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May 16, 2012


The Vicar

Two weeks ago I met with the Vicar at our local parish, I always enjoy spending time with the good Fr. He’s very orthodox in his faith, has a degree in philosophy and theology, and he enjoys a good discussion about faith.

But this time I had a real surprise for him, I told him that I was considering leaving the Catholic faith, and moving into the Eastern Orthodox church. To his credit he only paused for a moment before beginning to ask questions, and find out what was driving my decision. After a lengthy discussion covering a whole spectrum of issue, we  finally got down to the following issues, listed in order of precedence:


1. Papal and Magisterial Infallibility.

2. Universal Authority given to the Papacy in the Gospel of Matthew as taught by the church.

3. Dogmatizing The Assumption of Mary, and The Immaculate Conception.

4. The Churches stance on contraception and Natural Family Planning.

5. What I agreed to without full understanding when I was confirmed.

The conversation covered many other topics, but none really worth writing about in much detail. We talked about the Filoque and what it means from both the Catholic and the Orthodox perspective, liturgical abuses that still take place (even in our own parish), the sorry state of the RCIA programs.

The first issue on the list is the single most important, on it actually rest all the other issues. We discussed church history, and how I could find no real reference in the writings of the church fathers to bolster the Catholic case for infallibility or universal authority for the papacy. Because of other commitments, he handed me a number of books he used when going through the seminary to become a priest, and I promised to read through them and we would meet back up and continue our discussion. We both agreed that if the Schism could be repaired none of this would be needed, but I’ve come to believe that will never happen until Christs return (more on that in a bit).

The three books where on the Magisterium, the councils of the church, and one called ‘All Things Catholic’. I started on the Magisterium book first, while I don’t deny the magisterium as some do. I do not believe that it can be proven to be infallible, I hold the same view with the Papacy. I believe in the primacy of the petrine position, and that each bishop receives the promise given to Peter in Matthew 15. The Papacy played an important role in the early church in regards to protecting dogma, but I have never found any evidence that the Papacy was given universal authority to make dogmatic statements outside of an ecumenical council.

The book I started with is written by Francis A. Sullivan, and while reading through the book, I ran into a section that made me stop and go back to make sure that I had read what he stated was correct. In discussing the authority of the Papacy, he clearly states that up until 1032, when the schism between east and west happened. That the doctrine of Papal authority ONLY existed with the Roman church, and that even when the Papacy made decrees ex cathedra, that the Eastern churches would not accept such declarations until a ecumenical council was held and the decree could be validated against both the deposit of faith, and scripture.

Wait, What?

Here is a Catholic admitting the very thing I’ve been saying all along, that the early church DID NOT, in any way shape or form support the doctrine of divine Papal authority to decree doctrine unilaterally. He also states very clearly something I had never considered before, that after 1032, when the west was no longer being held to account by the East, the doctrine of Papal authority began to to expand quickly.

I had never considered that the union of East and West was a good counterbalance, but he’s right. The seat of Peter being the universal position of power in the church, is NOT taught in the deposit of faith. If it was then the East either discerned it incorrectly or the Apostles made a mistake. Instead what I’ve seen from history is that the East steadfastly held that the authority of the Papacy did not extend universally, and that unlike the decrees of Vatican I, the Papacy DID not have authority to unilaterally make dogmatic decisions. Only when the Papacy AND the bishops met in a truly ecumenical council could such decisions be made.

