New Book: Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom
Extract from the introduction
This book is occasioned by the invitation to Pope Benedict XVI to visit the United Kingdom in September 2010. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland shares the view of the British and Continental Reformers – a view enshrined in the Westminster Confession of Faith, and therefore in the Treaty of Union of 1707 which brought the United Kingdom into existence – that the Papacy is the Antichrist of Scripture. If this view is correct, and we know of no theological or historical reason to doubt it2, then it is both foolish and sinful of our rulers to be flattering the Pope with such an invitation. A papal visit is not a blessing to any nation but a token of Divine displeasure.
The proper attitude of rulers towards the Papacy is illustrated by the woodcut on the front cover of this book of Henry VIII treading underfoot the pretensions of Pope Clement VII. The time will come, according to Scripture, when the other nations of Europe will follow his example: “The ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh and burn her with fire. For God hath put into their hearts to fulfil his will, and to agree, and to give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled” (Rev 17:16-17).
The sixteenth-century Reformation in Britain was both political and religious, and necessarily so, because the Church of Rome is active in both spheres. Henry VIII in England and the Reformation Parliament of 1560 in Scotland were needed to abolish the Pope’s political jurisdiction in Britain, but at the same time a spiritual work was needed to break the religious hold that Romanism had on the hearts of the people. In Scotland the spiritual work went ahead of the political so that the rulers were holding back the political reformation until they could do so no longer. In England, it was the other way round, with the political outrunning the religious. The breach with Rome in 1534 was mainly over Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and even in the early 1550s under Edward VI the power-base of Protestantism in England lay with a relatively small number of the ruling classes.
A Swiss Protestant who visited Berwick with the English army in 1550 commented: “There appears to be great firmness and no little religion among the people of Scotland; but in the chiefs of that nation one can see little else but cruelty and ignorance, for they resist and oppose the truth in every possible way. As to the common people, however, it is the general opinion that greater number of them are rightly persuaded as to the true religion than here among us in England. This seems to be a strange state of things, that among the English the ruling powers are virtuous and godly, but the people have for a long time been most contumacious; while in Scotland on the contrary the rulers are most ferocious, but the nation at large is virtuous and exceedingly well-disposed towards our holy religion. I have no hesitation in writing this to you, for both what I say is true, and I perceive that this circumstance is frequently and seriously deplored by the English themselves.”
The Protestant martyrs under Mary I came from all classes of society, but public sympathy for them was limited when the imprisonments started in 1553. It was the spiritual work that accompanied the nearly three hundred martyrdoms between 1555 and 1558 that changed England into a Protestant nation. By July 1558, a few months before Mary’s death, the Roman Catholic authorities in London were doubting whether it was safe to have any more public burnings.
The Pope is in the unique position of being both the head of a religion and the head of a sovereign state. The state is the tiny Vatican State in the middle of Rome, which was formed in 1929 and which has a population of 800. The Pope is the elected king of this state. He conducts his political activities, however, not through the Vatican State but through the legal fiction of the “Holy See”. It is the Holy See, for instance, which maintains diplomatic contacts with most of the sovereign nations in the world and which is a member of or observer on numerous international bodies such as the United Nations General Assembly.
The importance of this legal fiction is seen in that between 1870 and 1929 the Papacy had no physical territory under its control, but under the name of the “Holy See” it contrived to retain diplomatic relations with a considerable number of countries. Thus if the Pope were to lose the Vatican State once again, his political power would be largely unaffected. For the present, however, the Vatican State provides a convenient immunity to the Pope from other people’s laws, and can also be used as a bolt-hole for Romanists wanted in connection with crimes committed in other countries.
Although the Pope’s formal political power has this element of “makebelieve” about it, his real political power is undoubted, and goes far beyond the influence that he has as the head of the Vatican State. Romanism requires a personal acceptance of the Pope as the supreme head of the Universal Church on earth. This is why the name “papist” is appropriate for those that are prepared to yield him this position. They believe that the Pope does indeed have the position that he claims. Those, on the other hand, that reject his claims are “non-papists”: they do not subject themselves to him as the head of the Church.
Those that do subject themselves to him place themselves in an awkward position whenever the Pope expresses a view on any subject. He is the head of the Church, in their eyes, and it is a matter of conscience with them to obey him. They may often disobey him, but when they do so they are sinning, in their own terms. This is one of the difficulties with having Roman Catholics in positions of power in any country. Such people have chosen to subject their consciences to the ruler of another political entity called the “Holy See”. What happens when the political interests of their own nation do not coincide with those of the Holy See? Is it part of their purpose to bring their own nation into subjection to the Holy See? These are not medieval questions but questions relevant to the present day.
Ordinarily, the purpose of a visit by a head of State is to promote good relations between two nations, neither of which is trying to usurp power over the other. But the Pope is trying to bring Britain into subjection to his “Holy See”, and the purpose of his visit is to promote this aim. The pictures on the back cover show a number of Popes down the ages. For centuries now there has been this human figure making astonishing claims for himself, often exercising vast power and claiming still more. Who is the present occupant of this dynasty, what does he claim for himself, and what does the Bible say about him? The purpose of this book is to answer these questions.
1. This book, published by Free Presbyterian Publications, 108 pages, £5.00, is available from the Free Presbyterian Bookroom
2. William Cunningham in his edition of Edward Stillingfleet’s Doctrines and Practices of the Church of Rome (Edinburgh, 1851), pp 223-4, speaks of the doctrine that the Papacy is the Antichrist as being “the unanimous opinion of Protestants” and having “the clearest Scriptural evidence”.