[This is the fourth chapter of the booklet Pope Benedict XVI and the United Kingdom published in 2010 in protest against the Pope’s visit to the UK that year. It refutes Rome’s claim for papal infallibility.]
There can be little doubt that claims of her infallibility have greatly increased the attractiveness of the Roman Catholic Church to her faithful. Were she not infallible in their eyes, it would be necessary for them to work out their salvation from the Word of God (Philippians 2:12, John 5:39). As it is, their salvation is mapped out by the authority of the Church, under the guidance of a supposedly infallible Pope, as a series of necessary tasks: baptism, confirmation, confession, attendance at mass, worship of saints and Mary, penance, and so on, right down to the last rites. All these works are, according to Rome, to be added to Christ’s obedience; not for them that simple faith in Christ alone which is the way of salvation according to the Scripture (Romans 4:5-7; Titus 3:4-6; Romans 3:22-28). Rarely, if ever, does there seem to be consideration, among her own people, of Rome’s claims of authority and infallibility on which their whole religious life is based; despite the witness of experience in every facet of life, that the notion of human infallibility is patent nonsense.
Papal infallibility was not an official doctrine of the Church of Rome until the First Vatican Council of 1870. Prior to Vatican I, the Church considered itself to be infallible in matters relating to doctrine but had not defined where the infallibility lay. Some held that it was vested in the Pope alone as the successor of Peter, and others in the Bishops in Council under the leadership of the Pope (the Magisterium). Subsequent to Vatican I, although the Magisterium acting in council was still considered infallible, the Pope now also had authority to proclaim infallible teachings of his own will, without the formal approval of the Bishops. Anathema was pronounced on all that would not submit to this decree. Although there were many Bishops at Vatican I who opposed the new doctrine, and who voted against, or abstained, most of them subsequently accepted it rather than be excommunicated. Their accomplished historian Döllinger refused to accept the dogma of papal infallibility, having found that the early church Fathers and Councils were utterly silent on the doctrine of infallibility. His excommunication inevitably followed and, despite many subsequent attempts to persuade him, he refused to recant.
Rome’s claim of papal infallibility relates to instances of the Pope’s teaching relating to faith and morals when he acts ex cathedra (from the chair). The circumstances of such acts are not well defined, but in practise seem to be when he chooses to have the final word on a disputed doctrinal issue. These acts are said to be rare. Indeed there are only two such recognised teachings (apart from the teaching of papal infallibility itself) for which there is universal agreement within the bounds of that Church, that they were actual instances of papal infallibility. These are the teaching by Pope Pius IX in 1854 regarding the Immaculate Conception of Mary, and the 1954 teaching of Pius XII about the Assumption of Mary. (Other papal teachings, such as the condemnation by Pope Innocent X of some teachings of Jansen, the anti-Jesuit, on efficacious grace, are also considered by some of their theologians to be infallible teaching.) The more common papal teaching, normally conveyed as encyclica, though also considered authoritative are not considered to be irreformable as is infallible teaching. No infallible teaching may be changed or contradicted by any other fallible or infallible teaching. Since the Church of Rome professes to accept that the Scriptures are infallible, it allows that the infallible teaching of the Pope must also be consistent with Scripture; that is, with its own interpretation of Scripture.
For the Church of Rome to argue that doctrine is not inconsistent with Scripture is much easier than to argue it is authorised by Scripture. The papal teachings of 1854 and 1954, concerning the Virgin Mary, have no Scriptural authority whatsoever. Rome, however, interprets certain portions of Scripture to support her claimed infallibility; which frees her in her own eyes to engage in what she calls “doctrinal development”, and proclaim new doctrines as being of divine authority. This is done simply by the authority of the Pope, not by any claimed divine inspiration. This authority, she claims, was given to her directly by Christ through Peter; who, she says, was the head of the Church. She claims this power in perpetuity, believing that the Popes are the apostolic successors of Peter, and therefore are invested with the infallible authority regarding doctrine that she claims the Lord gave directly to Peter.
