From the ex-CoC board. Many quotes are only the parts of the posts that were relevant to the topic, to see all of the posts in their entirety, go here.
Pope as Head in Scripture and Early Church Writings
Counsellor: The scriptures accepted by Catholics do not support the idea of a Pope. It would be interesting to look at the earliest post-NT writings to see when the idea of a Pope first emerged.
Actually, scripture does support the idea of a Pope. I'm not as eloquent an apologist as Steve Ray, Scott Hahn, Karl Keating, etc...so I'm just going to point you in the direction of people who do a better job than I do of explaining things! Here's an interesting article.
Personally, reading "Upon This Rock" by Steve Ray was when I really started to see the Catholic viewpoint (not necessarily agree with it yet, that took a little more time, but it helped me see things from an angle I hadn't considered before.)
Counsellor: The missing piece in scripture is where Peter is referred to as head of the church on earth. In Peter's own letters, he does not refer to himself as head or servant of servants or by any exclusive title but rather "fellow elder." He says only Jesus is "Chief Shephard." When Paul goes to Jerusalem mentioned in Galatians, he fails to refer to Peter in any exclusive way except to point out Peter's fault. Paul refers to Peter as one of three "pillars" named in Jerusalem. In the very places one would look for a special reference to an exclusive title or office for a human head of the church, there is a conspicuous silence. Peter did not allow anyone to bow to him, uncharacteristic of RC popes.
Counsellor, what you don't seem to understand is that the Pope IS a "fellow elder." He IS a fellow priest, and even today the pope will address other priests and bishops as "my fellow priests." So this doesn't really prove your point. And as for Paul rebuking Peter, he did so precisely Peter WAS such an example to others, and he wanted to make sure people didn't think Peter was implying the Mosaic Law was still binding. Here, this explains it better.
And I used to think the same thing about people bowing down to the Pope, etc, but then I saw video of popes (namely John Paul II) lifting up people off their knees, saying "no no, that's not necessary." Also, I have friends who were able to get a blessing from the pope because they were newlyweds...they were told specifically "Do not kneel, just go and shake his hand," lol, but they kneeled anyway because they just love and respect their Papa. But even so, Peter didn't want people to *worship* him, and when people bow or kneel to the Pope, it's just out of respect for his office (quite like people standing when a judge comes into the court.) It's not because they think he's an object of worship, it's just a sign of great respect. It's not like one man can force a massive group of people to not bow or kneel...now, I'll bet you if it was a small group or one-on-one (like with Peter in the scriptures), the Pope would say "Now now, no need for that" or something similar. Contrary to what people think, most of the popes have been very very humble men, I mean our Pope now didn't even want to accept the office because he felt he wasn't worthy (same with JPII)...and that's usually the sign that he would be good for the job.
Counsellor: Stephanie, I won't belabour the point. Yes Peter was a fellow elder but not a fellow priest as none are mentioned in the NT, but he was not the head of the church on earth. Not even the earliest post-NT writings speak of a singular human head of the church. Ignatius does not refer to such when he writes to Rome, and Hermas speaks only of elders who preside over the church. And then there's the letter written from Rome in response to a request from Corinth, again no reference to a singular human head of the church, only to elders in the local church.
Well, the word priest comes from the Greek word "presbyteros," which is translated as elder in the scriptures. So elder=priest. If you notice, the way the Catholic church is set up, there are priests at each church, and bishops over each diocese, and they often write to each other. Now, the bishop of Rome is a bishop just as the bishops of other cities were...but they looked at him as the head bishop. Here's a quote from Ignatius:
"Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [A.D. 110]).
You see how he says the church which holds the presidency? That's referring to the Church at Rome, and its bishop, which is seen as the head over others.
Counsellor: The Ignatian letter does not refer to a singular bishop in Rome and this is important. Ignatius recognizes the importance of the Roman church to the Romans and so he refers to "presidency" but not over the whole church. In addition Ignatius is bold to give direction to the Roman church just as he does to other churches and says "You shall also signify to them that I draw near..."
Hmm...those are some good mental gymnastics Seriously, though, I did the same thing! (Believe me, I fought tooth and nail against becoming Catholic, lol, but the Holy Spirit won in the end.) It took backing up for a moment, it took refraining from frantically bending over backwards trying to find holes in every argument and simply looking at the big picture for me to realize what I was missing. It took looking at history, and scripture, and the teachings of the Catholic Church as a whole (and not compartmentalizing as I was taught to do in the CoC) to see how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.
Again, as I said before, there is no verse that says "And then Peter was made Pope, the head of the Church on Earth." Why? Because there was no need then, because it was a well-known fact, it was understood. Up until the protestant reformation, everyone understood that. It is only when we look back at things through 21st century non-Catholic eyes that we don't see it, especially if we don't exactly have the right idea of what the pope did or looked like.
As an example, if the idea is in my head that Catholics believe the pope is infallible in word and deed and action, and I look back and see that there were popes who made mistakes in personal matters, I'm going to think "Aha! There, that proves my point." The problem there, though, is not that the pope made a mistake...it's that I have an incorrect assumption about the pope and his infallibility, so I'm looking for the wrong thing. See?
