The Growth of Papal Authority
IN OUR day there is an increasing interest on the part of many in the religions of others. One of the foremost religious systems of Christendom is the Roman Catholic Church. Not only does it govern the private lives of its adherents, but its prominence is felt in the social life of communities and in governmental policies.
History shows that as Christendom developed along lines divergent from primitive Christianity following the death of the apostles, the churches operated quite independently; no central governing power was recognized.
The first general council was called, not by a church potentate, but by Emperor Constantine, A.D. 325 at Nice. Constantine recognized the provincial subdivisions of the church, and the fifth canon of the Nicaean Council strengthened that division by commanding that all ecclesiastical causes be finally decided by the provincial synods. As to any prominence one might have over another, this was not a religious matter. To the contrary, the council at Chalcedon declared that the importance the religious heads of Rome and Constantinople derived from the political importance of these cities. Although the provincial council of Sardica authorized appeals to the head of the church at Rome, this was invalid in view of the Nicaean Council.
Rome was on the decline, and its threatened political collapse endangered the religious prestige of its bishop. Leo I took hold of the situation. He declared: “I will revive government once more upon this earth, not by bringing back the Caesars, but by declaring a new theocracy, by making myself the vicegerent of Christ, by virtue of the promise made to Peter, whose successor I am, . . . Not a diadem, but a tiara will I wear, a symbol of universal sovereignty.” The religious authority of the bishop of Rome had to have more than a political foundation, and Leo I saw that it got that basis. The idea of papal succession to Peter set out by his predecessor, Innocent I, developed to good advantage under the pen of Leo as Jesus’ words, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church,” took on new meaning.—Matt. 16:18, Dy.
“Saint” Augustine preached against such misapplication of the scripture to Peter as if he were the rock, saying in his thirteenth sermon: “Thou art Peter, and on this rock (petra) which thou hast confessed, on this rock which thou hast known, saying, Thou art Christ the Son of the living God, I will build my church—upon Myself, who am the son of the living God: I will build it on Me, and not Me on thee.” In asserting his new-found authority Leo clashed with Hilary of Arles and excommunicated him because he would not recognize that authority but held to the decision of the Nicaean Council that the bishops of any province were to make final ecclesiastical decisions.
The situation is an awkward one: Hilary was under papal ban, but he was made a saint. Leo I, who excommunicated him, had done a great service for the church in establishing its religious authority, and he too is a saint. As Gieseler says: “By exalting the authority of the apostle Peter, and by tracing all his rights to this source, as well as by his personal qualities and good fortune, he did more than any of his predecessors in extending and confirming the power of the Romish see.”
Nicholas I, in the ninth century, made reference to other documentary support for the apostolic succession of the papacy. There is a letter from Clement at Rome to James at Jerusalem in which he relates that Peter passed on to him the position of primacy in the church that he himself was said to have. That letter is found in a volume published by Severinus Binius in 1618 and approved by Pope Paul V. There also appears a statement of Anacletus, claimed as the third pope, in which he confirms the transmission of authority from Peter to the line of popes at Rome. But why were these documents not referred to in earlier centuries when the question arose? The fact is that they did not exist at the time claimed. They were later forgeries and have repeatedly been exposed as such.
EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE AFFECTED
Though fraudulent, they were powerful in extending papal power. Said historian Daunou: “So early as the end of the eighth century the decretals of Isidore had planted the germs of pontifical omnipotence. Gratian gathered the fruit of these germs and made them still more fruitful; the court of Rome being represented as the source of all irrefragable decision, as the universal tribunal which decided all differences, dissipated all doubts, cleared up all difficulties. She was consulted from all quarters by metropolitans, by bishops, by chapters, by abbeys, by monks, by lords, by princes even, and by the untitled faithful. . . . General interests, local controversies, individual quarrels all went in the last resort, and sometimes in the first instance, to the pope; and the court of Rome acquired this influence over the details of human life, (if we may so speak,) which is of all others the most formidable, precisely because each of its effects, isolated from the others, appeared to be of no great consequence. Isidore and Gratian transformed the pope into a universal administrator.”
Celibacy, while practiced after the third century, was confirmed by Gregory VII in the eleventh century and enforced on the clergy, thus severing local ties and leaving only their obligations to the church of Rome. To cement even more solidly their submission to the growing authority of the Roman pontiff, they were subjected to an oath of allegiance to him, swearing to serve his interests, keep secret his affairs, and do all possible to destroy those who opposed the pope. And then in a well-planned move in 1870, although ignoring the protests of prominent churchmen and the arguments they set forth, the pope was declared infallible in making pronouncements as the head of the church. Thus the supreme authority of the pope was established in religious matters in the Catholic world.
That authority reaches out to the individual Catholic particularly through the priesthood. The position of the clergy was greatly enhanced as Alexander of Hales and Thomas Aquinas, along with the Lateran Council, in the thirteenth century, gave body to the idea that the priest could transubstantiate the Eucharist wafer into the actual body of the Savior on behalf of men. At the same time it was enjoined on all to confess their sins to a priest at least once a year. What power was in their hands as they were called on to oversee the important aspects of life covered by the sacraments and to guide the consciences of men through the confessional! This was a power, however, that did not reside alone with them. Their position as servants of the pope made it papal power.
Next let us turn our attention to another facet of papal power. Activity on the part of the church in political matters has been evident from early days. Constantine recognized it as the state religion, as it is in many lands today. But more than religious recognition was wanted by the church. And so we find another forgery in the records. The so-called “Donation of Constantine” was pushed to the fore in the eighth century as a basis of the claim of the church to temporal authority. It makes Constantine say: “That the Papal supremacy may not be degraded, but may excel in honor and power all earthly authority, we give and grant, not only our palace as before said, but the city of Rome, and all the provinces, places, and cities of Italy and of the Western regions, to the aforesaid blessed Pope Sylvester, universal bishop, and to his successors in the Papal authority and power.”
