Understanding the Papacy in an Age of Confusion (Guest: Erick Ybarra)

The papacy has been a source of controversy since the earliest days of Christianity. How does understanding the debates of the first millennium help our debates over the papacy today?

Crisis Point
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Understanding the Papacy in an Age of Confusion (Guest: Erick Ybarra)
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Eric Sammons:

The papacy has been a source of controversy since the earliest days of Christianity. How does understanding the debates of the first millennium help our debates over the papacy today? That’s going to be our topic today on Crisis Point. Hello, I’m Eric Sammons, your host, the interim Chief of Crisis Magazine. Before we get started, just want to encourage people to smash that like button to subscribe to the podcast so you know when we’re having new ones come out and let other people know about it. Also, we’re on social media at all the major social media sites at Crisis Mag. Also, I want to say we’re at right at the end of our twice a year fundraising campaign, and so please donate to Crisis. All of our materials out there for free, but it’s not free to produce.

So if you just go to www.crisismagazine.com/donate, and we would really appreciate it. We also appreciate even more your prayers. I get emails during these fundraising campaigns, like, “I can’t give you money, but I’m going to pray a hail Mary for a rosary for me.” I’m like, “Hey, man, that’s worth more than anything you’re going to give us. So we appreciate that, of course, as well. Okay, so let’s get into it. Our guest today is a returning guest, Erick Ybarra. He is the author of the new book right here in my hands. I can barely pick it up, The Papacy: Revisiting the Debate Between Catholics and Orthodox. Welcome to the program, Erick.

Erick Ybarra:

Oh, thank you for having me back, Eric. It’s great to be here. Look forward to it.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this one for a while. I think I mentioned the book when you were on last time, which is, I think might have been even over a year ago. I can’t even remember how long it’s been, but you were working on it then. I’m going to make a confession to everybody right now. I have not yet finished the book. However, as you can see from my bookmark, I am on page 462.

Erick Ybarra:

Wow.

Eric Sammons:

I just got this a couple weeks ago as well, so I feel like I’ve making good progress. I’m on the chapter on Gregory The Great right now, which is very important for me because I’m writing a book about Gregory the Great. I’m going to have a chapter in that book about his views of the papacy. So I’m just going to copy and paste your chapter and I’ll give you credit when I do it.

Erick Ybarra:

I don’t mind that. You’d have to take it up with the St. Paul Center.

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly. Yes. This is published through Emmaus Road Publishing, St. Paul Center. They do great. They put out some great books, and this is another great one. So the book itself, it’s over 700 pages, so I think it’s okay that I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I am moving along.

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, you’re very far, man. Everybody else that’s reading it at a very fast pace, at least what I thought was a fast pace, has not gotten as far as you, so that’s pretty darn good.

Eric Sammons:

Hey, I’m in the lead. No, it really is… I mean, I know this is going to sound weird to some people, but I feel like it’s a page turner. I mean, it’s the type of thing that I pick it up, I read it, I don’t want to stop, and then when I do stop, I’m like, okay, I got to get back to it. So it’s excellent.

Erick Ybarra:

That’s a delight to hear. I thought it was going to be a complete, just boring, but that’s such a delight to hear.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, and that is a challenge with a book like this. It can be very boring. I mean, you really could write a book like this, and it’s this big snoozer because the topic, you get into the weeds of things at times, and you’re trying to get the big picture. You’re covering a lot of material, you’re referencing lots of sources. You can get to a point where it’s like, boy, you really could put somebody to sleep, but you don’t. At least you didn’t put me to sleep, so I’m still reading it.

Erick Ybarra:

That’s a blessing.

Eric Sammons:

So the real crux of the book, and correct me if I’m wrong here, is your subtitle is Revisiting the Debate Between the Catholics and Orthodox, but really what you’re doing is you are looking at the first millennium more than anything else, and you are saying, okay, how did first millennium Christians, both in East and in the West, how did they perceive the papacy? So I guess my first question to you just is, why is this important? Why should we care what the first millennium Christians thought about the papacy?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, so it’s good to underline that word and the title revisiting because it has been visited before, especially in the German and French languages. If anybody knows French or German, and you live in Europe, for example, or now so much is available through archive.org, you’ll notice that French theologians, German theologians, and even in Spanish, and obviously in Latin, the subject of the primacy of the Roman pontiff has been debated between east and west for many centuries now. In the English language, there was a bunch of volumes put out in the 1800s, very early 1900s, but since then, there’s only been a handful that have really been written with the precise objections of the Byzantines in mind from the first millennium. So I stand on the shoulders of some pretty big giants. So Father Aidan Nichols, Dr. James Likoudis, and a number of theologians and scholars.

I think the subject needed to be revisited because ever since the 80s, we’ve had some progress in ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, and where we seem to be hovering over when it comes to the issue of the primacy is not demanding anything more than what was clearly accepted by the Greeks in the first millennium. That seems to keep coming up. Father Joseph Ratzinger, Pope Benedict the 16th, he is famous for speaking in that language, and ever since he wrote that, I think in the late 70s, it’s just been continually repeated and quoted. So when I embarked upon this study, it was pertinent for me to revisit the first millennium because even though we’re here in the year 2022, that seems to be where both Orthodox scholars and clergy and Catholic scholars and clergy are fixated, on what was the first millennium like? Was it more conciliar in the sense of the way that the east is talking about, or was it more papal conciliar, or was it just full blown out ultra papalistic? So that’s why I kept to the first thousand years.

