For example, Catholic apologists love to point out that while many Protestants claim Peter wasn’t the rock in Matthew 16:18; Martin Luther thought Peter was.
The problem with this is that it can be tempting to push someone’s words farther than they were intended to go. In the case of Martin Luther, he thought Peter was the rock but he denied that any authority was passed on to future generations. To say he said Peter was the rock and therefore the papacy is authoritative would be to grossly misrepresent him.
I mention this because I have heard several non-Catholic Christians tell me “even a pope denied that pope’s have special authority”, and they cite Pope St. Gregory I (Gregory the Great) who was pope from 590-604. The following two quotes are generally supplied to “prove” how anti-papist this pope was.
"I confidently say that whosoever calls himself, or desires to be called Universal Priest, is in his elation the precursor of the Antichrist, because he proudly puts himself above all others" (Epistles 7:33).
"If then he shunned the subjecting of the members of Christ partially to certain heads, as if besides Christ, though this were to the apostles themselves, what wilt thou say to Christ, who is the head of the universal Church, in the scrutiny of the last judgment, having attempted to put all his members under thyself by the appellation of universal? Who, I ask, is proposed for imitation in this wrongful title but he who, despising the legions of angels constituted socially with himself, attempted to start up to an eminence of singularity, that he might seem to be under none and to be alone above all?" (Epistles 5:18)
The argument is then made that since Pope Gregory denies a “universal priest” (other translations say “universal bishop”) then he must deny the papacy. However, this requires ignoring the context of the quotes and the rest of Pope Gregory’s writings.
First, the context of the above writings. Pope Gregory the Great was writing to a fellow named John the Faster of Constantinople. John the Faster wanted the title of “universal bishop” and Pope Gregory said, in no uncertain terms, that wasn’t going to happen.
The issue here is what “universal” means. John the Faster wanted to be the one and only bishop. He wanted to have control of other bishop’s diocese. He wanted to make them his puppets who had no authority of their own. This definition of “universal” is way outside Catholic teaching and Pope Gregory had every right to condemn it.
While we hold the pope “above” the rest of the bishops; they aren’t his puppets. All bishops are successors of the apostles and have authority by that succession. The pope is the successor of Peter and therefore has greater authority as Peter had greater authority than the other apostles.
What’s funny is those who know Pope Gregory so well that they can quote the above always forget that he also called the Diocese of Rome “the Apostolic See, which is the head of all other churches" (13:1) and "I, albeit unworthy, have been set up in command of the Church" (5:44). He also declared clerical celibacy as binding on all priests and bishops, taught that priests and bishops who broke the law could be stripped of faculties, required council decisions to have the pope’s signature before they were binding, and other declarations that were binding upon all bishops.
If he was such an anti-pope hero; why did he make decisions binding upon all bishops and why did he say he had command of the Church? The answer is that he has been taken badly out of context for the benefit of those who deny the supremacy of the papacy when he clearly never intended to do any such thing.
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