put down so great a crime; and, beyond that, in order that no disturbance, however slight, may arise among the churches, and the discipline of religion may not appear to be impaired in any case whatever, we decree, by a perpetual edict, that nothing shall be attempted by the Gallacian bishops, or by those of any other province, contrary to the ancient custom, without the authority of the venerable people of the Eternal City. But whatsoever the authority of the Apostolic See has enacted, or shall enact, let that be held as law for all. So that if any bishop summoned before the pope of Rome shall neglect to attend, let him be compelled to appear by the governor of the province….”

  10. Constantine says:


    Given the length of you response, I’d like to address it in two separate posts: the first will give you the citations which you requested for my previous historical assertions about the papacy; the second will deal with the Early Fathers as you have cited several as has Joel.

    The quote regarding the Council of Constance came from the online version of the Catholic Encyclopedia, which can be found here:

    Apparently you take exception to my comment that the Emperor, not the bishop of Rome, was the head of the early church. So let me offer you the scholarship of the Catholic historian, Paul Johnson. In his 1977 book entitled, “History of Christianity” (Simon & Schuster) Mr. Johnson notes the following:

    “…one of his (Constantine’s) main reasons for tolerating Christianity may have been that it gave himself and the State the opportunity to control the Church’s policy on orthodoxy and the treatment of heterodoxy.” P. 87.

    Johnson then goes on to document how Constantine threatened Athanasius with exile should the bishop resist the dictates of the Emperor with regard to church policy. Constantine did exert ecclesiastical control over the early church and its bishops.

    Regarding the late dating of the papacy, I would first refer you to the Jesuit trained, emeritus professor of history at Northwestern University, Dr. Garry Wills. In his book entitled, “Why I am a Catholic”, Wills offers the following:

    The papacy did not come into existence at the same time as the church. In the words of John Henry Newman, “While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope.” Peter was not a bishop in Rome. There were no bishops in Rome for at least a hundred years after the death of Christ. The very term “pope” (papa, daddy) was not reserved for the bishop of Rome until the fifth century – before then it was used of any bishop (S. 89). ….
    Wills, Garry. Why I am a Catholic. Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 2002. p. 54
    Wills goes on to quote another Catholic historian, Karl Schatz:

    “A judicial superiority of one church over another, or certainly anything like papal primacy of jurisdiction, was completely foreign to Ignatius or Irenaeus [in the second century], or even Augustine [in the fourth]…In particular, all kinds of thinking in categories of hierarchical subordination or superiority will lead us astray”. P. 63

    And once more:
    “The churches described in Paul’s letters had a range of ministries with no single structure of authority…Activities of the church at Rome, for instance, were conducted until the middle of the second century by a group of elders (presbyters)….p. 65

    Klaus Schatz, European Jesuit historian, chimes in:
    “Nevertheless, concrete claims of a primacy over the whole Church cannot be inferred from this conviction. If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no.” (p. 3)
    Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 1996).

    As if that were not enough, another Catholic scholar, and long-time friend of Pope Benedict XVI, Fr. Hans Kung says Leo I in the 5th century is the first to be given “…the title “pope” in the real sense.”
    Kueng, Hans. The Catholic Church: A Short History. Trans. John Bowden. United States: Modern Library – Random House Publishing Group, 2003. p. 57

    Fr Kung goes on to describe the Roman claim to “world power”, while being prepared under Gelasius I , thirty years after Leo I, would remain “wishful thinking” for centuries to come. (See Kung, page 59.)

    So, what we have here is extensive Catholic scholarship supporting a late dating of the papacy.

    In addition to all those, the church historian, Joseph Kelly says the term “pope” was not used until the 9th century. (The Concise Dictionary of Early Christianity (The Liturgical Press, 1992), p. 2) Noted Anglican scholar, J.N.D. Kelly cites “pope” Clement I’s famous letter to the Corinthians as evidence that no monarchical episcopate existed at the end of the first century. (Kelly, J N D. Oxford Dictionary of Popes. England, Oxford University Press, 1986. p. 8)

    So the evidence, even if from only Catholic sources, is overwhelming. The papacy as it exists today, did not exist in the early Church. Thus, proclamation of Vatican I that ,
    “…, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy…” is shown to be false – and by Catholic scholars.

