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Particulars of Christianity:
301 Roman Catholicism

Roman Catholicism (Part 1)

Roman Catholicism (Part 1)
Roman Catholicism (Part 2)
Roman Catholicism (Part 3)
Roman Catholicism (Part 4)
Roman Catholicism (Part 5)
Roman Catholicism (Part 6)
Roman Catholicism (Part 7)
Roman Catholicism (Part 8)
Roman Catholicism (Part 9)
Roman Catholicism (Part 10)
Roman Catholicism (Part 11)
Roman Catholicism (Part 12)
Addendum: In Their Own Words


The Roman Catholic Church boasts itself to be the true church of Jesus Christ and the sole possessor of authentic Christian teaching. It distinguishes itself from and discriminates against all non-Roman-Catholic forms of Christianity on these grounds.

"Roman Catholicism - Christian church characterized by its uniform, highly developed doctrinal and organizational structure that traces its history to the Apostles of Jesus Christ in the 1st century AD. Along with Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism, it is one of the three major branches of Christianity." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - From the time of the earliest heresies the church has thought of itself as the one and only worshiping community that traced itself back to the group established by Jesus Christ." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The claim of the Roman Catholic Church to be the one legitimate continuation of the community established by Jesus Christ is based on apostolic succession." - Britannica.com

Because the RCC (Roman Catholic Church) has been and is such a significant contributor to modern theology, both Catholic and Protestant, this claim deserves investigation by any Christian who genuinely seeks to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and His teaching.

In order to substantiate these claims the RCC must demonstrate that its essential characteristics, in doctrine, in structure, and in practice were evident in the first century Church, the era in which the Apostles lived and taught. The history of this period of the Church is largely restricted to the New Testament record and a few epistles, which date to this time. To be clear, it is not sufficient for the RCC to merely demonstrate the existence of Roman Catholic traits in the church of later antiquity (the 3rd and 4th centuries). It is not sufficient for the RCC to demonstrate that Roman Catholic scholars and clergy after the 3rd and 4th centuries claimed that the RCC is the true church of Jesus Christ and the sole possessor of authentic Christian teaching.

The prevalence of Roman Catholicism in the church of the 3rd and 4th centuries does nothing to substantiate the claim that the RCC is the authentic, original, and true church of Jesus Christ and the sole possessor of authentic Christian teaching. Likewise, the beliefs of 3rd and 4th century Roman Catholic scholars and clergy that the RCC was the authentic, original, and true church of Jesus Christ and the sole possessor of authentic Christian teaching does nothing prove that RCC is, in fact, such a thing. It only proves that Roman Catholic scholars believed that it was.

In reality, evidence of Roman Catholicism in the 3rd and 4th centuries only establishes that the RCC was a phenomenon or development of that period. It cannot attest to the presence of Roman Catholicism in the earliest Church or that Roman Catholicism was proclaimed by Jesus Christ and His Apostles.

So, the principle question regarding the claims of the RCC is whether or not Roman Catholicism is a product of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles contained in the New Testament record or is more accurately understood as a later phenomenon or development. More specifically, with regard to this second option, is Roman Catholicism a product of the 3rd and 4th century merging of Roman imperialism and Neoplatonic paganism with Christianity?

These questions can be answered by examining several fundamental characteristics of Roman Catholicism and determining whether they are derived from the teaching of Jesus Christ contained in the New Testament or of Roman imperialism and Neoplatonic paganism. As we examine the teachings of the RCC we will conclusively demonstrate that while it is extremely difficult, if not completely impossible, to derive Roman Catholicism from the New Testament record of the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles, there is more than ample evidence that Roman Catholicism is a syncretistic blend of Christianity, Roman imperialism, and Neoplatonic paganism.

Scripture and Tradition

As we begin our investigation it is first necessary to discuss the New Testament scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the RCC. Roman Catholicism recognizes two forms of authoritative Christian writing or Apostolic teaching: 1) Sacred Scripture and 2) Sacred Tradition.

