Were the Early Christians Roman Catholics? (part 1) Part 2: read here Mary Ann Collins (A Former Catholic Nun) www.CatholicConcerns.com The Roman Catholic Church claims that the early Christians were all Roman Catholics, and that (aside from the Orthodox Church) all Christians were Roman Catholics until the Protestant Reformation. It claims that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope, ruling from Rome. It also claims that it gave us the Bible. But do these claims stand up to the test of history? Or are they false credentials? There is historical evidence that the Roman Catholic Church began with Emperor Constantine. Many Protestants believe that throughout Church history, there have been many true Christians who were not Catholics, and these Christians were often killed by the Catholic Church. They also believe that Peter was just one of the apostles, and that the Catholic Church only copied and preserved the Bible, which God had already given to us. EMPEROR CONSTANTINE On October 28, 312 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine met with Bishop Miltiades. (Catholics would later refer to him as Pope Miltiades. But at the time he was known as the Bishop of Rome.) Miltiades was assisted by Silvester, a Roman who spoke educated Latin, and acted as interpreter. The previous day, Constantine had seen a sign in the heavens: a cross in front of the sun. He heard a voice say, "In this sign you will conquer." He painted crosses on the shields of his soldiers. He won an important battle, and was convinced that it was because of the power of the sign that he had seen. He asked for two of the nails that were used to crucify Jesus. One nail was made into a bit for his horse. Another nail was made a part of his crown, signifying that Constantine ruled the Roman Empire in the name of Jesus. He allowed Miltiades to keep the third nail. [Note 1] The fact that Constantine saw the cross and the sun together may explain why he worshiped the Roman sun god while at the same time professing to be a Christian. After his "conversion," Constantine built a triumphal arch featuring the Roman sun god (the "unconquered sun"). His coins featured the sun. Constantine made a statue of the sun god, with his own face on it, for his new city of Constantinople. He made Sunday (the day of the sun god) into a day of rest when work was forbidden. [Note 2] Constantine declared that a mosaic of the Roman sun god (riding in a chariot) was a representation of Jesus. During Constantine's reign, many Christians incorporated worship of the Roman sun god into their religion. They prayed kneeling towards the east (where the sun rises). They said that Jesus Christ drives his chariot across the sky (like the Roman sun god). They had their worship services on Sunday, which honored the Roman sun god. (Days of the week were named to honor pagan gods. For example, Saturday is "Saturn's day," named for the Roman god Saturn.) They celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25, the day when sun worshipers celebrated the birthday of the sun following the winter solstice. [Note 3] Historians disagree as to whether or not Constantine actually became a Christian. His character certainly did not reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ. Constantine was vain, violent, and superstitious. His combination of worshiping the Christian God and the old Roman sun god may have been an attempt to cover all the bases. (A similar spirit can be seen in Americans who financially support both opposing candidates during an election. No matter who wins, they expect to have the favor of the person in power.) Constantine had little if any respect for human life. He was known for wholesale slaughter during his military campaigns. He forced prisoners of war to fight for their lives against wild beasts. He had several family members (including his second wife) executed for doubtful reasons. Constantine waited until he was dying before he asked to be baptized. Historians disagree as to whether or not he actually was baptized. [Note 4] Constantine wanted to have a state Church, with Christian clergy acting as civil servants. He called himself a Bishop. He said that he was the interpreter of the Word of God, and the voice which declares what is true and godly. According to historian Paul Johnson, Constantine saw himself as being an important agent of salvation, on a par with the apostles. Bishop Eusebius (Constantine's eulogist) relates that Constantine built the Church of the Apostles with the intention of having his body be kept there along with the bodies of the apostles. Constantine's coffin was to be in the center (the place of honor), with six apostles on each side of him. He expected that devotions honoring the apostles would be performed in the church, and he expected to share the title and honor of the apostles. [Note 5] Constantine told Bishop Miltiades that he wanted to build two Christian basilicas, one dedicated to the Apostle Peter and one dedicated to the Apostle Paul. He offered a large, magnificent palace for the use of Miltiades and his successors. Miltiades refused. He could not accept the idea of having Christianity be promoted by the Roman Empire. [Note 6] Constantine rode off to war. By the time that he returned in 314 A.D., Miltiades had died. Bishop Silvester was Miltiades' successor. Silvester was eager to have the Church be spread using Roman roads, Roman wealth, Roman law, Roman power, and Roman military might. Constantine officially approved of Silvester as the successor of