I had to stop and smile, I know the Vicar was hoping that the book would clear up the issue for me, instead the author in being truthful made the very case I’ve been making all along. Then he asks a question that I was hoping he would get too:

How can we be confident that the Catholic understanding of papal doctrinal authority is a correct insight into what is implicit in the ‘petrine ministry’?
I would say that our confidence is ultimately based on our belief that the Church of Christ is indefectible in its faith, and that it subsists in the Catholic Church. When the Catholic Church accepted papal authority to define dogmas, it was making a judgement about a norm of its faith. A Church that is indefectible in its faith cannot be mistaken about the very norm of its faith. [Magisterium, Francis A. Sullivan, Wipf And Stock Publishers, Pg 77]

 Two things about this statement, by the time the Church decreed as doctrine, infallibility it was no longer the original Catholic Church, it had long since lost the East and the balance that they brought to such decisions. And I would say that she no longer can be called the ‘One True Catholic Church’, without the East, the Church is missing a key component and no longer has any real accountability other than whatever doctrinal development that the Church decrees as core to the dogma of the faith. That’s a harsh statement, but one that I don’t see any way around, the Church believes that both the Assumption of Mary, and the Immaculate Conception are dogmatic, not because the Church can prove them explicitly.  But because over centuries of theologians, and the Magisterium working through the belief, that they where guided by the Holy Spirit to finally be able to conclude that they could authoritatively make those beliefs, even without Apostolic teaching on the matter, dogmatic.

This development of doctrine concept, when combined with the break at 1032, was a slippery slope that allowed the church to slowly move away from the structure of the first millennium, into one where doctrine is no longer accountable. It should concern Catholics that an infallible Papacy and Magisterium, had to declare themselves as infallible in 1870, and not during the first seven ecumenical councils. If such a drastic doctrine is TRULY inspired, then why declare it only after almost two thousand years?. I’ve heard the argument that the Church was forced to do so, because of the protestant revolution, but the doctrine of Papal authority can be seen as being challenged as early as the second century. So that argument doesn’t wash.

To be fair, I’m now reading through the book where he talks about infallibility and breaks it down. And maybe yet he can make a case, and I will finally see the light. I’m trying to keep an open mind, because I could be wrong, but the fact that the Church made both the Assumption, and the Immaculate Conception to be dogmatic, meaning that to be a Christian I HAVE to believe them. Well, that’s a bigger problem than even infallibility. To be clear Orthodox believe in the Assumption (they call it the Dormition), and the Immaculate Conception requires a discussion of original sin, which honestly I don’t have time to address here, but I will at a future point. But you don’t have to believe them to be Orthodox, which is the way it should be.

I’ve made my position clear on contraception, that I believe that in a marriage with medical or external reasons for not having more children, that the Orthodox position is much more grace filled than what you will find with a truly orthodox priest. The point that we did argue on was Natural Family Planning, Catholics just can’t seem to admit that it’s used for contraception. I get that it can be used to conceive, and that’s a GOOD thing. But there is no difference between a married couple using a condom, and using NFP to achieve the same result of no children, sorry there’s no way to spin that one.

I’m reading through this book pretty quickly, and will meet with the Vicar again very soon. As stated before, I still love the Catholic Church, I wish that the schism could be fixed. But that would mean the decree of 1870 would have to be revoked, and that would mean that the whole thing was a mistake. That’s not happening anytime soon…

I cannot in good faith, be forced to believe that the immaculate conception actually took place as taught in the Catholic Faith. And especially that it is an issue of salvation as stated in the decree given by the Papal office. Which means that I don’t believe that office be infallible, it’s all connected. That’s a deal breaker, because the Church has deemed that it has the right after almost two thousand years to change the dogma of the faith. I can’t abide with that, and so it’s East that I continue to go.


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9 Comments Post a comment
  1. May 16 2012


    Just time for a brief comment. Let’s say what you’re saying is true. Doesn’t that mean that the one true Church was split in twain in the 11th century?

    Do you think the Church was split in two at that time, and if so, the Eastern Orthodox are not the true Church either but just a split off the true Church which is now impossible to find.

  2. May 16 2012

    I don’t see how it can be any other way, simply because both sides claim to be the ‘One True Church’ doesn’t mean that one has to be wrong. They are actually three positions:

    1. One or the other is wrong.
    2. Both are wrong.
    3. Both are right.

    Which is the right answer?

    I don’t know, but what I see before 1032 is a unified church who despite differences in the development of doctrine, balanced each other in a substantial way. Each benefited from the other, and each has lost just as much from the schism.