"In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them 'their own position of teaching authority.'"35 Indeed, the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."36 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life, and worship perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she [the Church] herself is, all that she believes."37" - The Catholic Catechism, Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Roman Numeral I, verses 35-37

"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing and move towards the same goal."40 Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own "always, to the close of the age."41" - The Catholic Catechism, Part 1, Section 1, Chapter 2, Article 2, Roman Numeral II, verses 40 and 41

"Roman Catholicism - But against the Protestant slogan of sola Scriptura ("Scripture alone"), itself subject to misinterpretation, the Roman Catholic Church advanced the argument that the church existed before the New Testament. In fact, the church both produced and authenticated the New Testament as the word of God. For this belief, at least, tradition is the exclusive source; and this furnished a warrant for the Catholic affirmation of the body of truth that is transmitted to the church through the college of bishops and preserved by oral tradition (meaning that it was not written in the Scriptures). The Roman Church therefore affirmed its right to find out what it believed by consulting its own beliefs as well as the Scriptures. The Council of Trent affirmed that the deposit of faith was preserved in the Scriptures and in unwritten (not in the Bible) traditions and that the Catholic Church accepts these two with equal reverence. The council studiously avoided the statement that they meant these "two" as two sources of the deposit, but most Catholic theologians after the council understood the statement as meaning two sources. Protestants thought it meant the Roman Catholic Church had written a second Bible." - Britannica.com

For, Roman Catholics both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are written forms of Apostolic teaching, are inspired by the Holy Spirit, and are equally authoritative for understanding Christian belief and practice. With all of this in common why are these two authoritative sources yet distinguished from one another?

At least one reason for the continuing distinction between the two is their relative proximity to Jesus Christ and His Apostles. The New Testament was written by the Apostles of Jesus as well as other first century, first generation Christians.

Tradition, on the other hand, is the continued recording of ongoing Apostolic teaching by second, third, and later generation Christian scholars, clergy, and leadership as they expounded on the teachings of Jesus Christ. As such, Tradition starts small with only a few existing first century works. In the second century it gains momentum with a few more significant writings such as Irenaeus and Justin Martyr. By the third and fourth centuries the writing of Sacred Tradition was flourishing through the efforts of men like Origen and Augustine. Since then it has continued to be added to by popes, bishops, and many prominent theologians.

What is important to state as we begin our investigation of Roman Catholic claims is that this discussion will not, at least at first, be predicated upon a denial of Sacred Tradition. While we do reject the Roman Catholic view that Tradition contains Apostolic teaching, is inspired, and is authoritative, our refutation of the claims of the RCC will not be based upon this conclusion. Instead, what we will be doing is examining the record of Church teaching from the New Testament and the early 1st and 2nd century writings of "Sacred Tradition" to see if they reveal a Roman Catholic Church or are conflicting with Roman Catholicism.

If we find evidence of Roman Catholicism within the 1st and 2nd century Church writings we may conclude that the RCC is, in fact, the true church of Jesus Christ and the sole possessor of authentic Christian teaching. However, if sufficient evidence of Roman Catholicism cannot be found in these early 1st and 2nd century writings, but does not emerge until the 3rd or 4th centuries, then we will conclude that the RCC is merely a later phenomenon and seek to find those sources, which contributed to its development.

We will show four things over the course of this examination. First we will show that the writings of the 1st and 2nd century Church do not support the claims of the RCC, regardless of whether or not they are considered authoritative. Second, by extension, the claims and teachings of the RCC can only be found in "Sacred Tradition" as we approach the 3rd and 4th centuries A.D. Third, those writings of "Sacred Tradition," which do contain distinctly Roman Catholic characteristics or claims constitute a clear contradiction within Roman Catholicism by contradicting the Sacred Scripture, which the RCC itself upholds to be the inspired, authoritative, and inerrant Word of God. And fourth, Roman Catholicism is only accurately understood as a syncretistic blending of Christianity into Roman imperialism and Neoplatonic paganism.

(For more on the idea of ongoing Apostolic teaching and the development of Christian doctrine please see our article entitled "The Foundation of Our Theology" in either the Our Approach or In-Depth Studies sections of our website.)

A Disclaimer about the Protestant Reformation

As a disclaimer, it is not our intention to validate the claims of Protestantism and the Reformation. While this task may inadvertently be accomplished to some degree due to the nature of our study, we do not consider ourselves to be Reformers or Protestants. To be sure, we are grateful to Reformation scholars who did so much to pull the Church away from the deviant developments of Roman Catholicism and allow a return to authentic Christian teaching. There is no greater accomplishment of the Reformation than their affirmation of the sole authority of the Scriptures for forming sound Christian doctrine (in addition to the essential doctrine of sola fide, salvation by faith alone).

As a movement, however, the objections and objectives of the Reformation do miss the mark. In seeking simply to REFORM only some of the more egregious Roman Catholic tangents, Reformation leaders wholly adopted large doctrinal and philosophical elements of Roman Catholicism. In doing so they incorporated no small number of unsound theological traditions, beliefs, and practices, which continue to be proliferated in modern Christianity today, in both Roman Catholic and Protestant circles alike. Chief among these are 1) the notion that orthodoxy is developed through a gradual process of doctrinal crises rather than being intact and understood from the onset of Christianity, 2) the acceptability of Christianizing pagan religious ideologies and customs, and 3) the subjective spiritualization (allegorizing) of Christian teaching contained in God's Word.

