As was observed, however deserving of criticism the popes of the Middle Ages may be, what cannot be said of them is, that they were lacking ingenuity to devise ways and means for legitimatizing their false position in the eyes of men. As we said, what perhaps must be regarded as the outstanding example of such papal ingenuity was the appearance of the Pseudo-Isidor in the middle of the ninth century. As was said, this code of ecclesiastical laws—for such it was—turned out to be, on examination, the greatest fraud known in the history of church literature. As was explained, the aim of the book was not to present to the age new doctrines but to trace back the false claims of the papacy from the ninth to the early centuries in order that they might have the authority of antiquity. The spurious decretals of the book, though pure inventions of the ninth century, were, affixed by their unknown author to the names of popes of the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries. As at the time of its appearance, the book was received as genuine. The popes, pointing to its decretals, canons, and letters, could now say that all the ideas inhering in the papal system are traceable, through the unbroken succession of popes, to Clement, the immediate successor of Peter (the, apostle) in the papal throne. Certain it is, that by no other instrument was the power of the papacy so raised and strengthened as by this amazing fraud. It was this book that gained for the claims of the papacy the acknowledgement of men. As has been stated more than once in previous articles, the papacy was laying claim to supreme headship over all things in Church and state. It maintained that it lay within its power to give and withhold kingdoms and to appoint and depose its kings as their sovereign lord. That the papacy claimed and still claims for itself this authority is plainly stated in a little book that I recently acquired. It is entitled “Religion Of The Plain Man”, and was written by Father R. H. Benson. The chapter on “The Petrine Claims” begins with the well-known words of Christ to Peter, “I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven,” Matt. 16:19. The author explains this scripture. “Now here”, says he, “is a very extraordinary sentence. . . . It appears certainly as if to Peter were committed the keys themselves, and to the others—the other apostles—only their occasional use. This is a far more emphatic sentence, and addressed to one man only; whatever the others received afterwards, he received also with them; and he seems to receive something more besides by this unique commission. Now this commission, whatever it was, may have died with Peter ; it is possible. Let me first see whether there is any on earth who claim it.” The author in his imagination now puts to the heads of the various Protestant denominations, in the form of a question, what he conceives to be a fair paraphrase of the passage (Christ’s words to Peter).

“Do any of you,” he asks, “claim all that this sentence involves? Do you claim to hold the keys of the kingdom of heaven?. . . . Do you claim to unlock or lock heaven at your will with, of course, God’s assistance? Do you claim, what is corollary to this, that all men who wish to enter heaven must, in some sense, make application to you for admittance. In other words, do you claim universal jurisdiction over the entire world, kings, governments, republics? Do you claim then, any of you, that you are lord of the world, father of princes and kings; that your lightest words require attention, and that your heavier sentences bind the conscience; that heaven and earth move with your movements (for all this is involved, it seems to me, in some sense, in those awful words of Christ); that, to sum up plainly, He who has the government upon! His shoulders, has put the insignia of His kingdom into your hands; that He who is Himself the door, has given you the key?”

To these questions the author puts into the mouth of the heads of the various protestant denomination the following answer, “A thousand times, No! Who is this that speaketh blasphemies? There is no such power on earth! You are derogating from Christ’s honor. It is He who has opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers; if He is the door, He is wide open, and His people enter in through Him alone. Man can do no more than point through Him who is the way, to Him who is the door, for they are both one.”

Hereupon the author has the pope of Rome answer, “I claim it,” claim what the heads of the various protestant denominations disclaim, to wit, jurisdiction over the entire world, kings, governments, republics, as the lord of the world and the father of princes and kings. This, according to our author (who writes as a spokesman of the papacy), is what Christ’s words to Peter involve. However, jurisdiction over the kings of the earth does not accrue from key power. If a king is a member of Christ’s church, he can be excommunicated not as a civil magistrate but as a member of the church. In his capacity of ruler, he is not subject to the key power with which Christ vested the ruling and teaching ministry. Hence, he cannot be deposed in his office by this power. On the other hand, the pastors in the church, in their capacity of pastors, are not subject to the magisterial power of the temporal rulers. They are subject to this power but only in their capacity of citizens of the state. The church has her own sphere of operation, which is the church. Under Christ, the state is the supreme judicial authority in its sphere. Neither the church nor the state may lord it over each other. They may not encroach upon each other’s domain. Not the pope but Christ is the King of kings and as such the head over all things in the church. There is not a vestige of proof in the Scriptures, that Christ appointed the pope His vice-gerent in state and church, making him to be the prince of the whole church and the lord of the world. Such a conception is strange to Holy Writ. It was conceived in the colossal pride of men who lusted after power. In their heart the idea arose. The Scriptures teach the separation of church and state in the sense that each limit itself in its operation to its own sphere. The two come together in Christ by whose authority the rulers both in church and state rule. Hence, the kings of the earth shall be wise, and the judges instructed. They shall serve Christ with fear, rejoice with trembling, love, favor, and protect His church. They shall kiss the Son, lest He be angry and they perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little. Ps. 2.

