Questions About Roman Catholicism Which We Have Been Asked
WAS THERE A ROMAN CATHOLIC CONSPIRACY?
If So, When Did It Start?
Towards Developing a Fuller Understanding of Roman Catholic Origins and Influences.
Here are some perfectly reasonable questions which people have been asking us:
Was the True Church taken over by the founding Roman Catholics around 100-200AD? (some cults think so).
Was Peter the first pope of the Roman Catholic Church?
What did the early church writers mean by “catholic” ?
Were the 4th century church creeds written by Roman Catholics?
When did the early church become the Catholic church?
What about the Council of Trent? What did it do? Did it make the Protestant Reformation unnecessary? (as some Roman Catholic writers have claimed).
Where does the 'Mystery of Iniquity' fit into all of this?
Could there still be true Christians among Catholics despite their doctrinal errors?
Just recently the questions you have sent to us concerning Roman Catholicism have amounted up. I am now going to attempt to unravel the truth about the early church and about Roman Catholicism, but I fear that this will not be easy or clear-cut and I have no doubt that we will be left with some grey areas. Yet I hope to answer, to the best of my ability, these questions which have been raised, since there is widespread confusion in these areas.
Here we go with these 8 questions:
Was the early church fully taken over by “catholics” by 200AD? Some of the sects see a very black and white picture of “catholics” coming in and taking over the early church by a very early date; thereafter, they imagine all true Christians on the outside. Unfortunately, this is largely erroneous and is often the result of seeing 'Church' as a purely human instituition (rather than as a spiritual body). They want to see either a true church organisation, or a corrupt church organisation, but the truth is far more subtle than this, and far less 'black and white' than this. Jesus said, 'My kingdom is not of this world', so we should not expect to find a pure church organisation anywhere; rather, we find that the more Christian groups have grown and the more they have become politically-organised, the less we see of Christ in those groups. Christians who understand that God's kingdom is 'not of this world' (John 18:36), and that He seeks true worshippers to worship Him 'in Spirit and truth' (John 4:23-24) will not be surprised by any of this. This answers the basic question but please read further for more information on this.
Peter was never the first pope (if we are thinking about the whole elaborate system of modern Catholic popes) and the Roman Catholic Church is in error in claiming him to be. Even the very early conception of the word 'pope' (which changed greatly in later centuries) would have required Peter to have been bishop of Rome and there is no evidence that he ever was. However, there is evidence that the apostle Peter was an important early leader. He was, by the way, a married man with a mother-in-law so was hardly celibate! (Mark 1:30).
How did the early church writers understand that word 'catholic'? Many church writers of earlier centuries used the term 'catholic' simply to mean 'universal', they meant the 'universal church.' They had no conception of such a thing as the organized 'Roman Catholic Church' as it became by the 11th century! Unfortunately this appears especially difficult for a few to understand, yet even the highly Protestant Westminster Confession of 1646 in its Chapter XXV speaks of the body of Christ as the 'catholic church' (meaning 'universal church').
The great 4th century creeds of the church are nothing whatsoever to do with the Roman Catholic Church which would not become an organized body, based firmly in Rome, for many, many centuries after that time. These creeds can be applauded and appreciated as a real attempt to hold on to biblical teachings about the nature of God as heretics started to arise and started to pervert the Scriptures. On one website I read this erroneous statement, 'It is true that by 336AD, the mainstream beliefs of Christianity were already far from the truth the apostles taught anyway...' But this is simply not true and is the result of the writer of this quote looking for his own sect/cult's doctrines as being 'normative' in the early church.
So when did the early church become the Roman Catholic Church? There are many things which may trap the unwary and inexperienced 'dabbler' into church history and we need to understand these things correctly, for example, the title 'pope' started to be applied to some early bishops of Rome – yes, we can now say that this was highly regrettable, but these men were simply not 'popes' in the later sense of the Roman Catholic Church! In fact, it was the Council of Chalcedon of 451AD which decided that the title 'pope' should be reserved for the bishops of Rome alone, but this does not mean that suddenly – from that point onwards - these 'popes' became corrupt. No. it was much more gradual than that. Certainly there is no doubt that as Christians formed into larger and larger instituitional groups and as politics became more and more involved..... Christ moved farther and farther away. Moreover this pattern has continued to be repeated among Protestants.
