Where Does the Road to Rome Lead Ch. 8

Catholic Concerns
Where Does the Road to Rome Lead?
Mary Ann Collins, a former Catholic nun
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Chapter 8

Invalid Popes

The Roman Catholic Church paints a picture of an orderly chain of succession of popes who followed in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter. If even one of these men was not a valid Pope, then the chain is broken.

What does it take to be a valid Pope? What does the Bible say are the minimum requirements for Church leaders? A Pope is not only the head of the Catholic Church, he is also the Bishop of Rome. Therefore, he must at least meet the Biblical requirements for being a bishop.

The Apostle Paul gave Timothy and Titus instructions regarding the necessary qualifications for bishops. He said,

“A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker [not violent], not greedy of filthy lucre [money]; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:2-7, emphasis added)

“For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker [not violent], not given to filthy lucre [money]; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.” (Titus 1:7-9, emphasis added)

We are going to look at some popes and compare their lives with the Biblical qualifications for being a bishop. In the process, we will learn about some distressing things. However, we should not be surprised. Jesus told us that there would be tares among the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30) He also warned us that there would be wolves among the sheep. (Matthew 7:15) So did the Apostle Paul. (Acts 20:29-30)

Every church has had its share of tares and wolves. However, the Catholic Church claims to have apostolic succession—an unbroken chain of valid popes that go all the way back to the Apostle Peter. My reason for telling you about these “wolf” popes is to demonstrate that some popes were not even valid bishops, let alone valid popes. And that breaks the chain of apostolic succession.

I apologize for putting you through this, but I can’t adequately make my point without giving you this information. We will be looking at some demonstrations of the results of our fallen human nature.

The desire to do the kinds of things that you will read about is not limited to popes, or to Catholics. Many people, of various religious backgrounds, would like to be able to do what these men did—but they don’t have enough power and wealth to get away with it. If a rat goes on a rampage, he can’t do much damage. However, a rampaging elephant can do a lot of damage. We are about to look at some elephants.

Pope Honorius reigned from 625 to 638 A.D. He was condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681). He was also condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo II, as well as by every other pope until the eleventh century.1

In 768, Pope Stephen IV came to power with the help of an army. Within one week, he went from being a layman to being a Pope. His papal rival was beaten, blinded, and probably murdered.2

Pope Leo V only reigned for one month (July 903). Cardinal Christopher put Leo in prison and became Pope. Then Christopher was put in prison by Cardinal Sergius. While in prison, Leo and Christopher were murdered.3

Pope John XII reigned from 955 to 963. He was a violent man. He was so lustful that people of his day said that he turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel. When gambling, he invoked pagan gods and goddesses. He was killed by a jealous husband while in the act of committing adultery with the man’s wife.4

In the tenth century, a wealthy Italian noblewoman named Marozia put nine popes into office in eight years. In order to do that, she also had to get rid of reigning popes. Two of them were strangled, one was suffocated, and four disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One of the popes was Marozia’s son; he was fathered by a Pope.5

In 1003, Pope Silvester II was murdered by his successor, Pope John XVII.6

Pope Benedict VIII reigned from 1012 to 1024. He became Pope by winning a military victory. When Benedict VIII died, his brother seized power by means of bribery and/or extortion, becoming Pope John XIX. He had himself ordained a priest, consecrated as a bishop, and crowned as pope, all in the same day.7

Pope Benedict IX reigned from 1032 to 1044, in 1045, and from 1047 to 1048. He became Pope through bribery. He squandered the wealth of the papacy on prostitutes and lavish banquets, and he had people murdered. The citizens of Rome hated Benedict so much that on two occasions, he had to flee from Rome. Benedict sold the papacy to Pope Gregory VI.8

Pope Boniface VIII reigned from 1294 to 1303. He came to power through bribery. He was suspected of having people murdered. Because of his hatred for two cardinals, he had the towns associated with them destroyed.9

Pope Clement VI reigned from 1342 to 1352. He ordered the slaughter of an entire Italian town. He lived a life of luxury and extravagance. He openly admitted that he sold church offices (i.e., men paid him a lot of money to become a bishop or a cardinal). He used threats and bribery to gain power. Clement purchased a French palace, which became famous for its prostitutes.10

