Refuting Rome's Appeal to Tradition
Rome builds her claims upon the notion that God could never have left the Church without a visible head and infallible guide on earth. Therefore we must have a Pope in Rome. Herbert Carson pointedly asks that if we take it as a proposition that to protect the purity of doctrine God could never leave His Church without a visible head and infallible guide on earth, by the same logic, would you not also have to conclude that God would never leave the Church with a visible and infallible head who would lead the Church in morality? Are we to believe that Rome’s Popes have guarded the truth of Christian doctrine undefiled when many of them were vile and reprehensible heretics, atheists, fornicators, liars, profligates, thieves, sellers of holy office and murderers? Are we to believe that God cares more that His Church’s doctrine remains protected than He is that her life reflects the teachings of such doctrines? Does God place orthodoxy of belief so far above orthodoxy of behavior that He gives us Popes to protect the purity of doctrine, even as these Pope live despicable and degenerate lives? These descriptions of the Popes are not mine; they are given by Roman Catholic historians. When Lord Acton said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, he had the power of the papacy in view. There were centuries in which the Popes of Rome were the most vile products of the moral sewers of Europe. Yet Rome asserts that Christ would never dream of leaving His Church without a head. My response is to ask whether anyone in his right mind could believe that Christ would inflict His body on earth with such a head!
Like the Romish attempt to make the Bible testify against itself, the Pentecostal/Charismatic ship has already been sunk, I think, based on what we deduced yesterday from Scripture about its own sufficiency. There is no contradiction in saying that at one time, recourse to revelatory sign gifts in the Church was good, and indeed necessary. But notice that this was all occurring at a time when the canon of the New Testament was as yet not closed. Once God closed the canon with a curse upon anyone who adds to it, no possibility is left for any further revelations from God. If it is not in Scripture, it is not important or necessary for salvation. It is one thing to say that Tongues and prophecy occur in the pages of Scripture, but quite another to say that these things are meant to continue after the close of the canon. When Agabus prophesied, he did not speak some unrecorded message about which we can only conjecture. His actual words are recorded in Scripture as part of the body of revelation which God seemed fit to bequeath to His people.
First then, let me give Rome’s position again in her own words by quoting from Vatican II. “In order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, handing over their own teaching role to them. This Sacred Tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments, are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from Whom She has received everything until She is brought finally to see Him as He is face to face. Therefore, the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast the tradition which they had learned either by word of mouth or by letters (2 Thess. 2:15). This Tradition which comes from the Apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit to the successors of the Apostles. Sacred Tradition hands on in its full purity God’s Word. And consequently, it is not from the Scripture alone draws Her certainty about everything which has been revealed.”
It is no secret that Rome make a great appeal to history. If you ever debate a Romanist, you will find that this is the first road they take. But, just as we showed yesterday that their appeal to the Bible is bogus, likewise we will show how their appeal to history is fraudulent also.
After the first sentence of paragraph of the Vatican II statement, they provide via a footnote a citation from Irenaeus’ Against Heresies to prove the antiquity of the notion that Apostolic Tradition and the teaching role of the Apostles was handed down to the bishops as their successors.
Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. So in Irenaeus we have an almost direct link to the Apostles themselves. And if someone is not careful enough to read his actual words, merely accepting Rome’s appeal to him, he will undoubtedly be swayed by what appears to be the voice of antiquity. Irenaeus was sent to Lyons, where he labored and died as a martyr. In his early ministry there, he was alarmed by the spread of heresy. So he felt compelled to go to Rome to raise a cry against the incursion of heretics. When he got there however, he found that bishop of Rome was patronizing the Montanist heresy. So he returned to Lyon and undertook his lifework, Against Heresies. In this work, Irenaeus, rather than supporting the notion that Rome protects the Church’s doctrine inviolate, rebukes the Roman bishops for adhering to heresy.
When one looks up what Irenaeus actually says, one sees immediately how fraudulent Rome’s appeal to him is. In the section of his work cited, Irenaeus is dealing with Gnostics. He writes, “When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and assert that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For they allege that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but viva voce.” (Against Heresies 3.2.1) The view Irenaeus is refuting here is the exact same position Rome accuses him of affirming. It boggles the mind that Vatican II had the gall to cite this passage in their favor.
Irenaeus was in effect saying, “When I rout you from Scripture, you appeal to tradition. I am a disciple of Polycarp, who was taught the Gospel by John. Don’t tell me about tradition. I am in a much better position to argue tradition than you are.” But he was not setting up that tradition, as Rome does, as a counterpart to or parallel authority of Scripture. And at 3.3.2, where we are told by Romish editors of Irenaeus of the passage that is difficult to interpret, we find Irenaeus simply saying that Rome was the center of the Catholic world because it was the center of the Roman empire. And as such it was a place to which people traveled from all over the world. These people, many of whom he names, are people who have either a direct link to the Apostles or a one person gap between them and the Apostles, when coming to Rome carry the true teaching. Hence Irenaeus could point to Rome, not as the sun giving light to all the churches, but as a mirror, reflecting a picture of the entire Catholic world’s teaching. These, people, close as they were to the Apostle, could not be fooled by invented traditions. Irenaeus’ entire point is that when the Gnostics are defeated by Scriptural argument, they resort to an unwritten tradition. But Irenaeus shows that on that front, he has the advantage over them as well. So when we compare this to what he wrote in his preface to Book 3, we see that the tradition Irenaeus appeals to he uses in support of what he has already established from Scripture.