Eric Sammons:

That’s a good point. I was going to mention Ratzinger’s, which is pretty famous now, I think he wrote it in the 1970s or so, where he talks about that when talking about Reunion with the Orthodox, one possibility is the idea that we simply don’t require the Orthodox, the Easterners to accept anything that wasn’t accepted in the first millennium. That’s an interesting point of view, and actually, I wasn’t going to ask this question, but I just thought of it. Do you think, though, that potentially has a danger of Antiquarianism, that the fact is there is more history after? We’ll go into first millennium here in a little bit, but a thousand years have happened since then, and for example, in the debates on the liturgy, there’s that debate about some people say go back to the liturgy of the early church. Other’s say no, it’s actually developed for a reason. Would you think there’s a danger of some antiquarianism there that we’re not supposed to go back to the first millennium, we’re supposed to live in the third millennium?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So, there is a small danger of that because even the Eastern Orthodox today has recognized a great amount of development in their own church government. So the development of the patriarchs, the five patriarchs, they call it the pentarchic government that developed by the fifth, sixth centuries, that in and of itself was a development from second, third century church government structures, and inevitably today you’ve got 14 autocephalous heads or bodies, self-governing churches that make up Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Moscow Patriarchate, for example, the coverage of the Moscow patriarch is more than Rome ever dreamed of in the year 700. So I’m just talking about geographic coverage. So even the Orthodox have to recognize that there’s been some practical developments where they still stick to the cannons, but they’ve been interpreted for the time. So it’s inevitable that even if we do look at the first millennium, we’re looking at substantial doctrine in the DNA of what was accepted. Of course, it’s going to have to cross the bridge to our day and age, and both sides recognize that.

Eric Sammons:

Right. Now I’m going to ask you an impossible question, so please answer it, and that is if you had to give an elevator pitch to somebody of explaining how the early Christians, let’s just say the first millennium, how did they understand the papacy, how would you explain it?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So today, scholars are less interested in what one subgroup held. So today, if you get a scholarly answer, they’re going to tell you everybody’s perspective on the papacy. So in that case, the agnostics didn’t have a very high view. The Aryans or the Nestorians, the miaphysites, and obviously the iconoclasts, they obviously didn’t have a very high view of the papacy, even though they were at one time or a good portion of time, part of the valid baptized population. If we’re talking about the main line, the Latin churches, the Byzantine churches that were in communion pretty steadily for the first millennium, it’s very clear that the affairs of the church, there was local governments. So the church was extremely parochial in the sense that there was a large commitment to solve problems in church life, church affairs at the smallest strata level, so at the local level, but when items that could not be resolved on a local level would be kicked up to a higher level, the church from very early on shows itself conscious of a hierarchical government.

What seems to be clear from both the Latin and the Greek sources is that the hierarchy reaches an apex at the court of the Roman Church. Whether you hold that as a political foundation or the apostolical Petrine foundation, we could talk about those differences, but pretty much everybody knew that Rome was the first sea, which might be a surprise because Jerusalem might have been thought of as the most organic first sea. That’s where Christ, our Lord, died. That’s where the first apostolic council was held. I mean, there’s plenty of reasons going for Jerusalem, and yet for some reason, the geopolitical capital of the Roman Empire ends up being the prima sedes or the first see.

So issues of doctrine, issues of discipline, anywhere from financial to scandal to murder charges, what have you, if it could not be resolved on local and regional levels, they were kicked up through an appeal format and we call that an appellate structure, just kind of the way that Rome functioned in the secular world before it was Christianized. You had metropolitans in all the provinces of Rome, and they ran an appellate structure that hit the apex with the Augustus Romano, the emperor, and the Senate. In the same way, the church kind of folded the geopolitical format of the Roman Empire with the divine apostolic principle of the church. So Rome kind of acted like that, like a final senate for disciplinary and doctrinal matters.

I think both east and west can recognize that. So the issues of divergence are going to be more on the microscopic level or more on the laboratory level, but a bird’s eye view of your question, that’s kind of how it was viewed. The predominant rationale was that Christ had invested the apostles with governing authority, but he singled St. Peter out to have a very unique position, namely the head of the apostles, and that position outlives Peter into his successors, which are stationed in the Roman Bishopbriggs. So the Roman pontiffs are heirs of the primacy given from Christ to St. Peter for this universal government.

Eric Sammons:

Okay, now very good. I think the reason that question is a little bit unfair is because I think all honest observers would agree that the practice and even understanding of the papacy is different in the second century than it would’ve been in the 20th century, for example. It’s also true of the second century between second century and the fifth century and the ninth century. So there is this development and there’s this idea and just like we have with the understanding of the Trinity, understanding of the divine and human natures of Christ, things like that, that also developed. I know the word development gets, especially some people in the east, the heebie jeebies, and even people, even some more traditional Catholics don’t like that terminology either. It looks too much like evolution. How would you then explain development and legitimate development when it comes to the papacy in the first millennium?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So it would’ve been nice if Jesus Christ, our Lord, gave a specific manual how things had to be from the beginning to the end, kind of like the law of Moses was given in a very precise, organized format. Anytime there was a backsliding period in Israel, they could just dust off the law and just follow the prescription from top to bottom and just replicate what was supposed to be. But that’s not what we get in the new covenant. So what we get is primarily these church plants in different cities, and what develops from there is the metropolitan structure where a province of the Roman Empire would be now a subset of the church’s government where a metropolitan oversees bishops. So you’ve got bishops overseeing churches, then you’ve got metropolitans overseeing the bishops, and then you’ve got later on patriarchs overseeing metropolitans. That is not something that was original. This whole idea of a patriarch, it was definitely an organic development that was built from prudence, built from canonical logic. It just seemed most appropriate to do these things.