Yet, as we have seen, it was on that unscriptural idea of papal power that the papacy consciously began to rule as early as 440 in the person of Leo the Great. But, as already has been observed, the first pope to carry out the idea with more than common success was Gregory VII, the dates of whose pontificate are 1073-1085, and whose reign we shall next consider. But we must first look at the history that the papacy made in the two and a quarter centuries that intervened between the beginning of this Gregory’s pontificate—1073—and the death of the pope last treated—Gregory IV, who died in 844. In these 229 years the papal throne was occupied by fifty five popes. With few exceptions they were ordinary and even wicked men, whose brief careers were blackened by the darkest crimes and ended in deposition, prison and murder. The one shining exception was Nicolas I, who died in 867. The consensus of opinion among historians is, that he is the only great pope between Gregory I (died 604) and Gregory VII. Certain it is, that he was not a criminal as were most of the occupants of the papal chair in the tenth and eleventh centuries. He served the cause of justice, but, as the instrument through which he acted was the usurped authority of the papacy, it is a question whether, in his zeal, he was constrained by the love of Christ. What also must be held against him is, that, to legitimatize his actions, he freely quoted from that greatest of all frauds in the history of ecclesiastical literature—The Pseudo Isidorian Decretals. Also in his thought the pope is the ruler of the whole church and of the world. He was able to make good this claim in two notable cases. The first was that of Teutberga, the divorced wife of Lothair II, king of Lorraine. The injured lady appealed to Nicolas, who annulled the sanctioning decisions of synods, and deposed the archbishops, who had supported the king. The latter he threatened with excommunication, if the lawful wife was not taken back and the concubine, who had taken her place put away. The king finally yielded. The second case is that of the deposition of Rothad, bishop of Soisans, by Hincmar, the powerful archbishop of Rheims. Nicolas reinstated Rothad and Hincmar yielded to the pope. Nicolas also attempted to extend his authority over the Eastern Church, but in this he failed miserably. The uncle of the emperor in Constantinople was Barelas, a man who lived in sin. Ignatius, patriarch of Constantinople, refused him the Lord’s supper, and was deposed. Photius, one of the most learned men of his age, was chosen his successor. Ignatius appealed to Nicolas, who sent delegates to Constantinople to investigate the case. They were bribed to approve Photius. The pope annulled their action, upheld Ignatius, and declared Photius deposed. The latter in turn called a synod in Constantinople, which, under his leadership, condemned the none. Photius now set forth, in an Encyclical Letter, all the objections of the Greek church to the Latin. He accused the Latins of corrupting the creed by the addition of the filioque, charged them with heresy for fasting on Saturdays, demanding priestly celibacy, and confining confirmation to the bishops. By this action the ill feeling that already existed between East and West was intensified, which resulted, in 1054, in the complete and permanent separation of the two churches.

Nicolas, being a strong pope, was able to maintain himself in his false position with considerable success. But even within twenty-five years after his death began that, long stretch of papal degradation already referred to. From 888 to 896 three petty kings or dukes—Berenger, Guido, and Arnulf—contended with one another for the possession of Italy. During this time when a new pope had to be elected—there was need of this no less than four times—each of these dukes, working through his party in Rome, strove to control the election in favor of his candidate for the papal throne. The winning pope would then place upon the head of the duke, to whom he was indebted for his election, the imperial crown. It means that at this time the popes were the creations of these dukes. The feeling between the rival candidates for the papal office was bitter, as is apparent from the following gruesome incidents. Stephen VII, the creation of the party of Guido, caused the corpse of his predecessor, Formosus, to be dug up, dressed in pontifical robes, arraigned in a mock trial, condemned and deposed, stripped of his garments, fearfully mutilated, beheaded, and cast into the Tiber. But when the party of Berengar again gained the ascendency, Stephen VII was cast into prison and murdered. In the half century that followed, the papacy sank even to lower depths. Leo V (died 903) was pope less than two months, when he was cast into prison by Christopher, one of his chaplains. The following year this Christopher, who usurped his place, was deposed and driven from Rome by Sergius III, who became pope in 895, and who soiled the papal throne with every vice. He lived in illicit intercourse with the elder Theodora, a bold woman of high rank and low character. She had two daughters, Marozia and Theodora, famed for their beauty and wealth. Both prostitutes, they filled the chair of the pope with their lovers and bastards. The love of Theodora the elder was also shared by pope John X. She gave him the Archbishopric of Ravenna, and made him pope in 915. Marozia and her lover, Alberic I, overthrew this pope and had him smothered to death in prison. Thereupon she raised three of her own creatures successively to the papal chair—Leo VI, Stephen VII, and finally John XI, her own bastard son of twenty one years. Another of her sons, Alberic, jealous of his brother John, the pope, cast him and their mother into prison. Alberic’s son was then elected pope as John XII, when only eighteen years of age. This took place in 954. The reign of this John was characterized by the most shocking immoralities. He was charged by a Roman synod with almost every species of crimes. Among the charges lodged against him were, that he had mutilated a priest, that he had set houses on fire, that he had committed homicide and adultery, had violated virgins and widows, lived with his father’s mistress, converted the pontifical palace into a brothel, and drank to the health of the devil. When the emperor Otho demanded that these accusations be proven, the bishops replied that they were that well known as not to be in the need of proof. It is telling, that before the synod conveyed, John XII fled from Rome with as much of the treasury of St. Peter as he could carry. The synod deposed him as a monster of iniquity, and Leo VII was elected in his stead.

