The Roman Catholic Church


The Roman Catholic Church traces its history all the way back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles, professing the Catholic Church to be the "sole Church of Christ". The Church does not claim to be merely one valid expression of the Church which Christ founded, but the church which Christ founded. It claims that it has faithfully preserved the Traditions given to us by Christ and the Apostles. On what basis is this claim? First, a review of Christianity and how it became the state religion.

Constantine Legalizes Christians
Despite any personal defects we might attribute to the Emperor Constantine, he performed one of the greatest feats of any man in history. He brought Christians out from under the yoke of oppression and allowed the people to preach the gospel from the housetops, which is what Christ commanded and prophesied. When Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, it granted tolerance to all religions within the Empire, thus paving the way for Christianity to become the dominant religion of the Empire.  If one believes Jesus is the Christ, then if follows in the realization that Constantine not only saved lives when the persecutions of Christians by the Romans stopped, but he contributed to saving souls as Christianity went on to become the most accepted faith on the planet.

Constantine granted many concessions to the Church. In 313 the Church obtained immunity for its ecclesiastics, and freedom from taxation and obligatory service. The Church further obtained the right to inherit property, and Constantine placed Sunday under the protection of the State as the day set aside for official worship.  That day was called “The Venerable Day of the Sun.” It was the first day of the week, and from it we get our name Sunday. Constantine was a sun worshiper from the cult of Mithraism. He also made the seven day week official in AD 321. 

The Sunday law was officially confirmed by the Roman Papacy. The Catholic Church Council of Laodicea in A.D. 364 decreed, “Christians shall not Judaize and be idle on Saturday but shall work on that day; but the Lord’s day they shall especially honour, and, as being Christians, shall, if possible, do no work on that day. If, however, they are found Judaizing, they shall be shut out from Christ.” Christians having their own day of worship outside of the Jewish Sabbath seemed a good idea at that time to separate Christianity from its Jewish beginnings.

The cult of Mithraism began to decline in 312 when Constantine won the battle at the Milvian Bridge under the sign of the cross. By the fourth century Christianity becomes the state religion and by the end of the fourth century it is illegal to do any form of public worship other than Christianity in the entire Roman Empire.

In 337 CE Constantine died and the usual turmoil in the Roman Empire continued through several emperors. Julian the Apostate, Emperor form AD 361 to 363 would become the last pagan emperor.  Seeing himself as the head of a pagan church he was determined to revive  paganism and raise it to the level of an official religion with an established hierarchy. Although he attempted to erase all aspects of Christianity in the empire, he failed. 

When Theodosius the Great (379 – 395 CE) became Emperor he outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the empire in 381.Theodosius was no more tolerant of heretical Christians. Reversing the support given to Arianism by Constantius II and Valens in the East, he issued a series of edicts to enforce orthodoxy.

"It is Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans....The rest, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative" (Theodosius Code 16.1.2 AD 380).

He called the Second Ecumenical Council, attended by some 150 bishops, claiming the revised version of the Nicene Creed as the orthodox faith of the Church.  As the last emperor to rule both east and west, he did away with the Vestal Virgins of Rome, outlawed the Olympic Games and dismissed the Oracle at Delphi.

Apostolic Succession
The Roman Catholic Church orthodoxy is being established with Peter the Apostle as the first head of the Church. The claim is derived from the Scriptures. When Jesus first asked His disciples who do men say I am? Then He asked them, "whom say ye that I am?"

"And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ" (Matthew 16:16-19).

Roman Catholics understand this to mean that Jesus said, “this rock” was Peter. Therefore Peter is the rock upon which the true church of Christ is built. Peter was to receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, giving him the authority to make authoritative decrees concerning doctrinal truth. Peter was therefore the first pope and as bishop of Rome and he passed these keys onto a successor. The keys were passed in this way from pope to pope and the full authority of Christ Himself has is invested in each of the popes.

There are several issues with this interpretation of Jesus' words as interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church. Would Christ actually give full authority to men who have no holiness for God, but are devious, immoral and murderous? For example, Pope Alexander VI (1492 to 1503) had parties verging on orgies. Innocent IV  (1243 to 1254) approved the use of torture to extract confessions of heresy during the Inquisition. John XII  (955 to 964) raped women, invoked pagan gods, coverted a palace into a brothel and after he was deposed he returned as pope maiming and mutilating all who had opposed him. Pope Sergius III (904-911) ordered the murder of another pope.

Catholic apologists answer, "Christ entrusted the role of Apostle to weak, and sometimes evil men, but that does not disqualify them from fulfilling the purpose for which Jesus called them because God’s grace is more powerful than man’s sin. Like the Apostles, they were not always faithful to the graces God gave them. And that applies to the rest of us. And since the majority of popes have been good, a few bad ones do not disprove the doctrine of the papacy." Then there is Peter. "Look at the weak example of the first pope, Peter, whom Jesus called Satan," they say, "and who later denied Jesus." (Matt. 16:23, John 13:38).

