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The Roman Catholic Doctrine of Papal Primacy
May 25, 2017
I am working on a book addressing the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal primacy. The working title is "Rome's Audacious Claim: Everyman's Probe of Papal Primacy."
I used the adjective "audacious" because paragraph 882 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the Roman Pontiff has "full, supreme, and universal authority over the whole Church." If you are a Christian, dear reader, that includes you, which is a truly audacious claim.
What prompted the book was finding a web page claiming to have questions that Protestants can't answer. I could answer them, but the authors clearly thought that most Protestants could not. I lost the page, and I have searched for it repeatedly and failed repeatedly, but today I found it. It turns out the title was "Questions for 'Bible-Christians' That They Can't Answer." The questions are from David Palm and Steve Ray, and the first ones are at http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/religion/3083887/posts.
Of course, I am only addressing the arguments for papal primacy in my book, not the other subjects addressed by their questions. I am trying to organize the book in such a way that it is interesting when read straight through but can also be used as a reference for answering the Roman Catholic claims about the pope and his primacy.
I feel I have just reached the downward side of the hill as far as the work goes. I was cruising along at the end of last year. I had written a lot of the arguments I wanted to make. Then I realized that my arguments are history-based and it would be good to add a short history of the papacy to the book. The argument for papal primacy, at least as presented by modern Catholic apologists like Scott Hahn and Jimmy Akin, is based on an imagined history. The use the context of this false history to interpret many early Christian writers. I needed to spell out the accurate history.
In response to this, I added a history to the book, which made it longer than I wanted. The new length gave me the idea of short chapters that could be used as a reference as needed.
I then spent several months, most of this year so far, reorganizing what I had written so that it still read smoothly and enjoyably, but also had the short chapters to use for reference. This allowed me to see a shorter, more direct way to write the accurate history of the papacy.
That done, I have began editing. Hooray!
It's not quite as simple as that because some of the editing is likely to produce more rearranging of the chapters, but still, the end is in sight.
Dr. Klaus Schatz
I am being rather brash about saying the history I present in the book is true while that of the popular Catholic apologists is false. Thank you Dr. Klaus Schatz and Father Richard McBrien for that confidence.
Dr Schatz wrote a book in 1996 called Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present. It is published by the Liturgical Press in Collegeville, MN. In it, he writes: "If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians ... he or she would certainly have said no" (p. 3).
Dr. Schatz, according to the back of the book, got a doctorate from "Rome's Gregorian University," and teaches Church history at St. Georgen School of Philosophy and Theology in Frankfurt, Germany. He is a Roman Catholic, and the book argues in for the doctrine of papal primacy despite what I just quoted. The idea that the doctrine of papal primacy was unknown to the first two or three centuries of Christianity is repeated and emphasized using various wording several times in the first few pages.
For me, that gives the whole game away. If the Roman Catholic argument for the papacy was not invented until the fourth century, it is a novelty, and it is to be rejected.
I have just started the book, and I am sure Dr. Schatz is going to argue that God guided the development of the doctrine of the papacy. For the rest of us, if it is not from the apostles, it is not from God. We are to earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3), not add to it!
Father Richard McBrien
Father Richard McBrien was president of the Catholic Theological Society of America and is Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame. His book, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism (NY: HarperOne, 2008) denies early support for papal primacy as well. For example, he wrote, "Indeed, it was not until the middle of the second century that Rome changed from a collegial form of leadership to a monoepiscopal form" (p. 44).
In other words, Fr. McBrien says there was no single bishop leading the church at Rome until the middle of the second century. Instead, they were led by a college of elders at the time Peter died and even during the time Ignatius wrote to them. (More about Ignatius in the book.)
When the scholarly Roman Catholic apologetics undercuts the foundational arguments of popular Catholic scholarship, it makes my job easier.
If God is gracious, I will be releasing the book in the fall, but it is more likely to come out in January, 2018. I hope you will look for it and help me spread the word. It is a much needed tool for the average Protestant who might be running across the church fathers for the first time.
Because Rome's Audacious Claim addresses apostolic succession, it will be an effective argument against Eastern Orthodox claims that their authority on disputed theology ought to be accepted without question.
My book is not an argument for Protestant doctrines. A lot of Christian-history.org addresses problems with Protestant ideas, the most important of which is the horrific use to which the Reformation doctrine of sola fide (faith alone) has been put by modern evangelicals.
We would all love Christianity handed to us all wrapped up in a neat and tidy box. That was not what God has handed down to us in the twenty-first century.
We do have this. We have a description of the judgment we will face. It is in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus does not discuss theology in that judgement, but behavior. This leads us to the one thing all of us agree on. Run to Jesus, who is the only one who can transform you and reconcile you to God so that you can stand before him blameless on that day.
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