The flesh opposes the Spirit
This is No. 19 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
As I mentioned in a previous post, not all my 30 reasons were instrumental in my decision to leave the Catholic Church, though they are all reasons why I will never return. But this one disturbed me from the first time I learned of it, while I was yet in the Church, and became more bothersome as I struggled with whether or not to remain. When I finally came to the point where I knew I couldn’t stay and I put to death, so to speak, my Catholic self, it served as the nail in the coffin.
To continue the death motif…the Catholic Church has more than a few skeletons in her closet. They’ve been exposed for a long time and she doesn’t deny them, but I imagine she’d hide them if she could. Though they belong to her past, her assumed designation as the continuous subsistence of Christ’s church1 since its inception, make them relevant to her claims today.
The papal office was not always held in as high esteem as we currently view it. Many of the popes in the Church’s history were quite unworthy to be considered the “vicar of Christ.” According to author and historian Brian Moynahan, “The period of the first millennium was a time of papal depravity,” and here are a few of his supporting facts:
- A number of these popes, “the cardinal-historian Cesare Baronius wrote later, were…’vainglorious Messalinas filled with fleshly lusts and cunning in all forms of wickedness…’”
- Various leading Roman families had their own family members installed as pope, and had their rivals murdered.
- Pope Stephen VI had the corpse of his predecessor Formosus exhumed and tried with fraud. After finding the body guilty, he had two of his fingers chopped off before throwing it into the Tiber River.
- “Sergius III, having murdered his immediate predecessor, had the unfortunate Formosus exhumed again.”
- “Theodora, the Theophylact courtesan and mistress of the unfortunate John X, and her daughter Marozia, helped create eight popes in a decade…[Marozia] was the mistress of Pope Sergius III; she had their illegitimate son installed as John XI, and her grandson Octavian became John XII.”
- “Benedict IX, squalid and lecherous, so shamed the office that the Roman populace had deposed him in favor of Silvester III two years before. Benedict had become pope through his father’s bribery; he now used the family’s hired thugs in street riots to force Silvester to resign and to reclaim his throne.”2
The list, unfortunately, could go on. If the Catholic Church were merely one Christian denomination among many, distinguished only by their particular interpretations of Scripture, she could distance herself from these immoral prelates. Because we are all fallen human beings, and the bad behavior of a few leaders doesn’t affect the doctrine we profess. Unless each of those leaders is not simply a guide and teacher to those under him, but a link in an unbroken chain of apostolic authority.
Hence the Church teaches that “the bishops have by divine institution taken the place of the apostles as pastors of the Church, in such wise that whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ and him who sent Christ.”3
Some of these popes were truly despicable, yet according to this teaching, to consider them so is to despise God himself. You can still find their names on the list of apostolic successors.
Also on the list are the names of various “antipopes,” men who claimed the papal office in opposition to other popes…some because of their own avarice and lust for power, others because of political conflicts. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “The elections of several antipopes are greatly obscured by incomplete or biased records, and at times even their contemporaries could not decide who was the true pope. It is impossible, therefore, to establish an absolutely definitive list of antipopes, but it is generally conceded that there were at least 37 from 217 to 1439.”4
But the Catechism states that, “Just as the office which the Lord confided to Peter alone, as first of the apostles destined to be transmitted to his successors, is a permanent one, so also endures the office, which the apostles received, of shepherding the Church, a charge destined to be exercised without interruption by the sacred order of bishops.”5
Thirty-plus antipopes belie the projected image of an unbroken, uninterrupted line of apostolic succession. A Catholic might respond by saying that having an uninterrupted line and being certain of which of the men were actually in that line, are two different things. Agreed. Yet, the infighting, power struggles, and confusion cast doubt on the Church’s claim of being uniquely guided by the Holy Spirit in “shepherding the Church.”
These blots and blemishes in the history of the Catholic Church are more than an embarrassment to her. They are evidence that she has far overstated her divine rights and bestowals. Murder, fornication, deception, and debauchery in the highest office of “the sacred order of bishops” seriously call into question her claims of privilege and authority.
