Saturday, May 31, 2008

Good Pope, Bad Pope

After Pope Benedict XVI's recent Papal Visit to the United States, Protestant voices have been surprisingly affable in speaking about the man. I don't doubt that his visit left a positive impression for many Protestants. One fellow blogger spoke of the effect that the Pope's visit had on his decision to return to Catholicism. For Protestants willing to consider that a man can be both Pope and a Christian, I imagine most see "B16" as a good Pope. And the same would be said, I imagine, of his predecessor.

But I wonder whether there would be so much discussion of Protestant conversions to Catholicism if we had a really bad pope - a horrible, wicked pope? It seems that when one accepts Catholicism as the proper constitution of Christ's Church, one should not have their faith in the Church swayed at all if a future pope turned out to be a wicked person.



Separate to my discernment on the faith, I've been reading about how the principle of freedom of the seas flows from the political guile of Pope Alexander VI (d. 1503). In a story of political intrigue, he issued a papal bull granting sovereignty to certain states over parts of the sea (thereby excluding others from those areas of the sea). For example, he divided the Atlantic Ocean, giving half to Spain and half to Portugal. Because of this, the Dutch and British were excluded from the lucrative East Indies trade. (Aside: this later led to the Dutch hiring the famous Hugo Grotius (d. 1645) (Protestant) to find a way around the pesky Bull, and the principle of freedom of the seas (embodied in Mare Liberum) was born.)

At any rate, strife-filled international politicking, and the practices of simony and nepotism (for the children born of the Papal Mistress) in Alexander's life are enough to tell me that he was not what even open-minded modern evangelicals would call a good pope. It reminded me that times have not always been so good for the Catholic Magisterium.

I do not mean to dismiss the truth that wicked people and brokenness drive lost souls away from Christ and His Church. That certainly will always be the case, and seems rooted in many points of Scripture (not least of which is John 17). But I still have to ask (of myself) the hypothetical: if the next pope were an Alexander VI, would I still find the arguments for Catholicism and Apostolic succession convincing? Am I merely persuaded by pleasant conditions? One buying Apostolic succession must be accept this possibility and place it in its proper context.

15 comments:

Kim said...

I've thought of this, too. I don't know if I would be so disposed to the Catholic Church if I was around during a wicked pope's reign. But I guess the issue goes back to authority. If I were a part of the Catholic Church during a wicked pope's rule, I would hope I'd stay and live out my faith despite it. And I imagine that if there was a wicked pope ruling right now there would be fewer Protestant conversions. Certainly, the faith (or lack thereof) of the pope would influence the Church in every way.

But there haven't been many wicked popes, have there? In the last 2000 years, how many of those years were suffered by the Church because of a bad pope?

I also think of the judges God put over Israel. Were they all just and good?

Amy said...

It's true, we can easily turn people away from God by our actions. The more prominent the person, the greater the impact of their actions, or lack of action when required.

Coincidentally, in the past few days, I've talked to several people going through spiritual crises for this very reason; some of them are new to Catholicism, and were really struggling because of the actions of a few people (no, I'm not going to be any more explicit than that :)).

I pointed out that this is not just the church of Mother Theresa, it's also the church of the Mafia. Our faith is in God, not the people around us. People who join in with the "mafia" (even when the mafia manages to hijack the papacy) are choosing a path that does not lead to heaven.

Thos said...

Amy,

Thanks. I am only slowly taking in the difference between the Church's purity and the Church's perfection (rather, imperfection). When I confused the two, it seemed a little odd that there were so many strugglers and scoundrals within. But where I can keep them distinct, it seems perfectly normal and natural the church militant would contain many a struggling and even unrepentent sinner.

Kim,

Another interesting piece, thanks! A few wicked popes seems inevitable over time (there have been more than one or two). After all, if the Catholic claim is true, who on earth would Satan be more inclined to 'go after'? But then again if, say, 70% of them were wicked, we'd begin to wonder about this claim that the Spirit chooses leaders for the Church, or that He preserves His priests for the sake of their mission.

I've wondered about analogizing the papacy to the Jewish kings. I wonder what Catholics think of this (?). My understanding is that God gave the Jews Kings under a "you want 'em, fine, here you". basis, after they grew tired of their Judges. Obviously the righteous ones were the exception, not the rule.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Anonymous said...

