Proof that Each Pope is Chosen by God

The papal critics lay the foundation for their assaults on Pope Francis (soon to be known as: Pope Saint Francis I) by asserting falsehoods to use a premises for their faulty arguments and false assertions. The cornerstone of this foundation is the false and heretical claim that a Pope can possibly teach or commit heresy. For proof that this claim is contrary to dogma, see:
* The Roman Pontiff: Immunity from Error and Never-failing Faith
* Three Gifts that make Each Pope the Rock
They need to convince the faithful not to trust each and every Roman Pontiff, so that they can sow distrust of Pope Francis and then condemn him — as if only some Popes are successors to Peter and others are successors to Judas.

Another foundational stone of the rebellion against Pope Francis is the claim that the Roman Pontiff is not chosen by God. This claim implies a contradiction to the dogma that each Pope has the full authority and same commission as Peter. For Peter was chosen to be the first Roman Pontiff by Christ, who is God. Thus, God chose the first Pope.

1. “Ah, but some Popes are too sinful to be considered the choice of God!”

Peter betrayed Christ, and later repented. Peter said to Christ: “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5:8). John, the evangelist is considered to have been holier than Peter, yet he was never Pope. The Blessed Virgin Mary is holier than all Saints and martyrs combined, but she was never Pope. Neither were John the Baptist or Saint Joseph popes.

And consider that God chose David to be king over Israel, despite knowing he would later commit adultery. And David was one of the principle foreshadowings of the Messiah in the Old Testament.

Therefore, God does not choose the holiest person to be Pope. God does choose sinners to be Pope, even those who have committed grave sins. So we cannot conclude that God only choses those Popes who turn out to be Saints, and the other Popes are merely chosen by men.

2. “The bad popes are obviously not chosen by God!”

If popes were divided into the good popes and the bad popes, they would not all have the full authority of Peter. Then the faithful would be divided by differing opinions as to which popes are good and which are bad. Pope Alexander VI is considered by papal critics to be one of the worst popes. But “Two of Alexander’s successors, Sixtus V and Urban VIII, described him as one of the most outstanding popes since Saint Peter.[1]” It is not so obvious which popes are “good” and which are “bad”. Many Catholics support Pope Francis and believe him to be faithful and holy, while others claim he is the worst pope in the history of the Church. But other Catholics claim that Pope Saint John Paul II or Pope Benedict XVI is the worst pope.

If supposed “bad popes” are not chosen by God, then their teachings would be ignored and contradicted, and the Church would not be one Faith. We would then be like the Protestants, who believe whatever they like, as they have no single authority to whom they can appeal for an authoritative teaching.

3. “But what about Popes Sergius III, John XII, Benedict IX, Sylvester III, Gregory VI?”

These were not valid Popes, as explained in my book: The Indefectibility of the Pope”

4. “Why would God choose other bad popes?”

Alexander VI, despite his admitted personal grave sins, blessed the Church immensely by finally removing the stranglehold that certain powerful families of Rome sought to have over the papacy. He was well-versed in Sacred Scripture. He is not even accused by anyone of teaching heresy or erring gravely in discipline. God may sometimes choose a sinful man to lead the Church because that person is right for the tasks at hand, such as dealing with powerful and sinful Cardinals.

Perhaps, during times when the faithful are very sinful, God choose a sinful man to be Pope to show the faithful their sins and to keep them from pretending to be holy merely because they are Catholic. That is a fault seen often today. Conservative Catholics claim to have the role to oversee the Popes, Councils, and the whole Church on earth, as if each of them were God, merely because they judge themselves to be orthodox and conservative. “Look, here’s a pope who is just like you; notice that he is publicly known to sin gravely.”

Other sinful Popes were chosen by God for reasons known to divine wisdom. And we should not demand an explanation from the Church or from God as to why a Pope was chosen who does not meet the standards set by “the opinion of creatures”.

5. “But Cardinal Ratzinger says that Popes are not chosen by God.”

Pope Benedict XVI, as Cardinal Ratzinger, as asked in an interview whether the Holy Spirit chooses the Pope. He replied:

“I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the pope…. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!”