1 http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html 2 Moynahan, Brian, The Faith, Doubleday, New York, 2002, pg. 213-214 3 Catechism of the Catholic Church, 862 4 http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/28501/antipope 5 Catechism, 862
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“Whoever teaches differently from what I have taught, or whoever condemns me therein, he condemns God and must remain a child of Hell” ~Martin Luther
Hello Caroline! I hope and pray that you and your family are well. I stumbled onto your blog quite by accident, but have enjoyed reading them and will reply to a few. I’d like to comment on them all, but unfortunately several commitments leave me short of time for the near future.
You and I are almost mirror images. Whereas you were born and raised Catholic, attended Catholic schools, and converted to Protestantism, I went the other direction. I was raised Southern Baptist, completed the Awana program, went to a Protestant elementary and middle school, and ultimately converted to Catholicism. Whereas the Bible led you away from the Church, studying it led me to the Church. I’m actually glad I ran across your blog. For a while I’ve been considering creating my own blog detailing my own spiritual journey and reasons for becoming Catholic and seeing yours has inspired me to follow through on that thought.
I think it appropriate to reply to both this post and your post about scandals and cover-ups in one response as they touch on the same ideas. While disagreements over topics such as Marian doctrines and the Church’s teaching on salvation touch on fundamental points of belief, this is just a cheap shot at the Catholic Church that tries to appeal to personal, emotional, and irrational reactions that go beyond theological disputes. You’re basically saying, so to speak, that “because the Church’s leaders haven’t been perfect, the Church itself isn’t good enough for me.”
You argue that while the Church claims exclusive authority and the right to lead the Christian religion, the sins and bad acts of some of its leaders point to the conclusion that the Catholic Church cannot hold such authority. These sins, you write, “are evidence that she has far overstated her divine rights” and “seriously call into question her claims of privilege and authority.” You cite historical instances of bad acts as told by Moynahan as evidence. You then repeat this same argument in the scandal and cover-up post, there citing the sexual abuse scandals as evidence.
Your argument relies on two flawed assumptions, namely that in order for an organization to be a leader and claim authority, its management must be substantially perfect and that the sins of leaders should be imputed to the whole organization itself. These assumptions are flawed and anti-biblical. They are flawed because they in turn assume that any action of any manager is indistinguishable and synonymous with the organization’s teachings. That an individual’s actions run counter to a teaching, however, does not mean that the teaching itself is objectively wrong. Most certainly, this “do as I say, not as I do” attitude gives rise to the right to criticize the offending leader as a hypocrite, but it does not undermine the authority of the organization to teach.
Further, your argument isn’t supported by biblical grounds. The bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The Church leaders are not immune from sin and have never taught otherwise. You yourself admit to this by writing “And the Church doesn’t claim that her leaders are without sin.” Indeed, Matthew 16:18 provides that the powers of Hell shall never prevail against the Church. It does not guarantee that the Church or its leaders will be perfect or that its leaders would never sin. It doesn’t promise that Satan would never attack the Church, it only promises that he and the forces of darkness will never prevail.
This brings me to your conclusions about 862 of the Catechism. You write, “Because were are fallen human beings, and the bad behavior of a few leaders doesn’t affect the doctrine we profess.” You then quote 862 and claim that Catholics cannot find Pope’s despicable because of their actions. This couldn’t be further from the truth. When 862 states, “Whoever listens to them is listening to Christ and whoever despises them despises Christ,” it is referring to the collective teachings of the Church, not the morally repugnant actions of specific individuals. The “despising” that people might do is to not listen or to disbelieve their teachings, which would be to reject the teachings of Christ himself. This passage certainly doesn’t propose that we have to accept any action a Pope may take. To believe so would be to incorrectly confuse infallibility of teachings with impeccability of actions.
In these posts and throughout your other posts, you portray the overgeneralized and false dichotomy that the majority of lay Catholics are good, pious people while the majority of leaders are bad, evil people. This is nothing more than an overgeneralized stereotype. You write, “Pick up just about any secular history book on the Christian church and you will find multiple examples through the pages and years of cardinals, bishops, priests, as well as popes, acting the ways totally incongruous with what they profess to believe and teach their flocks to obey.” Indeed, there have been very dark characters in the Church. But likewise, there have been very dark characters sitting in the pews. Laymen have also been greedy, lustful men and women, murders, liars, and fornicators as well as the clergy. And likewise, there have been many virtuous and good popes and clergy. Pope Gregory I emphasized simplicity and charity and invited the poor to eat with him everyday. Pope Nicholas I was highly regarded by his contemporaries, encouraged a religious and moral life, and led a pious life. Priest Hugh o”Flaherty helped thousands of Jews escape death and persecution by the Nazis. Archbishop Fulton Sheen led a spiritual life and emphasized charity and evangelization. Most recently have been the highly praised and respected Popes John Paul II and Pope Francis. These are but a few off the top of my head, but I could certainly go on. By focusing solely on the bad acts, you greatly overlook the good.