    I actually had this discussion with the Fr. at the Antiochian Orthodox Church, and we are discussing what confirmation statements one has to make, I need to finish my promise to read the material given to me, and then get them back to the Vicar. Then I’ll have some time to further investigate Orthodox confirmation.

    But here’s a question for you, does this REALLY matter? it is so critical to my faith as a christian that there can only be one? (I’m having vision of Sean Connery making that statement 😉

    My ‘opinion’ (and it’s just that right now) is that neither can be the ‘One True Church’ until the schism is dealt with, because both irrecoverably changed after 1032.

    The Catholic Church is home in many ways, it’s comfortable, and I love the Liturgy. But to stay I have to be in constant tension as you have mentioned, if the Orthodox church requires the same level of doctrinal commitment as the Catholic Church. Well, then I’ll have to cross that bridge when I get there.


    • May 17 2012


      And it’s a bit more complicated, because to be thorough you should really also be discerning with the Coptic and Armenian Orthodox Churches as well, which are NOT in full communion with the Eastern Orthodox (having split long centuries prior). You may hear that “oh they’re close to being in full communion” with the EO, but I don’t think that is true.

      How do you know that the Church didn’t split into two with the Armenians, or the Copts?

      Here’s what you need to find: start with the Church in the beginning, first century, and trace it forward. For each “split,” discern what was the principle for identifying the Church vs. the group that schismed from the Church. This is the crucial question you must find the answer to.

      This will help explain it in more detail:

      If you cannot answer it, then your belief that there cannot be one true Church “until the schism is dealt with” is ad hoc, because there were many prior schisms, including the big ones I listed here. Why wouldn’t those prior schisms also have to be healed first?

      God bless!

  3. May 17 2012


    I don’t get your point at all, both East and West scholars agree that there were seven ecumenical councils held. I’m agreeing with the historians that those councils where held by the whole church.

    The question is not what happens before 1032, that’s not what I’m stating. The question is what happens after 1032, when the schism happened.

    If the same churches who held, what all consider to be fully ecumenical councils, no longer can meet as a whole. Then either side claiming to be the one true church is just theological posturing. Because both can show apostolic succession, both can trace their history to the apostles. So this idea that only one can the true church is not provable, because both can authoritatively lay claim to that title.

    There simply is no ‘perfect’ answer here, you Devin Rose, take on faith that the Catholic Church is the church that Christ founded and has continued onto this day. Great!, I honestly think that’s a good thing.

    But I look at history, the development of doctrine for both East and West, and I see the West adding onto the core essentials of the faith (or the dogma), things that they can neither prove through history, scripture or the deposit of faith. They can only prove it through this concept of doctrine ‘developing’ over centuries. Sullivan in his book states that Pious in decreeing infallibility pressured the magisterium by stacking the deck towards what he wanted to decree. I need to do some digging on that, but if Sullivan, a Catholic theologian, states that. Well I have a hard time believing he’s wrong.

    He then states that despite how Pious forced the issue that in the end the right decision was made because the true church cannot be in error, which is a statement based solely on Sullivan’s theology and acceptance of the doctrine.

    So again, Sullivan makes the very case that I’m stating:

    Nowhere in the early Church Fathers, deposit of faith, or even history can you clearly state that papal infallibility exists. If it’s out there, I haven’t seen it. The same with the assumption, and conception. You can argue the development of doctrine, but it’s impossible to prove.

    The whole thing is an inductive argument, an infallible papacy, declares itself infallible, based on it’s infallibility…

    Re-read what Sullivan states, that in essence is what he’s stating.

    So is either side correct?, again why can’t both be correct? (or wrong even). This isn’t a contest where one gets the crown, and the other goes home a loser, it’s a disaster that has impacted both sides negatively.

    So if I have to choose, then the Orthodox church is my choice. They haven’t felt the need to add onto the dogma, things that they can’t prove by using the development of doctrine concept. Which Sullivan clearly states is very controversial.