Miltiades. Then he had a coronation ceremony for Silvester and crowned him like a worldly prince. No bishop had ever been crowned before. [Note 7] Constantine's actions give the impression that he believed that he had authority over the Church. Before Constantine's "conversion," Christians were persecuted. Now, instead of facing persecution, Bishop Silvester lived in the lap of luxury. He had a beautiful palace, with the finest furniture and art. He wore silk brocade robes. He had servants to wait on him. Near his palace was a basilica which was to serve as his cathedral. This luxurious building had seven altars made of gold, a canopy of solid silver above the main altar, and 50 chandeliers. The imperial mail system and transportation system were placed at Silvester's disposal. It was now possible to have worldwide church councils. [Note 8] Read the Book of Acts and the Epistles and compare the Church shown there to the Church of Bishop Silvester. Here is how the Apostle Paul described the kinds of things that he had to endure, as a leader in the early Church. After Constantine's "conversion," the Church was radically changed. Suddenly, being Christian resulted in power, prestige, and promotion (whereas previously it had resulted in persecution). Suddenly, by the Emperor's decree, Christianity became "politically correct". So ambitious people joined the Church for worldly reasons. The Bishop of Rome was supported by the military might, political power, and wealth of the Roman Emperor. Worldwide church councils were convened. This was the birth of the Roman Catholic Church. It was created in the year 314 A.D. by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Silvester. A TALE OF TWO BISHOPS The degree of change which Constantine caused in the Church can be illustrated by looking at the lives of two Bishops of Rome. So let's go back in history for about 100 years before Christianity became "politically correct," to look at the life of Bishop Pontian. Then we will compare Pontian's life with the life of Bishop Silvester, who lived during the time of Emperor Constantine. (The following information about Bishops Pontian and Silvester comes from Malachi Martin, "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church," pages 19-38.) Pontian became the Bishop of Rome in the year 230 A.D. He was made bishop suddenly and unexpectedly when his predecessor was arrested and killed by Roman authorities. On September 27, 235 A.D., Emperor Maximinus decreed that all Christian leaders were to be arrested. Christian buildings were burned, Christian cemeteries were closed, and the personal wealth of Christians was confiscated. Bishop Pontian was arrested the same day. He was put in the Mamertine Prison, where he was tortured for ten days. Then he was sent to work in the lead mines of Sardinia. The prisoners worked in the mines for 20 hours a day, with four one-hour breaks for sleep. They had one meal of bread and water per day. Most prisoners died within six to fourteen months from exhaustion, malnutrition, disease, beatings, infection, or violence. Pontian only lasted four months. In January, 236 A.D., Pontian was killed and his body was thrown into the cesspool. What happened to Pontian was not unusual. Many Christians were sent to the Sardinian lead mines, or persecuted in other ways. If a man accepted the position of being a Christian leader, he knew that his life from that time on was likely to be short and painful. There were 14 Bishops of Rome in the 79 years between the arrest of Pontian and the coronation of Silvester. In 314 A.D., Emperor Constantine crowned Silvester as Bishop of Rome. Silvester lived in luxury, with servants waiting on him. Constantine confessed his sins to Silvester and asked for his advice. Silvester presided over worldwide Church councils. He had a splendid palace and a sumptuous cathedral. He had power, prestige, wealth, pomp, and the favor of the Emperor. Churchmen wore purple robes, reflecting the purple of Constantine's court. That was an external change. The most important change was an internal one. The Church took on the mentality of Rome. Under Silvester, the internal structure of the Church took on the form and practice and pomp of Rome. Silvester died in December, 336 A.D. He died peacefully, in a clean, comfortable bed, in the Roman Lateran Palace. He died surrounded by well dressed bishops and priests, and attended by Roman guards. His body was dressed in ceremonial robes, put in an elegant casket, and carried through the streets of Rome in a solemn procession. He was buried with honor and ceremony, attended by the cream of Roman society and by the Roman people. It is understandable that many Christians would have preferred an officially approved status for the Church. But what was the result? Before Constantine, the church was a band of heroic men and women who were so committed to serve the Lord Jesus Christ that they would endure any hardship. After 314 A.D., the Church became infiltrated by opportunists who were seeking power and political advancement. Church leaders were no longer in danger of persecution. Rather, they enjoyed all the trappings of power and luxury. Historian Paul Johnson asks, "Did the empire surrender to Christianity, or did Christianity prostitute itself to the empire?" [Note 9] The temptation for an ungodly alliance with Rome was very great. But at what cost? STATE RELIGION In 380 A.D., Emperor Theodosius published an edict requiring that all Roman subjects profess the faith of the Bishop of Rome. Those who refused