hans kungProblems with Absolute Papal Supremacy/Infallibility(2)

 As was affirmed in the first post about Hans Kung’s intriguing book on the survival of the Catholic Church weighty theological and historical considerations strongly support his dissenting view of the religious power assumed by the Papacy.

 The pinnacle of Rome’s claim to supremacy was reached in the first Vatican Ecumenical Council (1870), where after centuries of exercising the claim, the Pope abetted by his curia formally proclaimed to the world that its system in the words of the Catholic Catechism rested on “…the pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered: that, in brief, ‘the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls.’”(Underlining mine). Papal infallibility was proclaimed in the same Vatican Council. To anyone not brainwashed through years of religiously submitting to these dogmatic positions these statements represent an unimagined exercise of “hubris,” a Greek term for the pride of gods insofar as the Pope can infallibly interpret the morality of God’s world. And of course the institutional claim to absolute supremacy over men’s life with God and virtual infallibility even in human and scientific problems, such as abortion and contraception, rests its demand to intellectual obedience on the infallibity of the institution that makes the claim.

 The right to infallibility in divine areas originated in the gnostic philosophies predominant in the early Church. It was asserted when Christianity became the official Church of the Roman Empire  in the time of Constantine. A church ruled by a priesthood reminiscent of the Jewish temple model and hierarchically structured on the political jurisdictions of the Empire the Pope as Bishop of Rome gradually extended  its power and control over all the Catholic bishops and priests most of whom served as government officials as well as religious leaders. In an advanced agrarian economy and a political system sustained by force, religious officials were co-opted over time into the Roman system leading to an upper priestly class enjoying the privileges and power that went with it.  The economic and social situation of that time gave a unique opportunity for the unperceived features of a caste system to develop: defined cultural and economic differences between an educated, economic elite based on large land holdings,  and the slave and later serf population without access to learning. increasing language distinctions for example, Latin amidst a multitude of ethnic tongues; a political and economic chasm dividing the higher clergy from the lower class priests who ministered directly to the slaves and serfs. Later the implanting of the celibacy rule concretized in the religious values of the Church even more striking contrasts between clerics and the masses. And in the middle ages up to modern times, the added factor of secular power, that of the sword exercised by the (in)famous Inquisition permitted the wielding of power and religious zeal  inevitably to further widen the gap between the official clergy and their religious subjects. The upshot over the centuries turned out to be the gradual creation of a hierarchical clerical caste system that lead Jesus’ humble and poor origins to lose sight of its mission and to arrive at a false claim of absolute power and infallibility, unique in human history.

 It is virtually impossible to place blame on the missteps over several centuries of an institutional failure of this magnitude. HK recognizes in its survival and growth through almost two millennia the historical benefits to the Church’s entry into the Roman System. He is very careful to refer to the Church’s abandonment of its humble origins as more of a sickness than a surrender to the enticements of prestige, wealth and power.   Even though the large majority of Church leaders, like human beings everywhere took advantage of their privileged roles, probably few personal decisions or choices caused serious soul searching given the prevalent and comfortable conviction that human vagaries were permissible even in a divinely established religion. And then there was always sacramental confession.  What does stand out as something of a moral flaw on the part of Rome’s clerical blindness has been its willing embrace of a monophysitic version of clearly human elements at work in Rome’s exercise of power. A famous Saint and Doctor of the Church, Robert Bellarmine, even authored a famous tract to prove that the Church was the “Perfect Society.” In the same vein the curial bureaucracy under last two reigning popes have employed monophysitic policies aimed at thwarting the most basic reforms seen to be necessary by the great majority of the 2500 Bishops in session at the Second Vatican Council. The most glaring example of a deliberate betrayal of the will of the Council is the later stacking  the universal episcopate with only candidates tested to be in step with the very small minority that rejected certainly the most ecumenical of all ecumenical councils. Their Reform of the Reform of key policies of the Council, of course, was justified by the monophysitic unfettered papal supremacy and infallibility.

 Despite a youthful enthusiasm over the decentralizing direction of the Council members, Pope Benedict 16 in his notes written during the Council sessions pronounced the death of Counciliarism and accepted the monophysitic privileges of the Pope. During the reigns of John Paul and Benedict the gagging of outstanding theologians eliminating all dissent and discussion has caused what has been called creeping infallibility to take over the heavily culturally encumbered magisterium under pain of sin.

 Hans Kung’s book details the story, events and consequences, of the origins and existence of the Church’s maladies, and offers solutions. He participated actively as one of rising stars of Vatican II and witnessed and participated in the  bishops work on behalf of the People of God,  the Council’s definition of the Church. In this book, as in all his writings HK as a true scholar displays an extraordinary acquaintance with theology and church history. If the loyal sons and daughters of the CC  read his story with only the intent of setting the record straight they will consign along with other absolute beliefs such as slavery, the charge of interest, and Galileo’s debacle, infallibility and supremacy to the dust bin of history. This path opens up for sincere but informed believers, like HK, to confront on a level playing field one more, but all encompassing Papal claim.


Published by


I am a practicing Catholic, Jesuit trained, Vatican II amateur theologian, popularizing a complex belief theme for a larger reading public. I have found great spiritual joy in the biblical and historical experts’ recovery of the long lost vision of Jesus’ passion for the Father’s commitment to his created world. This passion of Jesus is embraced in the universal Prayer, THE OUR FATHER. In recent years I have been inspired by the re-discovered spiritual approach to our God in the Ecumenical Council Vatican II.As an additional note I have enjoyed more than forty years of academic and practical experience dedicated to social, economic and political development in the poorer countries of Central and South America. Except for development work I am not a professional in any field, but have lived long enough to earn Licenciates in Philosophy and Theology as well as Masters degrees in Medieval History and Urban Planning, and an ABD (all but dissertation) in Economic and Social Development.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *