The Papacy that Luther Contended With

Silvestro Mazzolini, usually named Sylvester Prierias, was a member of the Roman Commission entrusted with introducing canonical proceedings against Luther in the spring of 1518. He composed the Dialogus as an expert opinion for the commission in the spring of 1518, and may have submitted it [to whom?] as early as April or May 1518. On August 7, 1518, Luther received the Dialogus together with the summons to defend himself in person at Rome on suspicion of heresy. The Dialogus, obviously, cannot be regarded as a particularly brilliant theological treatise on the papacy. (From "Martin Luther's Theology, Its Historical and Systematic Development," Bernhard Lohse, Fortress Press p. 107).
Now, here you have "a member of the Roman Commission," selected to introduce canonical proceedings against Luther. This is an "expert opinion" we are talking about. Continuing:

Still, as evidence of the view then dominant in Rome and of the aggravation it caused in Luther's dispute, it has a significance scarecely to be overestimated. Here we see how those who set the tone at Rome thought of the church and the papal office, above all what they had to find fault with in Luther.

Prierias opened with four basic propositions concerning the church that formed the basis of his debate with Luther:

(1) the entire church as to its essence (essentialiter) is the gathering of all believers in Christ for worship. The entire church ast to its power (virtualiter), however, is the Roman church, the head of all churches, and the pope. The Roman church as to its representation (repraesentative) is the college of cardinals, but as to its power (virtualiter) the pope, in a manner different, of course, from Christ. (2) As the entire church cannot err when it decides concerning faith or morals, so also a true council, when it does what it can to understand the truth, cannot err, at least not in the end result (finaliter)--and I take this to include the head [the pope]. For even a council can initially be deceived, so long as the process of searching for the truth goes on. Yes, sometimes a council has been deceived, though it has finaly recognized the truthwith the hep of the Holy Spirit. Likewise also the Roman church and the pope cannot err when he hands down a decision in his capacity as pope, that is, when he makes use of his office and does what is in his power to know the truth. (3) Whoever does not hold to the doctrine of the Roman church and to the pope as the infallible rule of faith, from which also Holy Scripture derives its power and authority, is a heretic.

In the final proposition (no. 4), the meaning of "what is customary" is identified with decisions of the church. Then this follows as a corollary: "Whoever says of indulgences that the Roman Church cannot do what it actually does, is a heretic." The four propositions are teh basis for Prierias's subsequent debate with each of Luther's Ninety-five Theses.

Prierias not only represented the view of infallibility to which some gave expression toward the close of the Middle Ages, but with his third proposition actually set the Roman church over Scripture. [He could not have done this if it were not actually believed this way, at a high and even official level.] Moreover, in the corollary he described as heretical all opposition, even opposition to the Roman practice of indulgences. The Roman standpoint in the matter of indulgences could not have been more one-sidedly and pointedly maintained.

When Luther was made aware of the Dialogus, he was convinced that the pope was the antichrist. If in the composition of the Ninety-five Theses scriptural and papal authority had merely been in tension, now they were irreconcilably opposed. Obviously, on the basis of the Dialogus, Luther arrived at the conviction that pope and councils could err. (Lohse, pgs. 107-109.)

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