Revelation: The Bride, The Beast, and Babylon
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A Friendly Face


A Friendly Face
Posted 05.11.2016

Since his elevation to the papacy in March 2013, Pope Francis has been a man of surprises. One almost never knows what words will come from his lips, whether it’s a more open tone toward homosexuals (if a gay person is seeking to follow God, he said, "who am I to judge?") or recording a video message to Pentecostal ministers in America.

So it's surprising—to say the least—that Francis might support a rethink of the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal infallibility. This is defined as the belief that when the pope speaks "ex cathedra," or, literally, "from the chair" (or seat) of Peter, the Holy Spirit guards him from teaching error. In 1950, for example, Pope Pius XII declared that Mary, the mother of Jesus, "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." There's nothing in the Bible to support that statement, but from that moment, Catholics were expected to believe it and teach it as gospel truth.

Over the years, infallibility has been battered from inside and outside the walls of the Catholic Church. One of the most prominent internal critics has been Hans Küng, a Catholic priest and theologian from Switzerland, whose book, Infallible? An Inquiry provoked controversy when it was first published in 1971. Küng questioned the infallibility of teachings such as the bodily assumption of Mary and the 1968 declaration against artificial birth control. His book sparked a firestorm, and within a decade, Küng's license to teach Catholic theology at Tübingen University in Germany was withdrawn.

Fast forward to 2016, with Küng in retirement but still writing. He addressed an open letter to Francis asking the pontiff to permit "a free, unprejudiced and open-ended discussion … of all the unresolved and suppressed questions connected with the infallibility dogma."

Within a few weeks, Francis gave his answer: Yes. "Pope Francis has set no restrictions. He has thus responded to my request to give room to a free discussion on the dogma of infallibility," according to Britain's Christian Today newspaper.

Why is the pope doing this? Right now, no one knows a definitive reason. He may simply want teachers and theologians to feel more comfortable debating important doctrinal questions unafraid of immediate action being taken against them. He may wish to signal a kind of openness that many non-Catholics would appreciate. Or he might want something even deeper to take place within the Roman Catholic Church. Because Küng didn't release the pope's letter, we just can't be sure.

But one thing seems to be certain: Francis, unlike any other pope in memory, is bound and determined to not only capture world attention—as his predecessor John Paul II did so well—but also to put a friendly face on a Catholicism that has come under fire in many quarters. We may not know the specific outcome of the infallibility debate for a while, but it seems clear that this pope's bid to impress Christians outside of Catholicism is far from over.


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Revelation: The Bride, The Beast, and Babylon