The foundation on which Rome rests the doctrine of infallibility is thus her own interpretation of the Scripture portions she claims for her support which, in relation to general infallibility of the Church, are: Matthew 28:18, 20; Matthew 16:18, 19; John 14-16; 1 Timothy 3:15; and Acts 15:28; and, in relation to Papal infallibility, are: Mark 16:16; Luke 22:31, 32; John 21:15-17. In none of these, or any other portions of Scripture, is there any mention of Christ bestowing infallible powers on the disciples. Christ claims all power for Himself: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18). Rome takes this power to herself, stating that the context implies that Christ makes this claim in order specifically to bestow this power on His disciples as He sent them forth, saying: “Go ye therefore, and teach. . . . Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” Somehow she arrives at the assumption of infallibility from the words, “I am with you”, and also that she has this infallibility “unto the end”. Yet the falsehood of the claim can readily be seen from the fact that the tense is, “I have commanded”, not, “I will command” – the doctrines of Christ have already been given to His disciples, and here He commands their obedience on the evidence of His own infallible authority – “All power is given unto me”. The disciple’s duty, then, was not to claim Christ’s power, but to teach His already infallible doctrines, a fact which directly contradicts Rome’s teaching that Christ is still giving infallible teaching to the Church by means of an infallible Pope.
Rome also claims that the promise of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the disciples (John 14:16, 17) implies infallibility in interpreting the will of Christ – that the Spirit of Truth, working in the disciples and their successors, will infallibly guide them. The Scriptures plainly teach, however, that the Holy Spirit, in being given to believers as mere human beings, is given in measure only (John 3:34; 1 Corinthians 13:12; Philippians 3:12). In her claim of papal infallibility, Rome claims to have the Spirit without measure, as if Christ made her partaker of His own infallibility. Yes, we believe the Scriptures are infallible (Matthew 5:17-18, John 1:1-3; John 5:39, 46); and that mere men were used as instruments through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), to convey its infallible teaching. The completion of the canon of Scripture, however, as intimated in Revelation 22:18, has ended divine inspiration (Hebrews 1:1-2); nothing is to be added to the teaching of Scripture. Rome, whilst professing to accept the ending of inspiration, has circumvented it in practise by acting as God, through its claim that Christ has given His power to it in perpetuity – and that she herself is, in effect, the foundation of the faith. Yet Paul says to the Ephesians that their faith is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). That is, they were built upon the doctrines of the Word of God, preached by the apostles and others, the essence of which was Christ – “other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).
Rome also appeals to 1 Timothy 3:15, “ . . . behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth”, as evidence of an infallible church because “the truth” itself is infallible. Here again she supplants Holy Scripture in seeking her own glory. What Paul refers to as “the pillar and ground of truth”, is not an imagined infallible church but the true Church of Christ by which the inerrant truth of the Word of God is held up and held forth. It is true that in one aspect the truth itself is the foundation of the Church of God. (Christ Himself, in the truth, being the bedrock foundation), but in another aspect the Church upholds the infallible truth, as in 1 Timothy 3:15. The infallibility is in the truth, not in any church.
And finally Rome appeals as support for her claim of infallibility to Acts 15:28, “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things”. She argues the fact that the disciples had the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit in their decision, implies the infallibility of the Church. But this instruction was given by the apostles to restore the peace of the Church, because of the dissension between the Jewish and Gentile Christians (Acts 15:2). In regard to what was eaten (15:29), the restraint put on the Gentiles was temporary for the sake of peace, for afterwards Paul puts no restriction on the Corinthians as to what they ate (1 Corinthians 10:25). Thus this procedure of the apostles was not the introduction of new doctrine; neither is there any infallibility here, except in the instruction to abstain from fornication, which was but reminding them of the Seventh Commandment. The apostles were acknowledging the decision as the work of the Holy Spirit through them, as evidenced by the spirit of prayer and the unanimity they had; not because they had, as Rome effectively claims, power over the Holy Spirit.
The authority of the Pope is paramount to Rome and therefore the most relied on interpretation of Scripture is that which she claims relates to the papal authority – the so-called Petrine texts, primarily, Matthew 16:18: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter [petros], and upon this rock [petra] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Rome believes that Peter is “this rock” and that the Popes inherit that title. Calvin makes the point that Matthew uses different nouns from different Greek dialects, which are of different gender, Petros (Peter) and petra (a stone or rock), specifically to signify Christ’s change of subject from Peter to Himself. He also quotes Augustine, as saying that is not petra that is derived from Petros but the contrary. Peter was, as it were, but a rock or stone (petros), in common with all the other stones which comprise the building resting on Christ (1 Peter 2:5-6), and to whom “this rock” (petra) refers. Peter was eminent in the faith and greatly privileged as an apostle of Christ, but there is no pre-eminence of power given to him, and there is no hint in this portion of Scripture, or any other, of succession of power stemming from Peter.