    So, Michael in just this one doctrine of the Church – the papacy – we see that Catholic scholars confirm it does change. It’s not my work, but theirs, that I offer for your consideration.

    Thanks, Michael. Have a Blessed New Year!

  11. Constantine says:


    Please see my note to Michael regarding the ecclesial authority of the Emperor over the early church. I don’t believe I am mistaken. And if you were to use persecution of Christians as a disqualification for Church leadership, then even some popes would be disqualified! For example, when Paul IV brought the Inquisition to Italy, he certainly was persecuting Christians. Is it your position that he stopped being pope? I don’t think so.

    While you introduce some early Church writings, your earliest quote from is from the middle of the 3rd century! What happened in the intervening 2 centuries, Joel? Was there a “monarchical episcopate” in Rome in the first two centuries? No, of course not. And that just makes the point that Catholic doctrines have, and do, change.

    Catholic scholar and historian, Dr. Garry Wills quoting historian Karl Schatz: “A judicial superiority of one church over another, or certainly anything like papal primacy of jurisdiction, was completely foreign to Ignatius or Irenaeus [in the second century], or even Augustine [in the fourth]…In particular, all kinds of thinking in categories of hierarchical subordination or superiority will lead us astray”. Wills, Garry. Why I am a Catholic. Boston, Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 2002. p. 63

    He goes on,

    “The churches described in Paul’s letters had a range of ministries with no single structure of authority…Activities of the church at Rome, for instance, were conducted until the middle of the second century by a group of elders (presbyters)….p. 65
    So why did Rome have a preeminence in the early church? Was it because of some special ecclesiastic authority? No. Here is the opinion of another noted Catholic scholar, Fr. Hans Kung:

    “The Eastern patriarchs and metropolitans certainly still (in the sixth century) regarded the pope as bishop of the old imperial capital and sole patriarch of the West. But as such he was first among equals. And this was not, say, because of a special biblical promise or a legal authority, but as always, because of the tombs of the two chief apostles, Peter and Paul….” P. 60

    Rome was appealed to because of the tombs of the Apostles – not because of any special ecclesial privilege or authority.

    You mention, “…the distinction that the successor ofs[sic] of Peter enjoy.” And, again, your idea of succession is very different from the early church – which again shows how this doctrine has changed.

    Once more, Dr. Wills notes that…
    “(t)his (the doctrine of Apostolic Succession) has become, in some modern versions, a linear descent of all bishops from the bishop of Rome. That was far from the sense given to the concept in the second century (where there was still no bishop in Rome). It referred to the joint testimony of the six outstanding communities of the early church….” P. 63

    So, Joel, thanks for your contributions. But your efforts are jaded by your modern conceptions. In this and earlier posts, we have seen that there was no “Petrine primacy” in the early Church as it is currently understood. The primacy of Rome was due to the imperial nature of the city and to the tombs of the Apostles. The existence of anything resembling the modern papacy did not appear until somewhere between the 5th and 9th centuries and that during that time the bishop of Rome was only “first among equals” without any superior authority. (After the 9th century we would also see substantial changes in this doctrine, as well. But only so much can go into this post.)

    Lastly, Joel when Vatican I (1870) proclaims,
    “…, in accordance with the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church, the doctrine touching the institution, perpetuity, and nature of the sacred Apostolic Primacy…” it proclaims something that was greatly changed from the early church. It was not the “ancient and constant” doctrine. It was a changed doctrine,

    Which means, of course, that Catholic doctrine does change.

    I hope you have a Blessed New Year, Joel, and I wish you all the best!


    P.S. I mentioned in my post to Michael I would address the Early Fathers in this post. But after reading Joel’s comments more carefully, that did not seem appropriate. Perhaps we will do that at another time.

  12. Constantine says:

    Hi bfhu,

    How interesting that you relied on your own “private interpretation” to make such an important decision!

    I hope you will read my responses to Michael and Joel. They will lead you to some Catholic scholarship that shows, conclusively, that the bishop of Rome was NOT the highest authority in the early Church.