So Rome definitely, its patriarchal status is a development in and of itself because the Bishop of Rome oversaw the Church of Rome, but eventually we see Rome overseeing basically all of Italy at a certain point. We see this as early as the beginning of the fourth century at least. So as the development goes forward, where we see new things come up is where you see unity being frustrated. So when the church starts to have ecumenical councils, for example, there’s nowhere in the New Testament that says, well, you have to make sure that one of the Liggetts of the Roman pontiff is there to ratify it. That’s nowhere in the New Testament, that’s probably nowhere in the first and second, third century, but it became just a practical necessity. Like, okay, well, if a church has a council in India or in Jerusalem or Nicaea or somewhere far on the east, we can’t just pretend to establish decrees and push them out on the authority of the council.

So despite the distance, even though all those councils were held in the east, the first seven ecumenical councils, they were all held in the East, and one of the points that some Eastern Orthodox like to bring out is that the Pope was actually never actually present at any of these councils. Yet when you see the official papers, the acts of these councils, there’s this explicit recognition that his name or the name of his representatives have to be at the top. His representatives have to review everything and give it sort of like a firm ratification. So the question is, why does this guy who is all the way in Rome, in Italy, why is he occupying such an influence in the councils all the way over here in the east? That is because they’re working out the necessity of the Petrine primacy in order to establish a Catholicizing unity for those councils.

Now we see a big development when you’ve got political developments in the empires that kind of split off the east from the west in the ninth century with the crowning of Charlemagne and the Byzantine emperors in the East. This sort of creates a cavity in between the east and the west on the political format. In the west, the bishop of Rome began to take on almost a secular king like role himself just because of how much financial and spiritual influence was held in the Roman pontiff as the successor of St. Peter. So when the Western powers grew, Pepin, and then Charles Charlemagne, this all created a secular rising papal primacy in the West, and in the east, they wanted to maintain more of the, it’s called Symphonia, where you’ve got the bishops and the emperor as the crown. So these political developments ended up creating some organic new cannons, for example.

The Roman pontiff, certain funds should be held at the Roman Chancery because Rome is responsible for manufacturing candles. You’d see some of the things that would never come up in the third century, and all of a sudden, Rome’s occupying this central place. Well, these are organic, practical, gradual things that just enter into the sphere of law. When we get into the 11th century, you’ve got canonical compilers like Gratian and just all kinds of Franciscan lawyers, and you’ve got this whole theory of jurisprudence on how the church should be governed, and the Roman pontiff comes up on a number of scores that, it’s just a natural development.

In the East, they developed a sense that the Roman pontiff was basically reorienting himself against the faith of the church, and so they thought it was just completely illegitimized, or it became illegitimate at a certain point. So you don’t just go from St. Peter the Apostle to Pope Leo the Ninth. There’s a long process of development, and I would say it’s organic. Some of it might have been extreme at certain points, but you definitely see the same substantial seed, which is that the basic structure of the church’s government was the apostolate, which has the structure of head and members.

The head of the apostles was Peter, the members were the other apostles, and the Episcopate, through apostolic succession, retains that basic dynamic of head and members, head being the successor of St. Peter, the members being the other Episcopate, the other members of the Episcopal College. So from St. Peter to St. Leo the Ninth, that basic structure is retained and there are no alternatives that retain that basic structure. So we’re left to trust that the Holy Spirit guided at least the majority of what happened there. Otherwise, we’ve got nothing on the farm left.

Eric Sammons:

Exactly. Now, I’ve been studying this issue for a couple decades now, Eastern Orthodoxy and the view of the papacy and things like that, and I kind of had gotten to the point where I came to conclusion, and a lot of people have come to this conclusion, and that is, yes, there’s development. You have your Acorn of the Apostle, you have Peter’s role and you have this development, but there was almost like there was two developments, that there was a development in the West, and you touched on this in your answer there, and there’s development East, at the point where even at, let’s say, the time of St. Leo the Great, fifth century, that you already have an almost fundamental difference in understanding of what the papacy means between the Pope himself. Obviously, I think everybody agrees that the Popes, at least as far back as the time of Leo, had a certain self-understanding that was very much in line with what later developed in the West, but in the East, development just was happening differently.

Almost through no fault of anybody, it wasn’t like in the East, they’re like, Hey, let’s go against the… It’s not like they were modern day Eastern Orthodox trying to find anything wrong with the West. They simply had different understanding. So in that sense, it’s very easy, I should say, to see the modern Eastern Orthodox understanding of the papacy. Now, you push back against that though in your book, and I thought that was great because you really do push back and say it’s not quite as separate as people think, and the East didn’t quite have this whole conciliar attitude. Can you talk a little bit about that, how the east view of the papacy isn’t what frankly the East Orthodox today say it is.