That the Fathers of the church, to whom Rome herself often appeals, had no infallibility in interpreting Scripture, is manifest in the wide interpretations they give to this text. In a speech prepared by Cardinal Kenrick of St. Louis for Vatican I, he discusses the meaning of “the rock” in Matthew 16. He quotes “a remarkable pamphlet” that had been presented to the Bishops two months prior, which analysed instances of the Church Fathers’ interpretation of who the rock was: seventeen said that it was Peter; eight that it was the whole Apostolic College; forty-four that it was Peter’s faith; and sixteen that it was Christ. Where then is the unanimity among the Fathers claimed by the Council of Trent which had excommunicated all who would not interpret Scripture “otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the Fathers”? How can this make sense? Rome makes sense of it by the claim that she alone is allowed to interpret what is the unanimous consent of the Fathers! We see in this how the notion of infallibility renders even the meaning of words useless – the implication being that scholarship is a waste of time unless it agrees with Rome’s infallible view. Döllinger says that not one of the Fathers who have exegetically explained the “Petrine texts” applies them to the Bishop of Rome as Peter’s successors. And would not even common sense dictate that where there is any difficulty in interpretation of a passage of Scripture that the meaning, as the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) puts it, “must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly (2 Peter 1:20; Acts 15:15, 16)” (WCF 1:9). That Peter was not infallible is plain from: (1) Christ’s reproof of his doctrinal error (Matthew 16:22, 23); (2) Paul’s reproof of his doctrinal error (Galatians 2:11, 12); (3) His own instruction of the faithful on Scriptural interpretation (2 Peter 1:20). The fact that he was not pre-eminent amongst the Apostles is plain from the Lord’s command that none were to seek the pre-eminence (Mark 10:42-43); and also that not only Peter was favoured with much of the presence of the Spirit of God, but also the other apostles and ministers (John 21:20; Revelation 1:9, 10; Acts 9:15; Galatians 2:8; Acts 7:55, 56; Acts 18:24, etc.). Thus her claim that the commission given by the Lord to Peter to strengthen his brethren (Luke 22:31, 32), as evidence of his preeminence among the apostles, is baseless. The obedience of Peter to the Lord’s instruction, and the enabling power of the Holy Spirit in him, is manifest in the first part of the book of Acts, where we see him strengthening his brethren. Nothing in the context warrants extrapolating beyond this period to the present time. Just as his denial of Christ was a particular period which soon passed, so his strengthening of the brethren was another period which also passed.
Again the Church of Rome appeals to John 21:15-17 as evidence of papal infallibility. She claims Christ’s command to Peter to “feed my sheep” gave him and his successors, the Popes, supreme authority over the Church. But in thrice asking Peter “lovest thou me more than these?”, Christ graciously signifies to Peter that He has forgiven him for his denying Him three times. This is why the Lord so addresses Peter, strengthening his faith for the tasks that He set for. It is noteworthy that in other passages He commissions the whole eleven disciples without reference to Peter specifically (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:15, John 20:23). Calvin says that such is the interpretation of Chrysostom, Augustine, and Cyril, and most of the other commentators amongst the Fathers.
Another aspect of Rome’s claims of infallibility is what she calls “the power of the keys”: “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This is a claim that she effectively administers control over the very gates of heaven and hell. It is perhaps the portion of truth which she finds most easy to convince herself of, since she had claimed the notional infallible authority of Peter from the previous verse. Indeed, if we were to concede to her the claimed papal infallibility on the basis of the prior verse, her claim here would naturally follow. But, as we have seen, that claim is utter folly; therefore her claim to have the keys of heaven and hell is nothing but a horrid blasphemy, the worst that has ever been perpetrated. Truly, in this claim the Pope acts according to Paul’s prophecy: “ . . . so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). In reply to Thomas, Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). He alone has the keys of heaven and earth. He has commanded His disciples to go forth and teach all men His gospel, so that they may believe on Him, which is the key to His kingdom – “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved” (John 10:9). For Rome to use another key, but faith in Christ alone, for access through that door, is to preach another gospel (2 Corinthians 11:4; Galatians 1:6, 7). “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7); which was true of the Pharisees, who had polluted the teachings of the inerrant Word of God with their own traditions, so making the Word of God of none effect in saving sinners (Mark 7:13).
