When I first built this page, it was primarily an argument against Roman Catholic claims. I have not dropped any of those arguments, and there are links to them at the bottom of this page.
On the other hand, the story of how the church of Rome, the one that we read about in the Bible, became the Roman Catholic Church is fascinating and touches on the history of all other churches. It is a fabulous story to tell.
Let's begin with the first thing we know about the church in Rome, that it received a letter from the apostle Paul.
All Scripture quotes on this page are from the New American Bible, Revised Edition, which is one of the Roman Catholic Church's approved Bibles. Copyright notice is here.
Paul wrote his letter to "the beloved of God in Rome" rather than "the church in Rome." Some suggest this was because there were many churches in Rome or the Christians were spread out in small groups, not yet a church, perhaps because of persecution. We don't know, and we can't really draw conclusions specific to Rome because Paul's letter to Ephesus was addressed to "the holy ones who are in Ephesus" rather than the church in Ephesus.
More importantly, Paul points out that the Romans' faith was known "throughout the world." It was already a notable church at that time. Historians point out that because Rome was both a wealthy city and a hub of the empire that the church there was noted for its hospitality and giving.
Paul not only wrote a letter to Rome, but he was imprisoned there for two years. He spend those years teaching those who visited him (Acts 28:30-31). Many believed that he was martyred there immediately after that imprisonment, but it is much more likely that he was released and went west to preach in Spain and possible even Britain.
He was martyred in Rome during Nero's reign, and Peter was martyred there as well.
Peter was in Rome in the later years of his life. This is simply undeniable. How many years he lived there is subject to debate. There is no doubt (except among the most obstinate of Protestants) that Peter wrote his first letter from Rome. The "chosen one at Babylon" is code for "the church in Rome" (1 Pet. 5:13).
The earliest writings we have from Christians all acknowledge that Peter was in Rome. I found this page listing many references. We will cover some references ourselves in this history. No historian denies that all early Christians after the apostles write that Peter lived his last years in Rome.
The Roman church's next appearance in history is a letter they sent to the church in Corinth.
In A.D. 95 or 96, (though some say even earlier), the church at Rome wrote a letter to the church at Corinth. The letter does not say who wrote it, but it is universally acknowledged to have been written by an elder named Clement. In fact, his letter is generally known as 1 Clement. (It can be read here and here.)
1 Clement deals with division and the ousting of two elders in Corinth. It lets us know that Corinth repented thoroughly after receiving the Apostle Paul's letter about their division (1 Corinthians in the Bible). Nonetheless, forty years later, when this letter was written, their divisiveness had returned. The Church in Rome judged the cause to be envy, and Clement spends a large part of the letter on speaking against envy.
This is a point of argument on the subject of Papal Primacy (The Roman Catholic Church's claim that the bishop of Rome is "full, supreme, and universal authority over the whole Church" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 882). Roman Catholic Church (from here on "RCC") apologists argue that 1 Clement was Clement, the third pope, exercising his papal authority over Corinth.
There are at least two problems with this argument:
We do know that in the late first century, the church in Rome was respected enough to intervene in the affairs of the church in Corinth. At that time, the apostle John was alive and living in Ephesus, just across the Aegean sea from Corinth. Though John himself was near or past age 90 by that time, it is a note of the honor in which the church in Rome was held that it was Rome and not Ephesus that intervened in Corinth's affairs.
Justin Martyr gives a small bit of fascinating insight into the church of Rome in his day, around A.D. 150. He was a prodigious author, but he said little about the church in Rome (or anywhere else). There is this interesting tidbit in "The Martyrdom of Justin Martyr" (which is a redundant title because Justin is only called "Martyr" because he was martyred).
Rusticus the prefect said, "Tell me where you assemble, or into what place do you collect your followers?" Justin said, “I live above one Martinus, at the Timiotinian Bath; and during the whole time (and I am now living in Rome for the second time) I am unaware of any other meeting than his. And if any one wished to come to me,I communicated to him the doctrines of truth." (ch. 2)
We can be certain that there were more gatherings in Rome than this one at the house of Martinus. Either Justin is lying to protect his brothers and sisters in Christ, or he is being very literal with the prefect. The prefect asked for Justin's followers, and it is very likely that Justin, who styled himself a Christian philosopher, met only in one place while in Rome to answer questions from those who were interested in hearing him.