Thos,

It might interest you to read Inferno, first of three parts of the Divine Comedy. Always suggested reading in any Catholic program, Dante, a medieval Catholic poet (among other things), describes his decent into Hell being led by Virgil, who represents Reason. There are the souls of many Popes, bishops, and priests suffering from many [metaphorical] torments. There is even a "ring" of Hell completely devoted to simoniacs, and, if I recall, the only souls Dante sees or communicates with suffering in that ring are those of former Popes and bishops (and Popes that are expected to be there shortly).

I don't think that the Catholic Church has ever said that anyone cannot read Dante's epic poem, though he clearly condemns those who made a mockery of their apostolic office to eternal damnation. I don't think that you'll find a single Catholic that would tell you that the person who occupies the Chair of St. Peter is exempt from all sin. Nor would a sane Catholic defend an evil Pope, bishop, or priest.

I brought up the Divine Comedy because it is a medieval work. Often the charge leveled at the Church is that every Catholic was brainwashed in medieval times to blindly follow and "worship" (if not fall just short of worshiping) the Pope. Obviously, that wasn't true for someone of such Catholic esteem as Dante.

Rene'e said...

Kim,

I believe there were 266 Popes in 2000 years and 11 would be considered bad by others. I am saying this off the top of my head, though. Each Pope should be looked into individually for study.

Amy,

I do not know if the Mafia are practicing Catholics or not. One can be baptised into the Church as an infant, and be called a Catholic, but there is a difference between "practicing and non-practicing.I am Sicilian and I am not in the Mafia, yet I am a practicing Catholic and my family is Catholic,my gradfather came to this country from Sicily,a Catholic. As far as the Mafia hijacking the Papacy, I believe that was the Godfather movie, number III, I think, but I could be wrong. I will check into that, I have not studied early Church history to that extent. So you could be right if something happened in the past, I am not certian.

The Catholic Church is open to everyone, especially the sinners, which I believe we all are. They are the people who need her the most.

Jesus came for the Sinners, not the righteous.

I am under the impression based on your comments, that sinners are few in your Church.That's impressive.

Peace
Renee

Rene'e said...

This is from a NY times article in 1995, John Paul II went to Sicily to speak regarding the Mafia's attacks on the Church.

In a message given to a delegation of prisoners, the Pope had his own warning for the mob.

"Those who are responsible for violence and arrogance stained by human blood will have to answer before the justice of God," the message said. "Today, there is a strong yearning in Sicily to be redeemed and liberated, especially from the power of the Mafia."

The mob's determination to intimidate anti-Mafia priests was made clear on Thursday, the day before the Pope arrived, when another priest in Palermo, the Rev. Mario Scifo, went into hiding after threats to bomb his church.

"The church is a target because its actions underscore the difference between what it teaches and the culture of death of these people," said Salvatore Cardinal Pappalardo of Palermo, who has often spoken out against the mob.

The Pope's visit, his fourth to Sicily, was bound to focus on the Mafia's grip on this island, which persists despite official successes over the last two years in rounding up some leading gang bosses.

Here is the rest of the article.

http://query.nytimes.com/gst
/fullpage.html?res=9B05E1DC123EF935A35752C1A962958260

Rene'e said...

Amy,

After further research, I think it is fair to say the Mafia considers the Church it's enemy.


Peace.

Thos said...

Renee,

To whom was this comment addressed: "I am under the impression based on your comments, that sinners are few in your Church.That's impressive."? I do not know which comments gave you such an impression.

Peace in Christ,
Thos.

Kim said...

After all, if the Catholic claim is true, who on earth would Satan be more inclined to 'go after'?

So true! He doesn't mess around, does he? And the Catholic Church is quite a moral force in the world despite the recent scandals that unfortunately had their effect, thanks to the mainstream media. Not that it shouldn't be exposed. Just that the media exploits as well as exposes.

I've wondered about analogizing the papacy to the Jewish kings. I wonder what Catholics think of this (?). My understanding is that God gave the Jews Kings under a "you want 'em, fine, here you". basis, after they grew tired of their Judges. Obviously the righteous ones were the exception, not the rule.

Yes, He gave them kings because of their unwillingness to accept the judges He had appointed ("we want kings like everybody else" *whine*). But He did appoint the judges, originally. And even most of them had issues.

Rene'e said...

Thos,

I was addressing the comment to Amy.Regarding her words below of people struggling because of the actions of others.