Instead of a Reformation, what was needed then and is still needed today is a restoration. Instead of merely reforming some undesirable developments what we need is a restoration of original, authentic, and true Christian teaching, not just in part, but in whole. We need to not simply reform bad theological constructs into better ones, but completely abandon all beliefs and practices, which not being founded in the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles were developed by other men, however well-intentioned, in the 1,900 years plus since.

While the Protestant Reformation is the chief historical movement, which has provided for Christians in the west to break free of Roman Catholicism, we do not consider ourselves to be Protestants or Reformers. We appreciate the contributions of Reformation scholars, but our interest is not in validating or affirming16th century Reformation theology, but returning to the 1st century Christian teachings of Jesus Christ and His Apostles. It is this goal, which forms the basis for this examination of Roman Catholicism and its claims to possess that teaching.

(For more information on our critique of Protestant Theology please see the other articles on this website, specifically in the In-Depth Bible Studies, Our Approach, and Brief Word On sections.)

Apostolic Succession and Roman Papal Authority - the Superiority of Peter

Analysis of Scriptural Evidence

One of the chief defining characteristics of Roman Catholicism is its claim that the pope is the successor of the Apostle Peter, who was appointed by Jesus as the leader of the Apostles and of the Church. The RCC claims that this position bestows upon the pope doctrinal authority over the Church and interpretational authority over the Scriptures. This power ultimately rests in the pope alone, but is supported and to a lesser extent shared by the bishops of the RCC. In other words, through the pope, the RCC claims the sole authority to pronounce what the true teachings of Jesus Christ are.

The following series of quotes will affirm this decisively.

"Roman Catholicism - The multiplicity and variety of papal titles themselves indicate the complexity of the papal office. In the Annuario Pontificio, the official Vatican directory, the pope is described as bishop of Rome, vicar of Jesus Christ, successor of the prince of the Apostles, pontifex maximus ("supreme pontiff") of the universal church, patriarch of the West, primate of Italy, archbishop and metropolitan of the Roman province, sovereign of the state of Vatican City, and servant of the servants of God. In his more circumscribed capacities as bishop of Rome, metropolitan of the Roman province, primate of Italy, and patriarch of the West, the pope is the bearer of responsibilities and the wielder of powers that have their counterparts in the other episcopal, metropolitan, primatial, and patriarchal jurisdictions of the Roman Catholic Church. What differentiates his particular jurisdiction from these others and renders his office unique is the Roman Catholic teaching that the bishop of Rome is at the same time successor to St. Peter, prince of the Apostles. As the bearer of the Petrine office, he is raised to a position of lonely eminence as chief bishop or primate of the universal church." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - Basic to the claim of primacy is the Petrine theory, according to which Christ, during his lifetime, promised the primacy to Peter alone, and, after his Resurrection, actually conferred that role upon him. Thus John 1:42 and, especially, Matthew 16:18 f.: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Also John 21:15 f.: "Feed my lambs . . . Tend my sheep." Vatican I, in defining the Petrine primacy, cited these three texts, interpreting them to signify that Christ himself directly established St. Peter as prince of the Apostles and visible head of the Church Militant, bestowing on him a primacy not merely of honour but of true jurisdiction. In defining also that the Petrine primacy was, by Christ's establishment, to pass in perpetuity to his successors and that the bishops of Rome were these successors, Vatican I cited no further scriptural texts. In defining further, however, that the Roman pontiffs, as successors in the Petrine primacy, possess the authority to issue infallible pronouncements in matters of faith or morals, the council cited both Matthew 16:18 f. and Christ's promise to Peter at the Last Supper: "But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren" (Luke 22:32)." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The Roman Catholic Church claims for itself a teaching authority that is unparalleled in the Christian community…To teach with authority means that the teacher is able to impose his doctrine upon the listener under a religious and moral obligation. This moral obligation does not flow from the nature of teaching, which of itself imposes no obligation upon the learner; the learner is morally obliged only to assent to manifest truth. Instead it flows from the understanding that the Roman Church derives its teaching authority from the commission given by Jesus to the Apostles as contained in the New Testament ("He who hears you hears me"). But whereas the response of the hearers of the Apostles was faith, the response of the Roman Catholic is expected to go beyond faith. The Apostles were presumed to speak to those who did not yet believe, whereas the Roman Catholic Church imposes its teaching authority only upon its members. The definition of the teaching authority must show that these modifications do not exceed the limits of legitimate doctrinal development." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The teaching authority is not vested in the whole church but in certain well-defined organs. These organs are the hierarchy-the pope and the bishops. The Roman Catholic Church traditionally has divided the church into "the teaching church" and "the listening church." Clergy below the hierarchical level are included in "the listening church," even though they are the assistants of the bishops in the teaching office. The hierarchy alone teaches what the Roman Catholic Church calls "authentic" doctrine." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The Roman pontiff is vested with the entire teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church; this was solemnly declared in the first Vatican Council. This means that he is the only spokesman for the entire Roman Church; the papacy carries in itself the power to act as supreme pastor. It is expected that he will assure himself that he expresses the existing consensus of the church, but in fact the documents of the first Vatican Council are open to the understanding that the pope may form the consensus by his utterance." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - What is taught by all the bishops is authentic doctrine; it is understood that they teach in communion with the Roman pontiff, and a conflict of doctrine on this level is simply not regarded as a possibility. This consensus of the bishops is known as "the ordinary teaching." "The extraordinary teaching" signifies the solemn declaration of an ecumenical council, which is the assembly of the bishops, or the most solemn type of papal declaration, known as a definition of doctrine ex cathedra ("from the throne"), a term that signifies that the declaration exhibits the marks of the teaching of the supreme pastor addressed to the universal church." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The first Vatican Council declared that the pope, when he teaches solemnly and in the area of faith and morals as the supreme universal pastor, teaches infallibly with that infallibility that the church has. The infallibility of the church has never been defined, and its extent is understood by theologians in the sense of pontifical infallibility as limited to faith and morals." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - The object of authentic teaching is defined as "faith and morals." Faith means revealed truth. Morals theoretically means revealed moral principles, but it has long been understood as moral judgment in any area of human conduct." - Britannica.com

