The Roman Catholic faith has been an evolution over many centuries. Catholics teach their faith was handed down from the Apostles and they only formally established these doctrines as the need arose yet a careful study of the writings of the church show that most of these doctrines were not held by the early church and were later additions. Events in red boldface are those pertaining to doctrine. The rest are historical events not directly related to RC doctrine.
|250 BC||OT canon is universally accepted|
|33-100 AD||Apostolic age|
|60 AD||Paul returns to Rome|
|~68 AD||Paul dies; Peter dies around the same time|
|95 AD||Clement of Rome mentions at least 8 NT books|
|100-325 AD||Ante Nicene period (separation of Christianity from Judaism and growth)|
|108 AD||Polycarp, acknowledged 15 books|
|115 AD||Ignatius of Antioch acknowledges about seven NT books|
|170 AD||Muratorian Canon[BV1] includes all of the NT books except Hebrews, James, 1 and 2 Peter, and 3 John|
|185 AD||Irenaeus mentions 21 books|
|170-235 AD||Hippolytus recognizes 22 books|
|200 AD||Under Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon, a basic version of Catholic structure was installed with Roman direction|
|300 AD||Prayers for the dead began|
|313 AD||Emperor Constantine legalizes Christianity and moves the Roman capital to Constantinople|
|325 AD||The First Council of Nicea, called by Constantine, attempted to structure church leadership around a model similar to that of the Roman system and formalized some key articles|
|363 AD||Council of Laodicea states that only the OT books (along with one book of the Apocrypha[BV2] ) and 26 books of the NT (everything but Revelation) were canonical|
|375 AD||Veneration of angels and dead saints, and the use of images|
|393 AD||Council of Hippo affirmed 27 books|
|394 AD||The Mass as a daily celebration|
|397 AD||Council of Carthage affirmed 27 books[BV3]|
|431 AD||Start of the veneration of Mary and first use of the term “Mother of God” at the Council of Ephesus|
|500 AD||Priests began to dress differently than layman|
|526 AD||Extreme Unction|
|551 AD||Council of Chalcedon declares the church in Constantinople to be the head of the eastern branch of the church and equal in authority to the Pope|
|590 AD||Pope Gregory I becomes Pope and the church enters into a period of enormous political and military power. Some call this the beginning of the Catholic Church as it is known today|
|593 AD||The doctrine of Purgatory established by Gregory I|
|600 AD||The Latin language imposed by Gregory I|
|607 AD||Title of pope, given to Boniface III by emperor Phocas|
|632 AD||Islamic prophet Mohammad dies beginning a long conflict between Christianity and Islam|
|709 AD||Kissing of the pope’s foot began with pope Constantine|
|786 AD||Worship of the cross, images, and relics authorized|
|850 AD||Holy water, mixed with a pinch of salt and blessed by a priest|
|927 AD||College of Cardinals established|
|995 AD||Canonization of dead saints, first by John XV|
|998 AD||Attendance at Mass made obligatory|
|1054 AD||The great East-West schism marks the formal separation of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox branches of the Catholic Church|
|1079 AD||Celibacy of the priesthood decreed by pope Gregory VII|
|1090 AD||The Rosary invented by Peter the Hermit|
|1184 AD||The Inquisition instituted by the Council of Verona|
|1190 AD||The sale of indulgences begun|
|1215 AD||Fourth Council of the Lateran – ratified the teaching of transubstantiation. Also the confession of sins to a priest|
|1439 AD||Purgatory proclaimed as dogma by the Council of Florence|
|1517 AD||Luther publishes the 95 Theses|
|1534 AD||King Henry VIII of England declares himself to be the supreme head of the Church of England, severing the Anglican Church from the Roman Catholic Church|
|1545-1563 AD||Catholic reformation begins|
|1545 AD||Tradition declared of equal authority by the Council of Trent|
|1546 AD||Council of Trent official accepts 11 of the Apocryphal books as canonical[BV4]|
|1854 AD||Immaculate Conception of Mary proclaimed by pope Pius IX|
|1870 AD||The First Vatican Council declares the policy of Papal infallibility|
|1950 AD||Assumption of Mary (bodily ascension into heaven) proclaimed by pope Pius XII|
|1960s AD||Second Vatican Council|
|1965 AD||Mary proclaimed Mother of the Church by pope Paul VI|
[BV1]The Muratorian Canon was discovered by Italian historian Ludovico Muratori in the Ambrosian Library in northern Italy in 1749. The copy his discovered was written in Latin and dates to the 7th or 8th century. Internal evidence suggests an original version around AD 180.
[BV3]The Council of Carthage listed the 27 books of the NT as well as the 39 books of the OT but included a few Apocryphal books such as Maccabees and Esdras. Prior to and after this council, most Christian and Jewish scholars held the Apocrypha to be non-canonical. They are omitted from the works of Philo, Origen, Melito of Sardis, Cyril of Jerusalem, Jerome, and Athanasius. They were also excluded at the Council of Laodicea held less than 40 years prior.
