Today, we continue our series of responses to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. The Catholic apologist continues his six-part section on church hierarchy and authority with a chapter countering Protestants’ argument that Peter (and hence the pope) was not infallible because “Paul Rebuked Peter.”
The notion of papal infallibility began gaining popularity within Roman Catholicism in the 15th century, but it wasn’t until 1870, after Italian nationalist forces had occupied the former Papal States and prepared to liberate Rome, that a defiant pope Pius IX pressured the bishops attending the First Vatican Council to declare as dogma that popes were infallible when they taught on matters vital to faith and morals. Although he could not resist the temporal power of the Risorgimento liberators, Pius IX could assert his alleged spiritual superiority by having himself proclaimed as infallible (he also excommunicated everyone who participated in the Risorgimento). As a dogmatic teaching, all Roman Catholics were thereafter required to believe the pope was infallible under threat of damning mortal sin.
Ever since 1870, Protestants have cited Galatians 2:11-14 to refute the notion of papal infallibility:
“But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
If Peter was the first pope and infallible, as Catholics claim, then why was he leading the church into serious error by hypocritically abstaining from eating with Gentiles in the presence of Jewish legalists, for which he had to be publicly corrected by Paul?
Broussard argues that Protestant critics reveal their very faulty understanding of papal infallibility by citing this passage. According to the Catholic standard, only when a pope speaks ex cathedra, officially “from the chair” of St. Peter, in declaring a doctrine as dogma is a teaching considered divinely-guided and infallible. Broussard admits that Peter’s behavior at Antioch was reprehensible and worthy of rebuke, but the bad behavior did not meet the conditions required of dogmatic infallibility. Peter wasn’t acting in his office as supreme teacher of the church in that circumstance at Antioch, argues Broussard. He was just being a cowardly hypocrite.
I understand Broussard’s argument. Protestants do present a bit of a straw man fallacy by presenting Galatians 2:11-14 as a refutation of papal infallibility according to the strict Catholic definition. However, there definitely are many problems with the claim of papal infallibility that Broussard conveniently doesn’t touch upon:
- While Peter may not have been declaring dogma at Antioch, his example was leading many into dangerous doctrinal error. Catholics have historically claimed that popes were incapable of leading the church into error.
- It’s ironic beyond measure that Broussard chooses to examine Galatians 2 in his defense of papal infallibility. Following Paul’s description of his rebuke of Peter, the apostle follows with one of the clearest defenses of salvation by God’s grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone in Galatians 2:15-21. The passage directly contradicts the salvation-by-merit theology that is at the heart of Roman Catholicism.
- The history of the papacy is filled with incidents that do not reflect well on claims of papal infallibility in matters vital to faith and morals including the heterodoxy of pope Honorius, the Cadaver Trial of pope Formosus, the authorization of the Crusades and the Inquisitions, the Great Western Schism, the authorized selling of indulgences, the condemnation of Galileo, etc., etc., etc.
- Catholic theologians can only agree upon three papal declarations as being infallibly dogmatic: the immaculate conception of Mary (1854), papal infallibility (1870), and the assumption of Mary into Heaven (1950). What is the point of papal infallibility if it is so rarely exercised?
Important: Just as with the two chapters on authority that we previously reviewed, Broussard purposely omits any mention of the current CRISIS within Catholicism regarding the papacy. Pope Francis has overturned three doctrines previously held to be unchangeable: (1) the ban on communion for remarried divorcees, (2) the ban on communion to Protestants (Protestant spouses of Catholic members may now receive communion according to the discretion of each bishop), and (3) the licitness of capital punishment. Conservative Catholic leaders are advising their follows to ignore Francis’s changes and some are even calling the pope a heretic. Catholics are wrestling with how an infallible pope can overturn doctrines considered unchangeable by previous infallible popes. Francis has even gone out of his way to downplay assertions of papal infallibility/prerogatives by emphasizing that “a pope can be wrong” (see here). As Broussard and other conservative Catholic apologists attempt to defend the bastion of papal infallibility, their own pope is busily dismantling the bogus dogma.
Next up: “Where Two or Three Are Gathered”