A remark is in order here. This was not the only degradation of the papacy. As we shall see, it was followed by several others in the centuries that followed. How, in the light, of all this history, the Roman Catholic church has the courage to maintain the infallibility of its popes, is a mystery. She cannot maintain this doctrine with respect to the good popes only. All must be infallible or none can be. For if even one pope were not infallible, the papal institution should cease to exist, and if it did, it could be doubted with reason whether it ever existed. But the Roman clergy has an answer to this. Father Benson, from whose work we have already quoted, put this language in the mouth of the papacy, “I am a sinful man like him from whom my title is descended (reference here is to the apostle Peter). I have passions, weakness and temptations as he had. I have no immunity from sin, no safeguard against falling beyond that which may be found in the mercy of my God and the prayers of my people. (Notice the teaching here. It is that it is possible for the true believer to fall from grace. G.M.O.). I may deny my Lord as some say that Liberius did; I may err in my private faith as John XXII did; I may falter, or give an obscure answer as Honorius did. Yet I claim it, and I bear the keys below my purple crown to show that I bear them in my hand. In the strength of Him who called me Peter, I am not afraid to use them. I may err in all else, but not in that for which I am set; what I bind is bound in heaven; what I loose is loosed in heaven. For to me it was said through Peter; and though a hundred popes are gone, Peter stands here still. . . . I claim it, I, Pius the Tenth, alias Peter. Does any dispute it with me?” . . . .“When I say that the pope is infallible, I mean that the pope cannot err when, as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals, to be held by the whole church.” So far the author. Now it is true, that the apostle Peter, the Christian, the infallible pastor Pieter, was a man with many infirmities, as are all God’s believing people. But Peter the Christian, the infallible pastor Peter was, as a regenerated child of God, not a profane man, a monster of iniquity, reveling in sin. The other apostles were not profane men. Nor were Daniel and Isaiah and the other prophets, who wrote and spake infallibly in communicating to the church the mind and will of God, profane men. In all those four thousand years that God through them was preparing for us His Bible, there was not one profane man among them. But a surprising number of popes were profane men, judging from the fruit that they bore. Fact is, that between the close of the ninth and the beginning of the seventeenth centuries there were few popes who were not profane. Is it now conceivable, in the light of the Scriptures, that God after the death of the last apostle would continue the apostolic office in long unbroken successions of profane men? That would have to be considered strange.

The synod that had deposed John XII was attended, as has already been intimated, by king Otho I, justly surnamed the Great (936-973). The dynasty of Charles the Great had ended with the death of Louis the Child. During the joint reigns of Charles’ incapable successors the empire that he had built disintegrated and, due to the growth of Feudalism, Germany had divided into tribal states, ruled by tribal dukes. On her frontiers, she was being threatened by the barbarian Danes, Slavonians, and Hungarians. There was dire need of a strong ruler to establish order. This need was met by Otho I. He was the son and: successor of the able Henry the Fowler, dupe of Saxony, who already had defeated the Danes, the Slavonians, and the Hungarians on the frontier, and had thus removed the worst perils of Germany. The useful work was continued by Otho. He not only wholly subdued the barbarians on the frontier, but in addition went far in consolidating Germany. But his lust of power was too great to allow him to confine his work to his own country. In 951 he crossed the Alps and made himself master of Northern Italy. In 961 he was again in Italy now in response to a cry for help on the part of the worthless pope John XII, who was being hard pressed by Berengar II. The king promised to return to the papacy all the lost territories granted by Pepin: and Charles the Great and so the pope obligingly crowned him emperor and gave him the oath of Allegiance. So was the papacy again rescued, this time from the tyranny of political factions in Rome as headed by Roman nobles,—rescued it was but only to pass once more under the jurisdiction of a foreign power. History had repeated itself.

The perfidious pope John XII had no intentions of subjecting himself to Otho. When Otho had departed, the pope entered into conspiracy with those same nobles from whom he had been rescued and rebelled against his master. The master quickly returned. He convened a synod, which, as we have seen, deposed John XII, and chose Leo VII. But after the king’s (departure, John XII returned and actually got the upper hand. He seized his antagonists; he cut off the hand of one, the nose, the finger, and the tongue of others. Eventually his life was brought to an end by the vengeance of a man whose wife he had seduced. And also of this pope—John XII—we are asked to believe that he was appointed by Heaven as an infallible mediator of Christ and His Church!