[BV4]Trent declared both Scripture and tradition as authoritative. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone was rejected in favor of sacramental grace and righteousness based on an admixture of grace and works. The council also confirmed belief in transubstantiation. The council must be understood in its historical context. It has been called the anti-reformation council. Much of what it affirmed was in response to challenges coming from early Protestantism. The Apocryphal books contained support for doctrines such as prayers for the dead (purgatory) and indulgences.
The title “Pope” was first used by Tertullian in the early part of the 3rd century. He used the term in a sarcastic rebuke of Pope Callixtus I who he felt was exercising too much power in the church. The title is not found in Scripture.
Catholics will point to the account in Matthew 16 where Jesus asks the disciples who they say he is and Peter replies by calling him “the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus comments that this revelation did not come from Peter but from the Father. He then makes a statement that the Catholic Church has used ever since as justification for their belief that the church is built on Peter and he was the first Pope.
13 xNow when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say yJohn the Baptist, others say zElijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, a“You are bthe Christ, cthe Son of dthe living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, e“Blessed are you, fSimon Bar-Jonah! For gflesh and blood has not revealed this to you, hbut my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, iyou are Peter, and jon this rock2 I will build my church, and kthe gates of lhell3 shall not prevail against it. 19 I will give you mthe keys of the kingdom of heaven, and nwhatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed4 in heaven.” 20 oThen he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
Much has been made by the Catholic Church on verse 18. To Catholics, this is proof Jesus singled out Peter to be the head of Christ’s church on earth, and by extension, his successors. Arguments have been put forth about the play on words taking place. Peter’s name means “rock” in Greek but two different Greek words are used in the text. Peter’s name is written as Petros which we are told means “small stone” whereas “on this rock” the word Petra is used which means a boulder. Thus, two different “rocks” are in mind.
Catholics will counter that Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic and in Aramaic, there are not two different words for rock as in Greek, and that Greek grammar necessitated using the two different forms of “rock” not any play on words by Jesus. That ignores the fact that Matthew’s gospel was written (and inspired) in Greek and the different words may have been intentional to point out that Jesus did not mean that Peter was the foundation of the church.
Catholics will point out that there are other Greek words for “rock” beyond those two. One of them more clearly means boulder or foundation. So why didn’t Jesus use that word rather than Petros? One could respond, why didn’t Jesus say “on you Peter I will build my church?” That would have made it abundantly clear.
Personally, I would not try and resolve this dispute based on the wording. To my mind, Jesus could have had Peter in mind or Peter’s confession of faith. So how do we know which it is? This is where we must look at all of Scripture to find out the answer.
What’s interesting is that nowhere else in the NT is any mention made of Peter having a special role or being the head of the church. Tradition has it that James, half-brother of Jesus, was the head of the Jerusalem church. In Acts 15, we have recorded a record of the so-called Jerusalem conference. The occasion is Paul’s return to Jerusalem after several years of missionary church planting. He is bringing an offering of money collected for the relief of those suffering from famine in the city. He meets with his fellow Apostles to update them on his journeys and he shares with them an issue he has run into with the Gentile converts pertaining to the eating of meat sacrificed to idols. Those gathered discussed the issue (we are not given the dialog) and finally Peter speaks out and gives an opinion which reads like a summary of what has been discussed. James, acting as the presiding leader, summarizes and assigns himself the task of writing a letter to be distributed regarding these matters.
Catholics see in this Peter acting as “pope” in that he gives the answer and sees James as merely a scribe or secretary tasked with documenting Peter’s decision. Others see James acting as the leader and making the final decision which is in keeping with his being the bishop of the church in Jerusalem. I think several points are worth noting:
- This is the only meeting of the Apostles to discuss an issue we know of. One conference is not enough to make assumptions about roles especially when the details are sparse. The description in Acts does not identify anyone as presiding or use any titles.
- We are not given the entire dialog. We don’t know if what Peter spoke had already been said by others and he was just summarizing or if those were his thoughts alone. We don’t have enough of the dialog to draw any conclusions.
- History identifies James as the bishop of Jerusalem, not Peter.
If Peter were the head of the church, this would have been an opportune time to identify him as acting in that role. Luke could have written that “Peter, acting as head of Christ’s church on earth, decided that…” but he wrote no such thing. There is nothing about this account that identifies Peter as acting in any official leadership position. Those who see that are importing a belief into the text.
