Thursday, March 09, 2006

Of Popes and Antipopes

I've also recently been asked to address the issue of the Avignon Papacy: the episode in the late Medieval period during which there were as many as three rival claimants to the papacy at one time. Since an issue pertaining to this event was about my last intellectual barrier (the true barrier in the end was not intellectual) to becoming Catholic I immersed myself in the details for quite some time. This actually makes it *harder* to summarize the issue. However, I'm going to try. It will take some time however and in the mean time I wanted to give the punchline away.

There were definitely rival claimants to the Throne of Peter. However, the issue is whether there ever actually were multiple Popes. In philosophy we always try to distinguish between the epistemology of a situation--how things stand in the order of knowing--from the ontological aspects of a situation--how things stand in the order of being. So even if it's hard to tell at some point who the real Pope is--for us anyway--this does not mean there is not a correct answer.

Similar situations exist in science: there are two rival explanations of some phenomenon and they both have a lot going for them. Each one covers the data and is simple, but each is simple according to different parameters: one has few entities but complex laws, the other has many entities but simple laws. Which one is the right explanation? The fact that we can't currently tell doesn't mean there's not a right answer. Examples could be multiplied beyond number.

So when the Cardinals said that they'd been coerced when they elected one Pope and so invalidated that election and held re-elections were they telling the truth? It might be hard to tell, but that doesn't mean there's not a right answer. "But," comes the rejoinder, "how do you know it ended up right." That depends on my prior beliefs. If I already believe there is a God then I am allowed to appeal to that belief in my explanation. For example I can find it implausible that God would let His Church slip away. "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it." (Matt 16:18).

In short, I trust God and look into the evidence. Even if I can't figure out who the real Pope was (and I am just considering this for the sake of argument because I don't have time to summarize the evidence here) God does.


Blogger oxi_b said...

thank you very much for this explanation. I would be happy to know in more precision about the historical facts, i.e. who were the rivals, when how did that happen and how it was resolved. If you can write more on that, or refer me to some links, that would be great.

Monday, March 13, 2006 7:22:00 PM  

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