The Fall of Imperial Rome
During the glory of Rome, we have the notion of Pax Romana, describing the longest period of enforced peace in the history of the western world. (There was a time when people hoped for a Pax Americana, but nobody talks about that anymore.) Nevertheless, the Imperial Roman Empire came down in the fifth century, as barbarians with superior military strength began crossing the borders. As they began to eat away (and ultimately occupying) territory, the ultimate doom of the empire was inevitable.
We should stop and look at the sovereignty of God at play. God raised up Pharaoh for the purposes of bringing him down. Likewise he raised up Rome, it would seem, for the purpose of providing the infrastructure and stability needed for the rapid growth of the church. Then He brought Rome down—and ironically the "feeble" and army-less church would not only survive Rome's collapse but would end up conquering the conquerors, as many of the barbarians converted to Christianity.
Consider, for example, the case of Alaric, a leader of the Visigoths, pushed by the Huns and later followed by Attila the Hun. Alaric invaded Rome (for the second time) more-or-less unopposed in 410, an event that shocked the western world and is generally regarded as the end of the Roman Empire. It was a bishop with no military power that persuaded Alaric to leave. Likewise Attila the Hun, known as the “Scourge of God”, stood (in 452) on the road to Rome, with no opposition before him, when Pope Leo the Great left Rome, marched out to meet Attila and, in words that sadly have not been preserved, persuaded him to spare the ancient capital.
In 476 the barbarian Odoacer deposed the last (and by now impotent) western emperor and became, in effect, emperor himself. This would be the final nail in the coffin of Imperial Rome.
Later we find the barbarian King Theodoric (c. 454 – 526) become a Christian—so much so that he was the recipient of a false accusation of being an Arian heretic.
So Imperial Rome fell, and it is said of Imperial Rome that she tyrannized the bodies of been though the sword she wielded.
She was replaced by something even more powerful, an empire with not one but two swords: an ecclesiastical sword and a political sword. The rulers of this empire tyrannized the bodies and the souls of men. In that sense they were twice the tyrant of many of the Roman emperors—most of which, in the later empire, were tolerant in religious matters.
The Rise of Ecclesiastical-Political Rome
As we will see, the tyranny on the souls of men will be made manifest in the doctrine identified by the Latin phrase: Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus. It translates as "Outside the Church, there is no salvation." Now it should be pointed out that the statement, as it stands, is correct. It is a question of whose church are we talking about? There is indeed no salvation outside of Christ's church. However, this was in reality a pernicious code phrase meaning there is no salvation outside the Roman Catholic Church. Why is such a statement tyranny? For the simple reason that men, especially the pope, had (and still has) the power of membership in the Roman Catholic Church. If your membership was revoked, your salvation was lost. The pope literally held salvation in his hands.
So the Catholic Church (from this point on, "Catholic Church" always means the Roman Catholic Church) had an ecclesiastical sword of awesome power—the very power of salvation. It also had a political sword of great power, but this sword it wielded indirectly. Officially, the state held that sword. But the state would be under the control of the Catholic Church. It was the state who executed, but it was the Catholic Church that pronounced the death sentence. It is this slight indirection that allows the Catholic Church to maintain the fiction that she never executed anyone, even during the Inquisition. (The Inquisition was a tribunal, presided over by Dominican friars, who were charged with rooting out heresy. Those suspected of heresy were brought before the tribunal and given a chance to recant. If they didn’t, they were handed over to civil "puppet" authorities, because "the Church never sheds blood.")
We have discussed the general rise of the authority of the Bishop of Rome, whom henceforth we will call the pope. As we discussed in a previous lesson, non-Catholics generally regard Leo the Great as the first pope, at least in the modern sense of the word. For he was the first to use a misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18 as biblical support for his divine authority.
"I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matt. 16:18)
In a sense, three errors were committed that lead to the rise of the papacy.
- A mistaken belief in the supremacy of Peter
- The misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18
- The invention of apostolic succession
Paul, not Peter, was the greatest Apostle
At first this must sound a little silly--arguing about who is greater than whom. But what is really silly, but understandable in today’s society, is to dogmatically proclaim that all apostles made contributions of identical value. They did not, and it should be obvious that such is the case.
