A recent issue of a nationally circulated magazine blazed across its cover the caption, “Pop John, the Humble Pope.” This description is only one of the many anthems being sung at the present time to the honor of Rome’s head. With the calling of the Vatican Council, the “glorias” become louder and louder. Catholics, Protestants, and neutrals join in the noisy concert. But all the noise in the world cannot drown out the truth that the Pope is still proud.
That Catholics will pay any and every absurd homage to the Pope is not surprising any longer. It is the new attitude of Protestants that calls forth response. Leaders of gigantic denominations make pilgrimages to Rome for the purpose of paying respects to the Pope and strong currents begin to blow through Protestantism of a reunion with the Catholic Church. Out of this background come the flattering phrases about John XXIII. And since the masses of Protestants have been for so long impoverished spiritually, they gullibly move in the direction pointed out by their guides. That journey ends at the foot of the papal throne.
The fantastic arrogance and insatiable lust for power which characterized many of the former popes may very well not be true of John personally. That is, if John were a ditch-digger instead of Pope, he might be a retiring and unassuming man, whereas other Popes would have been the haughtiest ditch-diggers in the world. But John is not a ditch-digger, he is Pope and unrenounced popedom is at absolute odds with humility. A humble pope is a contradiction in terms.
Among the titles which a Pope assumes are Bishop of Rome, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Primate of Italy, Patriarch of the West, Successor of St. Peter, and Vicar of Jesus Christ and of God on Earth. Apart from the fact that the latter two titles are blasphemous inventions, a knowledge of the chicanery and outright deceit by which the Pope historically obtained these titles and their inherent rights serves to heighten the bold-faced effrontery. One addresses the pope as “Your Holiness” or “Most Holy Father.” Prescribed greetings include bowing before him or kissing his foot. He claims supreme sovereignty over the Church, infallibility when he speaks on matters affecting faith and morals, and the sole reason why he is not so loud in claiming sovereignty over all the world, as he once did, is because temporal rulers had bigger armies and, thus, checked him. His pomp and jewels and robes defy description even today. And the explanation for all this magnificence rests, says the Pope, in “divine right.”
No prouder person exists on the earth. The Pope arrogates to himself power over all the earth, although he softens his claim to temporal rule out of momentary expediency. Not the Word of God, but the word of the Pope is infallible. Luther’s summary of the papacy rings as true today as it did four hundred years ago: “The Pope is God on earth, supreme in all heavenly, earthly, spiritual, and secular matters. All things are the Pope’s; and there is none who can say to him, ‘What doest thou’.” This is a true accusation of the papacy since “The Pope doth not receive his authority from the scripture but the scripture from the Pope.”
A plague on this trilling of the Pope’s virtues. Behind that benevolent mask loom unbounded pride and insuperable arrogance.
But it is not enough that he wields a scepter over the earth, for heaven and purgatory and hell await his beck and call. Said Luther in reference to the Pope’s mass for departed souls, “he with his mass was not satisfied to thrust himself into all corners of the earth, but he must needs go tumbling down into the very bosom of hell.” Tetzel does not hawk his indulgences as crassly as he once did but the Pope still blinds his people with his wretched sale of shorter time in purgatory and he yet exercises his authority to canonize and anathematize. All of this boundless power he exercises not as a minister of the Word, for then he would not, could not be Pope, but by virtue of his popedom.
Perhaps, the un-protestant Protestants can explain all these facts away. Perhaps, their craving for slavery in Rome’s gilded cage blinds the unity-seekers to all the pomp, all the usurpation of God’s power and glory, all the extolling of papal words at the expense of God’s Word. Then one pride still rages unbridled in the Pope. He stands as the embodiment, the personification of the doctrine of justification by works, of salvation by human merit, the impudent and impious doctrine of Pelagius. This by itself condemns out of hand all the present-day minimizing of the conflict between Rome and Protestantism. John Beversluis’ notion that “the difference between the Reformers and the existing Church was, generically speaking, a difference of degree rather than one of kind (Reformed Journal, Oct., 1961, p. 14) is wrong. The difference was and remains the difference between preaching Paul’s gospel of righteousness by faith and preaching another gospel of righteousness by works of the law. Preachers of this false gospel do not differ from Paul by degree but by kind. The two have no similarity at all even though they both make mention of Christ and sin and salvation. Paul is blessed; the others are accursed and that not by the empty ravings of a Pope or his council but by the effective judgment of Christ Himself through Paul His ambassador (cf. Galatians 1:7, 8).
Only one ground allows for the possibility of a Protestant reunion with Rome: the Protestants in their view of salvation are just as proud as Rome is. Since they maintain the same lie of salvation by works, separately, there is no reason why they should not maintain it together.