And this is, I think, the case with you. You have a certain idea in your mind about what the Pope is supposed to be like, and how people are supposed to act towards him, and what it would look like in history...and when you don't see that, you think "Aha! There, that proves my point," but the fact is it's your idea and understanding of what you're looking for that is clouding your view. You're looking through 21st century non-Catholic eyes for an incorrect image of the pope, and so it's no surprise you're not finding it.
Believe me, I understand because I did the same thing, lol! And I'm sure you'll deny it, as I would have, because you don't realize it. And this is why I recommend Upon This Rock, because it helped me clear up my view and change what I was looking for...and when I did that, then I was able to see what I was missing.
Counsellor:We could look at Clement I and II, but Ignatius is enough for now.
1. Why does Ignatius not refer to a singular bishop in Rome while he does so for the many other churches he writes?
2. Why does Ignatius not exhort the other churches to agree with the Roman church, although he does exhort the members to submit to their congregational bishop?
3. If his goal is to promote unity and combat gnosticism, which apears so, why does he not tell the other churches to agree with the bishop in Rome who has power to bind and loose, keys of the kingdom, etc.?
1. I already showed you where he refers to Rome as having the "presidency." You don't agree, ok, but to me (and more importantly to most learned scholars) this shows that he sees Rome as prime among the local churches. As for why he doesn't specifically mention the bishop of Rome, well he isn't writing the letter to the bishop of Rome, he's writing it to the church there, the people, so that's why he doesn't address the Pope. Also, though in this particular letter he doesn't refer to a singular bishop of Rome...nor does he refer to any plurality of bishops of Rome! So a lack of mention of a bishop of Rome is hardly proof that there wasn't a bishop of Rome! His letter was just to ask for prayers and to tell the people he was going to be martyred, and he was glad to do so. In the other letters, he's talking to the people and saying "You need to do what your bishop says!" The letter to Rome is not the same kind of letter, it's simply to tell people he is going to be martyred, it's giving news of himself, not trying to preach.
2. He doesn't tell the other churches to agree with the Roman church because that's a given! Today, if a bishop writes to a church and says "Be sure to do what your bishop says!" this doesn't mean he's denying that there's a pope, and it doesn't mean that he's telling them NOT to do what the pope says...it's just that this is a given! What the bishop teaches and what the pope teaches should be one and the same! There's no need to mention it!
3. See above, he doesn't mention it because it's a given that they all need to be in agreement with Rome. The problem at this time was not bishops not agreeing or following the pope, it was more likely people not following their bishop, so this is what he addresses. If there had been a problem with bishops not following the pope, there surely would have been letters addressing this...but since that wasn't the case, you won't see that. Again, this is no proof that there was no pope.
So far, your arguments consist of "If there was a pope, why don't I see that mentioned specifically in the letters?" I hope I've explained the whys to you, and again I remind you that a lack of mention is no proof of a lack of pope. You have yet to show me anything that actually contradicts Catholic teaching or positively denies that there is a pope.
Furthermore, if you step back and look at what IS in those letters, you will see a description of the early Church that includes a plurality of priests (presbyters), and ONE bishop over each local church. Hmmm...does this look familiar? Why, this is how the Catholic Church is set up!! There are also, in these letters, teachings referred to which are obviously Catholic. For instance, that of the Eucharist.
"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire his blood, which is love incorruptible" (Epistle to the Romans 7:3 [A.D. 110]).
"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God...
"They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes" (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 6:2; 7:1 [A.D. 110]).
That the Eucharist is, in fact, the flesh and blood of Christ is obviously a Catholic belief.
So if we add this up, we have no definitive proof that there was no pope, only a lack of mention of one in one man's letters (which again, is not a proof), and we do have definitive proof that at least Ignatius held to the beliefs Catholic profess today. (There are more than just that of the Eucharist, by the way, this is just one example.) So...I remain unconvinced that the early Church I see in these letters is not the Catholic Church, and that there was no pope.
And by the way, here's a good article about Ignatius and his writings if you're bored and would like to read, lol (it's quite long).
The Pope's Role
I'd like to add something about the role of the pope.
Look, the pope is not like a king with servants who can do whatever he wants or a head in that manner...it's more subtle than that. I mean, he is a bishop with fellow bishops. He is ordained a bishop...he is never ordained a pope! He is not there to rule on every matter and his office does not take away the authority that other bishops have. He has just as much authority as other bishops, with one difference...he is able to have the last word, with the promise from Christ that by the guidance of the Holy Spirit this last word will be correct. All that happens when he becomes pope is he is elected, asked if he will accept the office, and if he accepts, he is pope! All this means is the fellow bishops say "We choose you as pope, we will defer to you when there are disagreements, and if we choose you and you accept, then we know without a doubt God will use you to settle any problems we may have, because this is how he has promised to guide His Church."