    In the work I cited for the other two gentlemen, the Catholic historian Dr. Garry Wills offers the following:

    “In the second century, as W.H.C. Frend says, orthodoxy was held together not by a Roman primate but by “like-minded” Greek speaking bishops” in the major churches of the East (F 251)…. The apostolic churches are to be looked to – not only one of them (Rome) but the one in whose regions any community dwells, as Tertullian said: “If Achaea is close by, you have Corinth. If Macedonia is not far off, you have Philippi or you have Thessalonica. If you can reach Asia, you have Antioch. If, however, Italy is your neighbor, you have Rome, which is also the authority handiest [praesto} to us [in Africa].” P. 63.

    Regarding the case of Honorius that you cite, this happened in the 7th century. So taking the previous information together with your research into Honorius, what could we conclude? That the authority of Rome has been constant since the time of Peter? No. I think you have helped make my point. And that is, that the Catholic doctrine of the papacy has undergone radical and various changes. It is today, nothing like what the early Church taught.

    I hope you have a very Happy New Year, bfhu! I wish you every good thing!

  13. Michael says:

    First of all, about the length of my last post. I had to be long because you raised many points, and the only way (a) to give you a justice and (b) not to let you get away unchallenged and mislead others, was to deal with all the points you raised, which took space. I myself wasn’t happy with such a long post, but the only way to make it short was to split it into several “separate” post as you did earlier, in one of the previous posts when I demolished you, and as you repeated now, dealing with me, Joel and bfhu separately.

    Regarding the quote from the Council of Constance, the one I gave you is a translation from the document Haec Sancta, as provided in The Christian Faith in the Documents of the Catholic Church, by Neuner and Depuis, 1976, pp 211-212; while you offered the quotation of the review in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, which seems (at best) a make-up of the author of the article. Now, in all fairness, I admit that there might have been another document not known to me of which the author of the article has taken his account, but it should have been yourself, who provided the quotation, to tell us where you got the quote from, and whether if was from a decree of Constance or from a doctored summary.

    With regard to your “evidence” about primacy, let me first bring to everybody’s attention your mind-drift: your initial challenge was not that of primacy as such but of the alleged change in Catholic doctrine. Having got my and Rob’s explanation of the sense in which the doctrine does and does not change, you chose to – ignore the matter; and to divert the issue to the primacy itself, which was initially supposed to be only an example of the doctrinal change.

    Could you grace us with your admission that you did not understand, at the time of writing your first comment to bfhu, in what sense the doctrine does or doesn’t change?

    Regarding the “evidence” itself, of the no-primacy, you have elegantly confirmed my initial comment, which I summarized briefly thus: “So, one must take, I am sure you would agree, the reliability of your account of history with a pinch of salt.”

    All the examples you have now provided in twelve paragraphs (2-14) are the second hand accounts, with no single quote of the original historical sources; and to spice the lot, you have decorated it with H.Kung (15-16), who is no longer a Catholic.

    I admitted of no expertize in history, but what I gave you, and Joel, were the original sources. I humbly admitted the exception with regard Fr. Atanassieff, but that should be possible to verify easily: it is only a matter of getting Fr. Meyenforff’s book of which the Atanassieff’s contribution is only a part.

    If you wish to have a reasonable assessment of what is known about the state of affairs in the first five centuries, while finding what we have given you insufficient, you should offer original counter-evidence, if such an evidence exists at all. I must admit that I do not know of any.

    But I really did not base my comment on this evidence, and did not even bother to go through my files to provide more, for two reasons: (1) Joel seems to love this king of research (I know it from my dispute with him about the Bible) and I thought I better not compete, and so, I suggested to him, Dec. 27, to bring more examples, which he kindly did in two posts, and I’d rather see how would you fare with him, before burying you for good; and (2) I made it clear to him that what he might come up with, although helpful, was not essential.

    Excursion: Constantine, you are a very kind person – I gladly admit it sincerely, and please, to not take my intention to bury you so literally as your Community takes the Bible: do not waste the police’s time by notifying them of my intentions. The only reason why I do nor reciprocate your acts of kindness is in that it is not a custom in our blogs – we rather go straight to the subject.

