Welcome to this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment. Today, we’re going to revisit a post that was originally published back on January 18, 2016 and has been revised.
In 1870, prompted by pope Pius IX, who was besieged by the advancing Italian nationalist forces, the First Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic church declared as binding dogma that the pope is infallible when he “defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church.” This doctrine of papal infallibility had many opponents within the Catholic church at the time and is problematic when attempting to reconcile an infallible papacy with its history. Popes have excommunicated previous popes. There were the bloody Crusades, the Inquisition, forced “conversions,” and the persecution of Jews and Protestants, all carried out with the approval and, oftentimes, at the instigation of the allegedly infallible popes. Modern popes have been kept busy apologizing for their predecessors. But perhaps one of the most clear-cut arguments against papal infallibility was the church’s condemnation of Galileo and his revolutionary theory of heliocentrism.
In the early 1600s, people believed the planets, sun, and stars revolved around the Earth based upon the ancient Ptolemaic geocentric model. A literal interpretation of the Bible (see Joshua 10:12-14) also seemed to support geocentrism. In 1616, Galileo’s theory of heliocentrism – that the Earth revolved around the Sun – was declared heretical by pope Paul V and the Inquisition because it seemingly contradicted Scripture. Galileo continued to challenge geocentrism, so in 1633, yet another pope, Urban VIII, and the Inquisition once again condemned him. The scientist was consequently placed under house arrest until his death in 1642.
Four-hundred years later, it’s universally accepted that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The two popes were dead wrong when they condemned Galileo. Today’s Catholic sophists try to exonerate the two “infallible” popes by claiming the condemnations of Galileo were not done “ex cathedra,” as official papal declarations, but the controversy certainly did involve an important issue involving faith. We can see from our vantage point that the church’s claimed ability to infallibly interpret Scripture was totally discredited by the two popes involved.
At least one contemporary Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, correctly and honestly recognizes that the question of papal infallibility is central to the Galileo affair. Sungenis concedes that if Galileo was right, then the popes proved themselves fallible by condemning him. So over the last several years, Sungenis has gone about trying to prove that geocentrism is true and that heliocentrism is false. You read that correctly! In 2007, Sungenis began writing a procession of books and materials defending geocentrism. See here. Someone needs to inform NASA, the U.S. military, satellite providers, etc., that all of their celestial mechanical calculations based on the heliocentric model are incorrect!
Most dismiss Sungenis as a screwball, but I give him credit for at least having the courage of his erroneous convictions and refusing to engage in dishonest sophistry when it comes to the Galileo affair, like other Catholic apologists do. Sungenis was once one of the most prominent American Catholic apologists, and at one time even hosted two series on the EWTN Catholic cable channel, but his defense of geocentrism and his controversial viewpoints on Jews and the nation of Israel have since relegated him to the fringe.
The early church quickly became institutionalized after Christianity was adopted as the state religion by the Roman Empire. Simple faith in Jesus Christ devolved into legalism and ritual. Those who put their faith in a man or an institution will be forever disappointed. Put your faith in Jesus Christ and accept Him as your Savior by faith alone.