Peter was a great and godly man, and a great leader, and was loved dearly by Jesus. But it was Paul, not Peter, who was the New Testament Moses. Paul wrote most of the New Testament. Paul explained the life and ministry of Jesus more comprehensively than any other inspired writer. Paul founded more churches than any other apostle, engaged in more missionary work than any other apostle, and who, in the book of Romans, provided us with the most thorough (inspired) doctrine of salvation. It was Paul who made two substantive visits to Rome. Peter probably made one short visit to Rome and probably, like Paul, was martyred there. What Peter did not do, and what some Catholics still believe, is spend twenty-five years in Rome as bishop.
Misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18
The misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18 can be stated this way: Catholics see "only Peter" in the passage. But it was not Peter the man that would be the rock upon which the church would be built, but Peter in faith confessing in the Lordship of Christ two verses earlier:
Simon Peter answered, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (Matt. 16:16)
Peter, here, is the archetype Christian: one who believes and confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, and Our Lord and Savior. Upon this "model" as it were, the church will be built. Catholicism sees only the man Peter, not the confessor Peter, and thereby elevates Peter well beyond Christ's intent. In effect, the position of the Catholic Church is that, at this moment in time, Christ has delegated to the Apostle Peter the power over salvation.
Amazingly, just a few verses later, just after Catholics say Jesus bestowed upon Peter the awesome power of salvation, the first pope makes a serious error:
21From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, "Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you." 23But he turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." (Matt. 16:21-23)
The possibility that shortly after Peter was divinely appointed to a papal throne he was then called "Satan" by Jesus makes the mind reel.
(Note: some Protestants believe that Jesus isn’t even referring to Peter when he uses the word rock, which is feminine. That is probably not true. Jesus was probably referring to Peter throughout Matt. 16:18, but, as stated, not Peter the man but Peter the archetype Christian because of his previous, powerful confession.)
Invention of Apostolic Succession
The mistakes of exaggerating the importance of Peter and in misinterpreting Matt. 16:18 would be bad enough, but what the institution of the papacy requires is that Peter, who they believe held, through the keys of the kingdom, the power of salvation, passed along that god-like authority to subsequent Roman bishops. Even if you agree that Jesus abrogated his authority to Peter, nowhere in scripture is a successor to Peter mentioned, or even alluded to, a fact acknowledged by the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church must find her support for apostolic succession not in scripture, but tradition, a subject we will talk about later.
The Investiture Struggle
One manifestation of the rise of papal power can be seen in what is know as the investiture struggle. This can be stated simply: Should the pope crown the king, or should the king crown the pope? (And who should ordain bishops?) This was a battle concerning the supremacy of church or state.
That the church would even presume that she should crown the king is a sign of how things had gone wrong. It is a sign that the church looked favorably upon the idea of a theocracy—and this is a serious error. (Today some conservative Christians support the notion of a theocracy—it remains a serious error.)
In Old Testament times, of course, Israel was a theocracy. But in the New Testament, we see two things that tell us that the time of theocracy is over.
The first is that the New Testament we are told to obey (secular) rulers:
1Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. 2Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. (Rom 13:1-2)
The second and more important reason is that Christ tells us that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36.) We are not to fight with secular authorities; Christ even rebukes Peter when Peter takes that approach at the time of his arrest.
How did Christ’s kingdom come to be, under the medieval Catholic Church, "of this world?" Well, for the most part people asked for it. People viewed the church as a preferred ruler, even on matters of state, and the state accepted the invitation.
This was unique to the west. In the east, the czars won the investiture struggle, and they remained in authority over the eastern church. And in Islam, the two parts are united in the Sultanate.
Three Important Popes
At this point, we examine three medieval popes who contributed substantively to the rise the papacy.
Gregory VII (Hildebrand) 1075-1089
The investiture struggle reached its climax under Pope Gregory VII and his battle with (German) King Henry IV (who had succeeded to the throne at the age of six). Over the investiture controversy, Henry IV deposed the pope, the pope in return excommunicated the emperor.
What happened next was astounding. Not only did Gregory excommunicate Henry, he freed the people from any obligation to submit to Henry’s civil authority. In effect, he established as a rule of law that the king had to be a Christian in good standing, and since Henry, having been excommunicated, was no longer a Christian, he could no longer rule. In response, Henry adopted a brilliant strategy. In 1077 Henry, having been excommunicated, stood barefoot in the snow, outside the papal palace, begging for forgiveness. Gregory was between a rock and a hard place. He was obligated by church law to forgive and restore any person with a sincere outward appearance of repentance, and not many men had ever looked more sincere than Henry. But if he forgave Henry, he was certain that Henry would use his restored power against him.