Even though Irenaeus began his Christian life under the teaching of Polycarp in Smyrna and wound up a missionary and bishop in Gaul (modern France), he provided what is probably the most fought-over sentence in regard to the authority of the church in Rome that has ever been penned:
Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who ... assemble in unauthorized meetings ... by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul ... which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere. (Against Heresies, Bk. III, ch. III, par. 2, brackets in original)
It is obvious that defenders of the "full, supreme, and universal authority" of the Pope love this passage. It does not say what they hope it says, though.
First, let's be clear, Irenaeus does say that the Roman church is great, founded by Peter and Paul, and that every church needs to agree with it. He grants to it "preeminent authority," though he cushions it a bit with some difficult to understand wording about the faithful everywhere. Neither the translation or intent of the last part of the passage is certain.
... to be continued (March 4, 2019)
Everything below this paragraph is the old page that is in the process of being replaced.
The point, however, is that when a Catholic writes to me, he or she is always—I can't think of a single exception—telling me either that church history and the Bible require me to acknowledge that the RCC is the one true church or that I am evil because I have written honest responses to this claim.
In other words, every time a Roman Catholic has written me, it has been as part of an attempt to claim every Christian needs to be under the authority of the bishop of Rome, or at least under the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
In fact, at the last authoritative council for the Roman Catholic Church, Vatican II, Pope Paul VI announced:
I think such a claim needs to be examined and, if false, refuted publicly and vehemently.
Don't get me wrong. Protestants are woefully ignorant of church history, and non-Catholics are every bit as likely to be clinging to unscriptural tradition as Catholics are.
Early Christian history could deliver us from a lot of these traditions and teach us much about the apostles' understanding of "the faith."
Few people, however, like having their traditions challenged.
Because we're ignorant of early Christian history—something that was not true of Martin Luther and John Calvin—we have been deceived into believing that Catholic claims about "the church fathers" are true.
The RCC does study and promote early Christian history. Non-Catholics, not knowing history themselves, believe Roman Catholic claims, such as that the "early" fathers worshipped liturgically, elevated the sacraments the way Roman Catholicism does, and had a hierarchy of priests, bishops, archbishops, and a pope.
These claims are not true, and contrary to the accusation of the Catholics who write me, I don't say that out of bitterness. The claims are just not true. For example ...
Perhaps the most quoted early father in defense of a pope in the early churches was Cyprian, the head pastor of the church in Carthage. Yet, when Stephen, bishop of Rome, made a claim that he was a bishop over other bishops, Cyprian called a council of 87 north African bishops specifically to deny his claim. RCC authors neglect to tell you that Cyprian believed all bishops were the successor of Peter together, representing one united "episcopal throne" (On the Unity of the Church 4-5). Instead, they quote his comments about Peter as though he meant the bishop of Rome.
Cyprian was overseer ["bishop" in Greek, episkopos, literally means overseer or supervisor] of Carthage from A.D. 249 to 258. He belongs to a period 200 years after the apostles, and he was one of the first to refer to elders as priests (which may have as much to do with his writing in Latin as with his theology). But to him, and to all the bishops of north Africa, there was no pope, not even 200 years after the apostles.
It's worse for the Roman Catholic case earlier in Christian history, but I'll leave that for pages devoted to that subject.
The Scriptures and earliest Christian history know of churches, not a church marked by an extra-local hierarchy and a worldwide organization. Those churches were united, cooperative and "catholic," but they did not have an organization over them. This is why in A.D. 210, 150 years after the apostles, Tertullian was able to say:
Tertullian could not have said this if a hierarchy existed that could dictate doctrine to all the churches. If such a hierarchy, or a pope, existed, then "so many" and "so great" churches could easily have gone astray into one and the same erroneous faith. Tertullian said that "so many" (and "so great") churches could not have gone into error. If all those churches got their doctrine from one church, the church in Rome, or from one man, the bishop of Rome, then they all would go into error if the one church or one man went into error.
