Leo’s Rise, Gregory’s Surprise, Nicholas’ Disguise, and The Reason Why

Posted: February 22, 2012 in Catholicism, School papers

The catholic church of the West took a different approach to leadership than the orthodox church of the East. Rather than having a group of people who made decisions in counsels and such, they had one man who was head of the church and made all of the decisions for the body. This position is known as the Pope, and his office is known as the papacy. The strong reach of the papacy began due to the Germanic invasion. These invasions forced the Catholic Church into a guardian position, and placed the Pope at the top. But, to some, there was a profound reason why the Pope was able to discern right from wrong. The great pope’s from Leo to Nicholas I received almost unlimited regional authority, due to a false doctrine that they, like Peter, were the infallible head (rock) of the Lord’s church. The following will expand on three pope’s, there roles in the papacy, and the belief that Matthew 16 gave the pope unlimited, infallible authority.

Leo’s Rise

Leo the Great was the bishop of Rome when Attila the Hun was on the warpath during the fifth century. After a horrible defeat at the hands of the Franks, Attila set his eye on Rome. Because the Emperor (Valentinian the third) was weak, and Rome was lacking across the board in strong leadership, Leo ventured out to discuss the invasion with the Hun. Leo successfully negotiated terms with the Hun, and Attila died a year later. Some say he died in his sleep, others say that his wife stabbed him. Whatever the case, the greatest threat to Rome was gone, and Leo the Great was the one responsible for leading the Hun away from Rome. Rome was invaded numerous times after Attila. Leo the great was involved in multiple prisoner exchanges, due to the weakness or unwillingness of the emperor or the government to get involved. Leo was also able to save the city from burning in 455 when vandals (led by Generic) sacked Rome. Because of his great negotiating skills, Leo put himself in a position to receive almost unlimited authority from Rome. Leo was a man of action and a man of great religious conviction. He was also a great teacher. He left the church with ninety-seven sermons and one hundred forty seven letters.
Leo had a strong conviction that the reason why he was so powerful, was because he, like Peter, was the head of the church, appointed by our Lord Jesus Christ. Leo the great thought that he was without error, because God does not error, and he was the head of God’s church. He despised all other belief systems that were not in line with the true faith, which he believed was the Catholic faith. Leo also played a big role in the free will doctrinal belief system of the Roman Catholic Church. Whether or not free will is actually provable from the context of the Bible, a man who is though to be infallible said that free will exists, so it must exist. There is a great danger when a man is given something that only God should have, infallibility. Whether or not free will exists, one should search the scriptures for the answer, and not base our convictions off the thoughts of a mere mortal man, however great that man is or is not.

Gregory’s Surprise

Unlike Leo the Great, Gregory the great did not think the pope was infallible. Although he was the head of the church, Gregory did not believe that he had universal authority as the pope. In fact, Gregory was forced into the position of pope. In the same fashion as Leo, Gregory left behind many letters and sermons. In his own sermons, he rejects the interpretation of Matthew 16:18 that Peter was the foundation that the church was laid upon. Gregory said that the church was founded on, “no one other than the Lord Himself.” John Calvin the great reformer sited the works of Gregory over fifty times in his fourth book of Christianae Religionis Institutio. Of course just because Gregory did not think that he was the infallible head of the church, does not mean that he was not acting as the head of the Roman Catholic Church, which at that time usually meant all of Rome. He was given the almost unlimited authority of the pope like many before him. Like the other great members of the papacy, Gregory was able to organize distribution for the poor, avoid war with the surrounding invaders, and sustain the region.
Unfortunately, when someone is though of as infallible, everything they say must be true. Even though Gregory did not think he was infallible, the pope was regarded as infallible to almost everyone else. Gregory also held Augustine in high regard as a religious teacher. Augustine formulated an idea that there may be a place where un-repented sins are paid for. Because the pope held Augustine so high, Gregory the great is now known as one of the founders of purgatory. Gregory talks about a place where the Christian would go in all of his or her sins were not paid for in full yet, much like Augustine. Gregory then takes this a step further than Augustine. He made the mistake of taking something from the old covenant and placing it on the new covenant. In the Old Testament, sin separated God and man from the first Adam to the death of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints are believed to have descended into a compartment of Hades where they were not tortured, they were only waiting for the coming of Jesus Christ to set them free. This place is referred to in the Bible as Abraham’s bosom. When Jesus died, he descended into Hades, and took the Saints up to Heaven with him. Thus, Jesus is now holding the key to death and Hades that was holding the Old Testament saints. Gregory said that Abrahams bosom applied to all saints of all time, if they die without repenting for all of their sins. And so, Purgatory is now a concrete belief for all Catholics. It should be noted, that there is no proof of this doctrine in the Bible of the East. Without the Apocrypha which the Catholics have added to their cannon, there is no evidence of a third place in which one might go if they died as a Christian, but not completely forgiven. Because many regarded the pope as infallible, Purgatory stands as a belief of the Roman Catholic Church to this day.

