unwelcome visitor

Okay, this is about the Pope. Dear Catholic friends, either grit your teeth firmly, or look away now.

The Catholic Teuchtar has pointed out this report of some statement or other issued by the (Scottish) Free Presbyterians, deploring the Pope’s planned visit and repudiating his claims to both churchly and civil authority. In response to their statement, a “spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church” is reported as saying, “intemperate objections should not detract from what will be a tremendous occasion for Scotland.”

The problem is that calvinists, presbyterians, and protestants in general, cannot in good faith welcome the Pope to our country. It is fundamental to protestantism, presbyterianism, and calvinism that we reject his political claims, his ecclesiastical claims, and his spiritual claims.

The Pope is not the head of the Church. He is not Christ’s vicar and he is not Peter’s successor. He is not our holy father. He cannot absolve from sin. He cannot change bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord. He has no jurisdiction in our nation. He may, and often does, make pronouncements which we can agree with. We can agree that abortion is wrong and euthanasia is wrong. We can agree with things like his criticisms of New Labour’s Equality Bill and the philosophy that motivated it. But the reasons why he believes that these things are wrong differ from the reasons why we believe these things are wrong, and the fact that his pronouncements on moral issues sometimes coincide with what we believe cannot compensate for the vast array of other principles and doctrines that divide us.

Whether objections to the Pope’s visit are expressed temperately or not, the point is that there are real, serious, biblical, doctrinal, theological, christological, soteriological, and ecclesiastical differences,* which may or may not be irreconcilable, but which at any rate do not deserve to be brushed aside as irrelevant or somehow capable of being put to one side for the duration of a papal visit.

Especially in this anniversary year of the Reformation in Scotland, it would really just be unthinking and unprincipled to pretend otherwise.

* Erm, to name but a few.

25 thoughts on “unwelcome visitor

  1. The thing with taking these objections seriously, is that the official FP website has this sort of guff. Bit damaging to the old credibility rating, really :D

    Grrr, work calls. Bet it’s not as horribly hot in Embra as it is here. My geraniums are wilting before my eyes.


      • Folks feel sorry for the geraniums.

        Re the link, it’s all over the place and the title doesn’t make much sense. Credibility sinks, for sure. Thankfully though, we unite around a confession of faith, which is much more to the point: “There is no other head of the Church but the Lord Jesus Christ; nor can the Pope of Rome in any sense be head thereof.”


  2. Sorry, Cath, but I don’t get the rant. The Holy See (religious authority) is different from the Vatican State (political authority). The latter one has been recognised as national territory under international law, and as such holds diplomatic relations with most nations on this planet (including the UK), exceptions being limited to countries like Mauretania, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan or Vietnam.

    A state visit by the Pope doesn’t mean that you accept his religious viewpoints. I’m sure Muslim heads of states have visited Scotland before, or other non-Protestants for that matter. Did you object to them, too?

    And what about the Catholic minority in Scotland? Just because religious persecution went the other way round in the past doesn’t mean that it’s right to continue it.

    Looking forward to discussing this further face to face next week :)


  3. The Holy See might be different from the Vatican state, but the Pope is supposed to have both ecclesiastical and political authority, and the latter on the basis of the former. Whereas, at the Reformation, 450 years ago this year in Scotland, the Pope’s claims to ecclesiastical authority were exposed and recognised to be spurious by both the Scottish Church and the Scottish State.

    That was, obviously, 450 years ago, and things have changed (and both in church and in state). But, as Jonathan rightly says, the need for ordinary Christians to be clear on the nature of the Church’s authority/ the authority of offices in the Church, is as pressing as it ever was. The office of Pope doesn’t figure in any scriptural understanding of the offices of the Christian Church — neither, of course, I must add as a presbyterian, do the offices of Anglican bishop or Independent demagogue or televangelist etc — but then again, none of them are planning a state visit imminently.


  4. But he’s head of the state whose territory is a few acres in the middle of Rome just in the same way the Queen is head of state in the UK, and Kaczyński was in Poland. Questions of the two swords don’t enter into it, as the customer said of the plumage. Are you really confounding the Pope’s jurisdiction over the Vatican with papal claims to a particular kind of temporal authority over all Christian princes? I’m quite sure the Queen rejects the latter with quite as much conviction as you do! :) Or is it merely a “pastoral” argument: that they are two entirely different things, but they’re related in an associative sort of way, at least in people’s minds?


  5. And then there’s still the question of unwelcome to whom. I guess that with any state visit, there will be some people who object to that particular head of state whereas others (in this case, Scottish Catholics presumably) don’t. And international diplomacy and respect then require the usual decorum … So, my question resulting from not getting the rant remains: why the fuss? And as I implied earlier, you may be more successful explaining that to me in person.