So for instance, often times you see in early Christian writings that the bishops assemble and discuss certain things. The fact that it's not the pope alone talking with everyone listening does not mean he doesn't have this special role. In fact, he may not need to speak at all, especially if all the bishops are in agreement. When he IS needed is when a dispute arises that the bishops can't agree upon among themselves. They have all agreed that when they have a disagreement about doctrine that they cant settle, they will defer to the pope, not because he's special, but because of God's promise to keep the Church from error, and they have all agreed this will be the man God will speak through to do just that, in a sense, to set them straight.
So, unless there is some big disagreement or something that needs to be defined because of widespread heresy, often there's no need for the pope to speak about anything! He's just another bishop among the bishops. He can't ordain any more or less than other bishops, he can't perform mass any better or more or less than other priests. But when there is a problem, it has been decided that he is the man who has the last word, and whom God will guide by the Holy Spirit.
Look...it's like if you're playing a game (and I am so not a sports person, I have no clue how things work, lol, so just go with the flow here!) and you have several referees. Most of the time all the referees are able to come to an agreement about stuff, and they all consider each other's authority to be equal. But imagine that to settle disputes when a conflict arises where they can't come to an agreement, they decide to make one of them the tie-breaker, the guy who gets the last word. They all agree to give one guy this kind of special authority...most of the time he doesn't have to use it, they are all able to agree. But sometimes, every once in a while, there is a disagreement that some of the refs just can't agree on, and per their previous deal, they go to the chosen ref to have the final say. This is kind of how we see the pope's role, except the bishops didn't just get together and decide to do it, we believe God told his apostles, specifically Peter, that someone would have this role, and he promised he would protect the Church from false teachings through this role.
So why would God create this role? Well, I'll show you a great example why...look at the many, many, many splits of the CoC. What usually happens? The elders get together, and some disagree with others. Imagine if there were a man that they could go to, whom they knew God would guide with the Holy Spirit and would keep from error when settling these disputes! He would be able to settle things once and for all, and keep the church from splitting off into splinters because of doubts about the Truth.
You see, it just doesn't make sense to me that God would create a system where people could not be certain of the Truth. Yes, they say "our only authority is the Bible," but what happens when people disagree on the interpretation of the Bible? Who is the authority then? In the Catholic Church, you have a complete system that leaves no doubt as to what the Truth is. When questions arise, we have a visible head to be able to authoritatively declare what the Truth is, so there is no doubt, no question, no confusion, and more importantly no splitting up.
Admittedly, the pope's role has become a bit more pronounced as the Church grew, which is why people misunderstand that he is still just a bishop among bishops, with a special role to fulfill. But even so, the core idea that the bishop of Rome "has the last word" when problems arise so to speak, with guidance fromt he Holy Spirit has been consistent since Peter was made the first pope.
So maybe that will help you to understand a bit more why you don't see early Church fathers writing about the pope as if he's their king, and mentioning him as a fellow bishop, etc. See, it's another one of those things where if you're looking for the wrong thing and don't see it, you think you've proven your point, when actually you've just misunderstood what you're looking at.
BH: For the sake of argument let's say the Pope does say something that can be proven erroneous. What would Catholics do then?
Let's say Pope Ratzinger was to get on tv one day and tell the whole world that Christianity is a farce, a fairy tale, and all believers are suckers. What would the Catholic Church do then?
Really, you don't have to go that far. Let's say that the Pope, any pope, comes to power and screws hookers. If he refuses to repent, who excommunicates him for being disorderly?
BH: First of all, as I explained before, the pope only speaks infallibly in certain situations, namely when there is an argument or disagreement of some sort that he has to clear up. And he has to follow a special formula to show that this is, in fact, an infallible statement. So, just picking up any random thing he says, like "Oh, I think it's going to rain tomorrow" and it doesn't rain, is not going to prove anything.
(By the way, it's Pope Benedict now, not Cardinal Ratzinger or Pope Ratzinger ) First I'd say, Benedict would never do that, period. But, for the sake of argument, if he DID do that, I'd say he had gone crazy...and as I explained, simply saying something doesn't mean he's making an official, infallible statement. It has to follow a certain formula, AND it's usually written out beforehand, not just said on the spur of the moment.
I mean come one...your hypothetical situation there is just a bit much. It's like saying "What if Jesus came down and proclaimed that the Bible was a big hoax, and none of it ever happened?" lol
Besides, I would point out to you that this HAS NEVER HAPPENED in 2000 years of popes. So while you're looking at hypotheticals, I'm trying to stick with facts.
As for your last statement, you're misunderstanding what infallibility is all about. Again, the pope is not *impeccable*, that is he is not kept from sin or from mistakes. He is only protected from proclaiming falsely Church Teaching, teaching that has to do with matters of faith and morals. So even if a pope DID go and sleep with hookers (and I'm not denying, there have been some corrupt and sinful popes in history) this still does not prove anything. In fact, it's even more amazing that even with corrupt people in the past as pope, the teachings were still kept the same and protected by the Holy Spirit.