What did Peter do that made him the subject many times in the Gospels?

  • He denied knowing Jesus 3 times, even after promising he wouldn't
  • He fell asleep twice when Jesus went to pray in Gethsemane, when Jesus needed him and the other disciples
  • At the Caesara philippi, he tried to tempt Jesus off God's path, whereby Jesus rebuked him
  • He drew his sword and attacked the servant of the high priest—and was immediately told to sheath his weapon

Peter was not perfect. He represented the human nature that can fail. Yet at the same time he had faith to get out of the boat and walk on the water. He recognized the Christ in Jesus and said so. What was in Peter that Jesus would say, "upon this rock I will build my church"?

The Rock of Christ Is...
The word "Peter," in Greek, means "a rock." The Scriptures have a lot to say about who the rock is. For example:

  • "He only is my rock and my salvation, My stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken" (Psalm 62:2 ).
  • "Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any [other] Rock? I know of none” (Isaiah 44:8).
  • “For who is God, besides the Lord? And who is a rock , besides our God?" (2 Samuel 22:32 ).
  • “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4).
  • " just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes  in Him will not be disappointed” (Romans 9:33).
  • “Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the Lord, [we have] an everlasting Rock" (Isaiah 26:4).
  • "Blessed be the Lord, my rock, Who trains my hands for war, [And] my fingers for battle" (Psalm 144:1).
  • "But the Lord has been my stronghold, And my God the rock of my refuge" (Psalm 94:22 ).

Not only is the Lord God Himself portrayed as the rock both in the Old and New Testaments, but the Scriptures say that only the Lord God is our rock. There are other Christian interpretations of who or what the rock is than it being Peter. Peter is given his name alluding to his stability or firmness in professing the truth. His confession of Christ is then the rock upon which the church is built. It is this personal faith in Christ which is the hallmark of the true Christian. Those who have placed their faith in Christ, as Peter did, are the church.

Another interpretation is that the rock was Christ Himself. Peter, in confessing Jesus is the Christ, is the first stone to be built upon the rock of Christ in which Christ Himself is building.  After Jesus' resurrection, Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said of a miracle wrought by Jesus Christ, "This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner" (Acts 4:11). He (Jesus Christ) is most precious, as the corner stones are usually the largest, firmest, and best. The New Testament makes it clear that Christ is both the foundation and "Christ is the head of the church" (Eph. 5:23). But though Christ be the foundation in one sense, the apostles are so called in another sense, not the apostles’ persons, but the doctrine which they preached. "Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God, And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). The interpretation of the Lord God being our only true rock ties in nicely with the words of the apostle Paul, “For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 3:11).

If the meaning truly was that Peter was meant as the rock, as the Church of Rome has applied it to mean, they have used it not how it was intended to used. Christ did not mean, as the Roman Catholics profess it to mean, that Peter is the supreme authority above all the other apostles. The Scriptures point otherwise. In Acts 15 Peter speaks out his opinion on the controversy of circumcision. The apostles and elders debate about it and then James speaks his opinion and they all agree to go with James' decision. Then in  Galatians 2:11 Paul "withstood Peter to be blamed". Peter had been two-faced eating with the Gentiles and then acting offended by having to eat with the Gentiles when he was with stricter Jews. Paul felt he had a right to speak out, even if Peter was the older disciple, it didn't make him infallible. The true meaning of Peter being the rock then would be that he is the honored instrument of making known Jesus the Christ's gospel first to Jews and then the Gentiles. Jesus would make Peter an important preacher in building His church.

Scholars have debated whether there was even any single bishop of Rome until well after the year 150 AD, and that there was no papacy for the first three centuries. Some theologians agree with the consensus of scholars that with what evidence there is available, all indications are that the church of Rome was led by a college of presbyters, rather than a single bishop, for at least several decades of the second century.

Torture, Murder, and Indulgences Sanctioned by Church Leaders
The Catechism of the Catholic Church professes the Catholic Church to be the "sole Church of Christ". And from the Nicene Creed, "One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church", which the Catholic Church believes only applies to them. The Church is further described as the Mystical Body of Christ.

The Second Vatican Council taught, "This Church [which Christ founded], constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, #8), and "For it is through Christ's Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained" (Decree on Ecumenism, #3).

There have been great and honorable men and woman in the Church throughout its history. These pious souls lived exemplary lives and have become hallmarks of what it means to be the Christ. They did what Jesus taught in His ministry. They served, they prayed for others, they sacrificed and some were even willing to die rather than denounce their faith. Yet some of the most horrendous acts towards our fellow man was done in the name of defending the Church doctrine.