were considered to be "heretics". Jews, pagans, and "heretics" were subject to harsh punishments. In 390 A.D., Bishop Ambrose excommunicated Emperor Theodosius and required him to do penance for eight months in order to be restored to the Church. Theodosius complied. [Note 10] It is amazing how much power the Roman Catholic Church gained in less than a century. Constantine had promoted the Church by giving it special benefits. But Theodosius forced people to become Catholics by imposing harsh punishments on anybody who disagreed with the Bishop of Rome. Constantine had asked for advice from Bishop Silvester. But Theodosius obeyed orders given by Bishop Ambrose. Roman Catholicism was now the state religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church, which was born under Emperor Constantine, had now become so powerful that a bishop could give orders to the Roman Emperor. FROM MARTYRS TO "HERETIC" HUNTERS Eighteen years after Bishop Silvester died, Augustine was born. He became a bishop and a "doctor of the Church". He lived from 354 to 430 A.D. Augustine had a vision of an ideal society, with the Roman Catholic Church at its center, governing all aspects of human life. His ideal society required conformity in belief and practice. Augustine taught that it was right and necessary for the Catholic Church to make this happen, even if it meant coercing people to comply. This laid the theological foundation for persecuting "heretics" and for the Inquisition. [Note 11] The Roman Catholic Church went through an amazing transformation. Instead of being martyrs, Catholics became "heretic" hunters. They killed people who disagreed with them. For over a thousand years, the Roman Catholic Church hunted down "heretics" and killed them. Some of these "heretics" were people with strange beliefs. However, many of them were Bible-believing Christians. One well known group of Christian "heretics" were the Waldensians. They were persecuted from 1211 until the time of the Protestant Reformation. There are some Waldensian churches today. (See Appendix A.) Jesus predicted that true Christians would be persecuted and killed. He told His disciples, For the Roman Catholic Church, "heresy" means to "obstinately" doubt or deny any official Catholic doctrine. [Note 12] Doctrines which have often been disputed include the authority of the Pope, purgatory, indulgences, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and transubstantiation (the doctrine that the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ are fully present in every fragment of consecrated bread). Some Catholic doctrines seem to conflict with the plain meaning of Scripture. As a result, people who read the Bible for themselves are likely to doubt or dispute those doctrines. One way of solving that problem is to prevent laymen from reading the Bible. The Catholic Church took that approach for hundreds of years. Starting about 1080, there were many incidents where scholars wanted to translate the Bible into the language of the common people, but it was forbidden by the Pope, Church councils, or individual bishops. [Note 13] William Tyndale was burned as a "heretic" because he translated the Bible into English. [Note 14] People were burned as "heretics" for owning or reading his translation. [Note 15] For centuries, Christians were forbidden to possess the Scriptures in any language, including Latin. Reading the Bible was considered to be proof that someone was a heretic. Men and women were burned at the stake for reading the Bible in Latin. [Note 16] With the Protestant Reformation, the Bible was translated into English, German, and other languages. With the invention of the printing press, Bibles became so plentiful that they could no longer be suppressed. That is why people like us, who are not Latin scholars, are able to read the Bible today. Acts 5:17-40 tells how the high priest and the Jewish leaders imprisoned the apostles and wanted to kill them because they were telling people about Jesus. Gamaliel, a respected rabbi, urged them not to persecute the Christians. He said, Jim Jones demonstrated that Gamaliel was right. He and his followers self destructed. The men who translated the Bible into the language of the common people also demonstrated that Gamaliel was right. The Catholic Church was unable to suppress the translation of the Bible. How does the persecution of "heretics" compare with the picture of Jesus that we see in the Gospels? Did Jesus try to force people to conform to His teachings? With amazing patience, Jesus kept on teaching the crowds of people, healing the sick and demonstrating the love and the power of God. When His disciples didn't understand His teachings, He explained them. (Luke 8:5-15) When the rich young man turned away from Jesus, He didn't rebuke him or threaten him. He let him go. (Matthew 19:16-22) In John 6:48-68, Jesus gave a teaching that was difficult for people to accept. Many of His disciples left him and no longer followed Him. He asked the Twelve, "Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67) He didn't threaten them or rebuke them. He didn't try to force them to believe what He taught them. He left them free to believe or not believe, to stay or to leave. THE BIBLE The Old Testament was written by God's inspired prophets, patriarchs, psalmists, judges, and kings. It was faithfully copied and preserved by Jewish scribes. Modern Protestant Bibles have the same content as the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament was written by Christian apostles. None