    • May 17 2012


      Armenian scholars do not agree that there were seven ecumenical councils. They do not recognize the ones after (they say) we schismed from them. Nor does the Coptic Church.

      So you unintentionally beg the question of what is “the whole church” when you say “I’m agreeing with the historians that those councils where held by the whole church.”

      The Armenian Apostolic Church has valid apostolic succession and seven sacraments. So does the Coptic Church.

      Greater numbers can’t decide the issue of who is in schism. So what that there are 1.2 billion Catholics and, say, 300 million Eastern Orthodox. There are less Copts and Armenians than those numbers but either of them could still be the true Church, with (ultimately) the Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Church having broken in schism from them.

      No doctrine of the Faith can be proven. Not apostolic succession, or the canon, or the number and nature of the sacraments.

      There are many writings from Church Fathers and actions by Christians in the early centuries that provide evidence of papal infallibility. Look at Irenaeus in the 2nd century: every church must agree with the church of Rome. Why should they? What if the church of Rome taught heresy?

      And why do the Eastern patriarchs appeal to Rome repeatedly throughout the centuries? For truth, for justice, for the condemnation of heresy and the upholding of orthodoxy. Even long after Rome itself was no longer the important city in the Empire.

      Sure, both EO and the Catholic Church could be wrong. Or they could both be (mostly) right. And the Church could have split in two (or three, or four). But those claims have serious implications, and the EO and Armenians and Copts all claim to be the one true Church.

      If you want to read about all this, read Fortescue’s book on the papacy up to Chalcedon, and the abridged version of Soloviev’s book on the papacy and the Russian Orthodox Church, or Carroll’s history of Christendom series. Fortescue’s is a short book and inexpensive; I’d start there.

      Paul, I’m just telling it to you straight. I’m not angry at you or anything. There is a Coptic Church right next door to my old parish in the Austin area. They’re real; they too have been around for 2,000 years; and they have plausible-sounding claims to being the true Church that takes some study to discern the merits of.

      God bless,

  4. May 17 2012

    Let’s break this down one thing at a time…

    First I want to tackle infallibility, because it is core to what we are discussing, you quote Irenaeus who states in ‘Against Heresies':

    “All churches must agree with it [the Catholic Church] on matters of doctrine because they must agree with the apostolic tradition preserved by the apostolic churches”

    But somehow you can read into that Papal Infallibility, which to me is just amazing. You have just demonstrated the Peter Principle in action, where any text referring to Peter can be molded to fit the Catholic development of doctrine.

    Instead of arguing the point, I’m going to let Sullivan do it for me:

    Now there is no questioning the fact that during the first millennium, appeals to the bishop of Rome for judgements concerning doctrinal disputes came not only from churches like those of North Africa, which looked to Rome as the source of their own apostolic tradition, but from the apostolic churches of the East. Such bishops as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria, and Flavian of Constantinople, appealed to the bishop of Rome to pronounce his judgement on the disputes that were dividing the churches of the East in their day. It would be tempting to take such appeals to Rome as evidence of a universal recognition of the authority of the bishop of Rome to make definitive pronouncements on the matters of doctrine for the whole Church. But the reality is more complex than that. Modern Catholic scholars insist on the necessity of distinguishing between the Roman view of papal authority to decide doctrinal disputes for the whole Church, and the attitude of the bishops of other churches, both of the East and the West. [Magisterium, Francis A. Sullivan, Wipf And Stock Publishers, Pg 64-65]

    I’m going to paraphrase Sullivan on this next part, on page 90 he states that while Aquinas and the second council of Lyons state that the Pope has teaching authority, neither go as far as to he is infallible in that role. Which I must stress again…


    The Catholic doctrine of infallibility CANNOT, be shown to exist outside of Rome at ANY TIME before 1032. In fact Sullivan clearly states that it was a ROMAN theology not held by the rest of the Church. He does state that there is a clear development of the doctrine from Trent to Vatican I, again making my point that there is no evidence of infallibility in the early Church.

