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The Pope, infallibility and Antipopes

Image – Wikipedia

Pope (Greek Pappas = father; Latin Pontifex Maximus = greatest bridge-builder)

The Pope is the Bishop of Rome and head of the Roman Catholic Church.

For Catholics he is a direct successor to St. Peter, the first Pope. He is the chief pastor of the Catholic fold. As such, he’s regarded as the foremost servant of God.

In 1870 the First Vatican Council defined the doctrine of infallibility, which some believe has always been present in the Catholic Church.

Strictly speaking, infallibility refers to the idea that the Pope cannot err when speaking ex cathedra (Latin = from the chair). When speaking ex cathedra, the Pope solemnly defines issues concerning faith and morals.

Gregory the Great, attributed to the studio of...

Gregory the Great, attributed to the studio of Saraceni, ca 1610 (Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome) via Wikipedia

We usually hear that, after 1870, only the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary are ex cathedra—that is, infallible.

However, some Catholics believe that infallibility extends to all Catholic teachings concerning faith and morals. In reality, many Catholics debate the meaning of the term.

But one thing is clear. Infallibility does not refer to cosmological issues, as many wrongly suppose. Nor does it relate to grave mistakes in ethical judgment and associated behavior in these situations.

For instance, the Church tried Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), finding him guilty for claiming that the sun – not the earth – was the center of our solar system.

The Catholic Encyclopedia explains this embarrassing blunder as follows:

As to the Galileo affair, it is quite enough to point out the fact that the condemnation of the heliocentric theory was the work of a fallible tribunal. The pope cannot delegate the exercise of his infallible authority to the Roman Congregations, and whatever issues formally in the name of any of these, even when approved and confirmed in the ordinary official way by the pope, does not pretend to be ex cathedra and infallible. The pope, of course, can convert doctrinal decisions of the Holy Office, which are not in themselves infallible, into ex cathedra papal pronouncements, but in doing so he must comply with the conditions already explained — which neither Paul V nor Urban VIII did in the Galileo case.¹

More recently, the Vatican has asserted copyright over the papal figure. Almost like a corporate logo, the papal name, image and symbols are not for casual use as, say, most NASA images are.

The Church gives spiritual reasons for tightening control over the papal figure, but some critics say it’s more about insecurity, the wish to dominate and that ago-old god, money.

emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys Fr...

Emblem of the Papacy: Triple tiara and keys – Wikipedia

Interestingly, the Latin term Pontifex Maximus was used in pre-Christian Rome for the most influential but not the (technically) highest ranking priest.

The Catholic Church has appropriated and essentially Christianized the old pagan title, along with many other polytheistic symbols and customs. Some see this as a fatal flaw. The Church itself argues that this process transforms and ennobles all that was good or potentially good in the pre-Christian era.

Just around the time of revising this I came across an engaging lecture by William R. Cook Ph.D. that reminded me of the long, checkered history of the Papacy.

Popes, corrupt and debauched popes, antipopes, mutual excommunications during the East-West Schism (1054) and Western Schism (1378), scholarly disagreement over the legitimacy of the current line of Papal succession… all of these hard facts might make us wonder about the legitimacy of the current Pope.²

Like most things in life, one has to believe.

¹ See:

² and

On the Web

  • TOTNYC Presents — Papal Infallibility: What It Means…

 Pope Francis says reforming Vatican as hard as cleaning Sphinx with toothbrush (

 Pope Francis meets Myanmar’s leadership but might not even bring up the word ‘Rohingya’ (

 Catholic priest comes out: ‘I’m a priest and yes I am gay!’ (

 Christmas morning fire hits historic cathedral in Kalinga (

 Detroit priest to be beatified, was known for helping others (

 Cardinal Law deserved prison not the Pope at his funeral (


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Virtual Reality

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL,...

The Cave Automatic Virtual Environment at EVL, University of Illinois at Chicago. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Virtual Reality (VR) is the use of computer hardware and software to create an artificial (virtual) environment.

The user normally enters the virtual environment by wearing a headset that blocks normal vision. The environment is manipulated with an electronic glove – or a similar device – connecting the user to the computer.

VR is usually understood visually. But Wikidpedia tells us

Virtual reality can recreate sensory experiences, including virtual taste, sight, smell, sound, touch, etc.¹

The idea has been traced back to the French playwrite Antonin Artaud. Artaud believed that the internal world of fantasy and the imagination was just as real as the outside world.

This view parallels to some degree C. G. Jung’s beliefs about alchemy, where human relationships with matter and with other people are compared to chemical interactions. And the Jungian theories of transference, counter-transference and especially syntonic counter-transference point in a similar direction.

Artaud’s understanding of virtual reality also touches on John Donne’s idea that no man is an island—that is, neither distance nor death entirely separates one person from another.

No man is an island, entire of itself
every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main

Virtual reality uses multimedia content. Appli...

Virtual reality uses multimedia content. Applications and delivery platforms of multimedia are virtually limitless. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Virtual reality has impacted business, medicine and the entertainment industry, where virtual users enjoy, relax or express violent or sexual impulses in socially acceptable ways.

But not everyone sees it this way. Some say that violent virtual reality games should be reexamined in case they promote instead of prevent real violence. This is a relatively familiar debate stemming back to the pre-home computer era. Before the PC, the effects of violent TV shows on kids were ardently studied by researchers and public health officials.

Scientific and consumer watchdogs for public safety, however, haven’t stopped the rise of virtual reality. There’s always money to be made through the commodification of sex and violence. And unless definite regulatory laws are passed, things usually get wildly out of hand.

The idea of virtual reality also appears in science fiction television (Star Trek‘s holodeck) and movies like Tron (1982), Total Recall (1990) and The Matrix (1999), where users enter virtual realities sometimes indistinguishable from daily life.

Interior view of a small village in a virtual ...

Interior view of a small village in a virtual environment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given today’s microchip implant technologies and advances in neuropsychology, these scenarios seem probable in the not-too-distant future. Some traditionalists, however, will always be wary of these kind of changes. As our very sense of community is changing with technology, some become more emphatic about the importance of a traditional understanding of community.²


² See for instance, Pope Francis’ Evangelii Guadium p. 87-92 and this amusing debate between Yehudi Menuhin (pro-community) and Glenn Gould (pro-technology) — made possible for all of us to share on YouTube, I might add.. 🙂

Related Posts » William S. Burrows, Glenn Gould, Marshall Herbert McLuhan