Saturday, July 29, 2006

Top Ten List: Worst Mistakes in Church History

Of course, there are a LOT of mistakes in church history to choose from - perhaps too many for a decent top ten list - but here's a list of my "favorite" worst mistakes:

10. The sale of indulgences (16th century)

9. The “Robber Council” of Constantinople (869)

8. The papal bull Exsurge Domini excommunicating Martin Luther (1520)

7. The condemnation of Jan Hus by the Council of Constance (1411)

6. The Crusader sack of Constantinople (1204)

5. The definition of the Immaculate Conception (1854)

4. The Synod of Toledo (447)

3. The Forging of the Pseudo-Donation of Constantine (8th century)

2. Augustine writes De Trinitate (5th century)

1. Mutual East/West excommunications leading to the Great Schism (1054)

What are some of your favorites?

P.S. - Pope Leo X features twice in this list, so I included a portrait of him.


Jason Loh said...


I think you overlooked "Papal Infalliblity" (Vatican I, 1870).

axegrinder said...

Dr. DD,

Probably not in the top ten, but I think the C of E's failure to capitalize on the Methodist push into America was pretty tragic for both Anglicanism and Methodism in America. If Methodism had remained within Anglicanism in America both would possibly have been stronger.


Jason Kranzusch

Mark said...

Failing to publicly burn the master-recording of Jan Crouch reading the Old Testament ( along with her powder-blue wigs ). A must for anyone who loves Holy Writ.


lexorandi2 said...

Yes, that's a good one, Jason. I didn't overlook it. There are just too many to choose from! Blessings, Dan

lexorandi2 said...

Hmmm...I'll have to think about that one, Jason. You're right overall that it was tragic that Anglicanism failed to accommodate Methodism. But I think the tragedy here was that the Bishop of London refused Wesley's request to ordain clergy for Methodist ministry in the Americas.

Mark: I rather like Jan's powder blue wigs. They give her an aura of holiness, indicating that she's been in the presence of God, like Moses! Besides, her wigs very effectively hide her horns.

David said...

Ohter than No. 5, what is Pope Leo X's second feature in the list of ten?

Johnny! said...

The Inquisiiiiiiiition.

lexorandi2 said...

Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici, a.k.a. Pope Leo X, was accountable for #'s 10 and 8.

Charles Erlandson said...

Dan - would you please explain more fully your choice for #2: Augustine writes De Trinitate (5th century?


Anonymous said...

Dan - would you please explain more fully your choice for #2: Augustine writes De Trinitate (5th century?


- Charles Erlandson

lexorandi2 said...

Hi Charlie,

For a glimpse into my dislike for Augustine's doctrine of the Trinity, go into my June Archives and start with the article on the Quicunque Vult and work your way up.

Take care,

dmartin said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
dmartin said...

How about the Protestant Reformation? How about the allowence of Henry's divorce?

lexorandi2 said...

The Reformation was unavoidable. On the other hand, there were many mistakes during the course of the Reformation that created the mess that we're in. Pope Leo X figures into my list twice in this regard: (1) sale of indulgences; and (2)excommunicating Luther. All in all, there were better ways of dealing with the "Lutheran issue" than the latter. One way would have been to concede the point that indulgences constituted an abuse of church authority. But then no pope is going to admit to mistake.

dmartin said...

I agree that the Reformation was unavoidable. It was mishandled by all who were involved and the bulk of the blame should be on the powers that be of the time (ie Rome). None the less, it was a mistake on both parts... Luther admitted as much.

lexorandi2 said...

Yes, Doug, you are right of course. I don't give a passing grade to the Reformers just because I don't happen to like who the pope was at the time.

Michael Joseph said...

Interestingly, there seems to be much blame placed on Pope Leo X. But a quick glance at history shows that the pope had very little knowledge of what was happening with regard to Luther. I am not exonerating Leo, but we have to be historically honest.

Emperor Charles V played a great part in forcing Luther to seek protection from German nobles (princes), the latter of whom had strong desires to break the political/religious bonds of the "Holy" Roman Empire. The Reformation, from the Protestant side, was just as much a matter of politics as it was of religion. In fact, there is no Reformation without this political backing, which leads to perhaps one of the worst mistakes in Church history: the political installation of Protestantism.

Also, the fact that Cajetan did so very little to understand Luther's concerns was decisive. The former's influence over the papal court cannot be underestimated. Here we have perhaps the most prominent Catholic theologian of the time and he is dumbfounded as to how to answer Luther.

To blame Leo for Luther's excommunication is to ignore what was actually going on in Germany. Rome acted on the recommendation of German bishops and theologians, Cajetan and Charles V. Sure, Leo signed the Bull, but who really wrote it?

The excommunication of Luther cannot be viewed apart from these historical events.

But then no pope is going to admit to mistake.
Sounds more like polemic than a responsible statement. Whose mistakes? The Catholic Church's as a whole? Mistakes already admitted numerous times by Pope John Paul II. By individual Catholics? Admission happens almost daily by Benedict XVI. By popes themselves? Do you mean sin? Do you mean doctrine? Do you mean example? Please be more clear.