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s definitely true. As a non PhD, I had to submit to what the PhDs are seeing in the data, which is that there does seem to be a divergence. You have kind of like two ecclesiology that are developing in the east and the West, but it’s not as crisp that, at least from what I’m reading, and I think that the scholars themselves recognize this, is that the East ended up really developing a sense of priority in the Byzantine Emperor. In the West, you see this priority of the Roman pontiff as the successor of St. Peter, but they work together. I mean, even the popes recognize the authority of the Byzantine empire, of the emperor in ecclesiastical affairs.

Eric Sammons:

I saw that when I’m reading about St. Gregory the Great. He definitely looked to the Byzantine Emperor as having a role, at the very least, an authoritative role, even in many cases.

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, and even a divinely ordained one, but it had its reach. It had its reach, and it was not going to compete with the Episcopal government, let alone the government of the primacy, of the Apostolic Sea. For just practical matters, getting an ecumenical council together funding the bill for the bishops to lodge and have enough food for whatever, six months, these things were kind of seen as a providential hand of God through the secular state, and the secular state having bowed the knee to Jesus Christ, this was all seen as an act of providence on the part of our Lord.

You do start to see the East where they start to recognize that the final word is not so much with the Roman pontiff as it is with either… You find all kinds of different epistemic frameworks. Like Nestorius for example, he came out and said, “Look, if the majority of the church is going to go one way, well I’m going to go another way.” Well, that means that at some point in the catechetical formation of Nestorius, he thought it was possible to just take scripture and tradition in his own understanding and run in that way. So you’ve got people who are quite willing to go off in almost like a, I don’t want to say Protestant paradigm of authority, because in the stories, it was definitely a man who relied on tradition, but he doesn’t recognize any strict format for how it needs to be situated.

So in the East, you do see this sense where they’re willing to do things without Rome, and if Rome frustrates the plans, they won’t go along with it, or if they really need Rome to do something, they’ll sort of go along with the papal claims just to get something sealed, but there’s a question as to whether they really internally believed what was being claimed by the Roman pontiff at the time. So you do start to see these two divergencies, but what I say in the book, and especially at the end of the book, is I say this, is that Rome never explicitly capitulated to a theory of eastern ecclesiology where the sense where the council was over the Pope or something like that. Now the east, in many places, they practically held that the council was above the Pope, but the Pope would make sure that the documents didn’t say that. It said the opposite. It seems as though the Byzantines, they were quite all right. They were content to see that kind of language get put into the text of the council.

So what you have here, I think, is an explicit acceptance of the papal claims, but you have a certain amount of activity that can’t be denied, that evidence is that they may not have internally believed that. So you’ve got a little bit of a divergence there. Not to mention those pockets of time that they just thumb their nose at the Pope. In those cases, in many cases, they just didn’t enjoy communion with St. Peter or his successor, but anytime the church wanted to have an ecumenical council, it was usually a reunion effort to get back into communion with Rome, with the exception of Nicaea and a couple others, but the main reunion councils were all Rome wrote a document, sent it to the east, made sure everybody read it, made sure that everybody signed it and was on board. So you see this difference in perspective, but what was on paper facing up on the table, I think was always the Roman narrative of things. That seems to be what’s most explicit.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I’m not going to go in the weeds in this interview, but I was very fascinated your discussion of the fifth ecumenical council, Constantinople and the three chapters controversy, because I’ve been reading about that as well, and just the idea of how much it was like, okay, because I mean, I’m blanking on the name of the Pope who ended up getting-

Erick Ybarra:

Vigilius?

Eric Sammons:

Vigilius, yeah, who ended up being taken to Constantinople and the debates and acceptance, but I think people read that, they’ll understand, first of all, it’s something I’ve come to the conclusion that church history’s very messy.

Erick Ybarra:

Yes.

Eric Sammons:

It’s not quite as clean cut. So that helps us, I think today when we’re talking about our own ecumenical counsel that we’ve most recently had is that things get a little messy at times, and you just had this situation where you have the Pope saying one thing, then another thing, but he’s being forced to say this and he’s being arrested, and then some people are saying, “Yeah, let’s go along with the Pope now.” Then when he changes, like, “Okay, let’s not go.” I mean it wasn’t like this beautiful, perfectly formed way of following the Pope.

Erick Ybarra:

No, not at all. That council in 553 on the three chapters controversy, I don’t know any orthodox scholar or Catholic scholar who would say that that was done in such a way that we would want to do things now. I mean, the emperor was hiring and firing bishop’s left and right. That’s not the kind of conciliar freedom that the Orthodox speak about today, that’s for sure. So yeah, you got to be careful because one of the things that we see some of our Catholic and Orthodox friends do that study history is they go into history looking for what happened, and if they could just find out what happened, then they’ll know what they need to believe. That you got to be careful because what happened is not necessarily good, let alone what needs to be believed. So yeah, some of those things need to be cleansed with hindsight.

Eric Sammons:

We don’t want to admit that the Holy Spirit allows things to get messy sometimes. That’s the fact. If we believe the Holy Spirit guides a church and we do, then we have to also acknowledge that his activity goes over centuries, over a very long period of time. So within a 20-year time, you pick a 20-year time period almost time in the first millennium, you’re going to find certain messy things going on, and that’s only the conclusion. Another book which you referenced to me on Papal Primacy, by Klaus, how do you pronounce, Shots?

