Let’s Look at Roman Catholicism

The Papacy

When did the papacy come into existence? Was the apostle Peter indeed the first Pope, as the Roman Catholic Church claims?

Claims and facts are two very different things. Anyone can make a claim but if the claim is worthy of acceptance, then it ought to be substantiated by proven facts. What are the facts about the origins of the Papacy?

Back in 1889, the historian, Dr J. A. Wylie, wrote: “The Papacy, next to Christianity, is the great Fact of the modern world.” I think we can safely say it remains one of the astonishing facts of our contemporary world in 2018. The Pope; his statements and his activities, still attract the attention of the world’s media. Many of the world’s statesmen and political leaders seem to feel the need to court the favour and friendship of the Supreme Pontiff. No other individual human being possesses the magnetism of the Pope of Rome, particularly the present Pope Francis. Although he does have a vast and effective organizing team behind him, he does nevertheless, draw crowds on a scale greater than even the modern pop idols. Where did this all begin?

Throughout the earthly ministry of the Saviour, followed by that of the apostles, there is no mention whatever, nor even a hint that one apostle should have supremacy over the others. There was no supreme apostle, and thus there cannot logically be any supreme apostolic succession. The first bishops in the apostolic church were the shepherds of the various congregations of believers. They were simply overseers of local churches, or what we might refer to as parish bishops. Over time however, various factors began to influence bishops who resided in the larger, and what were considered as the more prominent or eminent, city churches. During the period of the apostles and beyond, Rome was of course the chief city of the Empire, and of the civilized world. It was from this very centre that persecution arose on occasions against the Christian Church, until Emperor Constantine claimed conversion to Christianity. In 313 A.D. he issued the Edict of Milan ensuring liberty to Christians to worship without interference or threat of persecution. From this time the status of the Church was to change dramatically. Whether Constantine was truly converted or not, he asserted his right to be involved in the affairs of the Church. In the year 325 A.D. he summoned the Council of Nicaea, still retaining the grand title of “Pontifex maximus,” literally meaning, the greatest pontiff. Constantine would claim, “you are bishops within the Church and I am a bishop without the Church.

This State involvement in the affairs of the Church at this time, greatly enhanced the status of the Church throughout the Roman empire. A previously poor and often persecuted Church became materially rich and favoured. Constantine not only supported the Church financially, but engaged himself personally in magnificent building projects on the Church’s behalf. In such a setting, the bishop of the church in Rome gradually gained recognition as pastoring the church at the very heart and centre of the empire; thus, of much greater significance than even the mother church in Jerusalem; existing as it did in a mere province of the empire.

The claims to supremacy by the bishops of Rome were strengthened by a fraudulent document, purporting to have been given by the Emperor Constantine, to Silvester I, bishop of Rome in 335 A.D. This document, “The Donation of Constantine,” was for hundreds of years purported to be the product of Constantine; in which he conferred on Silvester and all succeeding bishops of Rome primacy over all other bishops throughout the Church. In addition, it claimed he had granted the Roman bishop temporal dominion over Rome, Italy, and the provinces, and states of the west. It even presented that Constantine had offered Silvester his imperial crown, which he declined to wear, while nevertheless accepting the temporal power it represented. It was not however, until the sixteenth century that this fraudulent document purporting to bestow so much power into the hands of the papacy was exposed for what it was. It had been written in 747A.D. long after the death of Constantine.

At the Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D. four Patriarchs were appointed over the cities of Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, and Constantinople, which had become the official residence of the Emperor. The Emperor Constantine had moved his residence, and thus Constantinople, named after him, became the “New Rome.” In the following century the Council of Chalcedon conferred equal status upon the church in Constantinople with that of Rome. However, these two soon became rivals, with old Rome considering Constantinople as “Junior Roma.” When eventually open warfare broke out between these four Patriarchs, the primates of Antioch and Alexander appealed to Rome for protection, agreeing to concessions which extended the power of the Roman bishop more than ever. It was but a matter of time until an arch-Patriarch arose, and as could have been foreseen, the seat of the prince of the patriarchs was Rome. By this time, a gradation of ranks was well established throughout the churches, with parish Bishops, accountable to Metropolitans, who administered the ecclesiastical affairs of whole provinces, superintending the bishops within it. Then a higher order of Exarchs or Patriarchs, exercised authority over the Metropolitans, calling diocesan Synods to deliberate and adjudicate on matters relating to all the churches within the wider diocese. Thus, the Church had developed a hierarchical system of ecclesiastical government corresponding to that of the civil authorities. It was only a matter of time therefore, until the bishop of the prestigious city of Rome, should be recognized in a manner becoming his status. Thus, it came to pass, that from a humble biblical presbyter bishop, shepherding the local flock, the bishop of Rome came to require and acquire “the pre-eminent dignity of arch-patriarch.”

It was not however, until 607 A.D. that Emperor Phocas, by an imperial edict, decreed that Boniface III should exercise the authority of headship over all the churches throughout Christendom. Boniface was now elevated from being the last of the bishops in Rome to the status of “Supreme Pontiff.” Although the Church of Rome will claim that Boniface III was the seventieth Pope since Peter, this is misleading to say the least. Prior to the edit of Phocas, there was rivalry between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople for the title of “Ecumenical Patriarch.” This continued until the dispute was officially ended by the imperial authority of Phocas: the bishop of Rome, the see of St. Peter, was to be recognized as the supreme bishop, the supreme “Papa.” From this historic moment his office would rapidly become recognized as that of “Pontifex maximus.”

When Nicholas I became bishop of Rome 858 A.D. he asserted his authority as the supreme and universal bishop. He was the bishop of bishops. He was the supreme papa—the Pope. For Nicholas, “the pope was God’s representative on earth with authority over the whole church, synods serving merely as organs for carrying out his decisions; while the spheres of church and state were distinct and any interference by princes in the former was to be condemned, the church had the right to watch over and influence the state, and to look to it for protection and support.” This claim to the supremacy of Rome continued to be recognized formally for centuries, but it was not until the Council of Florence in 1439 that the Church officially decreed Rome’s universal dominion. Among the decrees of this Council: the following, “Likewise we decree that the Holy Apostolic See and the Roman Pontiff hold a primacy over the whole world; and that the Roman Pontiff himself is the successor of blessed Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and is the true Vicar of Christ and Head of the whole Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him in the person of blessed Peter, the full power of feeding, ruling and governing the universal Church has been committed by our Lord Jesus Christ, even as it is contained in the transactions of ecumenical councils and the sacred canons.

All these actions and developments took place despite the lack of evidence that the apostle Peter was ever even in Rome. The whole legend of Peter’s Roman episcopate originated in a document rejected by the Roman Church as “a heretical forgery.” Nevertheless, based upon the claims and assertions of such a document—the apocryphal “Clementine Homilies,” the later Roman bishops claimed episcopal succession from Peter, and the supremacy of the See of Rome. Just how much fraud has been involved in establishing and securing the papacy we will probably never know.

In 2013 Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio became the first ever Jesuit to become Pope. Yet, very few appear to be aware or give consideration to the fact that the religious order, the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits, and the activities of its members throughout history, was considered unequivocal reason to introduce the ignominious adjective “Jesuitical,” into our language. The term “Jesuitical,” in our English language, as defined in the Oxford Dictionary for example, is used to describe a “dissembling person, an equivocator.” So much for the Papacy and its claims.