By: Andrew Gilhooley
Last week, Cardinal Bergoglio of the Jesuit order from Argentina was elected to the Pontificate in Rome and took on the name Pope Francis I. This was an important event for the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics throughout the world; but what does it mean for Protestants? Does the fact that a new Pope is enthroned in the Roman See have any importance or significance for the sons of the Reformation? Before answering such a question, it is essential to first briefly discuss the Roman Catholic teaching concerning the papacy’s foundation and its evolution throughout history.
Peter and the Papacy
Traditional Roman Catholic dogma teaches that Jesus declared He would build His church upon the Apostle Peter (Matt.16.17-19). Following this, Roman Catholics then claim that Peter spent a quarter-century in Rome where he founded the Church of Rome and presided as bishop over it, thus being the first Pope. Furthermore, Roman Catholics assert that Peter bequeathed his papal authority to the succeeding Bishop of Rome; and since then there has been an unbroken line of Roman bishops who possess the papal authority of Peter passed down to them from previous generations.
These claims of Roman Catholicism listed above concerning Peter and the papacy are anti-biblical, ahistorical, and possess no validity. Firstly, the claim that Jesus declared He would build His church upon the Apostle Peter is a false interpretation of Matthew 16.17-19. In this text, Jesus is not stating that the church will be built upon the person and authority of Peter, but rather that the church will be built upon the confession of Peter, as found in Matthew 16.13-16. Secondly, there is no biblical or historical evidence that even suggests Peter presided over the Roman church as bishop, nor is there evidence that our Lord Jesus Christ imputed to Peter special papal authority which was to be passed down throughout generations. There are a plethora of other arguments against Roman Catholic claims concerning Peter and the papacy, but these will suffice.
A Brief History of the Papacy
The Roman See rose in prominence in the post-Nicene era due to its situation in the ancient, grand, and splendorous city of Rome. While Emperor Constantine moved the Roman Empire’s capital to Constantinople in 330 AD, the city of Rome was still held in high esteem due to its geographic situation, political importance, and reputation for doctrinal and moral probity; and therefore the Roman See warranted great respect from the surrounding churches. Over the centuries, this esteem from the churches eventually led to the idea that the Roman See held ecclesiastical predominance; and as a result, the Bishops of Rome began making bold claims to authority.
As centuries waxed, the Roman See became so bold in its claims to authority that eventually a schism ensued after years of confrontation in 1054 between the Eastern (Greek) and Western (Latin) churches. The East refused to submit to the papacy and later became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church, while the West continued in its submission to the papacy and has since been distinctly referred to as the Roman Catholic Church.
By the thirteenth century, the term ‘Vicar of Christ’ became commonly used in reference to the Pope—the blasphemous notion that the Pope is the visible head of the Church on earth and acts for and in the place of Christ with His authority. To support this claim, Rome perversely interpreted sundry texts such as Matthew 16.19 to mean that the Pope—Peter’s supposed successor—owned the keys of heaven and that God’s will was made manifest by his decrees.
It was also during the thirteenth century that the papacy rose to its zenith under Pope Innocent III (1198-1216), who claimed supreme authority over the entire Church and even over all of Europe’s kings. By this time, the papal office had abandoned all cares in regards to spiritual matters and instead directed all their efforts toward the increase of their power, wealth, and glory. The papal office was not only diabolically corrupted in regards to authority, but also in regards to morality. The popes disregarded every aspect of God’s moral law to such a degree that they were even often publically recognized to be the fathers of numerous illegitimate children. They were idolaters, murderers, adulterers, thieves, and led the church in perverted religion.
From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, the papacy steered the Roman Catholic Church almost into complete idolatry and apostasy with the fervent worship of Mary, superstitious ceremonial rites, indulgences, and many other atrocious practices contrary to true religion. The gospel of free grace in Jesus Christ which is received by faith alone was buried in the sands of time and the Holy Scriptures were locked away in the basements of the Vatican. Many priests were not even literate and most had never read the Bible.
In the sixteenth century, the Lord raised up a German monk named Martin Luther who began the greatest religious movement in the history of the world: the Reformation. He denied the authority of the papacy and the superstitious religion of Rome; and by the grace of God recovered the lost doctrine of ‘Justification by Faith Alone.’ God raised up men such as Ulrich Zwingli, John Calvin, and John Knox who followed in Luther’s steps and devoted their lives to the recovery of the Gospel and true religion which the papacy and Roman Catholic Church had almost completely obliterated.
By the seventeenth century, the papacy lost the majority of its sway over the West and was devastated due to the Reformation; and as a reaction convened the Council of Trent (1545-1563), whose canons and decrees condemned the Reformation and anathematized any person or institution that refused to submit to Rome. The clincher which resulted in the complete apostasy of the papacy and Roman Catholic Church was the anathematization of the Doctrine of Justification by Faith Alone at Trent:
“If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification . . . let him be anathema” (Canon Nine of the Sixth Session of the Council of Trent).
Every Pope from the Council of Trent to the present day has upheld the council’s heretical canons and decrees.
Now back to my original question: Does that fact that a new Pope is enthroned in the Roman See have any importance or significance for those of us following in the tradition of the Reformation? By looking at the biblical and historical evidence, the answer is clear: no. Firstly, as explained earlier, the papacy has no biblical (or even historical) warrant to authority, and therefore Christians are not required to submit to any institution that God has not ordained. Secondly, the Pope is not the head of the church as he claims to be, but rather our Lord Jesus Christ is (Col.1.18; Eph.1.22); and neither is the Pope or any other man the Vicar of Christ, and therefore no Christian is required to submit to his authority. Thirdly, the Pope is the head of an apostate institution that upholds the heretical decrees and canons of the Council of Trent which deny the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore no Christian ought to submit themselves to such a pagan who denies true religion and possesses no authority from heaven above.
In summation, the papacy is the most perverted, idolatrous, and blasphemous office in the history of the church and is in complete opposition to Christ, the Gospel, proper worship, and true religion; and therefore the only thing that the election of Cardinal Bergoglio to the Pontificate means to Protestants is: the world’s largest pagan cult and apostate institution has yet another leader. I end with statements from Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, and the Westminster Confession of Faith:
"The pope and his crew are mere worshippers of idols, and servants of the devil, with all their doings and living; for he regards not at all God’s Word, nay, condemns and persecutes it, and directs all his juggling to the drawing us away from the true faith in Christ. He pretends great holiness, under color of the outward service of God, for he has instituted orders with hoods, with shavings, fasting, eating of fish, saying mass, and such like: but in the groundwork, `tis altogether the doctrine of the devil.” –Martin Luther
"It [is] far better to not be a Christian than to think Popery to be Christianity, for it is one of the vilest forms of idolatry that ever came from the polluted heart of man!" –Charles Spurgeon
“There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ (Col.1.18; Eph.1.22). Nor can the Pope of Rome, in any sense, be head thereof (Matt.23.8-10; 1 Pet.5.2-4); but is that Antichrist, that man of sin, and son of perdition, that exalts himself, in the Church, against Christ and all that is called God (2 Thess.2.3-4,8-9; Rev.13.6)” –Westminster Confession of Faith 25.6