    So, back to the subject, my essential points are in paragraphs 5-9 of the previous post, there is no reason for repeating them. The Catholic Church is not a 19th century American invention, but an institution that stems from our God Jesus Christ. She has a rich and accurate sense of her own identity, based upon an abundant memory of her own continuous life. Forget about “scholars”. One is not necessarily Catholic if he is on record in Catholic parishes. Consult the original sources, and do not permit to be brainwashed but doctored summaries.

    And really, why not be a Catholic? With your evident knowledge of most of the Scripture (except DC books which you mistakenly classify under “Apocrypha”, but you can easily repent for that), you would not come empty handed. The Catholic Church welcomes all that is true and good in other religions: Islam, Buddhism, your Community. On the other hand, it is a revealed dogma that there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church. So, you (1) wouldn’t be humiliated but welcomed, and (2) stand a chance of being saved.- I am sure this argument is strikingly true.

  14. Joel says:


    Your arguments range from weak to erroneous. Some of them are so erroneuos it leads me to believe you did not even bother to read my posts before you responded. My earliest quote is from Irenaeus who you say is completely silent on matters of Petrine primacy which he is not. I have quoted him from the Second Century saying that all churches in the whole world must agree with the church in Rome. He leaves no room for debate in his writing that the Bishop of Rome sits in primacy of the church.

    I have demonstrated that bishops from Jerusalem, all of North Africa, Gaul, Spain, and Italy have all explicitly proclaimed the primacy of Rome in every century from the Second to the Fifth. I have quoted bishops and emperors alike distinguishing between church and secular authority and making clear that emperors do not hold ecclesial authority. You can take my word for that the same things were held by the bishops of Greece as well. You made a comment that there were no bishops in Rome until the Fifth Century, which is well known to be false. I am sure you know that bishops are successors of the Apostles. Both Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome and Peter left a successor as bishop in his place. His name was Linus. We also know the name of every bishop of Rome from that one to the current one.

    The earliest source you quote is from the late Twentieth Century. I can only echo Michael’s request that you bring something more substantial to the table when you claim there was no Petrine primacy until the Late Fifth Century.

    Sorry if I sound short. I do not mean to, but it is after midnight and I just got home from a long day at work. God bless and I really do hope to demonstrate charitably the antiquity of the Catholic Tradition.

  15. John says:

    Looking to the future — a London paper in December reported that Benedict XVI would be willing to give up any claim to infalliblity, and allow married priests, if it would lead to reunion with the Eastern churches. They, in turn, would be asked to recognize the primacy of the see of Peter.
    Realistic assessment, or no?

  16. bfhu says:

    The Pope does not claim infallibilty as if it belonged to him. It is a gift of God to His prime minister of His Church. It is a very great gift to all the faithful…to know we have faithful witness to the Truth, the whole Truth and nothing but the Truth. The Roman Catholic Church already has married priests.They are mostly in the Eastern Rite churches but there are also many who were married clergy of the Anglican church who converted to the Catholic Church and were granted to be ordained in the Catholic Church.

    So, I find the newspaper report very doubtful as stated.

  17. John says:

    “…many who were married clergy of the Anglican church…”
    Are there really *many*? And I believe that in Europe a couple of Lutherans have been granted a similar dispensation, and in the US there has been a United Methodist minister who was reordained as a married priest.
    I must confess, the article I read wasn’t clear as to whether Rome would simply be accepting married clergy (it would not be the first time that journalists did not understand dialogues within the church, and clearly the church has already accepted, in certain circumstances, married clergy), or extending the right to marry to all Western-rite clergy.
    I guess a question I have is, how badly does Pope Benedict want reunion with the East? Is the infalliblity question one of simply finding a language that satisfies the Orthodox (and perhaps some traditionalist Anglicans)?

  18. Robert says:


    There are many. For instance, check out Fr. Dwight Longenecker:

    Another example, there is a man who works at my college who converted, and was married, and so is an ordained priest with a wife and family as well.

    That doesn’t mean it’s a significant percentage, but there are “many.”

    But I think the best place to clear this up would be with what you said here, “wasn’t clear as to whether Rome would simply be accepting married clergy…, or extending the right to marry to all Western-rite clergy.”

    The answer is that it would not have anything to do with the Western rite. It is an ancient and venerable practice in the Western rite of only choosing celibate men for the priestly ministry. This regards the particular Eastern rites only, and it would be the case that any Eastern rite which maintains the tradition of selecting married men for the priesthood would be able to keep it.

