Understanding the Papacy in a Time of Confusion

Hello, I’m Eric, and I’m a book geek.

You see, I collect books like some people collect comics or baseball cards. And I even read many of the books I collect!

As a book geek, I get excited about a lot of books that come out, but I’ll admit I’ve been anticipating one book more than any other this year. It’s actually a book I’ve contemplated writing myself, but I’m glad someone else did.

Orthodox. Faithful. Free.

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What’s the book? The Papacy: Revisiting the Debate Between Catholics and Orthodox by Erick Ybarra. In this magisterial (over 700 pages!) work from Emmaus Road Publishing, Ybarra surveys history and theology to make a case for the papacy in the light of Eastern Orthodox criticisms.

What I like about Ybarra is that he is extremely fair to all sides. As a recent example, see this article where he explores the “Recognize and Resist” movement in light of 1st millennium Christian practice—he clearly takes into consideration all views before coming to his conclusions.

Most apologetical debate between Catholics and Orthodox regarding the papacy today is, frankly, less than helpful. Each side presents the evidence of the 1st millennium as if it’s a slam dunk for their side. But history isn’t so clear, as Ybarra acknowledges. In the preface, he writes,

When I commenced my studies [of the papacy], I had thought the case for Catholicism was far more compelling than any case for Orthodoxy could afford. As of now, I am thoroughly convinced that this debate is not concluded with a first round knockout for either side. I now sense that if Catholicism does win this debate, it only wins by going the full distance of twelve rounds and by a remarkably close call.

This is typical of Ybarra: he gives as much credit as he can to opposing arguments, while remaining true to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

The reason I’m so excited about this book is that I think it addresses the fundamental issue in Catholicism today: what is the role of the pope in the Church? In an era of such confusion surrounding the papacy—What, if any, are its limits? What is our duty in following the pope?—I suspect that Erick’s book will help lay the groundwork for a better understanding of the papacy.

I’ve already started reading The Papacy: Revisiting the Debate Between Catholics and Orthodox and I look forward to working my way through it. While the tome is understandably pricey, I recommend it for anyone wanting to dig deeper into this important topic.

I hope to have Ybarra on the podcast soon to discuss the book, but until then, check out this interview I did with him last year about Eastern Orthodoxy.


  • Eric Sammons

    Eric Sammons is the editor-in-chief of Crisis Magazine.


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