The HyperTexts


When is a papal bull pure bullshit?

The Catholic Church claims the pope is infallible "in matters of faith and morals." According to Catholic dogma, the pope is capable of speaking "infallibly" when:

he speaks ex cathedra, which means in his official capacity as pastor and teacher
he speaks with the manifest intention of binding the entire church to acceptance
the matter pertains to faith or morals taught as a part of divine revelation handed down from apostolic times

by Michael R. Burch

Papal Infallibility, also called ultramontanism, is a fairly recent doctrine, having been made part of Roman Catholic dogma in 1870, with the decree Pastor Aeternus by the First Vatican Council:

“We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”

Papal infallibility was the brainchild of Peter Olivi, a Catholic theologian who was accused of multiple heresies. His purpose, according to Austin Cline, may have been "to prevent future popes from rescinding a ruling favorable to Franciscans [his personal religious order] made by Pope Nicholas III (1277-1280)." But papal infallibility seems to have soon become a Pandora's box, because "Nicholas was willing to go along with this idea, but later popes rejected it outright ... Pope John XXII (1316-1334) went so far as to call it 'a work of the devil ... the Father of Lies' and in 1324 actually issued a papal bull condemning it as heresy."

How can popes be infallible when one papal bull calls another pope's "infallible" bull the work of the devil?

But hold onto your hardhats, because things get even dicier. According to Cline, "Catholic theology asserts that the entire church is infallible (and therefore cannot err in matters of faith) when, from bishops to laity, it shows universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. Evidently popularity produces truth. Only a few persons in the church (those who hold its highest teaching office) are believed to proclaim Christian doctrine infallibly: (1) the entire body of bishops in union with the pope when it teaches with moral unanimity; (2) an ecumenical council which receives papal approval; and (3) under certain conditions, the pope alone."

But it's more than obvious that ecumenical councils with papal approval have been wrong, because the Church has admitted such errors publicly.

For instance, Galileo was condemned to live the remainder of his life under house arrest after a lengthy Catholic Church investigation into the charges of heresy brought against him. The "Holy Office" called his theories "false and contrary to Holy Scripture" and claimed he was "gravely suspect of heresy." Pope Urban VIII instructed that Galileo "should be questioned as to his intentions and that he should be menaced with torture." So clearly this was serious business and there was a council that had the pope's approval to arrive at a matter of faith. The Bible clearly says the earth is "immovable" (because the hand of God set it in place), with "fixed foundations," "corners" and "pillars." So this was a matter faith and divine revelation handed down from apostolic times (the author of Revelation, said to be the apostle known as Saint John the Divine, spoke of the earth having "corners" and of all eyes seeing Jesus descend from the clouds, which can only happen on a flat planet.)

Some "experts" dispute the nature of Galileo's heresy, speculating that it had to do with matters of faith, such as the nature of the Eucharist. But Galileo's own testimony debunks such claims. Clearly what he recanted (in order to save his life) was the idea that the earth orbits the sun, rather than vice versa. In the fourth interrogatory, Galileo clearly addressed the charge against him:

"I have not held the Copernican system since I was ordered to abandon it [referring to his censure in 1616]. But I am in your hands. Do with me what you will. For some time before the determination of the Holy Office, and before I received the command [in 1616], I had been indifferent as to the two opinions of Ptolemy and Copernicus, and had held that both were disputable and that both could be true in nature. But after being assured by the prudence of my superiors, all my doubts ceased, and I held, as I now hold, the theory of Ptolemy as true, that is the earth does not, and that the sun does move."

This "confession" explains why Galileo was not tortured: the inquisitors were forbidden (by the regulations imposed on them) to use torture if a "heretic" recanted. The purpose of torture was to bring the "heretic" back to a "proper understanding of the faith." In order to save his life, Galileo pretended not to believe the earth orbited the sun, and once his avowed "beliefs" matched those of the Catholic Church, the inquisitors were not permitted to torture him. Is threatening to torture a scientist and extracting a retraction under extreme duress the justice of an "infallible" church, or the bizarre machinations of a bunch of evil moronic quacks? (The question is rhetorical, but for the sake of the many remaining quacks, I must state the obvious.)

In 1825, the Catholic Church admitted its error and apologized for the condemnation of Galileo and his work in an official document written by Dom Olivieri, the General of the Dominican order and commissary of the "Holy Office."

In 1989, Pope John Paul II apologized for the Church's sins and pointed out that the province of the Church is theology and revelation, not science or astronomy. But as we will see in the matter of infant baptism, the Catholic Church is hardly "infallible" in matters of theology and revelation . . .

The Catholic Church obviously knows more about "hell" and "limbo" than God and his prophets, because the God of the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible) and his prophets never mentioned a place of suffering after death called "hell." The word Sheol was incorrectly translated as "hell" in the King James Version of the Bible, but Sheol was obviously "the grave," not "hell," because:

Job asked to be hidden from suffering in Sheol
King David said that if he made his bed in Sheol, God would be there
The sons of Korah said God would redeem them from Sheol
Ezekiel and Paul agreed that all Israel would be saved, but Israel himself spoke of joining his son Joseph in Sheol

Furthermore, anyone who has read the Old Testament knows that God and his prophets never even mentioned the possibility of hell to Adam and Eve (the original sinners), or to Cain (the first murderer), or to Noah (at the time of the wickedness that led to the Great Flood), or to Abraham and Lot (at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), or even to Moses (at the time of the giving of the law and its punishments). Since hell was never mentioned to even the worst people at the worst of times, obviously there was no place of eternal suffering for anyone to fear. The subject never even came up. So how did the Catholic Church come to condemn all the children of earth to an "eternal hell"?