Erick Ybarra:

Schatz, yeah.

Eric Sammons:

Schatz, yes. I think he’s a pretty liberal theologian. I think he was, but yet that’s almost his conclusion is like, yeah, it wasn’t necessarily linear, it wasn’t necessarily clean, it wasn’t necessarily obvious, but in the end, the Pope always won. The Pope always got what he wanted in the sense of it was like confirming the papal priorities, the papal power that he had. Okay, I’m going to move on, I want to apply this. I mean, this could be a five-hour conversation and I want it to be a five-hour conversation, but it’s not going to be a five-hour conversation.

So we will keep it more limited. I want to now jump a little bit from the first millennium to today. First I want to address, how do you hope that this book advances our relations with the Eastern Orthodox? I mean, I’ve been on record that I’m not a fan at all of almost any of the church’s ecumenical work except for I do believe with Eastern Orthodox because there’s an actual goal in mind. Whereas with the Protestants, I’ve always said what’s the goal? I don’t know. With the Orthodox, we know clearly what the goal is. How are you hoping that a revisiting of the first millennium really helps us with our relationships with the Orthodox?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s a good question. So I mean, the genesis of this book really goes back to my own spiritual journey. As an Anglican, I felt very comfortable as an Anglican because I can go into history and sort of treat the fathers like a cafeteria, treat the councils like a cafeteria and take what I thought was of the essence of the faith versus what’s not of the essence. After so much research, it was weighing on my conscience. I said, no, this is not right. I have to join one of the apostolically conscious churches. That put me at the fork of the east and west. So I had to do the research, and as an Anglican, I already had been familiar with a lot of the work of the Anglicans that fought against the papal primacy in the 17th, 18th centuries. Those arguments were very good for me.

So I wasn’t going to be swayed by statements that say Peter’s the head of the Apostles or Rome’s the head of the church. None of that was good enough because Anglicans all, I mean, it’s in our document. Our, I say our, that’s the way many years ago, but it’s in the documents of the Anglican Divines that Rome was the head of the church, for goodness sake. So I needed something far more than that. So what I put into this book was basically my investigation on this competition between the Eastern claims, the Byzantine claims versus the claims of the Catholic church as to what was accepted by the first millennium church. So the first thing I wanted was I wanted something for my kids to research or pick up from anyway, depending on what direction they go. I pray they stay in the Catholic church, but if this ever plagues them at some point, I want them to have a resource that their daddy put together so that they could pick up from.

With saying that, it goes to the whole world, the whole reading world. At this point in time, people are definitely looking at their options outside of the Catholic Church. That’s just a fact. The things that are going on right now, definitely they called it the red pilling. People are recognizing that a lot of the impetus of what brought them to the Catholic Church or what gave them confidence as a Catholic is beginning to fall apart. So with that, the natural consequence is, all right, well, I don’t want to be a Protestant, I want to be historic. I want to be rooted in the past. I want to be traditional. That seems to be a growing development now, especially with the younger crowd. From late teens all the way to forties, people are starting to want tradition again. When you go on YouTube and type in Eastern Orthodoxy, it’s like heaven opens up. It’s a glorious scenery.

So the question is, all right, well if this is the route to go, then let’s make a move. My goal was, well, hold on a second. You don’t want to just make a decision like that without knowing the sensitive spots of whether this is actually going to be supported by history, scripture, tradition, and what the Orthodox themselves consider the authoritative past. So if you’re an engineer, or if you’re on a committee overseeing some design of a bridge or a design of a plane and you realize the first design failed, you don’t just automatically go to the second design that’s in the docket of options. No, you learn from the mistakes of the first one, obviously, and you’re going to have to develop something that is going to be trustworthy before you even test it again. Well, if Catholicism is going to be tested by history, let alone the present circumstances, because that’s what most people are doing right now, they’re testing Catholicism based off of the present circumstances.

If you’re going to test Catholicism off of its substance, which is the historic doctrinal, biblical, traditional foundations, you also have to give that examination to the Orthodox too, despite what we see happening amidst their churches. They’re obviously far more beautiful. Their liturgy is intact. The spirituality in many ways is very compelling, very attractive. I’m not going to attribute schism to the Orthodox today, I don’t want to say that, but they are technically, objectively in schism, but I don’t want to refer them as schismatics, but all the schismatics in the first millennium retained that level of liturgical beauty. There was never a huge uproar about the liturgical abuse of Donatists or the Novationists or the Aryans. In fact, the Donatists were far more strict in their liturgy, and the Montanists were known for being very strict in their fasting and all these things. So that wasn’t just an automatic identification, okay, that’s where we need to go.

Because Tertullian, that’s one of the reasons why Tertullian had the transition in his own life was the priests in North Africa and the Bishop of Rome started to become lackadaisical at the time, and that’s one of the reasons that led Tertullian to reject the main hierarchy and to go for a more spiritualist version of Christian faith and practice. So the main thing to get from this book is what did our ancestors believe in the East and the West? If they believed in the Eastern Orthodox primacy and the Eastern Orthodox doctrines, I don’t touch the Filioque, I have another book on that, but if that’s the case, then jackpot. Not only can we go enjoy the new beautiful liturgy, but we could also rest it on antiquity, that it’s actually true. It’s not just something we’re enjoying in the flesh, it’s something that’s supported by the truth, objective truth.