In all her interpretation of the Petrine texts, Rome has stolen Christ’s gracious words to Peter as a means of legitimising doctrinal positions that she has developed over time, which are very far from the truth of Scripture. Her Scripture exegesis is weak, relying on baseless assumptions of authority, and meaningless phrases such as, “the only reasonable interpretation is . . . ”; “it is futile to contend . . . ”; “there is no denying that . . . ”, and so on, by which she struggles to put square pegs into round holes. Faithful Scripture exegesis does not come readily to a Church which denies Scripture its true place as the sole communication of God’s will. The Holy Spirit of God speaking in the Scripture to the heart must be the ultimate authority for any believer. Those who give over their sacred duty of searching the scriptures (Psalm 119:97; John 5:39; Acts 17:11; 2 Timothy 3:15) because of their trust in papal infallibility, fall into the same trap (Matthew 22:29), and will pay the same terrible price (Luke 13:26-28) as the unrepentant Pharisees, unless they repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as the only Saviour of sinners (John 1:12; Romans 3:28; Romans 5:1).
For the sake of consistency, one would have expected that the doctrine of the Popes, claimed as it is to be infallible, could not according to her own rules be overturned. According to Döllinger, Pope Liberius in the 4th century was an apostate who purchased his return from exile from the Emperor by condemning Athanasius, and subscribing to an Arian creed. Pope Vigilus changed his mind on the same doctrinal issue three times and, when he was excommunicated by the Fifth General Council, confessed “that he had unfortunately been a tool in the hands of Satan”. Pope Honorius I was condemned as a heretic because of the heretical doctrine he promoted that Christ had only a divine and no human will. There was no opposition to his condemnation after his death by the General Synod of Constantinople in 680. Surely these are cast-iron proofs of the nonsense that is papal infallibility? Not so, says Rome – these were not ex cathedra infallible teachings on doctrine. And how does she know that? There were no published rules – it was each Pope’s own decision as to what previously constituted ex cathedra. Well does Boettner describe Rome’s tactics as “sheer chicanery, perpetrated on a docile, uninformed, and unthinking people”.
We are to judge between true and false prophets by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). If they have brought forth the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) well, but if they have done evil works (Galatians 5:19-21) let them be evidence of their falsehood. Peter says that “holy men” were used by God as writers of Scripture (2 Peter 1:21). Surely those who exercise this infallible office which Rome claims, would be also consistently holy men? Far from it – history testifies that some of these Popes in the Middle Ages, despite their supposed infallibility, were openly wicked: immoral, keepers of mistresses and fathers of illegitimate children, murderers, strivers one with another, warmongers. From the twelfth to the eighteenth centuries the Church over which these infallible Popes reigned caused the martyrdom of an innumerable number of Waldensians, Albigensians, and Lollards, before the Reformation; and Protestants thereafter. Almost all the Protestant Churches of Italy, Spain and France were exterminated by the persecuting instruments of Rome under “infallible” Popes. How can any rational person conclude that such conduct is evidence of any Christian, far less that of a church which, as Rome claims for herself, acts as the mouthpiece of Christ?
So often, Rome’s apologists respond to reminders of the persecuting spirit of their church by claiming that her people were also persecuted by Protestants. Sadly there were instances where Protestants were drawn in retaliation into the persecuting spirit of Rome, in the persecuting environment that Rome herself had created. But once the Reformation was well established, persecution was brought to an end, and the Protestant Churches produced a civilising influence of toleration at home and abroad which lasts even to this day.
