The great importance of the papacy warrants yet further investigation as to its legitimacy. Vital is the claim that the popes are infallible when they speak on morals and dogma to the entire Church. If they are not infallible, the Roman Catholic Church has lost its unique leadership and apostolic authority. Yet popes themselves (Adrian VI quoted on the facing page and others) have denied that they or any other popes were infallible. Why not believe them?
Pope Adrian VI's declaration goes even further. If many popes have been heretics, then we have another reason why there cannot be an unbroken line of "apostolic succession back to Peter." Besides proving that a person is not infallible, espousing heresy is a mortal sin in Roman Catholic theology. Its immediate consequence, so says the official Roman Catholic Code of Canon Law (a codification of the canons and decrees of the Church councils) is instant and automatic excommunication.2 A heretic has denied the faith and placed himself outside the Church.
A heretical pope is therefore no longer even a member of the Church, much less its head. Consequently, a heretic, though pope, could not possibly provide a channel of apostolic authority to a successor.
Yet the list of popes contains numerous heretics who were denounced as such by councils and by other popes.
No wonder the theories of apostolic succession and papal infallibility were not proposed until many centuries after Peter's death! It was as the popes grasped after more power, and began to command monarchs and entire nations, that they needed to justify their arrogant and oppressive imperialism. Already they claimed to be "God on earth" and the vicars of Christ, but that was not enough. They necessarily began to assert infallibility as well.
The Roots of Infallibility
Kings and emperors had once claimed to be gods, but their luster faded as they fought among themselves and their subjects began to chafe for more freedom. What was needed was an infallible representation of deity on earth to whom the civil rulers could look to settle their disputes. The popes began to fill that need, and by the thirteenth century they had established themselves as the supreme authority all across Europe. A leading nineteenth-century Catholic historian wrote that this authoritarianism encouraged despotism:
... the Catholic Church [developed] an hostile and suspicious attitude towards the principles of political, intellectual, and religious freedom and independence of judgment ... [so that the] ideal of the Church [became] an universal empire ... of force and oppression, where the spiritual authority is aided by the secular arm in summarily suppressing every movement it dislikes.
... we could not, therefore, avoid bringing forward a very dark side of the history of the Papacy.3
Much of the "dark side of the history of the Papacy" involving that "empire of force and oppression" resulted from the popes' claim to infallibility. People eagerly embraced the idea in spite of the popes' wickedness. After all, the pagan gods stole one another's wives and lived riotously, so why not the popes? But the idea that a pope could be thought infallible even while blatantly contradicting himself was remarkable. Yet that fraud was maintained.
Such was the case, for example, when Pope Clement XI (1700-21) confirmed King Philip V of Spain and then shortly thereafter King Charles III of Germany, both with the same
titles and privileges, including the highly prized Bull of the Crusade. As a result, Charles went to war with Philip to claim the crown which the pope seemingly had given him. Clement even confirmed two different candidates, one proposed by each sovereign, for the same bishopric.
One would think that such blatant contradictions would be proof enough that the pope was not infallible. Yet the bishops arguing the case for Charles III, according to a contemporary observer, "did allege the Pope's infallibility, and that every Christian is obliged in conscience to follow the last declaration of the Pope, and blindly to obey it, without inquiring into the reasons that did move the Pope to it."4 Such is the illogical and unbiblical but absolute and infallible papal authority which had long been claimed by the popes and which became official Roman Catholic dogma at Vatican I. That Council was coerced by Pius IX (1846-78) even to make submission to the pope a requirement of salvation:
If anyone therefore shall say that blessed Peter the Apostle was not appointed the prince of all the apostles and the visible head of the whole church militant or that the same directly and immediately received from our Lord Jesus Christ a primacy of honor only and not of true and proper jurisdiction [over the whole church], let him be anathema [excommunicated and thus damned]!
Nearly 300 years earlier, in 1591, the Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellarmine, whose loyalty to the pope was absolute, had declared that whatever the Roman Pontiff commanded must be believed and obeyed no matter how evil or ludicrous. Of course, he could show neither biblical, logical, nor traditional support for such an extreme view, a view which did away with the individual moral accountability to God so clearly taught in Scripture and recognized in every conscience.
Peter Olivi, a Franciscan priest, made one of the earliest attempts to establish papal infallibility. His motive was primarily selfish. Pope Nicholas III (1277-80) had favored the Franciscans by declaring that "communal renunciation of property was a possible way to salvation."5 (Roman Catholicism had long taught salvation by works, as it teaches even today.)
Desiring to make the pope's decision in favor of himself and his fellow Franciscans unassailable, Olivi proposed that such papal pronouncements were infallible. A pope could live the most wicked life, murdering rivals, plundering cities, massacring their inhabitants (as many popes did), and denying Christ daily in abominable deeds. Yet if and when he made a pronouncement to the Church on faith and morals he would be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to such an extent that whatever he said would be infallible.