If it’s more difficult than that, and if it gets to the point where we’re going to have to ignore what our ancestors held in the first millennium just to get that good liturgy, well, you’re going to want to know, at least, you want to be informed before you make that kind of decision. So that’s really how I think this is going to help Catholics today. Now, how it applies to how we as Catholics are to view what’s going on with Pope Francis or what’s been going on since the second Vatican Council, that’s another phase of thought because. This is where I begin to be a little bit more uncomfortable about it because I’m not a very comfortable Catholic. I’m a convinced Catholic, but I’m not a very comfortable Catholic, but that’s okay. I don’t imagine that Jeremiah or Isaiah was a comfortable Israelite. It does mean that, for me anyway, and maybe this is what the book will do for others, is I know that there’s no other island to go to.

If I want to be a seventh century Christian in the true church, I’m under the Roman pontiff no matter where I’m at, whether that’s Constantinople or in Rome. So if I want to go back to the roots, if I want to go back to tradition, it’s not going to be the kind of atmosphere where I can just reject the papacy. So with that being said, that means that the work I’m going to do now has to be done within the fold of St. Peter’s successor who happens to be Jorge Bergoglio, and that comes with all kinds of challenges. Many of those challenges, I’ve been on record trying to do my best to explain them in a way that makes it not as bad, but we’re all past those days. I mean, we’re all past those days. Right now, we’ve got our faces open to the reality of what’s going on.

I think we’re just waiting on a Red Sea moment, a Red Sea moment that might come all at once or it might come in a progression, but the solution is not to leave the communion of the Roman Pontiff for the successor of St. Peter. The solution is to do whatever we can to recognize that yes, we have to remain in this communion, but we also learn from history that the Pope is not an absolutizing despite. He also is obliged by certain things that all of us recognize by reason. This is one of the things that has kind of been obliterated in the last 150, 200 years in certain theological spectrums. It’s basically a new epistemology, that if we don’t have the Pope saying something or supporting something, then we’re in absolute darkness in blackness and an obscurity.

If we don’t have the Pope saying it, then we’re out in the dark, and that’s nonsense. As baptized Catholics, there are certain things that we know and we can even say the Pope must do, and we know that because we have the Holy Spirit, we have reason. I mean, we don’t want to downplay the grandeur of the gift of knowledge and wisdom that comes through the gift of confirmation. I mean, all these things are here. So we just need to organize and sit down and realize, okay, there’s certain things that we know the Pope can’t do and work from there.

Our conscience is going to be formed from obviously the Magistarium, but the Magistarium also recognizes many of the foundations that I talk about in the book with regard to the limits of papal power. So I think that’s where a Catholic should focus their attention now, and we don’t need to have anxiety about it. I don’t have any anxiety about it. I was on Matt Fred’s show a year ago saying this, I don’t worry about it. If the light comes next year that I was completely wrong about everything, my pulse won’t increase at all. I’ve done what I can, and if the Lord wanted me to know something else, then I hope with my prayers, my sacrifices, my daily request that he would keep me from error, prevent me from falsehood, would actually take root and bear fruit.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, it’s funny because I think it was about a year ago, something, I was getting anxious about it and just grace of the Holy Spirit probably just allowed me to come to where you are as well. It’s just like, okay, I’m not going to worry about this on a level. Obviously there’s concern when souls are being lost. We’re all concerned about that, and so it’s not that. It’s more a matter of the fundamental epistemologicalm does this even all matter type of thing?

Erick Ybarra:

Where do I escape to?

Eric Sammons:

Right, exactly. One thing, when you were talking about this, it reminded me a little bit of Newman, that when he was exploring the Aryan crisis, he basically realized the Aryans were like the Protestants, the semi-Aryans were like the Anglicans and the Catholics were like the Catholics. That made him realize, oh my gosh, and it’s the same thing here where it’s like when we’re trying to compare our times to the first millennium, what do we see is what organization today, even if we’re uncomfortable with certain aspects of how they do it, which organization keeps that basic structure that we all know is the seed, and that is the Apostolic College, so you have to have apostolic succession plus ahead in that college, and practically speaking, there’s only one institution that does that, and that’s the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the one that does it.

So even if we might be uncomfortable with some of the language used, even at a ecumenical council like Vatican one, and definitely the language used by popes in the 20th century, we can still say, “But where else do we find that seed still in existence” and that’s really the Catholic Church. I think that also helps us to realize something you made very clear, which I really appreciate, is some apologists on both sides, both the Catholic and Orthodox side, want to make it like it’s a slam dunk in the first millennium, that it’s just, okay, it’s so obvious, only an idiot or an evil person could not see that this is clearly exposition, either the Catholic or the Orthodox position. I think if we’re being honest, the whole reason there’s still a debate today, over a thousand years later is because it’s not a slam dunk case. Like you, I think the case is persuasive and convincing that it’s the Catholic position is the correct one, but it’s understandable why so many people don’t accept that because it’s not this slam dunk case, right?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, and I think it helps to know that because even though we can achieve confidence in the Catholic view, it’s not going to be a cheap one because when you advertise Catholicism, for instance, American Protestants with a veneer of education on church history, they’re readily conscious of Protestantism and Catholicism as the two basic options. You get a Catholic who’s got a veneer of education, he thinks, well, it’s Protestantism, Catholicism, and Orthodoxy. Then you get this idea, well, the church was one and undivided for a thousand years and everything was clearly Catholic before the great schism. What that ends up doing is it ends up making you only work a little bit to learn about the defense of your faith.