By the fifth century there were over a hundred active statutes in the Empire concerning heresy. From St Augustine onward for well over a thousand years virtually all Christian theologians agreed that heretics should be persecuted, and most agreed that they should be killed. Heresy was explicitly identified as as akin to leprosy. It was a disease that threatened to destroy a healthy body of believers if they strayed from the Church's view of religious orthodoxy,

The Inquisition, Joan of Arc, and the trial of Galileo and the Crusades are some of the most well known horrendous acts against many good people. What was their fault that led them to be harmed?

Heretics and the Inquisition
To answer this properly we must distinguish between the principle undergirding the Church and the actions of those responsible for implementing the principle. The principle is that the Church believes it must guard the faith against deviations and it is an obligation of divine law. Religious heresies were considered a kind of political treason. The actions taken to implement the process sometimes were questionable and even deplorable.

When Christianity was absorbed into Rome under the reign of Constantine, the Church moved from being persecuted to being protected. The line between political and theological concerns was not always there. Christianity was used to act as a unifying force in an increasingly fragmented Empire. Christianity had become sharply divided between Arians and the supporters of Orthodoxy. Emperor Constantine saw this as a threat to his reign and called forth the council of the church at Nicaea. This meant that the problem had become a political matter and it was important to the government that Christianity was itself united. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the Church likewise began to be seen as integral to the good of the State. Consequently, from the fourth century on, emperors began issuing edicts to protect the state and its official religion, which affected both Christians and ultimately, non-Christians.

One of Constantine's edicts prohibits the assemblies of the heretics and confiscates their public property for the treasury. Emperor Theodosius I makes the state religion the Nicene Christianity and then he takes Constantine's edict on heretics further and relays several edicts against pagan's, sacrifices, and the use of their temples. Then he issued a series of edicts to enforce orthodoxy. These are directed also against the ordination of heretical clergy, and the right of heretics to assemble even in secret.

From the fourth century on, not only did emperors convene councils against heresies, but they also established a wide range of civil penalties for heresy. Inquisition was one means by which both secular and Catholic courts addressed heresy. Almost all Christians (not just Catholics) believed in both corporal and capital punishment for heresy, because they thought heresy was far more dangerous to a person and society than physical disease was. Christians of the Middle Ages were genuinely afraid that souls were going to go to hell if they were lured from Christianity and it was better that the heretical leaders died than thousands of Christians being led astray.

The medieval inquisition started life in a series of papal bulls on heresy, in particular Lucius Iii Ad abolendum of 1184 and Innocent III’s Cum ex officii nostri of 1207. These defined the crime of heresy, imparted the duty of the church to root it out and equated it with treason against the state. if the heretic didn't stop, they would hold court. Evidence would be brought forth and a confession would be sought. If there were no witnesses and the heretic would not confess, they would be handed over to the local authorities. Under Roman law, an offense against the faith was considered an offense against the state, so the state would do the discipline. The Church only passed the verdict, not the sentence.

This did not mean that what was considered heresy, was heresy in the eyes of God. Certainly Galileo was not a heretic although he was deemed so by the Catholic Church just because he held the belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Certainly Joan of Arc was not a heretic for dressing like a man. She was accused of practicing witchcraft because she had revelations from the saints and did not seek advise from the local parish priest. Thus the Inquisitors were not always right, but either came from a place of ignorance of the Law they were supposed to edify their brethren with or for political or other reasons it was best to get rid of a person who did not fit the ideal Christian model of a person the state and church could control.

It has been almost twenty years since the child sexual abuses came to light. What has been uncovered since then was that the offending priests would be shuffled around to other parishes where they would take up their sames crimes again on innocent youth. Was the Church culpable for the extent of the abuse discovered and the victims that were harmed, or were only the priests that commited the crime? If Christ is the head of the church and the church is the body, the body is made up of the members. The priests, the bishops, the layman are all a part of the body of the church. St. Paul describes this well, "If one member suffers than all the members suffer with it."

"For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

"For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

"Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular" ( 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).

With these facts and Scripture, each one of us can only come to our own conclusions. With prayer and faith God will lead us to the truth. Until we get that confirmation in our hearts that it is either right for us to join the Catholic Church (if we are not members), join another church or stay in the church we were brought up in, we can be at peace if we turn to Jesus for our spiritual understanding.

Some of the essential Christian doctrine cannot be denied or we are not Christian. The essential tenets of the Christian faith are the belief in:

  • The Deity of Christ
  • Salvation by Grace through Faith
  • The Gospel
  • The Resurrection of Christ
  • The Holy Trinity

If we join a faith or New Age religion or group that does not believe in these essential doctrines, we are deluding ourselves that we are Christian.