Pope Alexander VI (the Borgia Pope) reigned from 1492 to 1503. He was known for murder, bribery, and selling cardinals’ hats (i.e., men paid him a lot of money to become cardinals). He enjoyed luxurious living, and he worked to make the Borgia family more powerful and more wealthy. The art book Treasures of the Vatican shows a portrait of him wearing gold vestments that are covered with jewels. They look like pearls, emeralds, large rubies, and other jewels. His tiara (the papal crown) is gold, with three rows of large jewels on it. Alexander VI had a number of children by several mistresses. His son Cesare was known for the kinds of murderous intrigues that make good opera plots. (Cesare and his papal father are included in a website about serial killers.) According to The Oxford Dictionary of Popes, Cesare and Pope Alexander VI killed people and seized their property. On two occasions, Alexander had to leave Rome, and he gave his daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, the authority to run the city. The Pope died after having dinner with a cardinal. (He accidentally drank some poisoned wine that was intended for the cardinal.)11

Pope Julius II reigned from 1503 to 1513. He became Pope through bribery. He had a reputation for violence, drunkenness, and rages. The Roman people gave him the nickname “il terribile” (the terrible one).12

Pope Leo X was from the de Medici family which (like the Borgias) was known for ruthless and devious politics, including assassinations. As Pope, he worked to advance the wealth and power of the de Medici family. He reigned from 1513 to 1521. He lived luxuriously and paid for it by selling cardinals’ hats. He filled Rome with statues of Greek gods and goddesses. He also put a statue of himself in Rome’s Capitol, to be saluted by the public. Leo X sold indulgences in order to build St. Peter’s Cathedral. One of Pope Leo’s traveling preachers (indulgence salesmen) was John Tetzel, who sold indulgences in an area of Germany near Martin Luther. Tetzel’s claims of great power and efficacy of the indulgences he was selling angered Luther, and he responded by nailing his famous 95 theses of protest on the Wittenburg church door.13

Pope Gregory VII reigned from 1073 to 1085. He required kings and emperors to kiss his foot. Gregory and his successors used forged documents in order to expand the power of the papacy. Some Roman Catholics tried to expose these forgeries, but they were excommunicated for it. However, the Orthodox Church kept records and wrote detailed information about the forgeries.14

Simony was rampant among clerics. It was commonplace for priests to pay money in order to become bishops and abbots. Some popes took bribes to make men cardinals. Pope Gregory VII said that he knew of more than 40 men who became Pope by means of bribery.15

Pope Innocent III reigned from 1198 to 1216. He said that the Pope is the ruler of the world, and claimed power and authority over kings and emperors. Innocent said that he was above earthly moral laws and standards of ethics, and therefore, clergy and kings must obey him, even if he ordered them to do something that they considered to be evil.16

Would you want any of these men to be your pastor?

Sometimes two or more men would claim to be Pope at the same time. All of these claimants to the papacy had followers. Eventually one contender would be declared to be Pope, and the other would be declared to be an antipope. For centuries, Roman Catholic books differed as to which men they considered to be the genuine popes. However, today there is much more agreement about which men were popes and which men were antipopes. According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there were thirty antipopes.17

None of these men met the biblical requirements for being a bishop, let alone a Pope. Therefore, they were not valid popes. There are so many breaks in the chain of apostolic succession that it is not a chain at all.

Imperial Popes

There is another important Biblical requirement for being a bishop. The Apostle Peter said that all Church leaders were to serve the Christians under their care, and not “lord it” over people. In addition, they were not to seek riches (“filthy lucre”). Peter said,

“Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:2-3, emphasis added)

In 314 A.D., Bishop Silvester was crowned by Emperor Constantine. The Roman Emperor wanted to have a state Church, with Christian clergy acting as civil servants. Bishop Silvester wanted to have the favor of the Emperor instead of being persecuted.

Constantine gave Silvester a beautiful palace with the finest furniture and art. Silvester wore silk brocade robes and he had servants to wait on him. Near his palace was a cathedral which had seven altars made of gold, a canopy of solid silver above the main altar, and 50 chandeliers. Silvester was given the use of the imperial mail system and transportation system.18

Under Bishop Silvester, high‑ranking clergymen wore purple robes, imitating the purple of Constantine’s court. (Purple dye was so expensive that only royalty could afford it.) The Church also imitated the pomp and authority structure of Rome. Bishops dressed and acted like Roman emperors, and they had the same imperial attitude.19

The power of the Bishops of Rome increased, and they called themselves popes. They lived in luxury, and they wanted to rule over both church and state. Imperial papacy reached its peak during the Middle Ages. Popes were rich and powerful, and they ruled over kings and emperors.