Then when you go sit down with an Eastern Orthodox priest who knows history, who knows doctrine, he’s going to just tear down everything you’ve said. So I think by saying that it’s not a slam dunk, that it requires a deeper investigation, you’ll actually do the work to get the confidence you need if it’s on your heart to really discern the matter. I think more work needs to be done and a lot of concessions need to be made, some of those concessions being uncomfortable, and we have to learn why it is that those are not fatalistic concessions.

The more I learn, because I continue to learn. I’m reading my own book and I’m adding notes to things, further things that I’ve learned about the same things I wrote about in here, and as I continue to learn, I recognize that I’m confident in my views, but I’m glad I did this much exploration so that I can sympathize with what others are reading when they go into history and see something else. From my discussions with a lot of Orthodox who remain convinced is they’ll at least say, “You know, Erick, I don’t agree with you. Obviously I’m very happy as an Orthodox. I’ve been here for so many years. My whole life is here, my career is here, my family’s here. I’m not just going to leave.”

I can tell you this, that I respect the way you’ve handled this. You have a good reason to believe what you believe, and that’s good to hear. If the Lord, who knows our hearts, who knows our thoughts, wants me to change my mind about it, I pray that he would. I’m here where I’m at, and to cite Luther, that’s all I can do. This is my conscience. I can do no other, right?

Eric Sammons:

Exactly. I’m not sure if we should be quoting him for this.

Erick Ybarra:

No.

Eric Sammons:

That’s okay. One last thing I wanted to ask about the book, and it’s not all why you wrote the book. You might not even thought of it when you were writing a book or now, but I feel like in a lot of ways this book also is a very good defense against the sedevacantinist temptation. Because in essence, sedevadantinist would say today that popes can’t do X, people who are claiming to be pope is doing X, therefore he is not the pope. I think what we see in the first century is popes do a lot of X. A lot of these things that supposedly popes can’t do, they’re actually doing in the first millennium, and I think that is a way to open. Now, the initial response might be a little scandal, a little bit like, whoa, I didn’t realize Pops could do that, but ultimately, I think it hardens our understanding in a good way of, no, popes can do some things that today we would think are outside the bounds, but they actually happened.

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, that’s true. I mean there was liturgical diversity in the first millennium. We’re not going to deny that, but there were times where bishops in Spain or bishops in Illyricum or bishops and in Gaul wanted to do one thing and the Pope will just go and reorganize the whole diocese. At that point, and there were resistances. We see papal resistance has a long history. Resistance to the papacy is just as old as the papacy, and we see how those ended in each case. Sometimes the pope gave way, sometimes the pope didn’t.

What I see most often, more than not, is that when the pope was settled on a matter, there was two options, either remain in communion or leave it. We see that with, for example, the Council of Constantinople 553, the Western churches did not want to receive that council in Spain, in Northern Italy, and it eventually came down to, look guys, there’s only two routes here. Either continue scuba diving in the waters that you are or come out and play and be a team player. I know it doesn’t feel good, but that’s what I see. I don’t want to discount the work that’s being done today to question things, but it gives you perspective.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, I mean it really is because in one sense, I don’t think we recognize that there’s a spectrum of resistance to the Pope in the sense that it’s very easy to say, you see some of the hyper papalists today will say, if you disagree basically with anything the Pope says, you’re a Protestant. They just throw that out there. If you look at history, there is of course the extreme cases, like a Luther, who initially is resisting on a very minor level, but then as push comes to shove, he completely leaves. There is that model clearly, and there’s other models in the first on this because we don’t think this is consistent with the scripture and tradition. We don’t think this is consistent with what we believe and what our reason tells us, and they don’t leave the church and it ultimately does get reconciled.

Like you said, there is a point, there’s always a point where Rome finally just says this is the last word. Either take it or leave it, and some people take it and some people leave it. So we do always have to have in our own minds those of us like me who are known to resist certain things Pope Francis does, ultimately when it comes to that take it or leave it moment, you have to take it. That’s what it means. History tells us that. It might be a very difficult pill to swallow, but ultimately that’s the way it goes. There isn’t just two positions of, okay, I’m a Luther leaving or I accept every single word that comes out of the mouth of the current pontiff, whoever he may be. There is some room in there to negotiate. It’s dangerous at times. I mean, I think all of the positions are dangerous because a hyper papal is dangerous, a Protestant is dangerous, but also in the middle kind of there is dangerous as well.

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, absolutely. I think that some of the mythology that gets around the last 20 years of Catholic apologetics is that if you become Catholic, you’re never going to have periods where you need to sit down at the dining room table with your wife and pray for guidance on how to do something or what to decide because everything’s going to be decided for me, because we have the Pope. As a Protestant, we had times where we ran into our room and cried tears into our pillow, crying out for discernment and discretion, “God, what must I do?” but as a Catholic, we shouldn’t have any of that, right? No.

Eric Sammons:

You mean a papal encyclical with my morning paper, right?

Erick Ybarra:

Right. Exactly. That’s kind of the expectation, and we need to learn how to be happy and content with unanswered questions and with questions that we won’t have an answer to perhaps even within our lifetime.

