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Evils of religion, part 4: The lie about the unbroken chain of popes

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The Catholic Church likes to claim prepotency among Christians based on papal succession – they insist they can prove an unbroken chain of holy leaders from Peter to Francis. Unfortunately, that is simply untrue, on several levels.

As we pointed out in the previous article, the Bible makes no mention of Peter being the first pope. While it mentions Linus in passing, there is no mention of his being the second pope. Cletus or Anacletus, is considered pope #3, even though Roman Catholic priest Richard P. McBrien wrote in his book Lives of the Popes:

“Anacletus evidently exercised a position of pastoral leadership in Rome, but the monoepiscopal structure (that is, the idea of a single bishop in charge) was still not in place there.”

Cletus’ supposed papacy was during the apostle John’s lifetime, as was pope #4, Clement, and possibly pope #5, Evaristus. So it is surprising, if not to say actually suspicious, that none of John’s writings – in which he specifically addresses congregational leadership – name any of these ‘popes.’ Doesn’t it seem reasonable that John would say something like,

‘Little children, just as you respected the leadership of the bishops Peter, Linus and Cletus, give the same obedience to Clement…’

But there is nothing like that in any of John’s writings. What John does say, however, is this:

“Little children, it is the last hour; and as you were given word that the Antichrist would come, so now a number of Antichrists have come to you; and by this we are certain that it is the last hour.” (1 John 2:18)

“You were given word,” he said. To what warning was he referring? Well, besides Jesus’ own warning of false prophets (Matthew 7:15) John’s ‘little children would have been well familiar with the words of Paul:

“Let not anyone deceive you by any means. For that Day of the Lord shall not come unless there first comes a falling away, and the man of sin shall be revealed, the son of perdition, who exalts himself above every so-called `god' or object of worship, and goes the length of taking his seat in the very temple of God, giving it out that he himself is God.” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4)

‘Wait, the pope doesn’t call himself God,’ you may say. But you’d be wrong.

“The Emperor Constantine conferred the appellation of God on the pope; who, therefore, being God, cannot be judged by man.” – Pope Nicholas I

"We hold upon this earth the place of the almighty God." – Pope Leo XIII, using the royal “we” to refer to himself.

Was this foretold apostasy something to watch for only when the world was close to the “Day of the Lord”? No. Paul made it clear that it was imminent, that his presence, and that of the other apostles, was barely restraining the “wolves:”

“I know that, when I am gone, cruel wolves will come among you and will not spare the flock; Men will arise from among your own selves, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.” (Acts 20:29, 30)

And Peter foretold conduct that perfectly describes any number of bishops from the second century on:

“There will be false teachers among you, who secretly will bring in destructive heresies, even turning away from the Lord who gave himself for them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. There will be many, too, who will follow their licentious courses, and cause the Way of the Truth to be maligned. Thirsting for riches, they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:1-3)

So John’s “little children” would have understood his warning. They could already see men who were elevating themselves by means of intrigue and politics to positions from which they could lord it over the flock. Before John was even cold in the ground these wolves were polluting the truth with philosophical debates about the nature of God, the nature of Jesus,and the relationship between Jesus and God; using complicated reasoning that implied that, if you couldn't understand it, well, you just weren't as smart or righteous as they were.

Was that how Jesus preached?

But papal history is full of more than just bickering over philosophy. Their claim of an uninterrupted chain of popes from Peter to Francis is proven false by their own official history! For example:

“Pope St. Marcellus I [was] elected pope in May or June, 308; died in 309. For some time after the death of Marcellinus in 304 the Diocletian persecution continued with unabated severity.”

So, by their own admission, there was a gap of 3 or 4 years between the death of Marcellinus (who, by the way, according to Catholic history compromised on the issue of idolatry and offered incense on the altar of Vesta to save his own life) and the election of Marcellus. And there were other gaps.

  • Clement IV died in November, 1268. His successor Gregory X was elected in September, 1271 after a long political squabble that was only resolved by the political intervention of the kings of France and Sicily.
  • Nicholas IV died in April, 1292. His successor Celestine V was elected in July 1294.
  • Clement V died in April, 1314. His successor John XXII wasn’t elected until August, 1316, and then only by the political influence of the king of France.

These are just a few of the gaps in the supposedly “unbroken chain” of papal succession. None of this would be an issue, of course, except for one thing: Catholicism claims to the THE ONE TRUE CHURCH. They claim their pope is infallible. And the "unbroken chain of succession from Peter" is a claim from their own infallible popes.

And it is a lie. There's simply no other word for it.

To recap:
Peter was not the first pope.
Peter was never in Rome.
John never wrote a word about the supposed next 3 popes.
The popes have made themselves gods, just as Paul and Peter warned they would.
The “unbroken chain” of papal succession is a myth.

But none of these flaws holds a candle to the awful deeds of the popes down through history. We’ll look at that next.

Read previous columns here. To be notified when my next column is posted click on the word "Subscribe" at the top of the page and enter your email address.

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Read a free sample of my novel about Paul and Luke, The Minotaur Medallion, in any electronic format here. Or order it in paperback here.

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