And sexual abuse, while very real and repulsive, has been openly acknowledged and confronted by the Church, not covered up to the conspiratorial degree as many anti-Catholics profess. As one BBC article reports, “With allegations still surfacing, there is no conclusive account of the extent of Catholic abuse worldwide or its causes. But current research and expert opinion suggest that men within the Catholic Church may be no more likely than others to abuse, and that the prevalence of abuse by priests has fallen sharply in the last 20-30 years.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8654789.stm
See also the following Articles:
That Pope Benedict defrocked record numbers of priest for sexual abuse:
That the Church has confronted sexual abuse, has taken, and is taking steps to stop it:
Good Article about how disagreement in the Church is a good sign, rather than as you have suggested otherwise:
Lastly, in other posts you have spoken of Catholics acting “holier than thou,” writing, for example, that they believe non-Catholics are second class citizens: “Perhaps most of the Catholic faithful in the pews do not see their ’separated brethren’ this way, but I suspect otherwise. Relatively recent interactions with Catholics bear this out, as well as my clear recollection of ‘holier than Protestants’ attitudes and teaching I received.” I’m not sure what interactions you’ve had recently, but you’re quite mistaken. The vast majority of Catholics do not see Protestants as second class citizens, and as a former Protestant who converted to Catholicism, I had many interactions with Catholics in the years preceding and leading up to my conversion. Certainly there are those who act bigoted towards Protestants, but they are definitely the vocal minority, not the silent majority.
The Church’s leaders and its people have not always been faithful to Christ’s teachings. But this regretful fact doesn’t undermine the authority of the Catholic Church as the one Church founded by our Lord, Jesus Christ himself when he was on this Earth. Christ promised that the powers of Hell would never prevail against the Church, and this truth has been born out over 2,000 years.
Hello, Vincent. First of all, thank you for your kind wishes for me and my family. I appreciate your congenial tone in expressing your opposing views. It’s very helpful in fostering productive dialogue. I wish you well in getting your own blog off and running…it really can be useful in influencing others as well as developing your own faith.
Now to your objections. I reject your charge that my posts on immoral popes and the sex abuse scandal were “cheap shots” at the Church. I was building a cumulative case against the Church’s claim to sovereignty and divine appointment and these facts weigh as evidence against that claim, specifically because she makes such bold claims about the popes as “presiding in the place of God” (LG 20) and being “endowed with sacred power.” (LG 18) This is not the same as a situation in which you have a morally flawed leader not imputing his failings to the organization he leads. The leaders themselves are accorded privileged, sacred status and divine authority and power, and it’s reasonable to expect that if God was so uniquely active in their lives it would be demonstrated in their behavior. As I said though, that’s just one line of evidence against the Church’s claims, and I think a fair one to present.
As for my “conclusions about 862 of the Catechism,” I refer you to the last paragraph of Lumen Gentium (20) which says in part, “Bishops, therefore, with their helpers, the priests and deacons, have taken up the service of the community, presiding in place of God over the flock, whose shepherds they are, as teachers for doctrine, priests for sacred worship, and ministers for governing.” This is the paragraph that ends with, “Therefore, the Sacred Council teaches that bishops by divine institution have succeeded to the place of the apostles, as shepherds of the Church, and he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ.” It seems reasonable to me to infer that the Church here is requiring an attitude towards and submission to the popes (and all bishops) themselves, not simply the “infallible” teaching they may convey.
I don’t believe I portrayed a “false dichotomy” of virtuous laity and immoral clergy, as you seem to think. I mentioned the ease with which one could find “multiple examples” of bishops behaving badly simply to make the point that the blot is wider than just a few isolated cases in the Church’s history. Of course I know that there are plenty of unsavory characters in the pews as well. I may have overstated the relative “goodness” of lay Catholics because I wanted to emphasize that my objections were not against them but against the institution and its teachings.
