Apostasy and the Roman Church

Background: A while back, I posted an article in which I mentioned that a Catholic apologist had challenged me to name the real Christians who kept the true faith in the first centuries of the Christian era. This individual was not satisfied with my response. Apparently, he had anticipated that I would suggest a denomination or sect, such as the Donatists or Monatists. The True Church is not an organization; rather, it is comprised of individual believers. Who could name these earliest saints?

As someone wrote, history is written by the victors. In contemporary times, Nazis and Communists burned books that they considered to be out of step with their philosophy; with the result that much of dissenting thought were lost to history. In earlier times, the Catholic Church destroyed the writings of dissenters such as the Waldensians or Albigensians. We really don't know what they believed--except that which was written ABOUT them by Romanist writers.

The Challenge: Does anyone really know the exact moment when the RCC came into existence? Or is the answer just as impossible to find as the names of the true believers in the centuries after Christ and the apostles? The reason I am asking is that today I heard a southern minister state that the RCC was not an official denomination until 606 AD. And then on another website I read an article stating that the RCC was established in heresy almost as early as the apostles began to spread the word to the world.

The Response: Only God knows, and that is not a cop-out. No man can fix the exact moment in time when just the right person made just the right decision or did just the right thing that marked the single instant in time when the increasingly pagan former Christian Church in Rome crossed the Rubicon (Nice historical metaphor, eh?) and became truly apostate.

In the first three centuries of the Church Age, Rome periodically persecuted those who called themselves Christians. The persecutions had the effect of purifying the church. I believe that only true believers would have been willing to suffer persecution and horrible death for the sake of their faith. Though Emperor Constantine made "Christianity" acceptable with the Edict of Milan in 313AD; it didn't become the state religion until some 80 tears later. When this occurred, devotees of the no longer acceptable pagan religions drifted, unconverted, into the Christian church; bringing with them their temples, doctrines, practices and even priestly raiment.

Several dates are postulated as marking the inauguration of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics, of course, like to say that it began when Peter arrived in Rome and took office as bishop in that city. Actually, if Peter indeed did visit Rome, when he got there, he would have encountered a growing church numbering in the thousands – but it was the Church AT Rome, not the Roman Catholic Church.

The dates I have most often seen are: 107, 313, 606 and 1054. My personal choice would be 606. At the beginning of that year, Sabinian, a most unpopular fellow, was the Bishop of Rome. Sabinian died in February 606 and it was not until the following February that Boniface III ascended to the Throne of Peter. Boniface, a favorite of Gregory I, had been sent to Constantinople as Gregory's nuncio and remained there after Gregory died. Boniface became a close friend of Emperor Phocas. The yearlong interregnum likely came about because Boniface was elected to the papacy while he was still serving in Constantinople.

During this time, the Patriarch (Archbishop) of Constantinople had taken to calling himself the “Universal Patriarch.” Boniface did not care for this challenge to what he considered his supreme position over all the church. His friend, Emperor Phocas, issued a decree in 606 in which he acknowledged that "the See of Blessed Peter the Apostle should be the head of all the Churches" and that the title of "Universal Bishop" should be reserved exclusively for the bishop of Rome. Phocas had broken no new legal ground by issuing this decree, for it was little more than a re-statement of a similar decree issued decades earlier by Emperor Justinian (d. 565), that legally recognized the primacy of the Roman pontiff. (J.N.D. Kelly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Popes,” Oxford University Press (1986), p. 68; Richard P. McBrien, “Lives of the Popes,” HarperSanFrancisco (1997), p. 99)

Another Question: Were there other groups that are just not mentioned in history books that represented the true gospel?

Another Response: There have been groups that have preserved the truth. The problem is they have not always preserved all of the truth. Some WERE really heretics. The Body of Christ is made up of individual believers not denominations. There may well have been many true believers within the early Roman Catholic Church. Even today, not everyone calling himself Catholic is unsaved—just as not everyone who professes to be Christian truly is. Only the Lord can separate the sheep from the goats. Organizations such as denominations or the Catholic Church may indeed be apostate. However, true believers will never fall; they will persevere to the end because they are sealed with the Holy Spirit. No apostate has ever been a true believer. Does that make sense?

God's truth has never been preserved in a denominational or area church. It is preserved in the hearts of God's elect, who are and always have been the True Church. This is not to say that every true believer has exactly the same understanding of every single passage in the Scriptures, but that all true believers stand united on the foundational doctrines – to include hamartiology, soteriology and eschatology.

Yet Another Question: From the little I know and have read, it seems to me that the average catholic and protestant just naturally assumes that the RCC is correct in their claim that they have been around since Christ. Few question their legitimacy in their claims of being the only church for 1500 years.

Yet Another Response: They can trace "THE Church" but the problem is that they claim the Roman church is THE Church. Everything that is Christian in the first centuries they claim to be "them".

It is a maxim of RCC apologetics that, if you can't convince them with facts, baffle them with bluster and B.S. Not even historical facts, once processed through the Magisterium dreamworks and the inventive minds of RCC apologists and historians, can be considered trustworthy and must be verified before acceptance.

Here's what Richard P. McBrien, RCC theology professor (Notre Dame Univ.) and recognized authority on things Catholic has to say on this:

“According to traditional Catholic belief, the papacy was established by Jesus Christ Himself when He conferred its responsibilities and powers upon the Apostle Peter at Caesarea Philippi…Recognition of the papacy, or of the Petrine ministry as exercised by the Bishop of Rome is not characteristic of the Catholic tradition alone. Other Christian traditions acknowledge the Bishop of Rome as the Patriarch of the West or as the “first [bishop] among equals,” but only the Catholic Church accepts him as the earthly head of the worldwide Church…St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. ca. 107) is traditionally regarded as the first major witness to the primacy of Rome…Remarkably, however [his letter to the church at Rome] is the only one of Ignatius' classic letters to the seven churches of the ancient Mediterranean world that makes no mention at all of a local bishop. This lends credence to the supposition of historians and theologians that the monoepiscopal structure of church governance…did not even come to Rome until the middle of the second century, with the pontificate of Pius I…With the East-West Schism in 1054, the shape of the papacy changed even more significantly. Before the split the Bishop of Rome had been viewed primarily as patriarch of Rome, alongside the patriarchs of Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Jerusalem. After the split, however, the Roman patriarchal office and the papal office merged. The patriarchal office was completely absorbed by the power of the papacy. In the eyes of many Eastern Christians, Western Christianity became thereby a papal church, that is, a church that relates so predominantly to the see of Rome that pastoral autonomy of the local churches and their bishops is all but lost. The Bishop of Rome came to regard himself, and be regarded as, the universal primate of the universal Church. It was as if he were the bishop of every local church and the local bishops were simply his vicars or delegates.

Following this long and complex history, the Second Ecumenical Council of Lyons in 1274 claimed for the Roman church “the supreme and full primacy and authority over the universal Catholic Church.” That formal declaration laid the foundation, in turn, for the dogmatic definition of the First Vatican Council in 1870, that “iin the disposition of God the Roman church holds the preeminence of ordinary power over all the other churches…”--Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes (1997), pp. 17-19

In other words, there are a number of dates one might choose, with historical support, for the date the RCC “officially” took charge of the “Christian” church. You pays yer money and you takes yer cherce.

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