Primacy and "Infallibility" of the Roman Pope


My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,



Orthodoxy is faith "in one, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church".  

The Orthodox Church, as "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15), as a living organism, against which even "the gates of hell shall not prevail" (St. Matthew 16:18), and which has Christ Himself as its Head, abiding with it "always, even to the end of the age" (St. Matthew 28:20).

Such a Church as a whole cannot err; for the whole Church to err would be tantamount to her spiritual death, but, by virtue of the Savior's promise, she cannot die. But while the Orthodox Church as a whole cannot err, her individual members, individual gatherings and groups and even large parts of her can fall into err. And since the opinion of the whole Church is made manifest at Ecumenical Councils, the Ecumenical Councils (Synods) are the infallible custodians and interpreters of Divine Revelation, not because the members of the Councils are individually infallible, but because the decisions of the councils are the voice of the whole Church, which is directed by the grace of the Holy Spirit (the decisions of the Councils always begin with the words: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" [see Acts 15:28].

This view of the infallibility of the Universal Church, which comes from Christ and His Apostles, was common in Christianity during the course of the first centuries and remained unchanged in the Orthodox Church. But in the West, side by side with other deviations, this view of the infallibility of the Church also under-went distortion. The Roman bishop was always considered one of the members of the Council, and he submitted to its decisions. But, in the course of time, the pope of Rome began to attribute the privilege of ecclesiastical infallibility to himself alone and, after long efforts, finally secured the recognition of his absurd pretension at the Vatican Council of 1870.

Besides the invisible Head, Jesus Christ, Catholics recognize yet a visible head, the Roman bishop, the pope, and they consider him, and not the universal Church, infallible.

The teaching on the supremacy of the pope arose in the 9th century and is the main dogma of the Roman confession and its main difference with Orthodoxy. Catholics assert that Christ made one of His Disciples, namely the Apostle Peter, His vicar on earth, the prince of the Apostles, the head of the visible Church with plenipotentiary authority over the Apostles and over the whole Church and that only through him did all the remaining Apostles receive their grace filled rights. Catholics also assert that the Roman pope became the successor of the Apostle Peter and received all rights and privileges from him as well. He, the pope, is the head of the whole church, the vicar of Christ, the sole bearer for the whole visible church of all her grace-filled rights; his voice in matters of faith, speaking ex cathedra - "from the chair", that is, officially - is infallible and obligatory for each member of the church individually and for all together.

In the Lord's words, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church", Catholics regard the words "Peter" and "rock" as identical and draw the conclusion that allegedly the Savior wanted to found the Church on Peter himself, as on an individual, and on him alone. But there is a confusion of terms -the proper name is confused with the appellative. The proper name of this Apostle in Hebrew is Simon. The Savior, seeing the firmness of his faith, gives him a new name, or, more precisely, a nickname (as He also did with regard to James and John, calling them "Boanerges", that is, "sons of thunder" (St. Mark 3:17) - Cephas in Hebrew, Petros in Greek. Here is a kind of play on words, which Catholic scholasticism also utilizes.

As for the mention of the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and the right to bind and loose, here, in the person of the Apostle Peter, the Lord is giving a promise to all the Apostles - especially since He repeats the very same promise and in the same expressions with regard to all the Disciples in the same Gospel according to Saint Matthew, slightly later (8:18); and after His Resurrection, Christ fulfilled this promise, having said to all the Disciples: "Receive ye the Holy Spirit: whosoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosoever sins ye retain, they are retained" (St. John 20:22-23).

The Orthodox Church teaches that the Twelve Apostles were completely equal among themselves according to their dignity, authority, and grace. It is possible to call the Apostle Peter the first, but the first among equals. This teaching is confirmed by the whole history of the Apostles, as it is set forth in the books of the New Testament, where the full equality of the Apostles among themselves is demonstrated indisputably (for example, Matthew 4:18-19; 10:1, 40; 19-28; 20:24-27; 23:8-11; Mark 10:35-37; Luke 22:22-30 and many others); many passages demonstrate that the Apostles received from Christ the Savior, and not from the Apostle Peter (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 9:1-6; John 20:21-23 and many others), and that all the Apostles without exception are liable to a higher court - the Church (for example, Matthew 18:17). 

The dogma of the infallibility of the pope contradicts the whole history of the Church and of the papacy itself. History provides a whole series of indisputable facts concerning the errors of popes in dogmatic questions and the contradictions of popes among themselves in matters of faith. (Source: V. Potopov, 1996-98)

Please note: The above article is a response to the questions and inquiries of some of our parishioners.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George