When Paul writes about the foundation of the church, he says:
Therefore you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone. In Him the whole building is fitted together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together into a dwelling place for God in His Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22) (emphasis added)
“God’s household” is the church. Paul says it is built on the foundation of the apostles (plural) and the prophets but shows Christ as the true foundation on which all depends. This would have been a great opportunity to identify Peter as the earthly foundation of the church but Paul does not mention Peter except indirectly as part of the Apostles. We simply find nothing in the Book of Acts that shows Peter as head of the church. Peter himself makes no mention of being the head in his letters (epistles).
Another interesting point of consideration is the gospel accounts of the same discussion found in Matthew 16. Let’s compare them:
14They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
15“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!b For this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by My Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
20Then He admonished the disciples not to tell anyone that He was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
28They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”
29“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
30And Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about Him. (Mark 8:27-30)
One day as Jesus was praying in private and the disciples were with Him, He questioned them: “Who do the crowds say I am?”
19They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that a prophet of old has arisen.”
20“But what about you?” Jesus asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:18-20)
70Jesus answered them, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” 71He was speaking about Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. For although Judas was one of the Twelve, he was later to betray Jesus. (John 6:67-71)
Note how only in Matthew’s account is the part about Peter and the rock mentioned. Nothing is said about it in the other three gospels. Mark’s account is especially interesting. Mark, or John Mark, traveled with both Paul and Peter and it is assumed Mark got the information for his gospel from Peter. John Mark was a young man when Jesus was with the Apostles. He was not an Apostle and did not overhear these things himself. His information would have come from Peter.
His account says nothing about Peter being “the rock” upon which the church is built. Had Peter been “the rock”, surely Mark’s account would have mentioned it. Peter would want it to be known that the Lord chose him to lead the church. Not in a prideful sense but simply to make clear the Lord’s wishes. These gospels were written by different men in different places at different times. The authors weren’t gathered comparing notes and deciding who would include which details. The fact that only Matthew’s account includes the part about the rock, the keys, etc, does not mean Jesus did not say those things. Matthew was inspired as were Mark, Luke, and John. However, two of the four gospel authors were present (Matthew and John) and Mark got his information from Peter who was present. Yet only one account includes the part about “the rock.” Not many accounts of Jesus are included in all four gospels. This one is yet only one of the four accounts that include the comment on “the rock.” If Jesus had meant that Peter was “the rock” on which his church would be built, it seems odd that only one account mentions that important proclamation.
The Catholic Church argues that Jesus made Peter the “rock” or foundation of the church. An equal or greater argument could be made that it was Peter’s confession of faith that is the foundation for it is by that same confession of faith we become part of Christ’s church. Those present would have known which meaning Jesus had in mind. We can debate what Jesus meant but they would have known. Yet only one account even includes that part of the discussion which would seem to be a major omission if Peter was commissioned by Jesus to lead the church. That would be a major truth they would want to be recorded.
We don’t see Peter identified as the leader of the church in the Jerusalem council. Three of the four gospels don’t include Jesus’ words about “the rock.” None of the NT epistles make any mention of Peter being the head of the church. Despite the profound silence of the NT on Peter being the head of the church, the Catholic Church clings to Matthew’s account insisting it establishes Peter as the head of the church even though it could rightly be understood to be his confession of faith that is the foundation of the church. Even history does not establish Peter or anyone following him as leading the church. We are not even sure Peter visited Rome so how did the bishop of Rome become the supreme head of the church? Why not the bishop of Jerusalem? Is that not where the church started?
Scripture does not establish Peter as the head of the church. That was a later development by the church in Rome that was then backdated in an attempt to establish a line back to Peter yet no one was functioning in any capacity as “pope” until centuries after Peter. The Eastern churches never accepted the Bishop of Rome as having authority. This eventually led to a schism between the eastern and western churches that remains to this day.
One argument I keep hearing against Protestantism is that there are so many Protestant denominations and surely God is not the God of confusion and would not let His church become so fractured. The implication is that Protestantism cannot be what God had in mind. This is in opposition to churches that feel they can trace their founding back to the first century as though having such a history is somehow a guarantee of orthodoxy.
This begs an important question. Should we expect, on earth, to find a perfect church that represents everything God had in mind when He started the church? If we look at the history of Israel, we see how even a near-theocratic nation, led by God, could get fractured. Israel had false prophets, false teachers, unbelieving Jews, legalistic Pharisees, doctrinally challenged Sadducees and a history of wandering from the faith. God always preserved a remnant, but the preaching of the Prophets shows God time and time again calling His people to repentance and more than once they were sent into captivity as a judgment on their sins.