Olivi's astonishing proposal was a radical departure from Church tradition. Until then few popes had dared to look upon themselves as infallible, though the temptation to the human ego to embrace such folly is especially great for those who are so highly revered and venerated. Catholic theologian Hans
With regard to the origin of the Roman Doctrine of infallibility:... [it] did not slowly "develop" or "unfold," but rather was created in one stroke in the late 1200s [by] an eccentric Franciscan, Peter Olivi (d. 1298), repeatedly accused of heresy. At first no one took Olivi's notion seriously.... The medieval canonists ... had never claimed that the Church needed an infallible head to preserve its faith.... [And] the modern critical attack on the principles of infallibility has the backing of Scripture and the body of Catholic tradition.6
"A Work of the Devil"
Olivi's theory was soon denounced by a pontiff, who would take awful vengeance upon the Franciscans. Pope John XXII (1316-34) had his own selfish reasons for denying papal infallibility. Had the Franciscans not been the champions of it, John might have accepted the idea as useful for his own purposes. However, he hated the Franciscans for taking vows of poverty that condemned his own lavish lifestyle. He had amassed a huge fortune "by duping the poor, by selling livings, indulgences and dispensations."7 Angrily, John XXII condemned as heresy both the Franciscan way of life and Nicholas III's commendation thereof.
To justify contradicting another pope, John produced his Bull Qui quorundam (1324), a dogmatic assertion of doctrine made to the entire Church and thus infallible by today's rules. In it John XXII reviled the doctrine of papal infallibility as "the work of the devil."
Though often offered as an example of the consummate heretic, John XXII continued in the "holy office" for 18 wicked years, and his name remains today unashamedly displayed on the Vatican's official list of the vicars of Christ. This pope is described by one Catholic historian as "full of avarice, more worldly than a pimp, and with a laugh that crackled with unimprovable malice."8 Yet he is an essential link in the alleged apostolic succession back to Peter upon which John Paul II's legitimacy depends today.
Papal Heretics' Heretic
John XXII's predecessor, Clement V, had given away all of the Church's wealth to his relatives, leaving a bare treasury. That condition the new pope went about to cure with a vengeance. He sold everything for a price, including absolution from sin and eternal salvation. Thus the golden chalice held by the woman riding the beast was refilled with filthy lucre gained by abominable means exactly as the apostle John foresaw in his remarkable vision.
John XXII published a list of crimes and gross sins, together with the individual price for which he, as vicar of Christ, head of the one true Church, would absolve transgressors from each of them. The list left nothing out, from murder and piracy to incest, adultery, and sodomy. The wealthier one was, the more one could sin; the more Catholics sinned, the richer the Church became.
Much of the wealth thus acquired was spent to further John XXII's passion for wars. One of his contemporaries wrote: "The blood he shed would have incarnadined the waters of Lake Constance [an extremely large lake], and the bodies of the slain would have bridged it from shore to shore."9
John XXII's pet doctrine was like that of many who are popular on Christian radio and TV today: that Christ and His apostles had been men of great wealth. So he declared in a papal bull, Cum inter nonnullos (1323). To deny this dogma was heresy punishable by death. John demanded that secular rulers burn at the stake Franciscans who had taken vows of poverty. Those who refused to do so were excommunicated. During his pontificate he handed over 114 Franciscans to the Inquisition to be consumed by the flames for the heresy of purposely living in poverty as Christ had. Thus it became official Roman Catholic dogma that Christ and His disciples were men of considerable wealth, and that all Christians ought to be so-a dogma repudiated by other popes.
Such papal heretics and their condemnations of one another are part of the history of the popes, a history which Catholics must honestly face. And Protestants as well, those who admire
John Paul II, must realize that the position he holds and the special authority he claims come to him through a long line of criminals and heretics whom he and his Church still honor as past vicars of Christ.
The Holy Heretic
Millions of Catholics from whom the historical truth has been hidden have looked upon John XXII as an exceptionally holy man. Was he not favored above all popes by "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" with one of her rare personal appearances? John swore that the "Virgin Mary" appeared to him to present the Great Promise: that she would personally go into purgatory the Saturday after their death and take to heaven all those who, having met certain other conditions, died wearing her brown scapular. In reliance upon this special Sabbatine [Saturday] Privilege, which was confirmed by other popes, untold millions of Roman Catholics have since worn (and still wear today) the brown scapular of "Our Lady of Mount Carmel" as their ticket to heaven.
John XXII was eventually denounced as a heretic by Emperor Louis of Bavaria, who deposed him and appointed another pope in his place. But the emperor's purging of the papacy turned embarrassing when, shortly after the new pope took office, his wife appeared on the scene. The emperor quickly decided that John XXII wasn't so bad after all. For, as de Rosa sarcastically remarks, although John, like most of the other popes, had illegitimate children, at least he "had never committed the sin of matrimony." Such sarcasm, though it comes from a Catholic historian, may seem unfair at first but is in fact fully warranted. Today's Code of Canon Law, Canon 1394, refers to marriage as a "scandal" for a priest, whereas it has no such harsh words for sins of which priests are frequently guilty even today, such as child molestation, keeping a mistress, homosexuality, etc.
