A. Burt Horsley, “Summary and Conclusion,” in Peter and the Popes (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1989), 129–35.
Summary and Conclusion
At the outset of this study, we postulated that the history of the papacy has been a diversified spectacle of great expanse. Perhaps the reader now finds that proposition abundantly confirmed. It was conceded that it would not be possible to see it in all its grandeur or in all its weakness; however, from a certain historical, theological, and cultural perspective, we have viewed critically at least some of its many facets.
In principle, the objective historical method is assumed to be “value free.” But maintaining a value free stance is impossible because by the very act of choosing topics, issues, and people to write about, an author necessarily makes value judgments.
With the assertion that Peter represents each one of us as a whole person, believer and doubter, faithful and unfaithful, we examined the data of his early life and the months of soul searching in his ministry with Jesus. We found that his full conversion came slowly.
The post-resurrection Peter seemed transformed into a new person, a converted preeminent leader, whose powerful Pentecostal address marked the beginning of an approximately eighteen-year Palestinian ministry. During this period, Peter presided from Jerusalem, although he traveled away from that center of the apostolic church on occasion.
In a subsequent struggle for leadership, some students feel that Peter yielded some to the encroaching influence and popularity of James, the brother of Jesus. He seemed confused as he attempted to reconcile Judaistic tradition with the universal concept of the gospel until his vision at Joppa taught him the gospel was for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Apparently leaving James in charge at Jerusalem he traveled throughout the empire and even to Rome itself. He was rebuked by Paul for not being consistent when he allowed James and the Judaizers to intimidate him. After Peter arrived in Rome, there was an apparent revival of his presidential authority and leadership.
Chapter 2 concludes with Paul and Peter both in Rome and notes not only their reconciliation but also Paul’s influence and leadership over the congregation of gentile converts. Tradition has it that after Peter was martyred, he was buried in a temporary shallow grave near the Appian Way. His remains were subsequently removed to the catacombs and finally to Vatican Hill.
The claim of the Roman Catholic church rests on the issue of Petrine primacy and Roman supremacy—the idea that authority bestowed upon Peter has been perpetuated through the centuries in the papacy. In the light of canonical, theological and semantic data, an examination of the problem of whether the foundation “rock” upon which Christ would build his church is Peter or revelation shows the inescapable necessity of its being revelation. However, revelation does not come in a vacuum. Revelation without a “chosen vessel,” in this case Peter, would be ineffective and unqualified or unauthorized.
That Peter held the keys of the Kingdom is something dear to both Catholics and Latter-day Saints, but the Catholic claim to unbroken succession is refuted, necessitating an eventual restoration of the priesthood and presidency through revelation. Peter, as the apostolic president, may also have functioned as presiding bishop in Rome, but not by telescoping all of the apostolate into the bishopric.
That the church at Rome gradually emerged as the mother church, assuming supervision over other churches, is a fact of history. Before the close of the third century, the word Catholic, now capitalized, had become a recognized part of the identifying label for the bulk of Christianity. After nearly three centuries of persecution, it is not surprising that many welcomed the imperial protection provided by the empire under Constantine. This proved, however, to be both an advantage and a disadvantage. The increased ecclesiastic importance of Rome was in part due to Constantine’s moving the capitol of the empire from Rome to Byzantium, leaving Rome to its bishop.
The gradual assumption of secular, political, and temporal power by the bishops of Rome, while adding greater dimension to the office, made them more vulnerable to influences other than spiritual and priestly ones. Nevertheless, two examples of great medieval figures filling the role of the bishop of Rome in the best tradition of the popes were reviewed, Leo the Great (fifth century) and Gregory the Great (sixth century).
Although many authors have attempted historically to account for the biographies of the popes, it is only the most recent who have succeeded in maintaining some degree of acceptable standards of objectivity.
Without pretense of full coverage of the problem of the relationship between church and state, Chapter 5 considered some of the more prominent examples of the unresolved struggle between Caesar and God, politics with religious overtones—religion with political overtones.
Beginning with Constantine and ending on the contemporary scene, there were many times when the popes or the Catholic church as an institution were under some kind of compulsion to conform to the will of the state. And yet, the opposite was very frequently true. The exercise of absolute sovereignty on the part of both of these elements of the culture was inconstant and vacillating. However, in spite of the periods of decline and the loss of prestige and influence by the papacy, that institution is still with us and many roads somehow still seem to lead to Rome.