As for what “the vast majority of Catholics” think of non-Catholic Christians…neither one of us really know that. I expressed my suspicions related to my own experiences, but I don’t believe I conveyed that as a decided conclusion.
One more thing…Martin Luther is not the head of the Protestant/non-Catholic Christian church, and thankfully so. He was a flawed human being, as we all are, whom God used to bring his church back to the true teachings of and attention to the Scriptures. He was not appointed the leader of the church whom all must obey and emulate. It is Jesus, who is revealed in Scripture, who is the head whom we must obey.
Good Evening Caroline!
I apologize for the language of a “cheap shot” against the Church, that came across wrong. Though I disagree, I very much respect your conclusion on this subject especially since you support it with reasoning and evidence rather than just slinging mud as one could do. Hopefully I don’t come across as argumentative and I do apologize if I ever do (I’m a law school student and admit we can take arguing a little too far sometimes). I enjoy dialoguing about these issues, and especially here in the comments section hope I’m not coming across as bellicose. I’ll also try to limit responses to the one or two topics you’ve posted about. I had a lot of thoughts after reading your other posts and got a little carried away trying to reply to too many of them in the one post above.
I believe the sections you’ve quoted from Lumen Gentium 20 (“he who hears them, hears Christ, and he who rejects them, rejects Christ and Him who sent Christ” and related) are open to another interpretation, that being that the Church isn’t requiring submission as one might to a person or governmental authority but rather as one would to a teaching. I think this interpretation is confirmed elsewhere in Lumen Gentium itself.
If you want to argue that the Church requires a greater level of submission, I would quote Lumen Gentium 25, which says “In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will.” Read on its own at first blush, this really appears to support the idea that lay Catholics must submit to the Church’s leaders, who should be expected to behave morally. But this, like any other quotation, should be read in the greater context of Lumen Gentium itself, which discusses infallibility in reference to writings and speaking, that is teaching. The sentence preceding what I just quoted reads, “Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth.” Using the word itself, this makes clear that submission is to be expected in areas of teaching. The sentence ending this paragraph further supports this. “His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.” It is clearly referencing methods of promulgating doctrine.
Lumen Gentium 25 goes on to make clear that bishops are not individually infallible: “the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility.” As bishops cannot be individually infallible, they are capable of making errors in teaching, let alone personal errors and sins. Lumen Genitum then explains that while bishops cannot be individually infallible, “they nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.” The Church holds that infallibility is linked only to teaching and that submission is required to those teachings that are infallibly proclaimed. It doesn’t purport that Catholics must submit to the Pope as a person or to the Church as they might to a civil governor. This is reminiscent of accusations that President Kennedy would take orders from the Pope.
Here is a link to a radio talk show that explains the Church’s teaching and why we believe that immoral Popes doesn’t undermine the Church’s claim as the true Church or its ability to teach: “The key is that the Holy Spirit is promised to the Church primarily through the leaders of the Church when they proclaim the gospel. And their behavior can’t mess it up. The Church is indestructible because it has to be indestructible, its made up of weak sinners like me…Alexander VI had mistresses, he had men killed. He had hits put out on them. But the Holy Spirit protected the Church and him from teaching any error. That’s the key. The Church can’t teach error because the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth and Christ did not leave us orphans.” http://www.catholic.com/video/what-about-the-bad-popes (Alexander VI was Rodrigo Borgia, perhaps the very embodiment of lust and nepotism)
The Church doesn’t require Catholics to yield to the Pope or other leaders themselves. We must only yield on matters of doctrine. Infallibility meanwhile applies only to the Pope’s teachings, not any given Pope’s or bishop’s actions. We believe that God is uniquely active in their lives only to the extent of their teachings on the faith and that personal decisions are matters of their own free will and they must make choices as any other person must.
I mentioned above that I’m a law student and I’ve got a lot on my plate for the near future, but look forward to discussions on other issues later. Until then, I wish you and your family well and pray that you have good health and happiness as 2015 gets off to a start!
“The Church holds that infallibility is linked only to teaching and that submission is required to those teachings that are infallibly proclaimed. It doesn’t purport that Catholics must submit to the Pope as a person or to the Church as they might to a civil governor.”
So, has this statement from Vatican I been superseded or revised, which I mentioned in this post?