That is, indeed, a mystery.

According to Josephus, the Pharisees (the sworn enemies of Jesus) were the people who introduced the dogma of an "eternal hell" to the Judaism of their day!

And isn't it interesting that the ostentatious palace of the Vatican has come to resemble the ostentatious temple of Solomon (a nonbeliever), which was later rebuilt by Herod (another nonbeliever)? The first occurrence of the number 666 in the Bible is a reference to the weight in gold accumulated by Solomon each year. That gold allowed Solomon to build his famous temple to a God, which according to Ecclesiastes (of which he is said to be the author), he did not believe in.

But Solomon didn't condemn anyone to an "eternal hell," so it seems the Pope has exceeded Solomon in audacity and heresy. How can the Pope condemn human beings to a hell that God and the Hebrew prophets never mentioned, unless the Pope is a nonbeliever?

To be fair, this would also make famous Protestants like Martin Luther, John Calvin and Billy Graham heretics as well.

According to the Bible, neither Jesus nor Saint Paul ever mentioned the creation or purpose of a place called "hell." The first Christian sermons, those of Saint Peter and Saint Stephen, are recorded word-for-word in the book of Acts, which is ostensibly the self-recorded history of the early Christian church. But even though those sermons were addressed to the men who had unjustly murdered Jesus Christ, a place called "hell" and the subject of eternal suffering was never mentioned.

Paul (who said he received his gospel directly from God) never mentioned a place called "hell" in his epistles. Isn't that odd? If there really was a place called "hell," which was created by God long after the Old Testament was written, this would have been the most important fact in recorded history. Before hell was created, the wages of sin was death. But once hell had been created, the wages of sin was something else entirely. And yet there is not a single verse in the entire Bible in which God or any prophet or evangelist ever discusses the creation of hell, or its purpose. As in the case of the Cheshire cat, one can only say, "Curious and curiouser."

Once "Christian" theologians had decided that everyone who didn't believe in Jesus had to go to a "hell" their God had never mentioned, they had to "help" God avoid sending babies and children who were too young to believe in Jesus to a place of eternal suffering. While it seems laughable to suggest that a loving, wise, just, all-powerful God would need human help to save innocent babies (after all, according to the Bible Jesus saved the thief on the cross with a nod of his head), Catholic theologians did not agree. So they invented the non-Biblical dogma of infant baptism. According to them, any baby that was not splashed with magical water by an even-more-magical priest could not be "saved."

But Jesus and his apostles had never mentioned the need for babies to be splashed with water. Isn't it odd that Jesus, Peter, John, Stephen, Paul, and the other apostles completely forgot to ever mention the need for babies to be baptized? Was God so incompetent he forgot to ever mention hell, limbo and the need for infant baptism, or did someone concoct the whole sordid mess long after Jesus and Paul had left the planet? The answer is obvious.

Many years later, the Protestant theologians who broke with the Catholic Church would face a similar quandary: if faith in Jesus was required for salvation, and every human being was condemned to an eternal hell at birth because of "original sin," how could babies and very young children possibly be saved? Their solution was another non-Biblical dogma: "the age of accountability." According to this mysterious dogma, at some unknown age a child who doesn't believe in Jesus will suddenly go to hell if he sins. But God and Jesus, in all their infallible wisdom, somehow completely forgot to mention the exact age of accountability. It might be age thirteen, or twelve, or eleven, or ten, or nine, or eight, or seven, or six . . . no one knows!

Catholic and Protestant theologians would spend the better part of 2,000 years speculating about how innocent babies and children too young to believe in Jesus might be "saved." But all the bizarre speculation was required only because they had invented a "hell" that the God and prophets of the Hebrew Bible knew nothing about.

How can anyone take Catholic and Protestant theologians seriously? According to the Bible, there is only a place called the grave (Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek). According to prophets like Ezekiel and apostles like Paul, all Israel would be resurrected and saved in the end. This salvation was to be the work of God, and human faith and works were never mentioned as being necessary for God to save his creation. According the the famous Valley of the Dry Bones vision of Ezekiel, the Israelites would believe in God after the miracle occurred, not before. The Hebrew prophets said that even Sodom would be restored. They said Jerusalem was worse than Sodom, and that even Jerusalem would be restored. They said that chesed (mercy, compassion, lovingkindness) would triumph over judgement, and that in the end even the lion would lie down with the lamb.

Whether such things may be true is simply a matter of hope, or faith. According to Saint Paul, hope is greater than faith, and love is greater than hope. In his famous epiphany on Divine Love, in 1 Corinthians 13, Paul said that if God is not love, then all the Bible is mere noise (clanging gongs and tinkling cymbals). He said that if God is not love, he is nothing, despite all his wisdom and power and knowledge. Whether there is a God who is loving and powerful and wise is, of course, a matter of faith, or hope, or simply waiting to find out. But one thing is obvious: if a loving, wise, just God had anything to do with the writing of the Bible, there is no eternal hell. If there was, it would have been incumbent on him to tell all humankind about the prospect of hell, in no uncertain terms. But that didn't happen, and it still hasn't happened, to this day.

The HyperTexts