Far from reforming the erroneous doctrines that gave rise to the open wickedness of the Middle Ages, the Church of Rome has gone even further from the doctrines of Scripture. She first introduced the dogma of Papal Infallibility to bulldoze opposition to the idolatrous (Jeremiah 44:15-27) Marian dogmas of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Following the Council of Trent in the sixteenth century, she contained the outbreaking of open sins amongst her clergy, that so disgusted the populace of Europe before the Reformation, not by reform of doctrine but by an authoritarian approach that brought a more effective discipline amongst her clergy. Her strong internal discipline, with the great threat of excommunication hanging over dissidents, is now like a great dam holding back much of the evidence of her having long ago become a “synagogue of Satan” (Revelation 2:9; WCF 25:5). From time to time, the evidence of her corruption seeps out, as we all too often see in the wicked lives of some of her priests. But when that dam bursts, as the Scriptures promise it will (2 Thessalonians 2:8), it is not difficult to imagine how “all her plagues will come in one day” (Revelation 18:8), and the folly and absurdity of papal infallibility will be seen by all.
The worldly nature of the Roman clergy – the splendid palaces, cathedrals, and churches – testifies that they live deliciously, rich in the things of this world, and not after the example of Christ and the apostles. The sumptuous seat of the Pope in the Vatican is one the richest places on earth. The engagement of Rome in the political sphere of almost every nation is evidence that she is not only unlike, but the very opposite of, that One who is meek and lowly in heart, and who said to His disciples, “Ye know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister” (Mark 10:42, 43).
It has often been noted by Protestant commentators that by his claim to be the supreme head of the Church on earth, the Pope has, for all practical purposes, replaced Christ in the eyes of Roman Catholics. In so doing he has made himself a christ and can therefore legitimately said to be the Antichrist. This was the view of the Westminster Divines who said: “There is no other head of the Church, but the Lord Jesus Christ [Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22.]; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof; but is that antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalteth himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God” (WCF 25:6). How much more true is it now, when both the Pope and his Church have departed yet further from the truth of Scripture through the papal infallibility and Marian dogmas.
The great guilt of the Roman Catholic Church is that that she has so successfully kept her faithful from searching the Holy Scriptures, and so from the true gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ – she has hid Christ from needy sinners. She has condemned multitudes to that spiritual death from which they shall never awaken. And those Protestant Churches who lend support to her through the ecumenical process are guilty, in some measure, of this most heinous sin. “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues” (Revelation 18:4).
1 Tierney summarises Döllinger’s view of how the idea of papal infallibility arose: “For Döllinger, on the other hand, the silence of the early Fathers and councils concerning papal infallibility established beyond doubt that the doctrine was utterly alien to the primitive church. Up to the time of the Isidorian forgeries no serious attempt was made anywhere to introduce the neo-Roman theory of Infallibility. The Popes did not dream of laying a claim to such a privilege” (see Janus (i.e. Döllinger), The Pope and the Council (Boston, 1870, p. 62.). Döllinger attributed the subsequent growth of the doctrine to “forgeries and fictions”. He emphasized especially a text of the pseudo-Isidorian forgeries of the mid-ninth century, “The Roman church remains to the end free from the stain of heresy”. Misled by such forgeries, later Popes and canonists propounded wildly exaggerated theories of papal power. Pope Gregory VII in particular “must have held the prerogative of Infallibility the most precious jewel of his crown” (Janus, p. 90).” Tierney, B., Origins of Papal Infallibility, 1150-1350 (Brill Archive, 1972).
2 Calvin, J., Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Vol. 2(Calvin Transl. Soc.), 1845.
3 An Inside View of the Vatican Council, in the Speech of the Most Reverend Archbishop Kenrick, of St. Louis. (American Tract Society, 1872), pp. 107, 108.
4 “Of all the Fathers who interpret these passages in the Gospels (Matt. 16:18, John 21:17), not a single one applies them to the Roman bishops as Peter’s successors. How many Fathers have busied themselves with these texts, yet not one of them whose commentaries we possess – Origen, Chrysostom, Hilary, Augustine, Cyril, Theodoret, and those whose interpretations are collected in catenas, – has dropped the faintest hint that the primacy of Rome is the consequence of the commission and promise to Peter!” Janus, The Pope and the Councils (Rivingtons, New York, 1869), pp. 91, 92.
5 Examples taken from Patrick Toner, “Infallibility”, in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910 (available online).
6 Boettner, L., Roman Catholicism (Banner of Truth Trust, 1962).