of them were Catholics, because there was no Roman Catholic Church at the time. This was over two centuries before Constantine's "conversion". The early Church did not have the New Testament as we know it. Rather, individuals and local congregations had portions of it. They would have one or more of the Gospels, some of the letters which Apostles had written, and perhaps the Book of Acts or the Book of Revelation. Why weren't all of these books collected in one place? Look at what the books themselves say. Individual apostles wrote them for specific audiences. For example, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written for Theophilus. (Luke 1:3; Acts 1:1) Most of the Epistles were written to specific churches or to specific individuals. (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:2; Ephesians 1:1; Philippians 1:1; Colossians 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2 Thessalonians 1:1; 1 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 1:2; Titus 1:4; Philemon 1:1; 3 John 1:1) The early Christians expected that Jesus would return for His Church at any moment. As a result, they didn't see the need for long-term planning for future generations. Furthermore, Christians were persecuted by the Romans. When your life is in constant danger, it is difficult to collect writings which are scattered all over the Roman Empire. So it took time to collect all of these writings, decide which ones were authoritative Scripture, and make complete sets of them. By the time of Origen (185-254 A.D.), there was general agreement about most of the New Testament. However, there was disagreement as to whether the following six epistles should be part of the New Testament canon: Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, and Jude. This was sixty years before Constantine's "conversion" and the formation of the Roman Catholic Church in 314 A.D. By 367 A.D., all of the books of the New Testament were acknowledged as being authoritative Scripture. [Note 17] The canon of the New Testament was not formed by the decision of any Church council. Rather, the Council of Carthage (397 A.D.) listed as canonical "only those books that were generally regarded by the consensus of use as properly a canon". [Note 18] In other words, it didn't create the canon. Rather, it formally identified the canon that already existed. So the Catholic Church did not give us the Bible. However, it did help confirm the authenticity of six New Testament epistles. Also, Catholic monks faithfully preserved the Bible by copying it. The Catholic Church changed the Bible. In 1548, at the Council of Trent, it added the Apocrypha to the Bible. The apocryphal books contain passages which are used to justify some Catholic doctrines, such as praying for the dead. The Apocrypha are discussed in Appendix B. WAS PETER A POPE? Peter does not describe himself as being a high and mighty Pope, with authority over the entire Church. Rather, Peter calls himself "a servant". (2 Peter 1:1) He refers to himself as a fellow "elder". (1 Peter 5:1) Rather than claiming special authority for himself, Peter says that all believers are a "royal priesthood". (1 Peter 2:9) He tells Christian leaders that they are not to lord it over other Christians and they are not to covet riches ("filthy lucre"). (1 Peter 5:2-3) "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock." (1 Peter 5:1-3) In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John confirms Peter's statement that all true believers are priests. (Revelation 1:5-6; 5:9-10; 20:6) (Catholic Bibles refer to the Book of Revelation as "The Apocalypse".) How does Peter, as portrayed in the Bible, compare with the Pope, who sits on a throne, and is carried on the shoulders of men, seated on a litter like an oriental king? As head of the Catholic Church, the Pope controls immense wealth, with widespread investments around the world. The wealth of the Vatican is amazing. [Note 19] Catholic theologians claim that Jesus built the Christian Church on the Apostle Peter. They base this on Matthew 16:18, where Jesus tells Peter, "And I say unto thee, That thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." A huge doctrine with immense historical consequences has been built upon one short verse. The question is, does the rock on which the church is built represent Peter or does it represent Jesus? Peter himself answers this question when he says that Jesus is a living stone. (1 Peter 2:4) (This is a Messianic prophecy which Peter quotes from Isaiah 28:16.) The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ is our spiritual Rock. (1 Corinthians 10:4) In Romans 9:31-33, Paul says that Jesus was a rock of offense for the Israelites who were trying to be saved by works of the law instead of by faith. In the New Testament there are three words for "stone". "Lithos" means a stone like a mill stone or a stumbling stone. The other two words are "petra" and "petros". "Vine's Expository Dictionary" says that "petra" means "a mass of rock". It defines "petros" as "'a detached stone or boulder,' or a stone that might be thrown or easily moved." In Matthew 16:18, the word for Peter is "petros," a detached stone that can easily be moved. The word for the rock on which the church is built is "petra," a mass of rock. Other examples of the use of "petra" show what a huge mass of rock is meant by the word. They include the man who built his house on rock, as opposed to sand (Matthew 7:24-27) and the tomb where Jesus' body was put, which was carved out of a rock (Matthew 27:60). Did Peter act like he was in charge of the early Church? In the Book of Acts, Paul describes a controversy over whether or not gentile converts to Christianity should be required to be circumcised and follow the Jewish dietary laws. Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to confer with the apostles about it. (Acts 15:2-4) Peter and other people spoke. (Acts 15:7-13) Following a period of silence, James (not Peter) made the final decision in the matter. He called it a "sentence". According to "Strong's Concordance" the word means a judicial sentence, a decree, or a judgment. The Book of Acts is the history of the early Church up until a few years before Peter's death. It says nothing about Peter being in authority over the whole Church. It shows no connection between Peter and Rome. Acts 28:14-15 tells how Paul met with the "brethren" in Rome, but it makes no mention of Peter. As we shall see, when Paul met with Peter in Jerusalem, Peter was identified by name. Acts 2:14 and Acts 8:14 say that Peter was in Jerusalem. Acts 9:36-43 says that Peter went to Joppa, which is near Jerusalem. In chapter 10 of the Book of Acts, Peter is still in Joppa. Acts 11:2 says that Peter returned to Jerusalem. Joppa is about thirty miles from Jerusalem. If the Book of Acts records this much detail about Peter's visit to a nearby town, wouldn't it tell us if Peter went all the way to Rome? Particularly since it does tell us that Paul went to Rome. Acts 15:1-20 tells how Paul and Barnabas went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, James, and the other apostles. Galatians 1:18-19 says that Paul went to Jerusalem to visit Peter and James. The Book of Romans was written by the Apostle Paul "to all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints". (Romans 1:7) In Romans 16:1-15, Paul greets 26 people by name. He never mentions Peter. If Peter was the leader of the Church in Rome, then why didn't Paul mention him? Paul wrote five letters from a Roman prison (Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon). He never mentions Peter. The man who stuck with Paul to help him and encourage him in Rome was Luke -- not Peter. (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11) Paul only mentions Peter in one of his epistles. In Galatians 1:18-19 he says that he went to Jerusalem to see Peter and James. In Galatians 2:8 Paul says that he preached to the gentiles and Peter preached to the Jews (the "circumcision"). In Galatians 2:11-21, Paul recounts how he publicly corrected and rebuked Peter because Peter became so intimidated by the Judaizers that he "walked not uprightly". Evidently Paul's public rebuke of Peter did not cause a problem between them. Peter loved and respected Paul as a brother, and exhorted the Church to heed Paul's wisdom. LEGENDS AND TRADITIONS When I was in school, I was taught that, as a boy, George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and confessed his transgression to his father saying, "I cannot tell a lie". Parson Weems' biography of George Washington is the source of that story. According to modern historians, the cherry tree event never happened. I was quite surprised to hear that because I had never questioned the story. Articles on the Internet say that Parson Weems deliberately created the cherry tree legend some time between 1800 and 1809. But perhaps Parson Weems wasn't deliberately deceiving people. Perhaps he was simply passing on a story that he believed to be true. Either way, modern biographers of George Washington say that the cherry tree episode never really happened. [Note 20] If we hear a story repeated often enough, then we tend to believe it. The idea of questioning it becomes almost unthinkable because the story is so familiar and so widely accepted. (See Appendix C.) I believe that something similar has happened with the Catholic Church's stories about Peter. These traditions have been repeated so often that many people never question them. THE "EARLY FATHERS" Catholic apologists often quote the "Early Fathers" in support of Catholic doctrines, the papacy, and other Catholic claims. Who were these people? There were many early Christian leaders, including priests, bishops, and scholars. There were a lot of these men, and they had a wide variety of opinions on religious matters. Their theological differences were as widely varied as those of theologians from different denominations are today. [Note 21] So one person finds some "Early Fathers" to support one position, and another person finds other "Early Fathers" to support the opposite position. But it's not a level playing field. Among all of those early Christian leaders, who decided which ones qualified to be called "Early Fathers"? The Catholic Church. Who decided which works should be copied and passed on to posterity? Copying was a slow, tedious job before the invention of the printing press. Who decided which writings were important enough to copy? The Catholic Church. CONCLUSION The Roman Catholic Church was created by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Silvester in the year 314 A.D. The Catholic Church did not give us the Bible, but it did help preserve it. The Bible was copied by monks during the Middle Ages.. Peter did not act like a Pope and he did not describe himself as having any special authority. In the Church meeting that is described in chapter 15 of the Book of Acts, James appears to be the person in authority. He makes the final decision. The Bible shows Peter as being in Jerusalem, not in Rome.