Reinstated as pope, John XXII's heretical pronouncements became so outrageous that only his death saved him from removal again from the papacy. Yet he remains on that long list of alleged successors of Peter through whom Pope John Paul II received his authority.
In 896 Stephan VII (896-7) had the corpse of the previous Pope Formosus (891-6) exhumed eight months after burial. Dressed in its former papal vestments and propped on a throne in the council chamber, the cadaver was "tried" and found guilty of having crowned as emperor one of Charlemagne's many illegitimate descendants. In fact, there have been a number of popes who were themselves the illegitimate sons of previous popes. They were thus illicit claimants to the alleged throne of Peter and therefore hardly capable of passing on to their successors apostolic authority.
Having been condemned by Pope Stephan VII, the former Pope Formosus's corpse was stripped, the three fingers of benediction on the right hand were hacked off, and the remains thrown to the mob outside, who dragged it through the streets and threw it into the Tiber. Fishermen gave it a decent burial. Pope Stephan VII then declared all of Formosus's ordinations invalid, creating a most serious problem which haunts the Roman Catholic Church to this day.
Formosus had ordained many priests and bishops, who in turn ordained multitudes of others, who also did the same. Thus an open and insoluble question remains concerning which priests, bishops, et al, down to the present time may be in the line of those ordained by Formosus and are therefore without genuine apostolic authority. And what of those who were ordained by the many other heretical popes? And what of the fact that Formosus, too, remains on that official Vatican list of vicars of Christ, as does the pope who exhumed his body and denounced him posthumously?
Pope Sergius III agreed with Stephan VII in pronouncing all ordinations by heretical popes invalid-which, of course, is only logical in view of the automatic excommunication which we have already noted accompanies heresy. In Cum ex Apostolatus officio, Pope Paul IV declared "by the plenitude of papal power" that all of the acts of heretical popes were null and void. That infallible declaration leaves "apostolic succession" in ruins.
Councils Above Popes
A former unscrupulous Roman official, Vigilius, as pope (537-55) became an even more tragic figure. He changed his mind on doctrine each time the emperor demanded it. Vigilius was finally declared a heretic and excommunicated by the Fifth General Council (553), called at Constantinople by the Emperor Justinian. (No one doubted that a council's authority was above that of a pope.)
Exiled by the emperor, Vigilius confessed his errors and pleaded that he had been deceived by the devil. Yet the reign of this man on Peter's alleged throne was among the longest of any of the popes. More than one pope was condemned as a heretic by a Church council. The Council of Constance [ 1414-18] deposed three popes who each claimed to be the one true vicar of Christ and had each "excommunicated" the other two. (See Appendix D.)
Pope Honorius (625-38) was condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (678-87). For centuries each new pope taking office was required to swear by an oath that Honorius had been a heretic and that the council had acted properly in condemning him. Yet he too remains on the official list of Peter's successors!
The action of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, affirmed by subsequent popes, was considered proof for centuries that popes were not infallible. Yet a strong-willed despot, Pope Pius IX, through threats and manipulation, would engineer an affirmation of papal infallibility by the First Vatican Council in 1870.
Two persons holding opposite opinions can't both be right. Yet popes have almost made a business of contradicting one another on key issues. Agapetus (535-6) burned the anathema which Boniface II (530-2) had solemnly issued against Dioscorus (530). The latter is shown as an antipope, but Agapetus, who sided with him, is shown as a true pope. Adrian 11 (867-72) said civil marriages were valid; Pius VII (1800-23) declared them invalid. Both men are shown as legitimate popes. Nicholas V (1447-55) voided all of Eugenius IV's (1431-47) "documents, processes, decrees, and censures against the Council [of Basle] ... to be regarded as having never existed,"10 yet both remain on the official list of popes today.
On July 21, 1773, Pope Clement XIV issued a decree suppressing the Jesuits, only to have it reversed by a decree restoring them, issued by Pope Pius VII on August 7, 1814. Eugenius IV condemned Joan of Arc (1412-31) to be burned as a witch and heretic, but she was beatified by Pius X (1903-14) in 1909 and canonized by Benedict XV (1914-22) in 1920. Today inside Paris's Cathedral of Notre Dame, one of the most popular images is that of Saint Joan of Arc, France's "national heroine," with a profusion of candles always burning before it. How could an "infallible pope" condemn a saint to death as a witch and heretic? Yet Eugene IV remains on the list of allegedly infallible "successors of Peter."
History conclusively denies both apostolic succession and papal infallibility. And in fact many popes denied the latter also, among them Vigilius (537-55), Clement IV (1265-8), Gregory XI (1370-8), Adrian VI (1522-3), Paul IV (1555-9) and even Innocent III (1198-1216), who ruled Europe with an iron hand. Then why was Pope Pius IX so determined to immortalize this obvious fraud as official dogma?
There was a very special reason: Infallibility was the final desperate prop which Pius IX hoped would support the collapsing structure of Roman Catholic domination over the governments of the world and their citizens. To establish that dogma once for all, he convened the First Vatican Council December 8. 1869.