The Hyperinflation of the Papacy

If you read the Catechism of the Catholic Church from front to back, you’ll note that at least 98% of the content has nothing to do with the papacy. Creation, Original Sin, the Incarnation, hypostatic union, the Resurrection, moral commands against killing and lying, the inspiration of Scripture, sacramental grace, the all-male priesthood: none reference the pope. In fact, the subject “pope” doesn’t even get its own entry in the subject index; instead, it reads, “Pope: see Apostolic Succession; Church: structure: hierarchical constitution.”

The absence of extensive references to the pope is also the case when you peruse Catholic liturgical texts and the myriad Catholic devotions: very few even mention the pope, and none are intrinsically connected to the papacy.

Likewise, the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, which was written in the 4th century as the fundamental synopsis of Catholic belief—and which is still recited every Sunday at every Catholic Mass—does not mention the pope. When it describes the Church, it calls it “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”—no mention of “papal” (although of course the papacy is part of the “apostolic” mark of the Church, as the Catechism properly notes).

And yet, when debates occur related to Catholic belief and practice either online or in real life today, usually the pope and the papacy dominate the discussion: “the pope said,” “Pius XII commanded,” “according to John Paul II…”

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