    As it is, we do have Eastern Catholic priests who are married with families.

    “I guess a question I have is, how badly does Pope Benedict want reunion with the East? Is the infalliblity question one of simply finding a language that satisfies the Orthodox (and perhaps some traditionalist Anglicans)?”

    It’s a great deal more complicated. I’m sure the media think it’s simply a deal of giving in. It would never be that. Pam is right to say that’s nonsense.

    But Ratzinger has spoken of what possibly reunion might be like, and he has said something to the effect of not requesting that the Eastern Churches accept more than papal theology as developed at the time of the break…

    And that’s *incredibly* subtle, especially if you remember that Catholic doctrine on the development of doctrine is that essentially the same doctrine has always been true, but at different stages of development.

    Obviously the Eastern Churches would have to accept papal primacy, but the question would be, of course, what type of primacy? It can’t be merely an honorific primacy, it would have to be real in some jurisdictional and ecclesiastical sense, but it’s very difficult to see how such a thing would turn out…

    And quite frankly, it will be interesting to see if it happens.

    But the Church will not give up on its solemnly defined definitions of the faith, but it will try to find a way in which to read *both* sides as having the true doctrine (which is, of course, what we’ve been doing with the Oriental Orthodox as regards Christology lately– and a blessing that is!).


  19. bfhu says:

    I might have misunderstood but just want to clarify, just in case… the Catholic Church, Eastern Rite or Eastern Othodox does not grant priests the right to marry. In all of these a married man may be ordained but once ordained he can NEVER marry. The Churches do not ordain married men. And in the Roman Rite we ordain married men to the diaconate (deacons) but if their wife should die they may not remarry.

  20. erik says:

    To claim popes are infallible when they speak ex cathdra, and then say some popes are in hell is pure rubbish! This is nonsensical doublespeak! You can’t have it both ways. Popes are men, sinners like the rest of us. Christ never gave anyone permission to sit on a man made throne and act as Christ.

  21. bfhu says:

    Papal infallibility is a gift of God for the protection of His Church from error. It is NOT THE SAME THING AS BEING SINLESS.

    Therefore, popes do sin, as you say, just like the rest of us. They must go to confession, just like the rest of us. They must save their soul through Christ, just like the rest of us. And if they don’t they could end up in Hell, just like the rest of us.

    They are not acting like Christ on a throne, they are supposed to represent to us Christ and His holiness, but sometimes they just don’t through their very human weaknesses.

  22. erik says:

    Popes are not acting as Christ? Guess you never read the catechism or other catholic sources.

    “The Pope and God are the same, so he has all power in Heaven and earth.” Pope Pius V, quoted in Barclay, Chapter XXVII, p. 218, “Cities Petrus Bertanous”.

    “The Pope is of so great dignity, and so exalted that he is not a mere man, but as it were God. and the vicar of God.” Ferraris Ecclesiastical dictionary

    “The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth…by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians. He is the infallible ruler, the founder of dogmas, the author of and the judge of councils; the universal ruler of truth, the arbiter of the world, the supreme judge of heaven and earth, the judge of all, being judged by no one, God himself on earth.” Quoted in the New York Catechism.

    Need I quote more?

  23. bfhu says:

    None of those are official. Please find me the Pope Pius V quote in context, not from Barclay a liberal Protestant commentator who does not believe in the miracles of Jesus.

    We do not in any way believe that the Pope and God are the same, so the context must shed light on what Pope Pius meant. We do not believe that the Pope has “all power in Heaven and Earth” except in a spiritual way through the power of God but not existing in the personal and independent power of the pope, a mere man but a man with an office appointed by Christ.

    I have never heard of the other sources but they could easily be scurrilous anti Catholic sources. But, either way, that is simply NOT what we believe, in the sense your quotes imply. The pope is the Vicar of Christ on earth.

    CCC 882
    The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, “is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful.”402 “For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.”

    This “power” is spiritual power or authority. The pope cannot do a thing if a person resists his authority. The pope does not have some magical irresistible power. All of his “power” resides in God who rules His Church through His representative on Earth, the Pope.

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