Dante’s Puzzle by Steven Faulkner

Dante’s Puzzle

The Riddle of Papal Power

by Steven Faulkner

The issue of papal authority has long been a particularly knotty controversy among the Christian churches. Indeed, it has troubled the Church since at least the late second century when Pope Victor saw fit to excommunicate the churches of Asia Minor over the question of the dating of Easter. At that time the old Asian bishop Polycrates, claiming apostolic precedent, boldly opposed him. In the intervening centuries the question of papal authority has never quite gone away. It is a key issue dividing Christian East from Christian West, and Protestant from Catholic. For some a powerful papacy is the very bastion of orthodoxy; others believe it to be a semi-heretical usurpation or a positively heretical tyranny. And now, as Pope John Paul II seeks dialogue with the Eastern Orthodox and the Protestants, this ancient question still confronts us. In certain ways, the time seems favorable for the advancement of understanding. But can we approach the issue with open minds and open hearts to reason together peaceably?

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Steven Faulkner teaches creative writing at Longwood University in southern Virginia. He is the author of Waterwalk: A Passage of Ghosts (2007) and Bitterroot: Echoes of Beauty and Loss (2016). Both books are memoirs of father-son journeys that followed the paths of missionary priests: Marquette (in Waterwalk) and De Smet (in Bitterroot).

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