The Burden of Proving the Papal Dogmas

Roman Catholics have the challenge of demonstrating the doctrines of the First Vatican Council on the papacy were “always” taught by both “East and West.”  Suppose you were to ask a Roman Catholic how they would demonstrate this.  You would probably be told how this or that pope taught this or that doctrine, and an attempt will be made to trace those doctrines back to the apostles.

Yet, there are at least three possible assumptions being made here:

  1. The first is the notion that the apostolicity of a doctrine is demonstrated by tracing the doctrine through a series of church fathers or popes back to the apostles.
  2. The second assumption is that an appeal to a limited group of church fathers or popes on a doctrine is sufficient to demonstrate it belongs to the deposit of faith.
  3. The third is that which was held by a limited group of church fathers or popes explicitly must have been held by other church fathers or popes implicitly.

For the first assumption, this seems to be the most reasonable and objective to identify that which is part of the deposit of faith. Otherwise, anyone could say anything is apostolic and one would have little more than their ipse dixit to go by. Yet, one cannot demonstrate the papacy dogmas with a complete list of proponents in every century or with a complete list of popes regressing back to the apostles. For this reason, assumption number two arises.

For the second assumption, this is problematic because several heretical doctrines were maintained by a limited group of church fathers. So, an appeal to a handful of proponents of a doctrine is not sufficient in and of itself. For this reason, assumption three must be made in order to demonstrate the doctrine was taught unanimously and not just by a select few.

Concerning the third assumption, I would like to demonstrate one must not assume what was taught by some church fathers or popes concerning the papacy was indicative of what other church fathers or popes would have taught on the same subject for the reason.  Allow me to demonstrate:

Suppose we say the Roman Catholic doctrine on the papacy consists of the following doctrines (which are by no means exhaustive):

  1. The pope’s power is immediate
  2. The pope’s power is ordinary
  3. The pope’s power is supreme
  4. The pope’s power is full
  5. The pope’s power is universal
  6. The pope will have perpetual successors until the second coming of Christ.
  7. The papacy is a divine institution handed down by the apostles.
  8. The papacy was established by Christ through the person of Peter.
  9. The pope is infallible on matters of faith and morals when speaking ex cathedra.
  10. The office of the papacy is non-transferable to another see.

Suppose we were to examine the following popes:

  1. Pope Evaristus
  2. Pope Eleutherius
  3. Pope Miltiades
  4. Pope Stephen
  5. Pope Damasus
  6. Pope Celestine
  7. Pope Liberius
  8. Pope Leo the Great
  9. Pope Gregory the Great
  10. Pope Hormisdas

Now, let’s say hypothetically that the following popes taught the following doctrines:

  • Pope Evaristus taught doctrines 7 and 8.
  • Pope Eleutherius taught doctrines 7, 8 and 10
  • Pope Miltiades taught nothing concerning the papacy
  • Pope Stephen taught #’s 5-9
  • Pope Damasus taught #1-3
  • Pope Celestine taught #1 only
  • Pope Liberius taught 4 and 9
  • Pope Leo the Great taught #’s 1-10
  • Pope Gregory the Great taught #’s 1-10
  • Pope Hormisdas taught #2-7

If something like this were true, it would not logically follow that popes 1-10 would have taught (if the occasion demanded it) doctrines 1-10 just because Popes Leo and Gregory taught doctrines 1-10. Why? Because it is possible to believe some popes believed some of the doctrines above without believing the rest, as belief in one does not necessarily require belief in the other. For this reason, the Roman Catholic has the burden of demonstrating either there are better ways to identify the deposit of faith other than appealing to a group of church fathers or popes, or that it is reasonable to assume that which was held explicitly by some church fathers and popes was held by other church fathers and popes implicitly.

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