What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew, or what value is there in circumcision?2 Much in every way! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. (Romans 3:1-2)
Despite having the Prophets, the Temple, the Scriptures (OT), and a cultural history of walking with God, the Jews often strayed and divisions existed. Unlike Judaism, which resided almost exclusively in Israel for centuries, Christianity spread beyond Israel almost from the start. It spread to Greeks and Romans, Egyptians, and people from all over. It spanned many languages and cultures. While it completed the message of the OT, it still brought change such that everyone was a convert at first. Being a Jew before becoming a Christian was not always an advantage as we see personified in the Judaizers. Some Jewish Christians brought the Law with them and attempted to add it to the Gospel. Many were initially uncomfortable with a faith without a Temple and a ceremonial law. It was a cultural shock to see Gentiles, once among the lowest of the low, suddenly on equal footing in the worship of God. In some ways, it was easier to come to Christ from a pagan background.
Not only were the Judaizers an early thorn in the side of the church but so were the Gnostics who tried to marry Platonian philosophy with Christianity. There were also false teachers and those who thought the gifts of God could be purchased. These things plagued the church while the Apostles were still alive. How much more so would they attack once the Apostles were gone? God did not spare the early church from division and strife. Paul wrote extensively to combat the false teachers and to address the divisions in the very churches he had established. These things were happening while the Apostles still lived. If God planned to preserve His church in unity, we don’t see evidence of it. Divisions existed right from the start.
And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; 3 for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and and behaving like mere men? 4 For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not carnal? (1 Corinthians 3:1-4)
To expect to find a church today that lacks division or false teachers is a failure to learn from history. Paul warned us that there would be false teachers. Men who would tickle our ears. The Apostles battled false teaching by writing down the real teaching of the Lord and having it circulated among the churches. Their written record not only served as a hedge against false teaching 2000 years ago but serves that same purpose today.
There was never an earthly church preserved from error. Not even while the Apostles were alive. Jesus described tares growing up among the wheat to be separated on judgment day. Israel never had perfect unanimity and neither did the church. God always keeps a remnant though and that remnant is not confined to any one church, people group, social, or cultural group. It is comprised of those who cling to the truth, who study and show themselves approved, and who search the Scriptures.
In Biblical times it was not as easy to start a church as it is today. Most people walked to get to church. Most cities had but one church. You attended that church or none at all. Under different conditions, other churches might have sprung up like we see today.
What started on the Day of Pentecost, was the CHURCH, not a church. It was the church universal not to be confused with any particular church or denomination. The only sure teaching we have are those of Scripture. Anything else, no matter how godly, is the opinion of men. Only the Scriptures are divinely inspired. The writings of the early church fathers, while important and illuminating, are not on par with Scripture. If there were false teachers and false doctrine while the Apostles still lived, there certainly were 50, 100, or 200 years later. Even among these early writers, we see differences.
Does this leave us with no trustworthy faith? No! We often confuse that which is essential with that which is non-essential. In criticizing the many Protestant churches, the focus is always on their differences while turning a blind eye to their overwhelming similarities. A church’s style of worship, choice of eschatology, practice of speaking in tongues or not, … are not serious disagreements on the Gospel. Does one church’s decision to only sing hymns and another’s use of contemporary worship music constitute wholly different churches? Must all churches fall under one organizational structure? Where does Scripture teach that? We must not confuse the NT’s teaching on the church universal with that of the church local. We all want to claim we are THE church as though God confined all truth and righteous worship to just one group forever preserved from error. He did not so preserve Israel. He did not prevent division and false teachers in the Apostolic church. Why do we claim so now?
I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. (Matthew 16:18)
What did Jesus mean by “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it?” Prevailing means overcoming and defeating. That would be the case if the truth was silenced and God had no remnant. That verse does not teach his church would not be attacked, not have divisions, and be preserved from all error. The tares will still grow among the wheat. Satan will not prevail against God’s church (the church universal). Satan will never stamp out faith on earth.
Sticking to a liturgy or structure for centuries is not a guarantee of truth. There was error mixed with truth from the very start of the church. We must always test all things against Scripture and distinguish between that which is tradition and that which is Scripture. Between that which is prescribed and that which is preference. OT worship was highly prescribed, yet it still did not stop false teachers and those with false hearts. The Pharisees were experts on what was prescribed yet added to it and were more concerned with the form than the substance. Jesus rightly called them empty tombs filled with dead men’s bones. He told us that the Father seeks those who worship in spirit and in truth. Having a tightly prescribed form still produced the Pharisees. It was not a guard against error. Truth was found in the Scriptures. The Pharisees neglected them and created a legalistic, manmade religion. They did not worship “in spirit and in truth.”
Would the Father prefer we had just one church we all belonged to? Perhaps but He is more concerned with preserving the wheat and keeping a faithful remnant. We worship in different languages in different places. We follow different liturgies or lack of liturgies. We sing different songs and have different histories but if we hold to the Gospel and worship in spirit and truth, those differences don’t matter. They are not the substance. There is nothing in Scripture that should make us assume there will be one church, preserved from error, that will endure. Instead, we see THE CHURCH, the church universal, that will prevail. That Jesus promised.