Rome argues that the Scriptures are ambiguous. She argues that since the Gospel was originally spoken, we must get past what was written to what was spoken. This was not the position of early Christians: it was the position of early Gnostics! Shame on Rome for insulting anyone's intelligence with such illogic!
Rome claims that the task of authoritatively interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living Teaching Office of the Church of Rome. Rome claims to be the one true Mother Church and to be 2,000 years old. But in that entire 2,000 years Roman bishops have NEVER turned out an authoritative interpretation of Scripture. Rome’s Popes have never given an authoritative interpretation of Scripture, while all the while protesting that no one else has the authority to do so.
Moreover, there has often been more than one Pope. From 1309 to 1429 there were two Popes, one in Avignon and one in Rome. Which one was the infallible head then? In fact during this span, there was a time when there were three Popes. One of the dual Popes was John XXIII. When the previous Pope John was elected, they called him John XXIII, when he was actually XXIV, to expunge from history the first John XXIII, who was a legitimate Pope. These two authoritative visible and infallible heads of the Church anathematized each other, accused each other of being Anti-Christ, each damning the other and his followers to hell. Yet both professed to be the vicar of Christ. Both Popes were appointed because of political considerations. The scandalous nature of the politics of medieval Europe is well known.
Worse yet, there were times when there was a necessity for the Pope to give a definitive statement of truth, but we find the Popes dragging their feet for decades, even centuries, waiting to see how the theological battle would turn out before any statement was ever made. For example, it took the pope over 500 years to define the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a dogma that was necessary unto salvation. The debate began to rage in the 14th Century, but the Pope waited around until 1854. If the Pope was right, then Bernard, Bonaventura and Thomas Aquinas must all be in hell because they did not believe in this dogma which the Pope in 1854 claimed was an Apostolic Tradition necessary for salvation.
It took the Pope until 1870 to define his own infallibility. This dogma was not, as Romish apologist claim, something that the church had always believed and which was merely articulated at Vatican I. Prior to 1870, it was often asserted by Rome that the doctrine of papal infallibility was a Protestant invention and not a true Roman doctrine. The Apostles never defined as truth something that has been proven to be wrong, but the Pope has many times infallibly defined something to be true, only to find out later that he was wrong. In 1802, the infallible Pope canonized St. Filomena. Her bones were worshipped because she was declared to have been a martyr under Diocletian. Not long later, however, even the Pope had to admit that St. Filomena never even existed. For centuries, the infallible Popes used the Donation of Constantine and the Isodorian Decretals for his benefit, both of which have been discovered to be forgeries.
Among the supposedly infallible popes was Liberius, an Arian, who excommunicated Athanasius from the Church. Rome has the unmitigated gall to now call him St. Athanasius, totally sweeping under the rug the fact that her own Pope excommunicated a universally recognized champion of orthodoxy. Zosimus, claiming Apostolic authority, declared Pelagius and Coelestius to be absolutely orthodox in direct confrontation with Augustine, the greatest name in all of theological literature. Vigilius wavered between Eutychianism (monophysitism) and Nestorianism. When he finally made an official pronouncement, he defined Nestorianism as Biblical orthodoxy. He withdrew this statement when the Council of Constantinople in 553 condemned Nestorius as a heretic. Constantinople III declared Honorius to be a heretic in 680/1. Sixtus V gave his stamp of approval to an edition of the Vulgate, only to have it withdrawn immediately and revised for more than 3,000 crass errors that needed to be corrected. This was after officially declaring, “By the fullness of Apostolic power, we decree and declare this edition approved by the authority delivered us by the Lord, is to be received as true, lawful, authentic and unquestioned in all public and private discussion, reading, preaching and explanation.” Pope Urban VIII excommunicated Galileo for believing that Scripture is true, but that the Pope’s interpretation of Psalm 93:1 was mistaken. It was not until 1831 that Rome removed its anathema from Galileo by removing Galileo and Copernicus from the Index of Forbidden Books.
All of the above suggests two things: 1. Rome’s use of Church history is often misleading, and 2. Her theory of tradition has in fact, never worked. This leads to a further observation, namely, that Rome’s Tradition is obvious imposture. The only way to validate or authenticate that the Apostles ever said or did something is by appealing to the Bible. When one analyzes Romish tradition it becomes obvious that the whole body of it serves the Pope, his pocket and his titanic ego. How are we to believe that the selling of Indulgences was conceived to help poor souls in Purgatory, when Rome made out on them like a bandit? Rome and her popes are always the beneficiaries of the “Sacred Tradition,” and the benefit is almost always monetary. Is this not cause for suspicion?