Is Rome the True Church?
- Thursday, December 18, 2008
Fifth, even if some second-century writers can be shown to favor the primacy of Rome as the center of Christianity, this does not support the later Roman Catholic claim that the pope is infallible. The early fathers constantly appealed to the original “apostles” (plural) as the God-established authority. Further, they did not single out Peter as superior to other apostles. They thought him to be, at best, only a co-founder of the church at Rome along with Paul. He was in fact on the same level as Paul and the other apostles to whom he repeatedly refers.
Furthermore, his stress on the primacy of Scripture as the final written authority of the Christian faith demonstrates that all ecclesiastical authority is based on Scripture, not the reverse. Even Roman Catholic authority Ludwig Ott admits, “The Fathers did not expressly speak of the Infallibility of the Pope.”2 And as shown above, this was true up to the time of the greatest Catholic theologian, Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274), who spoke of the pope’s authority to promulgate a creed based on Scripture but not to have infallible authority in all official doctrinal decrees.3
Sixth, even if the disputed text of Irenaeus,4 that “every Church should agree with this Church [at Rome],” is taken in an authoritative way (and not reflectively), it does not follow that Rome could not later deviate from the truth and be an unreliable source for all essential Christian truth. Indeed, this is precisely what Protestants believe, and they point to numerous Catholic teachings that are supported neither by Scripture nor by the early fathers of the church.5 Nor does it mean that Rome is infallible in all its official doctrinal pronouncements.
Finally, the conversion of Constantine (fourth century) and his use of imperial power to influence the emergence of an imperial church structure were significant catalysts in the formation of the authoritarian episcopal form of government. This, combined with the natural penchant for power, produced the Roman Church with its claim to papal infallibility and other unbiblical teachings. This was well under way by the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and culminated in the doctrinal deviations of the Council of Trent (1545–1547) and the eventual dogma of papal infallibility of Vatican I (1870), which has been reaffirmed ever since.
The Development of the Roman Claim to Exclusivity
With this background in mind, we are prepared to understand Rome’s claim to being the one true church. There are several things to note about the claim. First, it is an authoritative claim. It is neither casual nor incidental but lies at the heart of the institution for which it speaks.
Second, it is an infallible claim and has been made at ecumenical councils such as the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and Vatican I (1870) and by popes defining the nature of Christian doctrine. As such, it is nonnegotiable and irrevocable.
Third, if the claims turn out to be false, unsupported by scriptural, historical, and rational argument, then the very structure of the Roman Church, being built as it is on its own magisterium, collapses. Not only is Rome not the true church, but it is also false in at least two, if not more, of its central claims. Its claim to infallibility would be false, since its fallibility is proven in its claim to infallibility.
Additionally, since its claim to infallibility underlies other distinctive doctrines of the Roman Church, these too are left, by their own confession, without a solid basis for belief. By its own claim, it is the infallibility of its magisterium that grounds its essential teachings for the faithful. An infallible Scripture, they claim, is not enough. What is also needed, they say, is to define Scripture and its meaning. Without this, they claim, there is no real basis for our faith. If so, if infallibility can be undermined, then the Roman Church as a whole crumbles. The rest of this book sets out to prove that this is indeed the case.
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