First, this was an extemporaneous comment, not a considered article of private theology and not an act of the Magisterium. If he were researching and writing on the topic, he may have responded differently. Second, this article offers theological arguments to the contrary, while Cardinal Ratzinger merely offered an off-the-cuff comment.

6. “The Pope is chosen by the Cardinals, and the Cardinals have free will.”

The prevenient grace of God acts prior to free will, and can therefore bring a human person to speak or act as God wills, without the possibility of error caused by the exercise of free will by a fallen sinner. That is why the Pope can teach infallibly. That is why an Ecumenical Council can teach infallibly. And that is why a conclave will choose the person to be Pope who is willed by God, not by men.

But the providence of God also applies to the decision. God chooses the person to be Pope whom God has prepared for that role from the womb:

[Jeremiah]
{1:5} “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you went forth from the womb, I sanctified you. And I made you a prophet to the nations.”

The same is true of the Roman Pontiffs, who lead us under the New Covenant, no less so that of the Old Testament prophets who led Israel under the Old Covenant. Or do you think that the Old is greater than the New?

7. “Let me explain to you all the errors of Pope Francis.”

Let me explain to you what the word “faith” means.

Conclusion

If some Popes were chosen by God and others were chosen merely by men and merely permitted by God, then some Popes would have less authority. Whom will the faithful permit to lead and teach them? Whom will the faithful accept as Teacher and Shepherd, as the very Vicar of Christ? If some Popes are chosen by God, and others merely by men, the latter would have far less authority.

And that is the point of this attack on the papacy: to undermine the authority of any Pope whose teachings are not to the liking of the papal critics. “Ignore this erroneous teaching by the Roman Pontiff and Vicar of Christ, for he was not chosen by God!”

But does this sound like a good plan for the Church, a plan from divine Wisdom? Do you really believe that Christ only chooses some successors of Peter, and not each one? If so, they would not have the same authority as Peter. And then who would decide which Popes are chosen by God, and which by men? Some papal critics wish to convince us that every Pope except Peter was chosen by men, so that they can exalt their own opinions over the teachings of Popes and Councils. But such a plan is chaos. No one would know which teachings to believe, as the Teacher of all Christians would not have been appointed to that role by God.

Each and every valid Roman Pontiff is chosen by the providence and grace of God. And the grace used to guide and determine this decision includes both prevenient grace and subsequent grace. Thus, the choice is just as much of God as the choice of the very first Pope by Christ, the Son of God. Whoever says otherwise implies that some Popes have the authority of Peter and others do not.

[1] Wikipedia, Pope Alexander VI, citing: The Borgias (Granada ed.), p. 9.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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2 Responses to Proof that Each Pope is Chosen by God

  1. Joshua says:

    Mr. Conte, you make a very good case. But at the same time, The Church has never defined whether or not a pope is chosen by God. Do I believe that God operates in the election of a pope? Yes, I do. Do I believe that God can inspire cardinals to vote for one man over another? Yes, I do. However, I don’t agree with your assertion that if a pope was chosen by men, he would have less authority than those chosen by God. Whether a pope is chosen by God or men, I still believe that he has the same authority as every other pope. I’m not here to start an argument, I just want to say that, since The Church has never officially defined the matter, it may still be an open question.

    • Ron Conte says:

      People are using the claim that the Pope is not chosen by God to claim that Pope Francis was chosen contrary to the will of God. And they are half right. IF a Pope were chosen by men, not by God, some Popes would be chosen against the will of God. So they would then not have the same commission as Peter, who was sent by the Son of God. It sounds good, at first, to say that you still think Popes chosen by men have the same authority, but it is not the case. The Church has not officially defined the matter, but I don’t see any substantial theological argument for the other side.

      Suppose that two prophets arise in Jerusalem, during Old Testament times. One says, “I was sent by God.” And the other says, “I was not sent by God, but only by men. God did not want me to come to you.” Who should the people listen to? So it is nice to say that the authority is the same, but it is not the case.

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