  6. Oh, dear. The Queen invited him, a Head of State, to come. He accepted her invitation and is coming. The man’s a guest. Why is everyone being so rude to a guest?

    Why even bring this up? Britain is in the middle of a moral meltdown, and Catholics and Evangelicals should be working together. Everybody knows the Wee Frees don’t like the pope. What nobody knew was that the Wee Frees still got nasty about it.

    Given the hue and cry and sheer nastiness coming out of England alone about Benedict’s visit, I am fully expecting people to behave really horribly while he is here, and that my news articles home to Canada will be about really appalling “hospitality”.


    • I don’t think it’s really a matter of not liking him :) And while I’m still trying to work out what concretely the arguments are, it’s unfair to brush off, in discussion, the arguments of the less modernist Presbyterians as just “evangelical dislike of the Pope”. :)


        • Calling an invited (and elderly) visitor–one who cannot now without a lot of fuss and bother send his regrets, and who already has been outrageously insulted by the Foreign Office–“unwanted” is nasty. It is also not particularly accurate, even for Scotland, as presumably the 185,000 Scottish Catholics who go to church on Sundays (which is The Scotsman’s statistic) vastly outnumber the Scottish Free Presbyterians who go to church on Sundays.

          Strangely, despite the best efforts of the Reformation and the historical persecution of both the Scottish Episcopalians and Roman Catholics, the Roman Catholic faith once again flourishes in Scotland and the most prominent defender of Christian moral teachings in Scotland is Keith Cardinal O’Brien.


  7. I admit I don’t quite know how to respond any more. Oliver thinks it was a rant, and Seraphic is personally offended. But there was absolutely nothing unremarkable in what the original post says. It is simply incompatible with being Reformed to think of the Pope as the head of the Church: it is an affront to the most fundamental principles of the nature of the Church as understood by the Reformed (presbyterians especially, but also congregationalists/independents), and it shouldn’t take that much imagination to see how there could be difficulties attached to the appearance of the Pope in our country on a state visit for people in the Reformed denominations who take their presbyterianism (or whatever) seriously and hold to the Reformed confessions as a matter of conscience, conviction, and principle. In what way can we possibly gladly greet the holder of the highest office in the ecclesiastical structure which repudiates as a matter of principle the five solas, for example — the problem is doctrinal and conscientious, and really nothing new. (The fact that the Pope is elderly is of zero relevance, obviously.)

    It is, perhaps, Free Presbyterians who have the reputation of squawking most loudly about Romanism and with least concern for the sensibilities associated with contemporary ecumenical dialogue. As we see from the Scotsman’s report, the Free Presbyterians have duly performed, true to form, and are duly reported in a way which simultaneously invites the ridicule of the secularist and allows other Reformed Christians to breathe a sigh of relief that they weren’t the ones being asked to voice their commitment to historic Reformed belief to a sceptical journalist (although even if they had they wouldn’t have put it quite like that themselves, of course). So that bit isn’t much fun, and sometimes it might be nice if the official rhetoric wasn’t quite so overblown, but the core principle remains.

    Shocking as it may seem, the Pope is never going to win any popularity contests among the confessional Reformed. Our doctrine of the Church won’t accommodate it, nor will our theology of the sacraments, nor will our soteriology. We just can’t help it.


  8. I’m afraid I’m not too keen on the Bishop of Rome either. I think I would not trust any of my neighbours if they happened to allow themselves to be called by any of God’s titles, and I’m quite certain I’m on safe ground by not trusting this particular old man because of that.

    I should like to say that whoever is with God is actually in the majority, no matter how many or few attend their church. I think the less numerous FP’s are coming from a far less shakey position than just about anyone else. They profess to trust that the Word of God is of greater authority than the word of any man. Which is right.

    It seems strange that the Queen is scheduled to meet this old man, I hope she is granted an excuse from doing so, and I hope also that the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him.

    And perhaps a timely volcanic ash cloud to disrupt his travel plans.


  9. Well it’s our old friend, lets be honest about our beliefs but respectful of those who hold differing ones as opposed to the secularist lie, there is no truth so all opinions are equal and you cannot say anything that will offend anyone – the secularist aim being to remove faith / religion from the public square.

    So if the FP’s want to voice their protest, as long as it’s done respectfully, fair enough.

    This cradle C of S fence jumper is happy to see him here though!


  10. I cannot believe the bigotry on this blog, this thread in particular. 450 years of what we must ask ourselves? Dissention, more and more “Churches” formed every year. Not the way Our Lord would have wished and indeed prayed for.
    Back to basics folks, and The Church that God himself (in the person of Jesus) started to continue his work here. That is The one Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.


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