Reformed Apologetics Ministries:
Absence of Papal Views Among the Earliest Christians
By Keith Thompson
In the fourth session of the 1870 first Vatican Council, Rome made the utterly false assertion that belief in papal primacy has always been understood by the church as a doctrinal necessity. Rome claimed this teaching “has been ever understood by the Catholic Church” (Vatican I, 4th Session, Chapter I, Of the Institution of the Apostolic Primacy in blessed Peter, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates, 1907], p. 37). In the same council Rome declared this teaching “is known to all ages . . . [and] has at all times been necessary” (Vatican I, 4th Session, Chapter II: On the Perpetuity of the Primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman Pontiffs, 1869-1870, edited by Re. Vincent McNabb, O.P. [Burns and Oates, 1907], pp. 38-39 brackets mine).
In this essay we will prove the most primitive Christians after Jesus and the apostles did not have a pope or believe in the papacy. In fact we will show there is no primitive, meaningful evidence Peter was the first Roman bishop. What is more, we will demonstrate there was no Roman bishop prior to A.D. 150. Before that a group of equal bishops governed the Roman Church simultaneously. Thus, there was no “pope” seen as Peter’s unique successor but instead a group.
Moreover, we will refute the historicity of the Roman claim that primitive Christians believed everyone must submit to the papacy “not only in matters concerning faith and morals, but also in those which regard the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world” (Vatican I, bull Pastor Aeternus). We will also refute the Roman claim the earliest Christians believed “if any questions should arise regarding the faith, they must be decided by her [Rome’s] judgement. . . . To her all the Churches are subject; their prelates give obedience and reverence to her” (The Second General Council of Lyons (1274), quoted in Jacques Dupuis, The Christian Faith in the Doctrinal Documents of the Catholic Church, [Alba House, 2001], p. 20 brackets mine).
If we show the most primitive Christians rejected these papal ideas then we historically refute fundamental components of modern Rome’s doctrine of papal primacy. If papal primacy was not taught by the primitive Christians then it is not part of the faith once for all delivered to the saints by God (Jude 1:3)…