Why should I listen to you? [Whatever you say on a given theological subject], that is your opinion. If you say I should listen to scripture, that is saying “listen to my interpretation”. If you say read more books to be convinced of this or that, it just proves what I suspect, which is Christ gave us a visible Church to guide us. Because no offense, you are just one little voice in a sea of voices crying out for me to listen to your interpretation. You are your own Magisterium. In anticipation of your next thought (denying you are your own magisterium) let me point out that EVERY SINGLE PROOF you use to deny the fact that you are your own magisterium is based on either your personal interpretation of scripture, or some teacher/intellectual resource you find compelling. In other words, YOU are Pope of your own Christendom. There is no submission to anyone other than self. As Protestants, we need to repent of this presumption.
I’m not going to try to sort out all of the thoughts in this paragraph right now. It’s enough to say that Protestants who interact with Catholics frequently come across some form or other of this claim.
In response right now, I’ll simply say, it’s wrong to assume that Christ left us with a “pope” at all.
Believers in Jesus Christ should not seek communion with the Roman Catholic Church – Not for a thousand reasons, but especially not because something like a “papacy” can in theory, provide “unity.”
In the first place, “unity” is often not what it appears to be. A pack of lemmings can have perfect unity as they cascade en masse off a cliff.
Any kind of “unity” that might be found in the papacy is a similar kind of “unity.”
Joseph Ratzinger, while he was still a Cardinal and Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a small book, “Called to Communion,” which he offered as “a primer on Catholic ecclesiology.” This work was published popularly, but that was not its original intent.
The first three chapters “were written for a theology course” and there were “around a hundred bishops” in attendance. In a way, this represents a “Magisterial” peer review. The two other chapters were addressed to another Synod of Bishops on the topic of “priestly formation.”
If anyone can explain what the current Catholic understanding is of the papacy, it would be hard to find a better source than Joseph Ratzinger.
There’s a lot that can be said about the first chapter, too, “The Origin and Essence of the Church.” And I hope to address that at some future date. But my primary focus at this point is going to be Chapter 2: “The Primacy of Peter and the Unity of the Church.”
Ratzinger concludes his “reflections” on the papacy with the following thought:
“The Roman primacy is not an invention of the popes, but an essential element of ecclesial unity that goes back to the Lord and was developed faithfully by the nascent church.”
At some later time, Lord willing, I’ll compare Ratzinger’s conclusion with some of the things that earlier church writers have said about the “faithfully developed” Roman primacy, but for now I’ll just stick to what Ratzinger says.
To support his conclusion, he puts forth two arguments, in the following parts:
(a) in the New Testament as a whole
(b) in the group of the Twelve according to the synoptic tradition
(c) “the commission logion: Matt 16:17-19
2. The question of the Petrine succession
(a) the principle of succession in general
(b) the Petrine succession in Rome
In this, he says, “the New Testament shows us more than the formal aspect of a structure; it also reveals to us the inward nature of this structure. It does not merely furnish proof texts, it is a permanent criterion and task. It depicts the tension the tension between skandalon and rock; in the very disproportion between man’s capacity and God’s sovereign disposition, it reveals God to be the one who truly acts and is present. If in the course of history the attribution of such authority to men could repeatedly engender the not entirely unfounded suspicion of human arrogation of power, not only the promise of the New Testament but also the trajectory of that history itself prove the opposite” (72-73).
So he is saying that both the New Testament and history prove that “God truly acts and is present” in the papacy.
My intention then is to review each of the items above, as he makes the case. My contention is precisely that the papacy was neither promised in the New Testament, nor legitimately “developed” in history. I’ve already commented below on one aspect of the first part of Ratzinger’s claim: that Peter was mentioned in early oral tradition, as it was inscripturated by Paul in 1 Cor 15.
There is a reason why this is so important. In interactions with Catholics, Protestants are directed to some apparent “disunity” in the church, and then asked, “whose interpretation will bring that unity?”
Maybe there is a problem with “disunity.” I don’t concede that. But those who seek unity in Rome, unity around a “Petrine primacy,” seek a false unity.