Nicholas’ Disguise

Nicholas I was crowned Pope in the mid-ninth century. Like Leo the Great, he assumed the infallibility of the papacy, but unlike any others before him, Nicholas did not use the Bible as his ultimate stamp on the infallible authority of the papacy. Of course, Nicholas believed that the pope was the ultimate authority of the church because of the believed commission of Peter in Matthew 16. However, Nicholas also used a set of documents (the Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals) that reinforced the supremacy of the papacy. These documents were supposed to have been ancient, they are know known to have been forged in an effort to give the papacy even more power than they already had. Nicholas insisted that these documents gave him the infallible right to govern all things spiritual. Nicholas had great power and was able to persuade many by using the church and his title to threaten those who challenged Rome in any way. He had so much authority over the region that even the mention of excommunication was usually enough to keep the neighboring princes and powers in line. Out of the great pope’s Nicholas I was one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful. Like Leo, Gregory and many other members of the papacy, Nicholas kept the peace as best as possible in Rome when the governing bodies were to weak or lazy to do so. Nicholas I, like many others, believed that his authority was infallible, and that he received this authority because he was the head or rock of the church, as was Peter before him.

The Reason Why (Peter = Rock)

There is a strong religious conviction of the Catholic Chuch that Peter was the first pope of the Church of Rome. There are many reasons for this conviction. First, there is some evidence that Peter may have gone to Rome and died a martyr’s death there. Second, Jesus said that He would build His church upon the Rock, and Catholics believe that Rock is Peter. This is why many popes believe they are infallible, because they are the head, like Peter, of the Lord’s church. Third, when the Bible lists the disciples, Peter is always at the top of the list. It makes sense then, to say that he may have been the greatest disciple. Fourth, Peter is the first to confess Jesus as Lord. Peter is also the first to stand up after the Holy Spirit is given and the first disciple to have seen the risen Lord (although that is debatable). Furthermore, Jesus told Peter to feed his sheep, and did not give this command to any other disciple. If one only reads this list of reasoning’s, it seems like a no brainer. Peter is the obvious shoe in for the first papal position of authority given the information here. However, all of this information, taken from a scholarly book, is very much debatable. Furthermore, even if all of this information is true, and Peter was somehow the first pope, it is obvious that he made mistakes as we see in the Bible. This means, that Peter was not infallible. And, if Peter were not infallible, why would there be any reason for anyone to believe that his successors would inherit a character that he did not possess? A long time conviction of the infallibility of the pope is a man made doctrine, and is not biblical. This doctrine has led to multiple heresies as seen with the birth of purgatory from Gregory the Great.

Peter made multiple mistakes in the Bible, and the Bible is God’s infallible Word. In Galations 2, we have an account of Paul rebuking Peter in public. Obviously, Peter was acting as a double minded man, eating with the uncircumcised until the Jew’s came. He was not, as Paul says, in line with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So then, if Peter was acting like a hypocrite, is that not a sin? Peter also denied the Lord three times in the gospels; is that not a sin? The Lord Jesus also rebukes Peter right after he called Himself the rock saying, “Get behind me Satan.” Is that not a sin to rebuke Jesus Christ? In Matthew 17, Peter wanted to build a tabernacle when the Lord was showing him Elijah, and God tells him to be quite and to hear His Son. Is that not a sin? To be infallible would mean to be perfect, and as we can see Peter is not perfect. When examining the sins of Peter, one should note that none of us are perfect. The point is not to poke at Peter for his mistakes, but simply to recognize that he did make mistakes, and an infallible being would not have made any.


Due to the religious conviction that the pope had the ultimate, infallible authority, the Catholic Church has adopted several doctrines that are contrary to scripture. Although the papacy has done great things when it comes to making peace with the surrounding regions that would have invaded and potentially destroyed Rome, their mishaps may outweigh their triumphs. The people of Rome were taken care of for a time, but the doctrines of the papacy have continued on for ages, and will probably never leave the church. There is no way that the Catholic Church will denounce purgatory as a doctrine. No matter how great Gregory was he instituted a false doctrine that sinners can have a chance after death to get into heaven without repenting for their sins. That doctrine has probably sent millions if not billions of people, potentially, to Hell. If one believed that the acts in the flesh could be atoned for in the afterlife, one may not act as wisely in this life. The infallibility of the pope is not scriptural, and is another man made doctrine of the Catholic Church. Because the church took the scripture in Matthew out of context, and the rumor that potentially Peter may have came to Rome and may have died as a martyr there, the Catholic Church will stand on their belief that Peter, is the rock of their church. In the case of papacy, the bad things that have come out of placing one man as the infallible leader of the whole church have outweighs the good things they have done.


Clément, Olivier. You are Peter. New York: New City Press, 2003.

ESV Study Bible: English Standard Version.. ESV text ed. Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Bibles, 2008.

Goff, Jacques. The birth of purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984.

González, Justo L.. The story of Christianity. Rev. and updated, 2nd ed. New York: HarperOne,

McEniery, Peter. “Pope Gregory the Great and infallibility.” Journal Of Ecumenical Studies, Vol
11, March 1, 1974, p.263-280.

Neil, Bronwen. Leo the Great. London: Routledge, 2009.

Norwood, Frederick Abbott, “The political pretensions of Pope Nicholas I.” Church History, Vol
15, Dec 1946, p.271-285.

Philip Barclift. “Predestination and Divine Foreknowledge in the Sermons of Pope Leo the
Great.” Church History, Vol 62, Mar 1993, p.5-21.


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