Eric Sammons:

Right. As a former Protestant, I know that process and it is different, but there are similarities as well. I remember trying to decide what I believed about baptism, regenerative baptism, things like that. Then I was just out in the wild just trying to figure out on my own, whereas those issues, there’s still issues today that I’m trying to figure out, but they’re not, first of all, so broad. They don’t touch necessarily on things like baptism, which obviously is so fundamental, but there’s still times where I’m just like, the church hasn’t clearly spoken about this. One example for me is I’ve changed my opinion multiple times of whether or not a pope can be deposed. I have an article I put up at OnePeterFive years ago saying, “Nope, just can’t happen,” and I’ve since realized, no, I think it probably could happen.

I don’t know how, but I think it probably could happen. I think it has happened. I’m comfortable with the fact that I don’t have a definitive answer to that. If somebody asked me, “What do you think about that today?”, I’d give them an answer, but I’d admit I could be totally off base on this one. I just kind of accept that ambiguity right now, but you’re right, the Catholic apologists, sometimes they can tend to think that we’re not supposed to have that in our brains at any time as a Catholic.

Erick Ybarra:

That would’ve been news to any of the Catholics during the conciliar debates in the 1500s, the 1600s, the 1700s where you actually had Catholics in good standing that denied papal infallibility and those who supported it, and they could both serve at the altar. They could both commune. So we’re just in another phase right now where there’s opposite angles and we wait and see what happens.

Eric Sammons:

Exactly. Okay, I’m going to wrap it up here. I want to encourage everybody to buy this book. The Papacy: Revisiting the Debate Between Catholics and Orthodox. It’s from Emmaus Road Publishing, from the good folk at St. Paul Center. Yes, it is big. I mean, look at that, that’s thick. I feel like, like I said, it’s a page turner. I think it’s very interesting. It’s definitely, if nothing else, the reference, in my opinion, if you want to understand and have a reference on your bookshelf about the papacy, when you hear somebody say something.

Sometimes you’ll see an online debate and Orthodox will say something about some debate from the fifth century or something like that. Well, you can just pick up this book, look it up and be like, okay, here’s what actually was going on. You’ll hear both sides of it very fairly. I want to say something else. I think I mentioned this to you privately before, but I don’t know if people realize how amazing it is that you got this book published.

Erick Ybarra:

I know.

Eric Sammons:

I say this not as an insult, but as a compliment.

Erick Ybarra:

No, I hear you.

Eric Sammons:

Because you do not have any theological degrees to my knowledge, right?

Erick Ybarra:

No.

Eric Sammons:

I mean your undergrad’s in criminal justice. You have a Bachelor’s of Science in Criminal Justice and a career in technology, which I was similar. I used to have a career in technology. I remember when I first started to get my first book published was about a dozen years ago, I did not yet have my master’s in theology. That alone closed so many doors. Until I had those letters MA after my name, publishers didn’t even want to talk to me. Yet here you are, you have no advanced degree, correct? I mean, just a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice. I mean, so I’m thankful of this. You were able to get this published. I just think, my opinion, it’s like the work of the Holy Spirit that made that happen because it’s very difficult. I know how difficult it is to get something published of this nature, of this magnitude without having the proper letters after your name. Congratulations on that.

Erick Ybarra:

Thank you so much. I think a lot of it had to do with, I stepped out onto the scene talking about these things at a deeper level than what most people were seeing, and it’s become such a dire necessity to know about this now. Not many people have taken the time to study this, or I should say to write about it. So Scott Hahn is a very gracious man. If it wasn’t for him, James Merrick and the good folks at St. Paul Center, like you said, if it wasn’t for them and their condescending grace, it would’ve never happened.

Eric Sammons:

I mean, that’s the great thing about Scott. He doesn’t have any errs. He doesn’t care. I mean, he’s a theologian of top notch. He’s got all the degrees and he hobnobs with all the people, with all the degrees, but ultimately he doesn’t care. It’s like if it’s a good book, okay, that’s good enough for me. So I will put a link to the book in the show notes. Also, where else can people find out about the work you’re doing?

Erick Ybarra:

Yeah, so I still have my old stomping grounds at erickybarra.org. That’s just my main blog. You’ll see me writing articles there, just spit-balling, testing ideas. I mean, it’s not really a place where I make sure I’m 100% consistent from the articles I wrote five years ago. It’s just a place where I can generate discussion. You could also go to erickybarra.com. I plan on having some new projects coming in the near future, and then my YouTube channel, Classical Christian Thought, which Michael Lofton, when he started Reasoning Theology, I appeared on there quite a bit. I decided after a while to just start my own, so that’s called Classical Christian Thought.

Eric Sammons:

Okay. I’m going to put a link to all those in the show notes. I encourage people to go to them. I always like when you put a new blog post, it’s always interesting. Like you said, it’s like you’re spit-balling, but it’s great because it gets us all kind of spit-balling in our minds

Erick Ybarra:

I always get a very bad scathing email about it and then a really good one.

Eric Sammons:

Yeah, right. That’s what it means to be out there on the internet, isn’t it? That’s the nature of the beast. Okay, Erick, well again, thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for writing this book. Encourage people to buy it. Check out all the stuff Erick’s doing.

Erick Ybarra:

Thank you.

Eric Sammons:

Okay everybody, until next time, God love you.

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