Extraordinary events require extraordinary evidence

stpeterThis was a claim made by the 18th century Scottish skeptic David Hume regarding the possibility of determining that a miracle had occurred. He maintained that the evidence we have establishing the laws of nature will always outweigh any evidence that they have been monkeyed with, as in the claim that a most sincerely dead man came back to life, so belief in a miracle is never warranted. Hume’s assertion has actually been shown to be fallacious, and you can read about that here, but I want to adapt it as part of my argument against the Catholic Church’s claim to be the true and only church that Jesus founded. Her assumption of that mantle is an extraordinary claim with individual and global ramifications and so, I believe, requires not extraordinary, but substantial and convincing evidence.

As I stated last time, the Scriptural evidence in support of her claim to be God’s visible authority on earth is inconclusive at best so she relies on an historical account that places a bishop of Rome from the very beginning having supremacy over the entire church with the authority she currently asserts. Is there substantial and convincing evidence of that? Not when you  consider the following:

  • “No proof exists” that Peter was the first bishop of the church at Rome, according to The Faith, a History of Christianity by Brian Moynahan (1)
  • “The Latin papa, or Greek pappas, ‘Daddy’ [from where we get ‘pope’], was used by early Christians of a bishop to whom they stood in a filial relation. North African Christians called the bishop of Carthage papa, but his colleague at Rome was ‘bishop of Rome’.” – from The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity (2)
  • “Damasus [who reigned from 366-384] was the first pope to refer to Rome as the apostolic see, to distinguish it as that established by the apostle St. Peter.” – britannica.com (3)
  • But before Damasus, who called a synod in 382 to officially pronounce Rome’s primacy, there was Stephen, the first bishop of Rome to “claim to have inherited the unique authority Jesus gave to Peter…almost two centuries after Peter’s death.” (4)
  • This Stephen was the subject of an epistle written in AD 256 to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, by Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea, which states in part, “But that they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles…And in this respect I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen, that he who so boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter.” (5)

Catholic apologists have their proof texts from the church fathers that they refer to as support for their position but they, as with the Scriptural texts, are inconclusive at best because they can and have been interpreted and understood differently by those unmotivated by a desire to bolster the Church’s claims. Some even appear to have been deliberately spun to inaccurately serve as evidence, as with this quote from Tertullian in 220 AD referring to Callistus, bishop of Rome, as Pontifex Maximus, a title still used for the pope:

In opposition to this [modesty], could I not have acted the dissembler? I hear that there has even been an edict sent forth, and a peremptory one too. The “Pontifex Maximus,” that is the “bishop of bishops,” issues an edict: “I remit, to such as have discharged [the requirements of] repentance, the sins both of adultery and of fornication.” O edict, on which cannot be inscribed, “Good deed!”… Far, far from Christ’s betrothed be such a proclamation!

The records show Tertullian was applying the term, which at that time was a title for the Roman emperor, sarcastically to Callistus, who he apparently felt was overstepping his position. But the Roman Catholic Church spins it this way:” Tertullian, as has already been said, uses the phrase of Pope Callistus. Though his words are ironical, they probably indicate that Catholics already applied it to the pope.” (6)

The Catholic Church’s claim to unbroken authority since the apostle Peter is vital to her assumed privilege as Christ’s visible representative on earth. But if the historical evidence is sketchy at best and disconfirming at worst, is she not misrepresenting herself to the detriment of all who have trusted her and trusted in her?

(1) Brian Moynahan, The Faith, A History of Christianity, New York, 2002, p. 41  (2) The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, New York, 1990, p. 36  (3) http://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Damasus-I  (4) Moynahan, p. 64  (5) http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/050674.htm  (6) http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/12260a.htm