It's important to distinguish between the centuries of the early church when it comes to Roman Catholicism. The authority of the most important bishops increased rapidly in the early churches. At the Council of Nicea in A.D. 325 (the fourth century), the bishops of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch were given authority over very large geographical areas, though the exact area is only specified in the case of the bishop of Alexandria (Council of Nicea, Canon 6). During that period, the emperor Constantine led a majority of the Roman population into the church. Large churches consisting of vast majorities of the citizenry meant that the importance of the clergy increased greatly. Government involvement in the church, as well as the battle over the Arian Controversy, led to increasing organization between the churches of the empire.
The second century shows no such organization. In the second century, head pastors objected to being told what to do by other head pastors. In fact, that complaint carries on into the third and somewhat into the fourth centuries. Metropolitans existed in the third century. Those were bishops of larger cities who had oversight over surrounding towns. However, every time a bishop of Rome, or Alexandria, or Nicomedia tried to force another bishop to submit, the attempt to rule was denied.
It is not until the sixth century, due to complicated political reasons, that a Roman bishop ever exercised what we know as papal power.
Amazingly, the best and clearest explanation of those politics and why there was no pope until the sixth century is given by a Roman Catholic Ph.D., Brendon McGuire, on a Roman Catholic web site, in a free, downloadable history lesson! He states quite clearly in the question and answer section that the eastern churches have never, not at any time in history, acknowledged the authority of the bishop of Rome. The doctrine of the papacy has always been a doctrine of the Roman bishop only!
We have looked at the claims of the Roman Catholics that the papacy goes back to the apostles, and it's covered much more thoroughly in the links below, but Jesus said to judge by fruit. A tree that produces good fruit is good, and a tree that produces bad fruit is a bad tree.
In the case of Roman Catholicism, we have centuries of fruit to examine. For centuries, virtually everyone in Europe embraced the claims of the RCC and the pope. What was the result?
The result was that a period of history that we know as "The Dark Ages." The corruption was so bad that Philip Schaff tells us that when Pope Leo IX tried to reform the priesthood in A.D. 1049, they found that enforcing their reforms "would well-nigh deprive the churches, especially those of Rome, of their shepherds" (History of the Christian Church, vol. V, p. 13).
Those reforms were directed against "simony," the purchase of the position of priest or bishop, and against priests keeping a "housekeeper," who was really a wife that the priest could not admit he had. Thus, Schaff is telling us that almost every priest in the eleventh century, especially those in Rome, had purchased his position with money and kept a concubine!
Such corruption is hardly unknown to the public. We all know it, the RCC does not deny it, and much more corruption is documented in the history found in the links below. Nonetheless, what I have written below is a tiny percentage of what really happened.
During the Middle Ages, the RCC kept the Scriptures away from commoners, claiming that they could not understand them and that the people should rely upon the Church to interpret the Scriptures for them. Worse, when education began to increase and the people stopped meekly submitting to the tyrrany of the pope, the RCC began putting to death those that dared to translate the Scriptures into the vernacular, the language of the people. William Tyndale is one such example, but John Wycliffe is a worse one. The rage of the "Church" was so great that they dug his body up long after he was dead and burned his bones!
Protestants, too, have been guilty of persecuting their enemies. John Calvin himself and Martin Luther's friend, Philip Melancthon, were directly involved in directing the secular government in torturing or killing their opponents.
But the Lutheran and Reformed (Calvinist) Churches don't claim to be the one true church, nor demand that every Christian submit to their "magisterium," the officers of their organization.
The Roman Catholic Church does.
There's a reason that Jesus said to judge by fruit. Follow a prophet if you want to be like him. Follow Jesus because you want to be like him. If you listen to a teacher or prophet, you will become like that teacher or prophet.
We have seen what happens when people listen to the demands of Roman Catholicism. The result is known to us as "The Dark Ages," and it involves gross ignorance, superstition, an orchestrated famine of the Word of God, extreme corruption among leaders, tyranny, and extreme punishment (reference and reference) for rebelling against the tyrants.
If that is what you consider good fruit, then make the tree good. Call Roman Catholicism good. If that is what you consider to be bad fruit, then make the tree bad. Call Roman Catholicism bad.
Roman Catholicism Historical Items
Various Subjects and Doctrines
My Arguments Against Roman Catholicism as the One True Church
Popes and Stories About Popes
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