Pope Gregory VII reigned from 1073 to 1085. He excommunicated the Holy Roman Emperor, Henry IV. In order to receive forgiveness from the Pope and to have the excommunication be removed, Emperor Henry had to spend three days repenting in front of the castle where the Pope was staying. It was bitter cold (January 1077). Henry spent most of his time kneeling in the ice and snow, weeping and pleading for forgiveness. When Gregory finally allowed Henry to come into the castle, the Pope publicly humiliated the Emperor.20

Pope Gregory VII declared that the Pope has the right to depose kings and emperors, to make laws, and to require secular rulers to kiss his feet. Gregory wanted to make the countries of Europe become feudal estates of the Pope, with all of the kings meekly obeying him. He said that he (and the orders he gave) could not be judged by earthly moral and ethical standards, because no man has the right to judge the Pope. Gregory also declared that, because of the merits of Saint Peter, every duly elected Pope is a saint. Up until the time of Gregory VII, popes referred to themselves as the Vicar (representative) of St. Peter. Gregory changed that, calling himself the Vicar of Christ, a term which has been used by popes since then.21

Pope Innocent III reigned from 1198 to 1216. He wore a gold crown covered with jewels and sat upon a purple throne. His clothes sparkled with gold and jewels, and his horse was covered with scarlet. Kings and clergy kissed his foot. Innocent became the most powerful man in the world. He said that he was “below God but above man.” He also said that God wanted him to govern the entire world.22

Pope Boniface VIII reigned from 1294 to 1303. He said that he was Caesar, the Roman Emperor. He wore a crown which was covered with more than 200 costly jewels, including rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and large pearls.23 Boniface sought to further increase the Pope’s power and authority. In his encyclical Unam Sanctam, he said that no person can be saved unless he or she is subject to the Pope.24

Pope Paul II reigned from 1464 to 1471. He enjoyed luxurious living and had a tiara of gold that was covered with jewels. He had “Bacchanalian parades” that revived the pagan “carnival games” of ancient Rome. After the games, the people gathered in front of the Pope’s palace to eat, and then the Pope stood on his balcony and threw money to the crowd.25
Pope Paul VI reigned from 1963 to 1978. He was the last Pope to wear the papal tiara. This is a triple crown, made of gold and covered with jewels. You can see pictures of the tiara online.26

The Pope is an absolute monarch in the Vatican. He sits on an ornate throne. You can see pictures of the throne online.27

Cardinals are called “princes of the Church .” They are citizens of the Vatican in addition to being citizens of their homelands.28

Popes, cardinals and bishops wear gold and jewels. They wear rings and crosses.
The Pope has a special ring known as the “Ring of the Fisherman .” He also has magnificent pontifical rings which he wears on special occasions. Cardinals have rings of sapphire and gold. They often have additional rings of their own choosing.29

For special occasions, popes, cardinals, and bishops wear vestments that are decorated with gold or made of gold cloth. (This is cloth that is actually made of real gold.) Some vestments are studded with jewels. Even the gloves of high-ranking churchmen are decorated with gold. Such imperial splendor was prevalent during the Middle Ages, but it still exists today. During the Middle Ages, gloves were sometimes studded with jewels. But even in recent times, they are decorated with gold. Pope Pius XII reigned from 1939 to 1958. He had gloves and shoes that were decorated with gold. Some of his shoes had jewels on them.30

In Saint Peter’s Basilica, there is a life-sized statue of Saint Peter, sitting on a papal throne. On the Feast Day of St. Peter, this statue wears pontifical vestments and the papal crown (tiara). The art book Treasures of the Vatican has a photograph of this statue wearing vestments of gold and scarlet, and a gold triple crown that is studded with large jewels. The National Geographic’s art book Inside the Vatican has a picture of the statue with a nun kissing its feet. The right foot has been worn smooth because so many people have kissed it.31

Popes wear ermine (an expensive fur often worn by royalty). They have a special cape called a mozzetta which is trimmed with ermine.32

For solemn occasions, popes use a portable throne called a “sedia gestatoria .” It is a richly adorned chair which is covered with silk. Long rods go through gold-covered rings. The throne is carried by twelve uniformed footmen. When the Pope celebrates solemn pontifical Mass in Saint Peter’s Basilica, he arrives in state, preceded by a procession of cardinals, bishops and prelates. The Pope is carried on the sedia gestatoria, with a canopy over him and special fans made of white feathers on either side of him.33

Pope Pius XII reigned from 1939 to 1958. When Vatican officials came into his presence, they had to kneel while speaking with him, and leave the room walking backwards. When he telephoned Vatican officials, they had to drop to their knees with the phone in their hand and remain kneeling while they spoke to him. This was going on in 1958. That is only 50 years ago.34