That’s exactly what happened. The pope forgave Henry and restored him to the church and his throne. Henry returned the favor by exiling Gregory. Nevertheless, and important and non-biblical precedent had been established: according to the Catholic Church and contrary to scripture, people were not subject to the authority of their rulers unless the church sanctioned that authority.
Innocent III 1198-1261
Under Innocent III, Papal authority reached its highest level. And under Innocent we see the seeds for the later Protestant Reformation being sown, for under Innocent the way to salvation changed from the biblical gospel: Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31), to a gospel that is unrecognizable.
Innocent III presided during the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and may scholars agree that this is where papal authority reached its apogee, while at the same time (and not coincidentally) the Catholic Church sank to her lowest level, completely instituting her own way to salvation.
Innocent III commanded Crusades, presided over the introduction of the seven sacraments and the sacramental system, including making confession to a priest necessary, and instituted the penitential system.
Two of the sacraments are not relevant for this discussion. These are "holy orders", i.e., related to the ordination of priests, etc., and marriage.
The other five are:
- Infant Baptism
- Confirmation (at age 12)
- The Eucharist (Lord’s supper of transubstantiated elements)
- Extreme Unction (Last Rites)
What is so wrong with the sacramental system? The problem can be stated this way: if you did what the church instructed, and followed the sacramental system from womb to tomb, it essentially guaranteed salvation. You would likely spend time in purgatory, but you were baptized as an infant, confirmed at 12, partook of the Lord’s supper, confessed your sins to a priest, performed acts of penance, received Extreme Unction, and were buried on holy ground, you were on your way to heaven.
This represented such a grave distortion of the gospel that it is basically unrecognizable as related in anyway whatsoever to the scripture. What the Fourth Lateran Council under Innocent III tells you to do in order to be saved bears no resemblance to what Paul tells the Philippian Jailer.
Boniface VIII 1294-1303
Under Boniface VIII we find the most dramatic and blatant assertion of papal power. In 1302, Boniface issued the Papal Bull know as Unam Sanctum, which declared that submission to the pope was required for salvation.
Unam Sanctum begins this way:
Urged by faith, we are obliged to believe and to maintain that the Church is one, holy, catholic, and also apostolic. We believe in her firmly and we confess with simplicity that outside of her there is neither salvation nor the remission of sins
And ends with these amazing words:
Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
It should be noted, that, to the extent possible, the Roman Catholic Church views Boniface as something of an embarrassment.
Although bold in words, Boniface was weak in power, and was effectively deposed by King Philip. Because of his arrogant pronouncements yet ignominious end, it is said of Boniface: "he crept in like a fox, reigned like a lion, and died like a dog."
The Councils of the Church
There are many councils of the church. It is helpful, I think, to have a summary that tells us which ones, as Protestants, we accept.
325, I Nicea, Arius is a heretic—Son of one sunstance with Father—Nicene creed
381, I Constantinople, Reiteration of Nicea—divinity of Holy Spirit
431, Ephesus, Condemnation of Nestorius (Jesus is two distinct persons)—Mary “mother of God”
451, Chalcedon, Condemnation of of Eutyches
553, II Constantinople, Condemnation of 'Three Chapters'
680-681, III Constantinople, Condemnation of monothelism (Jesus had two wills)—condemnation of Pope Honorius
787, II Nicea, Images/Icons worthy of veneration (but not worship)
869-870, IV Constantinople, Ended schism of Photius
1123, I Lateran, Confirmed Concordat of Worms
1139, II Lateran, Compulsory clerical celibacy
1179, III Lateran, Determined method of papal election
1215, IV Lateran, Transubstantiation—confession and communion at least yearly
1245, I Lyons, Declared Emperor Frederick II deposed
1274, II Lyons, New regulations for papal elections (essentially the modern rules)
1311-1312, Vienne, Suppression of the Templars
1414-1418, Constance, End of great schism
1431-1445, Basel/Ferra Florence, Nominal reunion with Constantinople
1512-1517, V Lateran, Condemned schismatic council of Pisa
1545-1563, Trent, Condemned Protestant reformation—sacred tradition—denounced justification by faith alone and Sola Scriptura
1869-1870, I Vatican, Papal Infallibility
1962-1965, II Vatican, Liturgical renewal (native language) – social concerns – protestants as “separated brethren”
Well, we can agree with the first four, and probably the next two, but the instituting of image veneration in the seventh council (II Nicea) in some sense marks the point where the Catholic Church really began to diverge.