"Coincidentally, in the past few days, I've talked to several people going through spiritual crises for this very reason; some of them are new to Catholicism, and were really struggling because of the actions of a few people (no, I'm not going to be any more explicit than that :))."

"I pointed out that this is not just the church of Mother Theresa, it's also the church of the Mafia. Our faith is in God, not the people around us. People who join in with the "mafia" (even when the mafia manages to hijack the papacy) are choosing a path that does not lead to heaven."


Peace.
Renee

Tim A. Troutman said...

Remember Judas Iscariot was handpicked by Christ Himself and yet his office was not abandoned if we are to believe Acts.

Renee mentioned 11 "bad popes", I have heard the number 8 but "bad" can be fairly subjective. Even Pope Leo X (pope at the time of Luther), as greedy as he was - wasn't a corrupt pope and his teachings were solid. I've slandered him in the past out of ignorance but as I studied his doctrines which remain in writing, I am impressed.

Yet, at any rate, as a convert I can speak on this issue. Pope Benedict's election had a role in my conversion. Whereas, if it had been a liberal - even one who wasn't "corrupt" like some of the previous popes, I think I would have had an extremely difficult time converting.

Man made 2000 year old organizations don't elect people like Cardinal Ratzinger. Ever. We don't have any others to compare her [the Catholic Church] to of course though, there are no institutions on the planet that are as old as her. Which has to do with the fact that they would never elect someone like Cardinal Ratzinger. Organizations do not last 2000 years because they liberalize and fall apart. It happens over and over throughout history. But there's one with divine protection. That's why she's outlasted them all.

In short, you're right - there would be far less conversion if we had a bad pope. But this is an affirmation of Catholicism, not a denial of it or evidence against it. It shows that men have a real role in salvation.

Rene'e said...

Tim,

Your most likely right on the number of “bad” popes. I used the term “bad“, because opinions on what constitutes “bad” could vary individually among people.

Thos:

Regarding your post, though, I would like to say that on Sundays I do not know if the person sitting next to me in the pew is a sinner or saint. It would not matter to me at all if I knew who was who. The same goes for Priests, Bishops, Popes, etc.

Each man will stand accountable for his actions in his own time. I refuse to abandon my Faith or my Church, because of the weakness, sin and failings of people, irregardless of their positions.

I personally do not agree with most all of George Bush and his administrations decisions. I do not support any of the nominees for president this term. Will I abandon my Country? NO. Is our president a true reflection of America and the American people for the rest of the world to judge us? Some could say yes, some could say no. Is this an accurate way of determining what America truly stands for? I personally do not think so.

The same can be said for the Catholic Church. One has to truly experience her from within to understand that she is Christ’s church.

Just as an American knows who and what America is.

Peace.
Renee

Tim A. Troutman said...

Renee, I think the number 8 is from a lecture I heard from Patrick Madrid on his book Pope Fiction.

I'm not really sure though. My studies have thus far only led me as far as the first 18 and they've all been pretty good :)

Bob said...

There is something to be said for the idea that the weakest link in the pope chain was Peter, the first pope.

He denied Christ three times. If Jesus could select such people like this, then it's perhaps not the sinfulness of the pope we're looking for, but perhaps the mark of the Church is in the action of the Holy Spirit.

How is different than a Protestant claim of the Holy Spirit within their denomination? It's not much different on the surface. But when you see various Protestant and even Orthodox making themselves their own pope (yet not claiming they are/have a pope), perhaps it's better to go for the "pope" that makes the legitimate claim to such authority.

The bad popes don't reduce that legitimate claim, they merely prove the point - proven in every denomination - the Christian doctrine of a fallen race, of our need for Christ.

Tertium Quid said...

In "The Godfather" I & II, the Corleone family has a remarkable habit of killing off their enemies while the family is participating in Christian sacraments.

I don't know if it's a habit within the Italian mob, but it made the movies all the more dramatic.

There is a tendency among Protestants and moderns to view much of Church history as static, as if Catholics in many places and centuries are as docile, obedient, fearful, and passive as the Mexican peasants in big sombreros who cross themselves in Westerns. Any reading of contemporary literature, whether during the time of St. Augustine, St. Francis Assisi, or St. Catherine of Sienna shows the same problems of disintegration and rebirth that the Church experiences with every generation.

I don't know how fast I would have made it across the Tiber River if John Paul II had not been Pope and Leo X had been. We cannot play another generation's hand.