The semester is in full swing for many of us, and the time to blog is scarce. In preparation for my next post on papal infallibility, I’d like to call attention to this well-known essay by Protestant theologian Stephen Long from Garret-Nelson Seminary, who made some excellent and succinct remarks on the necessity of the papacy during the time of John Paul II’s funeral and the election of Benedict XVI: click here for the pdf. While Long does not specifically address infallibility, the points he makes about the necessity of the papacy are relevant to the issue.
Some of my favorite quotes from the essay:
* “The final logic of this version of Protestantism can only be that each individual makes up his or her own religion, which will then be defined over and against every other individual’s religion. In other words, what
holds this tradition together is that it is against something. This kind of Protestantism needs an object against which it dissents for its own identity.”
But is there any version of Protestantism to which these comments don’t apply?
* “Hugo Rahner once wrote, ‘All the churches who wish to withdraw from the unity of the church dogmatically first of all seek refuge within the state but soon are absorbed by the state and fall with it.’ This is why, he suggested, ‘the guiding role of the papacy is needed.’”
* “This is the beautiful scandal of the papacy: it is an institution that proclaims that truth is more basic than power even when those of us weaned on a (Protestant) hermeneutics of suspicion can only see the papacy as a contradiction.”
I think this last quote is particularly relevant to the question of whether the charism of infallibility is necessary for the role of the papacy. There may be those who would argue, for example, that the ministry of unity of the Successor of Peter only requires the pope to have a version of universal juridical power. That is, all the Pope needs to maintain the unity of the Church is the ability to intervene practically in the affairs of the universal Church, e.g. by removing heretical bishops. However, the Pope’s role would then be a ministry more of power than of truth. But the papacy has the charism of infallibility, not omnipotence, because the Pope is first a teacher, then a ruler. That is not to deny that certain juridical powers are also necessary for the Pope to fulfill his mission of service to the Church.