Leo III took a hand to strengthen his authority by crowning Charlemagne emperor of the Romans A.D. 800. Gregory VII saw a weakness in the position of Henry IV, ruler of the German empire, and took advantage of the occasion to strengthen his own power. When Henry refused the pope’s demand to relinquish certain prerogatives affecting the church, the pope in a council at Rome deposed Henry and declared that his subjects were free from obligations of obedience to him. Discontentment on the part of the people worked in the favor of Gregory, and Henry IV was out of a job and forced to go on his knees to the feet of the pope to ask forgiveness. Indeed, Rome was an international power to be dealt with. One ruler was played off against another to strengthen the papal power.
In the twelfth century the Decree of Gratian, a collection of ecclesiastical law, was compiled. Of it Daunou says: “By it the clergy were held not to be amenable to answer in the secular tribunals; the civil powers were subjected to ecclesiastical supremacy; the state of persons or the acts which determine it were regulated, validated, or annulled absolutely by the canons and the clergy; the Papal power was enfranchised from all restrictions.”
Charles Butler, noted Catholic writer, says in commenting on the Roman and canon law: “To the compilations of Isidore and Gratian, one of the greatest misfortunes of the church, the claim of the popes to temporal power by divine right, may in some measure be attributed. That a claim so unfounded and so impious, so detrimental to religion, and so hostile to the peace of the world should have been made is strange; stranger yet is the success it met with.”
Pope Innocent III personally did much to contribute to that success of the papacy in the field of international politics. His decisions deeply affected the position of the governments of Europe. His backing of Otto of Brunswick made it possible for Otto to win the German throne instead of Philip of Swabia, but when Otto failed to show the proper appreciation the pope excommunicated him and started in motion international pressure that crushed him. When Philip Augustus, king of France, refused to submit the question of his remarriage to the church, Innocent III placed the entire French kingdom under interdict and won out over the king. A few years later in a dispute with King John of England another interdict was imposed, his subjects were declared free of obligation to him and he was deposed by the pope; again the papacy won and the state was forced to submit.
Modern history too abounds with evidence of papal political power. The Vatican is not only a religious center. By the Lateran Treaty in February, 1929, it became a sovereign, independent political state, with the blessing of Mussolini, with whom the treaty was negotiated. In 1933 Eugenio Pacelli, now Pope Pius XII, signed a concordat with Franz von Papen of Hitler’s German Reich. The church was open in its hostility to the Spanish Republic during the Civil War there; it determined to enforce the terms of the concordat of 1851, in which the Catholic Church was made the only religion in Spain. In March, 1942, diplomatic relations between the Vatican and Tokyo, Japan, were established. The effect of these alliances is too well known to this generation to need repetition. The Vatican is one of the most astute diplomatic-political powers in the world. Unquestionably, papal power includes political power.
THE BIBLE BANNED
In spite of existing religious and political control, papal interests would never continue to prosper if the Bible were available to men. Jesus himself said: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32) The papacy was well aware of this, and various small communities of people who earnestly tried to conform to God’s Word were unmistakable evidence of its truthfulness. Massacres such as that of the Albigenses in southern France and the infamous St. Bartholomew’s night, together with the dreaded Inquisition, held the people in the grip of fear. But as long as the Bible itself was available the source of freedom from fear was available.
In view of this it does not surprise us to read the fourteenth canon of the fourth council of Toulouse, France, September, 1229, which “forbids the laity to have in their possession any copy of the books of the Old and New Testament except the Psalter and such portions of them as are contained in the Breviary or the Hours of the Blessed Virgin; most strictly forbids these works in the vulgar tongue.”
Similar fear of Bible truth was expressed by the cardinals of the Roman court to Pope Julius III, in 1550, when they said: “The Bible is the book that, more than any other, has raised against us the tumults and tempest by which we have almost perished. In fact, if anyone examines closely and compares the teaching of the Bible with what takes place in our churches he will soon find discord, and will realize that our teachings are often different from the Bible and oftener still contrary to it, and if the people wake up to this they will never stop challenging us till everything is laid bare and then we shall become the object of universal scorn and hatred. Therefore, it is necessary to withdraw the Bible from the sight of the people, but with extreme caution in order not to cause rebellion.”
On what, then, must we conclude that papal authority has been built? Surely not on God’s Word, because it has been necessary to keep it from the public in order to maintain its position. It has been built up on forged claims of apostolic succession to Peter, unscriptural requirements of celibacy of the clergy and claims of papal infallibility. It was made secure in the lives of the populace by elevating the position of the priest in their eyes, by requiring that he be called on to officiate at the principal events of life, by submitting the consciences of men to his tutorship in the confessional and by fear. And by international intrigue the power of Rome has been made secure in politics.—1 Tim. 4:1, 3.
Let there be no mistake about it, papal power is not of God. Instead of serving God, papists have banned his Word and burned those who dared to read it. Not only has the papacy proved itself to be a friend of the world, but they are very much a part of it and ruled by its god. Jesus makes clear that his disciples are “no part of the world,” and James adds that “a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.”—2 Cor. 4:4; John 17:14; Jas. 4:4.
The Papal Conspiracy Exposed, by Edward Beecher.
The Catholic Encyclopedia.
McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia.
Beacon Lights of History, by John Lord.
Church History, by John Laux.
The Popes and Their Church, by Joseph McCabe.
The Vatican in World Politics, by Avro Manhattan.