The Continuity of the Catholic Church
Perhaps it is well to note, briefly at least, one of the principal arguments against the primacy of the Pope. It proceeds on the theory that the authority of the office was built up during the expansion of the Church after the Roman persecutions and because Christianity had become the religion of the Roman Empire. It is contended that such influences contributed to the prominence of the Church in Rome, with the bishops of that City taking full advantage of the opportunity to elevate themselves. May I tell you that the truth is exactly the opposite?
With the growth of the Church came, not a greater respect for the position of the Pope, but the impulse to disregard it. During the early centuries the Church was united because of the universally recognised primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This, the original and divinely ordained concept of central authority, was not seriously challenged so long as the Church suffered persecution and was kept under ground. As time went on, however, and as the position of the Church became more secure, a centrifugal force began to assert itself. A provincialism was fostered, out of which arose protests against the old order of things in which Rome was always first. Out of such rivalries was born the theological notion that the Pope did not enjoy universal jurisdiction - a notion which gained additional weight with each further separation. Each move away from Rome built up its own local sentiment and claim of autonomy. Each created excuses and arguments to justify its detachment. Thus it is that the very factors which are mistakenly assigned to explain the authority of the Pope are in reality responsible for the protests against that authority.
One further argument must be considered. It is based on the assumption that some defect can be found in the succession of Popes. Critics point out, for instance, that on an occasion a long interval elapsed between a particular Pope and his successor, as much as three years. It is claimed that such an interval broke the continuity of the Church.
The argument is wholly without merit. If an interval of three years could break the continuity, so also would an interval of three days or three minutes. The criticism assumes that each Pope must personally appoint his successor and hand over to him the authority of his office. Such a premise has not the slightest sanction either in the constitution of Christianity or in common sense.
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