What we can say is that by the time of Gregory the Great, who was bishop of Rome from 590-604AD, there were very serious doctrinal and behavioural problems developing among the leadership of Roman Christians. Gregory promoted himself as not only the spiritual ruler of Roman believers, but as a political and even military ruler of Rome!! He also strongly pushed the idea that the Roman bishop was universal bishop over all believers! Yet even at this point there were undoubtedly many sincere true believers well away from the highly political leadership at Rome. It is also only fair to point out that bishop Gregory himself is described as having great humility before God.Yet things continued to deteriorate and, from around 600AD, the moral deterioration among Roman-based leaders gathered pace! The more that these Roman bishops sought universal and political authority, the more corruption and compromise entered their system.
If we now leap forward to the reign of the infamous Pope Innocent III, who was pope from 1198-1216AD, we see a very dramatic change: The Papacy was now a full papacy, this was the period when the Roman church indeed became what we may refer to today as the Roman Catholic Church; it was now at the very height of its power and influence. Some people mistakenly think that the RC Church is at the height of its power in the present day, but they are completely wrong! They were at the height of their terrifying power at the time of the infamous Pope Innocent III. The modern Catholic Church is but a shadow of its former self. The humiliation of Henry IV at Canossa led to a situation in which the pope began to be seen as all-powerful and many now saw all rulers (not only all bishops!) as being under papal jurisdiction! Even King Philip of France and King John of England were made to bow before this cruel and infamous 'super-politician'. He was widely seen as having authority over all Christian lands and as a truly universal shepherd.
Innocent (so amazingly mis-named) launched a truly bloodthirsty crusade against all “heretics” (though many of these were much less heretical than the Roman leadership itself had become). His wicked persecution of the Albigenses of southern France has stood out in history as one of the most despicable excesses of papal authority. Pope Innocent III forced the King of France to kill many of thousands of his people. The Albigensians had previously lived mixed among the French Catholics, so Pope Innocent commanded that every person in the region, including the Catholics, should be killed; what a nice man he must have been! The Roman-based church was now ruled by evil tyrants and monsters, but we have to understand that – away from the corrupt leadership – there is little doubt that there continued to be true Christians based at Rome; without a doubt these people looked beyond their leaders to Christ alone and we can imagine that many were praying daily for the removal of these tyrants. Yet, increasingly, true believers started to fully separate themselves from the jurisdiction of these papists where they were able to do so.
Many of the corrupt leaders who came to be based at Rome, awarding themselves the title of 'pope' (which they sometimes bought for money), were really evil, ambitious and scheming politicians. They had forgotten that Jesus had said that His kingdom could never be of this world and that true believers worshipped God 'In Spirit and in Truth.' It is beyond the scope of this article to outline even a few of the many excesses which took place, but Mary Ann Collins (a former Roman Catholic nun) gives more examples HERE.
to answer this question, the Roman Catholic Church – as
we now understand it – had arrived by about the 9th-10th
century, and papal power reached its peak about the 12th
century. Thereafter it went into a decline regarding its influence,
yet popes would continue to arrogantly claim a power which did not
belong to them and they continue to do so to this very day. But
false doctrinal teachings including such things as the selling of
indulgences and papal infallibility continued to develop after the
12th century reaching a peak in the 15th-16th
centuries when one Martin Luther finally felt compelled to challenge
the terrible excesses. The glorification of the office of
bishop of Rome continues to this day; it has been accompanied by
unbiblical teachings and emphases and amounts to idolatry. It
is strongly at variance with the simplicity of Christ!
Occasionally somebody tells me about what the Roman Catholics were doing and/or practising in the 4th-5th centuries and I have to point out to them that there was no 'Roman Catholic Church' even in existence at that time! We must all check out our facts!
But to tackle the actual question, 'When did the early church become the Catholic church?' if we correctly understand that word 'church' as referring to the invisible body of Christ of all time, as written in heaven, it was and is impossible for the true church to ever become the Roman Catholic Church! However, seeing 'the church' purely as an organised instituition, there is no doubt that the western church (covering what are now France, Spain and especially Italy) had become the Roman Catholic Church by the 10th-12th century.