Would the Anglican communion as a whole ever admit to the egregious mistakes it continually makes which are tearing it apart? Minimally, would the Archbishop of Canterbury? I don't mean to go on the offensive here, but then again, quite a number of your "mistakes" were Catholic doctrine or actions. Perhaps this exercise in mutual critique is a new kind of ecumenism from which are leaders shy away. ;)

Keep up the interesting posts.

lexorandi2 said...

"Interestingly, there seems to be much blame placed on Pope Leo X. But a quick glance at history shows that the pope had very little knowledge of what was happening with regard to Luther. I am not exonerating Leo, but we have to be historically honest."

Point well taken and eloquently expressed. But that simply makes the excommunication of Luther even more of a tragedy, don't you think?

Again, very well put.

Thanks for posting, Michael Joseph!

Michael Joseph said...

A tragedy indeed. And let me add that I, too, am most disappointed with the Catholic hierarchy during those days.

Thomas said...


You have to watch out for those Steubees. They lurk everywhere.

See my comments on the relationship between theology and reform:

lexorandi2 said...

Hey Tommy,

Steubees are welcome here anytime, especially those of the calibre of Michael Joseph.

I'll be sure to check out your comments.

All the best,

lexorandi2 said...


I meant to say:

"...of the calibre of Michael Joseph and yourself."

Didn't mean to leave you out!

Anonymous said...

You don't Like St Augustine's treatise on the Trinity? I find that hard to believe.

lexorandi2 said...

I don't like the Filioque addition to the Creed either, and for the same reasons.


Michael Joseph said...

Dr. Dunlap,

Thank you for the kind words. I've had to play catch (just found your blog), I am really enjoying reading through your posts. Ah yes...beware of those CUAers and their ecclesiatical schooling. ;)


A Steubie? Because I went to Steubenville? Do we all sound the same? Darn, because I was hoping Saint Louis Univeristy grad school would have rubbed off on me a little more! I didn't fit-in very well at Steubenville. But, hey, if you say so.

Death Bredon said...

Most of Augustine of Hippo's works were written as SPECULATIVE theology, never intended or puporting to be the dogma of the Church -- Indeed, Augustine hate reading, which would have been a prerequisite for understanding the Cappodacian Trinitarianism theat underlies the first two General Councils.

Augustine's Trinitarianims plainly is inconsistent with, and shows a lack of understanding of, the doctrine ratified by the Church in the Nicene-Canstantonipolitan Creed. It led, unfortunately, to the filioque crisis. Also, it lead to impoverished notion of the Godhead as being a neo-plotinius "res ipsem," that is "being itself." What scholastic, philospohic nonsens: God is the living God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, know by his might acts of old and his Incarnation!

Anyhow, the dogmatization of Augustinian Trinitarianism in the West by the Caroligian Fransk, and then the "Reforem" Cluniac Papacy caused the Great Schism. Though niether even can be placed at Augustine's doorstep per se, would have been better at the Bishop of Hippo worked on his Greek or just kept quiet.

Death Bredon said...


I thought Wm. Tyndale got an unduly rough ride -- a top-25 mistake perhaps. Imagine the insipid English translations (if ever) of the 23rd Plasm without him!!!!

Michael Joseph said...

Three quick replies to death bredon:

First, I do not think the Cappadocians are the interpretive key to reading either Nicaea I or Constantinople I. Nor do I think their theology underlies these two councils. Nicaea (AD 325) was held before the Cappadocians wrote a scrap and Constantinople I (AD 381) had not yet fully appropriated their theology. After all, Constantinople I added very little to conciliar pneumatology having included biblical rather than Cappadocian categories into the Creed ("Lord and giver of life"..."proceeds from the the Father"..."he has spoken through the prophets").

Second, why give the Cappadocians priority over Augustine? After all, all four thinkers were VERY speculative, and I would go so far to say that it is Gregory of Nyssa who neo-platonized the Godhead, not Augustine. After the sixth century, the East began to read the Cappadocians in light of the Pseudo-Dionysius rather than allowing them to stand alone, which gave rise to the perennial East/West dispute over which category, Being or the Good, is most appropriate for describing the ineffable God.

Third, how is Augustinian theology inconsistent with the Creed of Nicaea I and Constantinople I? In fact, we should probably limit the discussion to Nicaea since Constantinople I was not universally accepted in the West until after the death of Augustine (I tend to see Chalcedon [451 AD] as the true Western reception of Constantinople as a binding Ecumenical Council). Which aspects of the Nicene Creed are undermined by Augustine? I think the issue between Western and Eastern trinitarian theology is more speculative than conciliar, especially because the debate tends to center on post-Constantinople I theologies rather than on the council decrees themselves.

byron said...

Thanks for these.

Where would you put anti-semitism and initial silence over Nazi Germany?

And, the opposite error: initial exclusion of the Gentiles (1stC Antioch)? I guess that one was fixed fairly quickly...

Thomas said...

Michael Joseph,

Don't fight it man, don't fight it. You're labeled for life. We all are.