“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority. Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #77; referencing “Dei Verbum,” a document of the Second Vatican Council)
One of the foundational claims of the Catholic Church is that of “Apostolic Succession,” which means that they (supposedly) possess an unbroken, uninterrupted, and lawful chain of legitimate successors (popes) from the Apostle Peter all the way down to the present pope, and this will last until the return of Jesus Christ. But is this claim true? Does such a continuous, lawful chain of popes really exist?
Much could be said about the incredible amount of corruption in the lives of some of the popes while in office. But rather than deal with the lives of popes after they got in office, the focus of this article will be on some of the actual methods which were used to obtain this office. Even if the office of “pope” were a valid and biblical one (and it is not), there is still a serious problem in the way that some popes acquired this position.
According to some church scholars / historians, a number of popes have obtained their positions 1) by buying their office [a form of simony], 2) through the working of influential prostitutes, or 3) by the use of force, even murdering the previous pope! These facts are validated by some eye-opening books (written by Catholics or former Catholics), which include Peter De Rosa’s “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy”; “Lives of the Popes” by Richard P. McBrien; Former Catholic priest Joseph McCabe and his “A History of the Popes”; J. H. Ignaz von Dollinger’s “The Pope and the Council”; and “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” by Malachi Martin.
Lest anyone say that these authors / scholars / historians were not good Catholics, or that they are not credible historians, we also provide the following quotes from these official Catholic sources…
1) Concerning Simony:
To uproot the evil of simony so prevalent during the Middle Ages, the Church decreed the severest penalties against its perpetrators. Pope Julius II declared simoniacal papal elections invalid, an enactment which has since been rescinded, however, by Pope Pius X. (New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, online, under “Simony.”)
“The worst period was from the ninth to the eleventh century when simony pervaded the monasteries, the lower clergy, the episcopacy, and even the papacy.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIII, page 228)
Pope Benedict IX and simony:
“He was a son of Alberic III, leader of the Tusculani, and he simoniacally succeeded his uncles, Benedict VIII and John XIX.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. II, page 274)
“Then on May 1 Benedict sold his papal office to his baptismal sponsor, the reforming archpriest John Gratian, Pope Gregory VI.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. II, page 275)
Benedict IX not only purchased his office, but he later sold it to another pope-to-be when he was finished with it. Remember, for every “transaction” in simony, there are two guilty popes, a “buyer” AND a “seller.”
In one of his papal documents, Pope John Paul II states that if simony occurs in the election of a pope, then those guilty will be excommunicated. But at the same time, he still honors the outcome of that election, so that the validity of the election of that pope “may not… be challenged.” (“Universi Dominici Gregis,” paragraph 78, Feb. 22, 1996)
May not be challenged? Why should the validity of any simony-induced election NOT be challenged? Doesn’t such an election COMPLETELY DISPROVE the idea of God-ordained “Apostolic Succession”? In his statement, Pope John Paul II was (unsuccessfully) attempting damage control in light of an embarrassing past (when simony was common among popes). So he rebukes those who commit simony (as he should), but he then declares that it’s really not a problem for the papacy. To the Catholic Church, such an election is still “official” because “Apostolic Succession” needs to remain intact at all costs, right? Is it just me, or does anyone else see the inconsistency here?
2) Concerning the prostitute Marozia, who was the mistress of Pope Sergius III, during the era commonly known as the “pornocracy” (Rule of the Harlots):
“She imprisoned Pope John X in Castel Sant’ Angelo, where he died in 928 either by assassination…or from other causes. In 931 she had her son, probably by Sergius III…elected to the papacy as Pope John XI.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. IX, page 253-54)
Concerning the prostitute Theodora (the mother of Marozia):
“Besides being personally avaricious, she – together with her family – exercised undue influence on Pope Sergius III and Pope John X, thus causing grave harm to the authority of the popes.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XIV, page 15-16)
Here, influential prostitutes were able to place in office the pope of their choice, or put him in prison, if they so desired. Indeed, “grave harm” was done to the papacy, since this influence of prostitutes reveals to all of us the false nature of this claim of “Apostolic Succession.”
3) Concerning the papal office being taken by force:
In the beginning, the Bishop of Rome was elected by the local clergy and laity along with neighboring bishops. In time, this process came under the influence of secular leaders with negative results. Influencing papal elections, powerful lords and kings hoped to manipulate the office of the papacy in order to advance their temporal ambitions. (The Modern Catholic Encyclopedia, Liturgical Press, page 653)
“From the fourth to the eleventh century the influence of temporal rulers in papal elections reached its zenith… This civil intervention ranged from the approval of elected candidates to the actual nomination of candidates (with tremendous pressure exerted on the electors to secure their acceptance), and even to the extreme of forcible deposition and imposition.” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, vol. XI, page 572)
So, here we see heathen kings exerting their military might to forcibly depose (remove) and forcibly impose (put in office) the popes they wanted!
Should we consider any of this “lawful” or “legitimate” Apostolic Succession? Were these popes ordained by God? Anyone who obtains an ecclesiastical (church) office illegally, immorally, or violently has wrongfully acquired that position, and simply cannot be considered a legitimate holder of that office.
Would we tolerate any of this from those seeking a position in “non-religious” fields? Would you trust a medical doctor who purchased his degree? Or a schoolteacher who committed fornication to get his teaching position? Or how about a senator who took his office by force, or killed the previous senator to obtain that office? Of course, no honest institution would allow their people to obtain an office in such a way. Should we not expect far more from the “Vicar of Christ,” the (supposedly) highest ecclesiastical office of all? We rightfully demand moral accountability in the business, financial, political and medical fields, so why should a religious institution like the Catholic Church not likewise be morally accountable? There are definitely some illegitimate “links” in this “apostolic chain of successors.” But then again, all it takes is one “infected” link to make this Catholic claim (and the whole system) collapse.
Interestingly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia also states, “But it must be frankly admitted that bias or deficiencies in the sources make it impossible to determine in certain cases whether the claimants were popes or antipopes.” (Volume I, page 632)
[Note: An antipope is one who makes an illegal or false claim to the office of pope.]
By this statement alone, they have refuted their own position on Apostolic Succession. If the Catholic Church can’t really know who was actually pope at any given time, then Apostolic Succession is a myth.
The words of John the Baptist come to mind: “And think not to say within yourselves, ‘We have Abraham to our father’; for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” (Matthew 3:9) John was condemning the unrepentant Pharisees and Sadducees, who looked to some physical lineage all the way back to Abraham for their “righteousness.” But John was showing them that God is more concerned with a person’s heart than his lineage or ancestry. The same principle applies today. All true believers are successors of the apostles (Acts 2:42), not just certain leaders. We should look to the teachings of the apostles, as outlined in Scripture, not to a physical line of successors. It may sound good, but the Catholic concept of “Apostolic Succession” is simply an unbiblical, arrogant and false claim. And since it is a foundational claim of the Catholic Church, what will happen to this “house built upon the sand”? (Matthew 7:26-27)