    You have to purposely read into the text of the church fathers to reach any other conclusion, further Sullivan states:

    No doubt it is important for our understanding of the dogma of papal infallibility to know how it came to be defined, and to be aware of the all too human factors that contributed to the triumph of the ‘infallibilists’ at Vatican I. A.B. Hasler has attributed this triumph to the unfair pressures put on the bishops by Pope Pius IX, to the point that the council’s decision was not truly free. While few of his reviewers were convinced that he had proved his thesis, there is no doubt about the fact that undue pressures were applied, and that some of the tactics employed by the leaders of the majority (like the stacking of the Deuptatio de Fide with ‘infallibilists’) were far from admirable. [Magisterium, Francis A. Sullivan, Wipf And Stock Publishers, Pg 95]

    Mind you, this is a Catholic Theologian who is just stating it as it happened. While I understand and respect his decision to say that in the end he believes in papal infallibility, I do not.

    There is nothing in the writing of the early church, nor the church fathers, nor scipture that teach this doctrine. If there was, Sullivan who wrote a book used to teach theology, would have cited it. Of that I’m %100 positive. But he doesn’t and unlike modern day Catholic Apologist who feel the need to declare the issue resolved by citing out of context church fathers, the history of both the Church and the Papacy show a completely different story.

    It’s a shame that Pius forced the issue in 1870, because now everything is on the line. By declaring that doctrine taught ex Cathedra is without error, the church is put into a defensive position. Leaving only the theology of doctrinal development, and the supposed universal authority of the Papacy as the only thing they can fall back on.

    And by the way, I appreciate your candor, I’m not mad. Your making me pull out books and text, which is always a good thing. I know about the Coptic Church, they aren’t on the list. They broke away for the wrong reasons, so in the end it’s East or West. The canon of scripture of defined long before 1032, it’s been pretty universal (yeah I know the whole deutero canonical nonsense from the protestants, that’s an easy issue to get around), and it came from what I will call the unified Church of East and West.

    Everyone claims to be the one true church, heck the protestants make a religion of justifying why they are apostolic (the trail of blood for instance). So anyone can MAKE the claim, but only two have met the criteria I’m using, so those are my choices. I wish they could get back together, but Pious showing the human problem of the Papacy fixed that at Vatican I.


  5. May 17 2012


    Let’s break it down, definitely, but let’s also be careful about what we read into the other’s words. In no way did I seek to reference Irenaeus to “prove” papal infallibility. Also, note that I didn’t change his quote as you did to say the Catholic Church when he really said the church of Rome. Meaning, the church in Rome versus the church in Ephesus or Jerusalem or Antioch or Alexandria.

    And I was asking a question there: how can Irenaeus say that every church must agree with that one, founded by the glorious Apostles Peter and Paul (which, by the way, many many historians and scholars would dispute is true)? Why should they have to agree with that one? What if, as non-Catholic Churches claim, the church of Rome taught heresy? Then the other churches could not agree with it. Yet that rather obvious (humanly speaking) possibility is not even given a footnote or qualification or caveat from Irenaeus, as if it were not even a possibility. But the only way it would not be a possibility would be if God was protecting that see from error in some way. That is not a proof of papal infallibility, nor am I using it as such. It’s simply one important data point in an avalanche of others in the first millennium, more of which are included in the books that I suggested to you.

    I haven’t read Sullivan’s work, but be careful to take every opinion he espouses as gospel. It’s not gospel. It’s his scholarship, a great amount of which may be substantially accurate, but it’s not, shall we say, infallible.

    And so, in addition to the things he mentions, the history of the papacy itself needs to be studied, where various popes stood for orthodoxy when all was against them, when they themselves seemed compromised and bought by emperors who fully expected them to pronounce heresy as truth, and yet they miraculously didn’t. When the Arians were inches from capturing the papacy, and yet they failed. All the while, the other major sees fell into heresy again and again, something that no one disputes because there is no way to dispute it.