"Roman Catholicism - Dogma is the name given to a proposition that is proclaimed with all possible solemnity either by the Roman pontiff or by an ecumenical council. A dogma is a revealed truth that the Roman Catholic Church solemnly declares to be true and to be revealed; it is most properly the object of faith." - Britannica.com

"Pope - Doctrinally, in Catholic churches, the pope is regarded as the successor of St. Peter, who was head of the Apostles. The pope, as bishop of Rome, thus is seen to have full and supreme power of jurisdiction over the universal church in matters of faith and morals, as well as in church discipline and government." - Britannica.com

"Pope - The teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on the role of bishops counterbalanced the emphasis on papal prerogatives while maintaining the view that the authority of the bishops as a body cannot be separated from that of the pope as its head." - Britannica.com

"Peter the Apostle, Saint - died c. AD 64, Rome original name Simeon, or Simon disciple of Jesus Christ, recognized in the early Christian church as the leader of the disciples and by the Roman Catholic church as the first of its unbroken succession of popes." - Britannica.com

"Papacy - office of the pope, head of the Roman Catholic Church. He is pope by reason of being bishop of Rome and thus, according to Roman Catholic belief, successor in the see of Rome (the Holy See) to its first bishop, St. Peter. The pope therefore claims to be the shepherd of all Christians and representative (vicar or vicegerent) of Christ. The claim of Petrine supremacy and (by virtue of Peter's connection to Rome) Roman supremacy, is based on Matthew 16:18-19. Papal supremacy is not acknowledged outside the Roman Catholic Church. That church further holds that God will not permit the pope to make an error in a solemn official declaration concerning a matter of faith or morality (see infallibility)." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Infallibility - Roman Catholics hold that the infallibility of the church is vested in the pope, when he speaks ex cathedra (i.e., from the chair of Peter, as the visible head of the church) on matters of faith and morals. Definitive pronouncements resulting from an ecumenical council, when ratified by the pope, are also held to be infallible. The pope speaks ex cathedra only rarely and after long deliberation. The dogma of papal infallibility was enunciated by the First Vatican Council (1870)." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"The Church - It has been seen that Christ not only established the episcopate in the persons of the Twelve but, further, created in St. Peter the office of supreme pastor of the Church. Early Christian history tells us that before his death, he fixed his residence at Rome, and ruled the Church there as its bishop." - Catholic Encyclopedia

"The Pope - The title pope, once used with far greater latitude (see below, section V), is at present employed solely to denote the Bishop of Rome, who, in virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, is the chief pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon earth." - Catholic Encyclopedia