In turning to the question of moral integrity and example of the popes, particularly in the medieval period, we faced the problem of whether or not disparaging, biographical references could be avoided. Needless to say a whole block of history involving disgraceful, sensual despots who ascended the “throne of Peter” cannot be ignored. Certain popes either exploited the papal office with impunity or were part of a general pattern of endless disorder and godless behavior for a period of almost three centuries. There was an almost unlimited potential for autocratic power evident when the sovereignty of the papal office expanded into the papal states. All of this eventually led to the Protestant Reformation.
And yet, there were popes whose undying devotion to reform, coupled with the assertion of papal prerogative, provided the papacy with a temporary relief from its debauched past. In the papal reign of Gregory VII (Hildebrandt) 1073–1085, the stage was set for the subsequent pontifical accomplishments of Innocent III, 1198–1216.
The administrations of these two popes show that, on occasion, the secularization of papal power can actually make possible the revival of priestly integrity, spiritual reform, and moral regeneration to some degree. Both of these men asserted the power of the priestly over the political, the scepter over the sword, and in Innocent we see the ultimate in papal supremacy. Never before was there, nor has there been since, a pope who arbitrated disputes in the Holy Roman Empire, manipulated the selection of kings and emperors, and declared as invalid official declarations and judicial pronouncements of certain kings and governments, like Innocent did. His successors continued to enjoy, for at least a short period, the carry-over effect of his policies and practices, but that was slowly dissipated.
During this time, the ongoing crusade movement fell far short of achieving its goals. The crusades actually contributed to the dearth of spirituality and religious integrity in the West.
The age of glory and papal power was also a period of increased serfdom and illiteracy among the masses. Yet, some popes and monks struggled to preserve morals and to retrieve letters and learning.
The historical context of the “Babylonish Captivity” shows that the establishment of papal residency in France instead of Rome brought about a confusing state of affairs. This abrupt turnabout with reference to Roman supremacy ignored one of the two traditional claims for the basis of the whole papal idea, which also included the concept of Petrine priority and primacy. For a period of about seventy-five years, 1305–1378, the popes lived in Avignon, France, where some of the French kings were able to exert a powerful influence over the papacy for at least part of that time.
The confusing and unstable state of the papacy was compounded after its eventual return to Rome. Three disagreeing factions within the College of Cardinals eventually established their own papal headquarters with one in Rome, another in Avignon, and a third in Pisa. This was the beginning of another extended period of embarrassment for the church, with three popes ruling simultaneously from three separate locations in Europe.
In the Council of Constance, called in 1414, the delegates ignored papal primacy in favor of conciliar authority and ousted, or forced, the abdication of all three popes, electing Martin V, an Italian, to bring an end to the “Great Western Schism.” But before the council had settled the matter of the schism, they had strained the confidence and trust of much of the Christian world by condemning and burning the Bohemian reformer John Huss, after he had been promised safe conduct by both the emperor and the church.
The phrase, “When Peter Speaks,” identifies the idea that the successors of Peter speak, in the place of Peter, the inspired word of the Apostle unto the whole Church. This principle undergirds the pronouncements of the official dogma and doctrine of the Catholic church from the first Epistle of Peter down to and including papal teachings in our time.
There has been confusion and misunderstanding among both Catholics and non-Catholics over the centuries about the doctrine of papal infallibility. Declared an official doctrine of the church by the Vatican Council of 1867–70, it holds that the pope is infallible when, under specified conditions, he speaks out on matters of faith and morals to the whole church. It does not mean that everything he says is always true or that he cannot be sinful himself.
“The Twentieth Century” popes, Pius XII, John XXIII, Paul VI, and John Paul II, among others, have been unfaltering examples of moral and religious integrity. They have faced various political and social trends such as modernism, fascism, communism, and “the new morality.” They have also faced the impact of the diminished size of the papal states, now reduced to a single 108-acre site on one side of Rome.
The work and findings of the second Vatican Council, 1962–65, have had great meaning not only for Catholics, but also for non-Catholic societies as they have wrestled with these modern problems.
The contemporary pope, John Paul II, enjoys approval and acceptance by people in various parts of the world, even some who may at times disagree with him. His recovery from the wounds of a would-be assassin’s bullet has caused rejoicing among people of all faiths.
The completed Catholic roster of the popes shows John Paul II to be the 264th man to hold the office of pope from the inception of the papacy. And yet, although Peter may have been the apostolic leader in Rome and a forerunner of those who have called themselves popes, this study would have to conclude that Peter never thought of himself as a pope, and neither should anyone else.
Finally, although biographical consideration of inadequate popes has been unavoidable, the institution of the papacy itself (as an historical reality) has endured way beyond the mortals who have been identified with it.
It is hoped that this study might lead to better understanding and greater tolerance among religious groups as they seek to know and appreciate each other, especially in view of history and tradition. It seems, after all, inevitable that we will eventually know each other in our perfection and weakness.