Wednesday, January 15, 2014

RC Sproul, Roman Catholicism, Lecture 2, "Papal Infallibility" by Teresa Beem

This is the second of my comments on the fairness of Dr. R.C. Sproul’s explanation of Catholicism. The second lecture is about Papal Infallibility. Here's the first.

Did Dr. Sproul correctly present the Catholic Doctrine of papal infallibility?
As in the first lecture, I have to say he got some technical things correct, but failed to bring his audience to an understanding of the teaching. Why he chose this topic I don’t know, it is such a very peripheral doctrine on the Catholic horizon. There are something like three paragraphs in the Catechism about it, but I suppose it is a topic Protestants are concerned with.  

I have few quick points before I get into some more important comments on this lecture.

Hans Kung?
I find it interesting that the professor continues to quote from Father Hans Kung (a Swiss priest who has been stripped of his teaching office and told he can no longer teach under the name of Catholic. Father Kung is not a balanced source.) 

Dr. Sproul also continues to give the impression that Papal encyclicals are infallible. They are not. The official Catholic encyclopedia explains that a papal encyclical is a letter from the pope to the archbishops and bishops concerning matters which affect the welfare of the church at large. They condemn some prevalent form of error, point out dangers which threaten faith or morals, exhort the faithful to constancy, or prescribe remedies for evils foreseen or already existent.

Since Dr. Sproul brought up some anathemas the church announced, I just want to clarify that an anathema does not mean someone is sent to hell. It means that when a Catholic comes to mass they cannot receive the Eucharist. However,
excommunicated Catholics are encouraged to continue to attend mass so that they may turn from their ways and be received back into the church.

Many Protestants excommunicate Catholics, but they don't just keep them from observing the Lord's Supper with them, they actually judge their eternal salvation and refuse to call them Christians. For some, it is tantamount to damnation. Catholics do not understand anathemas to mean that. 

Roman titles
I wasn’t too worried about it, but my husband was concerned that Dr. Sproul’s bringing up that Christians adopted Roman titles and words for leadership made it seem as if Rome was already adopting paganism. I didn’t at all read it that way. I assume everyone knows that Christians adopting the local civic language wouldn’t  necessarily be evil. Adventists adopting the word “president” for their leadership isn’t evil. Christians adopted spelling, the alphabet, names of the weeks and months from the Romans and no one thinks that is sinful.

Theological Controversies
Sproul emphasizes the theological controversies among the few vocal scholars but that isn’t the real story of Catholicism. If the series of lectures is to help students understand certain Catholic doctrines, why spend most of the last two lectures on a few Catholic theologians infighting? Catholicism is always swatting liberal flies. The real story of Catholicism and its doctrine is huge. Dr. Sproul focuses on one infinitesimal little part. To be fair with Catholicism he needs to put down the theological microscope and put on his astronaut suit.

The Role of the Pope

I like the way George Weigel (Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington’s Ethics and Public Policy Center) put it when writing on Pope Francis at the blog, "First Things."
"[Popes] are not authoritarian figures, who teach what they will and as they will. The pope is the guardian of an authoritative tradition, of which he is the servant, not the master. 
"Thus the notion that this pontificate is going to change Catholic teaching on the morality of homosexual acts, or on the effects of divorce-and-remarriage on one’s communion with the Church, is a delusion, although the Church can surely develop its pastoral approach to homosexuals and the divorced…"
The popes are not theological dictators.
What is Papal Infallibility?
The topic of papal infallibility is the reason for his lecture and I want to add some vital comments that will fill in where he left out.

The Holy Spirit prevents the pope from officially teaching something that is sin to be truth. It is the promise of God not to let the shepherd of His flock lead His sheep into hell. If, as Christ promised, the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church then it must be protected from fundamentally falling into error and thus away from Christ. It must prove itself to be a perfectly steady guide in matters pertaining to salvation. 
The pope can’t just get up and make an infallible papal pronouncement. Almost all the infallible statements have come when the Magisterium comes together to deal with a grave matter of faith. Like the American system, the pope (like the president) has to sign off on the Magisterium’s statement.

When things like cloning, euthanasia or contraception become a moral struggle, the magisterium together with the pope, come together and seek the will of God, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with scripture and they review the long Tradition of the church and then make an infallible pronouncement to be held forever. There can be no changing of this once it is made and all Catholics must abide by it. So this happens extremely rarely. 

History of Infallibility
As Dr. Sproul said, the idea of papal primacy goes back all the way to the Apostles and he reads the Epistle to the Corinthians by Pope Clement as an example.

Other ancient proofs include: Ignatius of Antioch’s second-century letter to the church in Smyrna, he wrote, "Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8, 1 [A.D. 110]). 
Cyprian of Carthage deal directly with papal infallibility in the year AD 256: "Would the heretics dare to come to the very seat of Peter whence apostolic faith is derived and whither no errors can come?" (Letters 59 [55], 14). In the fifth century, Augustine succinctly captured the ancient attitude when he remarked, "Rome has
spoken; the case is concluded" (Sermons 131, 10).
Though the popes have had the ability to make infallible statements on faith and morals without the magisterium, that has only happened twice in the two thousand year history of the church. Pope Pius IX’s (1854) defined the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception and Pope Pius XII’s (1950) defined the dogma of Mary’s Assumption. In both of these cases, the Pope was not teaching something new. Rather, he was confirming and clarifying something that the Church had already believed as part of God’s revelation.
Bible Texts that Support Infallibility
Jesus promised the apostles and their successors as leaders of the worldwide church: "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me" (Luke 10:16). "Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven" (Matt. 18:18). Jesus promised to His entire church the protection of the Holy Spirit to "guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13). That mandate and that promise guarantee the Church will never fall away from his teachings, even if individual Catholics might. The Apostle Paul’s statement that the Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15).
If the Church is the foundation of religious truth in this world, then it is God’s own spokesman. And Peter and His successors have a special role as the Supreme Shepherd on earth just as Moses and Abraham were: John 21:15–17 ("Feed my sheep . . . "), Luke 22:32 ("I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail"), and Matthew 16:18 ("You are Peter . . . "). 

What I find confusing in Dr. Sproul’s lecture is that he shows historical evidence of the primacy of the pope but then emphasizes that it wasn’t made official doctrine until the 19th century. Why is when it was made doctrine important?
When I was studying Catholicism, I understood the importance of the church’s infallibility with one comparison. If God kept His written Word infallible through all these centuries, why could He not also keep His Church’s pronouncements also infallible? There is no less need for the church to maintain God’s Word for the millennia when most people couldn’t read than when they can. God protects His Word. Made sense to me.
Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 890-891
Lumen Gentium, 25 

1-800-MY FAITH (693-2484),
Catholic Answers “papal infallibility”

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