"The Pope - We have shown in the last section that Christ conferred upon St. Peter the office of chief pastor, and that the permanence of that office is essential to the very being of the Church. It must now be established that it belongs of right to the Roman See. The proof will fall into two parts: (a) that St. Peter was Bishop of Rome, and (b) that those who succeed him in that see succeed him also in the supreme headship." - Catholic Encyclopedia

"The Pope - History bears complete testimony that from the very earliest times the Roman See has ever claimed the supreme headship, and that that headship has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church." - Catholic Encyclopedia

"The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ." 47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome." - The Catholic Catechism, Part 1, Section1, Article 2, Roman Numeral III, Verses 47 and 48

Britannica.com, the Columbia Encyclopedia, the Catholic Encyclopedia, and the Catholic Catechism all repeatedly inform us in clear terms that Roman Catholicism claims the following facts:

1. Jesus appointed the Apostle Peter to a position of sovereignty over the other Apostles and over the Church.
2. Jesus conferred upon Peter the authority to determine what Church doctrine is.
3. Peter was bishop of Rome.
4. Peter recognized that he was to pass this unique office and authority on to successive bishops of Rome, who would also hold this same authority over the Church and over Church doctrine, and so he did.

The Catholic Encyclopedia expresses the crucial importance of this doctrine in the following quote.

"The Pope - The position of St. Peter after the Ascension, as shown in the Acts of the Apostles, realizes to the full the great commission bestowed upon him. He is from the first the chief of the Apostolic band -- not primus inter pares, but the undisputed head of the Church (see CHURCH, THE, III). If then Christ, as we have seen, established His Church as a society subordinated to a single supreme head, it follows from the very nature of the case that this office is perpetual, and cannot have been a mere transitory feature of ecclesiastical life. For the Church must endure to the end the very same organization which Christ established. But in an organized society it is precisely the constitution which is the essential feature. A change in constitution transforms it into a society of a different kind. If then the Church should adopt a constitution other than Christ gave it, it would no longer be His handiwork. It would no longer be the Divine kingdom established by Him. As a society it would have passed through essential modifications, and thereby would have become a human, not a Divine institution. None who believe that Christ came on earth to found a Church, an organized society destined to endure for ever, can admit the possibility of a change in the organization given to it by its Founder. The same conclusion also follows from a consideration of the end which, by Christ's declaration, the supremacy of Peter was intended to effect. He was to give the Church strength to resist her foes, so that the gates of hell should not prevail against her. The contest with the powers of evil does not belong to the Apostolic age alone. It is a permanent feature of the Church's life. Hence, throughout the centuries the office of Peter must be realized in the Church, in order that she may prevail in her age-long struggle. Thus an analysis of Christ's words shows us that the perpetuity of the office of supreme head is to be reckoned among the truths revealed in Scripture. His promise to Peter conveyed not merely a personal prerogative, but established a permanent office in the Church. And in this sense, as will appear in the next section, His words were understood by Latin and Greek Fathers alike." - Catholic Encyclopedia

The Catholic Encyclopedia speaks correctly in identifying the critical significance of this subject for the Church. Several statements deserve to be highlighted and kept in mind as we continue our study.

For, the record the Catholic Encyclopedia asserts that:

1. "The Church must endure to the end the very same organization which Christ established."
2. "If then the Church should adopt a constitution other than Christ gave it, it would no longer be His handiwork. It would no longer be the Divine kingdom established by Him. As a society it would have passed through essential modifications, and thereby would have become a human, not a Divine institution."
3. "None who believe that Christ came on earth to found a Church, an organized society destined to endure for ever, can admit the possibility of a change in the organization given to it by its Founder."

From these quotes we understand that according to the Catholic Encyclopedia any organization which deviates, changes from, or adopts an organization of the Church different from that which was originally intended by Jesus Christ is illegitimate. These are pretty strong terms. We do not however object to the Catholic Encyclopedia in this matter, but instead voice our wholehearted agreement. If then, our study reveals that the Roman Catholic church has adopted an organization for the Church which is different from that taught by Jesus Christ and His Apostles and exhibited in the earliest Church, then according the Catholic Encyclopedia, Roman Catholicism is an illegitimate body, which is not the handiwork of Christ, but is merely a human, rather than divinely mandated institution.

So, if Roman Catholicism is the true Church of Jesus Christ and possesses the true teachings of Jesus Christ then we should be able to verify these claims in the New Testament record and in the writings of early the Church. We will start first with the scripture and then proceed to investigate other early Church writings.

(Continued in next section.)