The Pope has a huge, luxurious palace. The Pontifical Palace, the Sistine Chapel, and Saint Peter’s Basilica are filled with priceless paintings and statues. The architecture is rich and ornate. The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was painted by Michaelangelo. In addition, there are 22 Vatican museums which are full of art treasures. Words are inadequate to convey the rich architectural complexity and the artistic elegance of the Pope’s palace, chapel, and church. Their opulence defies description.35

Popes and Marriage

There is one Biblical qualification for being a bishop which most popes have not met since the first few centuries of the church. The Apostle Paul said,

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker [not violent], not greedy of filthy lucre [money]; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) (1 Timothy 3:2-5)

Even deacons were required to be married men whose home lives demonstrated their ability to rule the Church.

“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” (1 Timothy 3:12, emphasis added)

Pope Gregory VII wanted to increase the power of the papacy. For reasons of politics and power, he abolished clerical marriage. In 1074 he passed laws requiring that priests be celibate, and he got rid of married priests. Celibacy became mandatory.36

Even before 1074, most popes were celibate. Only 39 popes have been married, out of a total of 265.37

One of those 39 is the Apostle Peter. He is on the Catholic List of Popes. However, as we have seen in Chapter 7, he really wasn’t a pope. We know that Peter was married because Jesus healed his mother-in-law. (Luke 4:38-39) And I would not be surprised if many of the other 38 married “popes” were just Bishops of Rome, in the years before they were called popes.

So a relatively few popes were married before 1074. And no pope has been married since then. As a result, the overwhelming majority of popes has not been able to meet Paul’s requirement of being a married man who rules his own household well.

They weren’t even qualified to be a deacon. Paul said that deacons should “be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” (1 Timothy 3:4)

Now I realize that some individuals (such as the Apostle Paul) are called to be celibate. I could understand a few exceptions to the rule. But for nearly a thousand years, not one Pope or cardinal or bishop has ever been able to meet Paul’s qualifications for being a bishop (or even a deacon). And only a few of them met those qualifications before celibacy became mandatory.

Missing Links

As you can see, many popes did not even meet the Biblical qualifications for being a bishop, much less a pope. As a result, they were not valid popes. So the chain of apostolic succession is not a true chain at all. There are too many missing links. And if the chain is not intact, then apostolic succession doesn’t work. Dr. Joe Mizzi (a former Catholic) puts it well. He says,38

“As evangelical Christians we identify and honour a pastor as a worthy minister of Christ if he faithfully preaches the apostolic message and if his life is consistent with his message. We do not hesitate to identify immoral and greedy ministers as false teachers no matter what they claim to be. They are false teachers!

“Take Peter and Judas as examples. Both were apostles of Jesus Christ. Both made very serious mistakes—Peter denied the Lord, and Judas betrayed him. Yet Peter repented and was restored to the ministry, while Judas did not, and was disowned by the church.

“But Catholics cannot follow the guidance of Scriptures to expose false teachers. They are not allowed by the magisterium. If a Pope had been lawfully elected, he must be considered a true Pope, the Vicar of Christ and head of the entire church, no matter how morally and spiritually decadent.…

“Benedict XVI is the 265th Pope according to the current list of Popes—and these include the apostates mentioned above and others like them. They cannot take them out of the list, of course, even though they admit that they were grossly immoral; otherwise the Vatican would have nothing to hang its claim to apostolic authority. The chain must be intact. But what good is a chain if even one of its links is corroded, let alone if there are a score of rusty links? It still breaks down at the weak links and the claimed apostolic authority of the papacy falls to the ground and breaks in pieces.” (emphasis added)

Problem Popes

Having mentioned some problem popes, I want to clarify something. I am not picking on the popes. There have also been Protestant pastors who, due to their behavior, were not Biblically qualified to be pastors. Catholics do not have a monopoly on corruption and abuse of power. Just look at Jim Jones, a minister who turned his church into a cult and was responsible for the deaths of over 900 people.39

The difference is that with Protestants, you have a problem with some individual pastors and churches. With the popes, there is a claim of great authority due to a chain of apostolic succession. Therefore, in order to show that this claim isn’t valid, I have had to introduce you to some of the “broken links” in the chain (men who weren’t valid popes).

Lord Acton was a nineteenth century historian. He said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

The popes that I described demonstrate that principle. The problem is our fallen human nature. None of us really knows how we would behave if we suddenly had tremendous wealth and power and authority. We all need to follow the example of David, who prayed,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23‑24)