    You say there is no evidence of papal infallibility in the first millennium. I say, read Fortescue’s book for some evidence. It’s not proof. No doctrine can be proved. Doctrine certainly develops. Christology developed in response to the heresies that cropped up in the first six hundred years of Christianity.

    You say the Copts broke away “for the wrong reasons.” Is there a “right” reason to break from the Church? They said they were the Church and the others broke from them and taught heresy. Both sides point that same finger at each other. The question is, how do you know that it was the Copts who broke from the Church and not the other way around? What was the principle of unity during that time in the Church? And since you seem to admit that you think the Church itself could fall into heresy, it’s possible both the Copts and the Church taught heresy–God hasn’t protected the Church or any group from error in doctrine, and voila, you are back to Protestantism.

    Sure, the Catholic Church could be like the Orthodox and not define any doctrine as dogma. Now there’s more flexibility of belief. But the Church marches forward and is moved by the Spirit. Ask three EO apologists what the EO Old Testament canon consists of. I have done this and gotten two to three different answers. The canon is not dogmatized. So there’s “flexibility” there. But flexibility can also be simple vagueness, not mystery. The canon shouldn’t be an open question, but the EO lack the ability to convene an ecumenical council and dogmatically decide the question.

    God bless,

  6. May 17 2012

    I should have quoted Irenaeus as talking about the Roman church, that is the context he is speaking about. I apologize, my bad. I’m not disputing what he is saying is not true, and I’m certainly not implying that the early churches did not look to Rome to maintain their doctrinal disputes. You can’t read church history and not see that clearly played out.

    Let me change the question because if there is this much information available out there as you state about infallibility, why would the East from the very beginning not believe in the universal and infallible teaching of the papacy?

    Note that I’m not saying they didn’t defer to Rome on issues of doctrine, but as Sullivan and others have clearly stated, they refused to accept any doctrinal statements from the Papacy without an ecumenical council.

    To be clear Sullivan is simply stating the very thing that I have read from Orthodox theologians, and what I have read for myself in the writings of the church fathers. Which is why I’m quoting his writing, he’s certainly not the final authority. But for me he is another data point in why I don’t believe in infallibility.

    Remember all this started because I wanted to know why two churches who shared the deposit of faith from the Apostles, could see things so differently. And I stopped reading apologists and went to the source, where I was not finding what apologists continually stated was there.

    I agree about the history of the papacy, there where some great men who held that office, and stood their ground against all odds. In the first two centuries it was basically a guaranteed martyrs demise.

    I will look at Fortescue’s book, and dig through it. I’m specifically after the doctrine of infallibility, the papacy as the teaching office is not in dispute as far as I’m concerned.


    • May 18 2012


      The Church’s understanding of the papacy and papal infallibility developed. But! the Church’s understanding of _the existence and infallibility of ecumenical councils *also* developed_. In other words, if you had asked all the bishops of the Church in 200 AD about ecumenical councils, you would have gotten some confused looks. Heck, if you had asked them in 350 AD (after Nicaea) about them, you probably would have gotten confused looks. They didn’t call it the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea at that time because how would they know there would be another one, or that it was an “ecumenical” council in the sense we understand it today? Or that God guided the bishops in the council such that their doctrinal proclamation were true (infallibility)?

      Similarly, the Church’s understanding that infallibility had two (inter-related) loci: in ecumenical councils and in the papacy itself under certain conditions, deepened over time. The statement about Eastern bishops refusing to listen to the pope on doctrine except via ecumenical councils is not accurate. At the least it is too simplistic. Look into the very question of how a council is deemed ecumenical. Especially with why we now call it the Robber Council and who then brought about the real ecumenical council shortly afterwards.

      My point about the papacy too was that there were _bad, faithless_ men who captured the papacy, men who were bought by emperors, and who were expected to then proclaim heresy, and yet they failed to do so. That’s the amazing thing.

      Yes get Fortescue’s book! It’s short but includes evidence for papal infallibility, and its recognition by the East and West, even outside of ecumenical councils.

      God bless,


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