So where does the Council of Trent come into all of this? This council was a Roman Catholic council which – with the strong rise of Protestantism – finally forced the RC Church to reform itself or else face extinction. The council sat 1545-1563, mainly during three particular periods. Certainly, the council took measures to lessen the corruption and abuses which had partly incited the Reformation, but as a whole, the council was sadly compromised. In the area of doctrine, the council refused any concessions to Protestantism and, in the process, crystallized and codified Roman Catholic dogma far more than ever before. It directly opposed Protestantism by reaffirming the existence of seven sacraments, transubstantiation, purgatory, the necessity of the priesthood, and justification by works as well as by faith. Clerical celibacy and monasticism were maintained, and decrees were issued in favor of the efficacy of relics, indulgences, and the veneration of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Tradition was declared co-equal to Scripture as a source of spiritual knowledge – in direct opposition to the Protestants, and the sole right of the “church” (the RC Church, that is) to interpret the Bible was asserted. All of its decrees were formally confirmed by Pope Pius IV in 1564. So this opportunity for Roman Catholicism to completely reform itself, going back to the 'faith of our fathers', was tragically and comprehensively spurned.
how does the prophesied Mystery of Iniquity which was to
affect the church come into all of this? Has it even come into all
of this as yet, or will that only happen in the future? The answer,
as the Scripture plainly says, is that this started to happen even
in the days of the apostles and has been happening ever since. This
refers to the taking over of the leadership of the organised,
institutionalized church by unbelievers, people who were/are really
much more politicians and “leaders” than anything else.
This happened at Rome, certainly by about the 10th century,
and quite comprehensively by the 16th century. It
also happened (less dramatically) in the Eastern Orthodox Church,
and the 19th century Liberal Protestantism caused
it to extensively affect established Protestantism as well.
However, all congregations of Christians wherever they may be
are always a target of our adversary who would continually
send in unconverted carnal leaders to lead believers astray where he
is able. The answer is that all such congregations need to
regularly pray for spiritual protection against this real
possibility! My opinion (for what it is worth) is that the
larger and more political a congregation becomes, the more
compromised it tends to become and the more Christ moves away from
it; the New Testament example is of small congregations presided
over an Elder who should be a deeply converted man. Where a small
group grows, prayers should be offered for the Lord to send a new
biblically-based Elder so that another group can be planted.
Some fundamentalist Protestants insist on seeing this problem simply as a Roman Catholic/Protestant problem (the latter being the 'pure' group), however Protestantism has also been seriously affected, starting off with the influence of 19th century Liberal Protestantism which led to the seminaries starting to send 'ministers' with a flawed conception of the 'gospel' into Protestant churches by the hundreds!
For much more information on the Mystery of Iniquity, please read my article THE MYSTERY OF INIQUITY AND THE MAN OF SIN.
So can there still be truly converted Christians among Roman Catholics? First of all, what is a true Christian?
A true Christian has accepted in faith that Jesus is the Saviour of the world and that His sacrifice means that the believer may enter His kingdom even now and finally inherit Eternal Life in the future; the Holy Spirit has come into that person's life and will gradually mold that person to be what God wants him, or her, to be. The truth is that not all true believers have entirely correct doctrinal knowledge in any case, although one would normally expect to see some growth in understanding during such a person's life. Since there is virtually no doctrinal teaching within Roman Catholic congregations (their doctrines simply being assumed), it is entirely possible for true Spirit-led believers to exist therein. In faith, they will be seeing Christ in the sacraments and Christ in their priest. They will strive to obey the dictates of the RC Church, seeing that as obedience to Jesus Christ Himself. But are they not partly deceived? Sure, but so are many other Christians in many other ways, including some in 'prosperity gospel' congregations! But one believes that – in the fulness of time – such people will indeed learn to perceive serious error, yet it may not be until their deathbeds. We should always realize and note that whilst we are all encouraged to grow and improve in doctrinal knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), correct doctrinal understanding is not one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit!! (Galatians 5:22-25). All one can say is that if the Holy Spirit should lead such a person into a deeper understanding of Holy Scripture, they should recognise and accept that, and yet the Spirit Himself would surely assist this.
I hope that I have succeeded in answering some of these difficult questions about Roman Catholicism. I have certainly set out to do so to the best of my ability. I hold no hidden agenda, being a completely independent evangelical and not a 'card-carrying member' of any denomination, my master is the Lord Jesus alone. I simply say that I write as one who has spent many hours researching church history.
Robin A. Brace, 2005.
MUSELTOF COUNTERCULT AND APOLOGETICS UK