Whence the papacy?

As a former Roman Catholic, when first challenged with the gospel of free grace, I was constrained to submit myself to an intense study concerning the origins and developments of the papacy. It was only when I read Roman Catholic apologists that I became convinced of the antichristian character of the papacy, when I considered their dearth of solid material based on historical facts. The history of the papacy is, to put it mildly, shameful, full of politico-religious intrigue that finally proves how illegitimate power corrupts.

Many factors have contributed to the end result of the papacy as we know it today. These tend to more or less move together, but certainly one of the roots of the papacy is sinful ambition.

Peter, writing by inspiration, forewarned presbyters about this malign tendency in the heart of man to exercise dominion over the souls of others. His antidote was that church leaders should clothe themselves with humility and emulate to serve the brethren with a willing spirit, not for base and worldly gain and prestige, but rather to please their Chief Shepherd who has engaged them into this service.

Now the papacy, being the fulfillment of prophecy (2 Thessalonians 2), whilst claiming to represent Christ, has historically done the very opposite, all in the Saviour's Name, and thus bringing the way of righteousness into disrepute. For Christ told his apostles that they are not to exercise lordship over each other such as is continually done among unbelievers, but rather the greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the one who serves without seeking self-promotion.

The papacy (together with many other metropolitan bishops in the ancient world) has done the reverse. Church history is replete with incidents that makes for very say reading, with the bishop of Rome in sharp competition with the bishop of Constantinople, and so forth.

The whole idea of universal authority, let alone apostolic succession, was far from accepted even some 600 years after the Lord spoke to Peter in Matthew 16 (claimed by Rome to be scriptural proof of the papacy). Gregory the Great, "servant of the servants of God," bishop at Rome (590-604), had some pertinent words on this matter. The patriarch John IV of Constantinople had claimed the title of universal bishop, and Gregory was prompted to declare that such a title was "blasphemous, antichristian and diabolical, by whomsoever assumed." Cyriacus, the successor of John IV, refused to relinquish the title. However, Pope Boniface III (607) did prevail upon the emperor Phocas to take the title of Ecumenical Bishop away from the Bishop of Constantinople and confer it upon the Roman Bishop. Even with the aid of the notorious Phocas, the question of a single bishop possessing authority and jurisdiction over the whole church was by no means settled. And even when the Pope asserted his full authority, his government was recognized by the Western half of Christendom only.

Now such intrigues are totally foreign to the spirit of the New Testament, and certainly Peter would have none of it.

Whereas in the early centuries the Roman bishops appealed to their position in Rome (as an apostolic see) and used political means to attain their ends, later on such popes as Gregory VII (1073-1086) began to appeal to biblical passages to make good their supreme authority.

The apostles enjoyed spiritual authority; as far as anything else, they said that they were the scum of the world, rejected and despised. How then did it come about that the pope now claims to be supreme in all matters religious and political? Certainly not through biblical support.

A cursory reading of church history will confirm how ambition and love for power dominated the hearts of the popes. At first, the early bishops of Rome claimed spiritual power only; later also political. It was no longer simply a matter of the pope's jurisdiction being limited to the clergy and to spiritual matters, for that was generally conceded, but it was that 'omnes subsunt ei jure divine' (everybody is subject to his jurisdiction), 'parem non habet super terram' (nor has he any equal on earth). These claims are meant to be taken literally; the idea of hyperbole was foreign to the canonists.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt these blasphemous claims do not glorify the meek and humble Jesus, to whom alone the Father has granted all authority. And the church acts upon his authority, not the pope's or somebody else's.