The Lateran Palace - Main residence of the Pope - Wikimedia Commons


Previous: Revelation 2:20 continued- 6

20 Nevertheless I have a few things against you, because you allow that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess, to teach and seduce My servants to commit sexual immorality and eat things sacrificed to idols. - Revelation 2:20


In AD 1075 a document called Dictatus Papae ("Dictated by the Pope") was issued by Pope Gregory VII with a list of 27 powers arrogated to the Pope. Some of them were startling in their scope. One of these (# 12) was "That it may be permitted to him to depose emperors."

Another one that we would like to consider here was (#22) "That the Roman church has never erred; nor will it err to all eternity, the Scripture bearing witness."

Taken at face value, anyone can see that this statement is not true. Pope John Paul II made more than 100 apologies for the manifold and sometimes horrendous mistakes made by the Catholic Church during its long history. Some of these mistakes were: Killing innocent victims during the Inquisition, Muslims killed by the Crusaders, involvement in the African slave trade, burning reformers at the stake, injustices to women, and silence during the Holocaust.

Since that time the Church's infallibility has been more narrowly limited to teaching about faith and morals. There are said to be two sources of this inerrancy. The first is when Church councils have issued decrees. The second is the case where the Pope speaks "ex cathedra" (Latin for "from the chair," meaning by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority).

Church Councils were employed by the First Century Church. Here is an example from the Book of Acts:

With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul- 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. - Acts 15: 23-29

When needed, the Early Church brought together godly leaders who discussed issues and depended on the Holy Spirit to give them unanimity in their decisions. Resolutions made in this way were most likely to be correct and to stand the test of time. But there is no indication that they considered their decisions infallible or unchangeable. They did not view it as inspired like the Scriptures.

During the next few centuries a number of Church Councils were convened to verify the teaching that was considered correct (or "orthodox"). By the 300's Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, gave additional weight to Council decisions. He said,

"The word of the Lord pronounced by the ecumenical synod of Nicaea stands for ever."

Papal infallibility was assumed, at least from this time (AD 1075 - Dictatus Papae) and it was confirmed in 1870 by Vatican I - the 20th General Council, where it was declared as a divinely revealed dogma.

"The Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra - that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church - is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals; and consequently that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature (ex sese) and not by reason of the Church's consent."
(Catholic Encyclopedia: Infallibility,

Recent Catholic information about this concept explains that infallibility is not the same as inspiration - the literal "Word of God." Nor is it the same thing as revelation - the supernatural unveiling by God of truth that was previously unknown. (

The issue of infallibility is a major influence on what constitutes Catholic belief. Doctrines and practices like praying to the saints, devotion to Mary, the meaning of the Mass, Church sacraments, confession and penance, purgatory, indulgences, and others that divided the Church at the Reformation, could be "proved" by the findings of councils and the proclamations of Popes. No longer could the sterling test of "What does the Bible say?" keep the Church from accepting Jezebel's false teaching and idolatrous rituals.


In AD 1095 Pope Urban II called for a Crusade to take back the Holy Land from the Muslims. One of the great incentives he offered for those who would be willing to risk their lives in that conflict was the offer of indulgences. The word comes from a Latin word for "kindness." The concept grew out of the practice of confessing sins to the priest. He could pronounce that the guilt for a mortal sin (one that would have sent the sinner to hell) was removed, and with it the eternal punishment that would have been due. He would then assign penance - a temporal punishment that was required to be fulfilled during his lifetime. (Later when the concept of purgatory was defined, these temporal punishments could also be fulfilled there.) These might include restitution, prayers and alms, and whatever else the priest felt was appropriate.

Indulgences would free the penitent person from having to pay some, or all, of the aspects of his temporal punishment. By offering indulgences to potential soldiers of the Crusade, those who wished to respond would feel the freedom to risk their lives for the cause even though they had not yet worked off their punishments.

Sometime later indulgences were also offered to those who were unable to join the Crusades but were willing to offer cash contributions to the effort.

Later still, at the Fourth Lateran Council in AD 1215, some abuses of indulgences were addressed. The council also extended them to those who helped with the Inquisition. (That's another horror story we will explore in this commentary.)

"Catholics who have girded themselves with the cross for the extermination of the heretics, shall enjoy the indulgences and privileges granted to those who go in defense of the Holy Land."

During the rest of the Middle Ages indulgences were difficult to control and there were reports of false documents that offered extreme rewards in exchange for purchasing them.

The indulgence issue was seen as a huge moral problem by John Huss, who was a Bohemian priest in the early 1400's. He said that the Czech people were being exploited by the pope's indulgences, and appealed to the Bible as the ultimate authority to support his reform efforts. He was tried as a heretic and was found guilty.

He refused one last chance to recant at the stake, where he prayed, "Lord Jesus, it is for thee that I patiently endure this cruel death. I pray thee to have mercy on my enemies." He was heard reciting the Psalms as the flames engulfed him.

Indulgences in Martin Luther's time were being sold to build St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. He saw the practice as the purchase and sale of salvation. When we study the letter to the Church of Sardis we will see that this was apparently the tipping point that led Luther and others to break with the Catholic Church in AD 1517.

Next: Revelation 2:20 continued - 8


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