Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)
The Roman Catholic Church claims they were until the Protestant Reformation. (aside from the Orthodox Church) 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.
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 honoured the Roman sun god. (Days of the week were named to honour 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 people who financially support both opposing candidates during an election. No matter who wins, they expect to have the favour 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 centre (the place of honour), with six apostles on each side of him. He expected that devotions honouring the apostles would be performed in the church, and he expected to share the title and honour 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.
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)
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.
TALE OF TWO BISHOP
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 favour 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 honour 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?
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 centre, 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,
“Yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service.” (John 16:2)
For the Roman Catholic Church, “heresy” means to “obstinately” doubt or deny any official Catholic doctrine. [Note12]
Doctrines which have often been disputed include the authority of the Pope, purgatory, indulgences, the veneration of Mary and the saints, and transubstantiation (i.e. 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,
“And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
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 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)
“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9)
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 offence 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.
“And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me: … Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.”
(Acts 15:13, 19-20)
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.
“Account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you” (2 Peter 3:15)
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.
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.
APPENDIX A – HUNTING CHRISTIAN “HERETIC
For over a thousand years, the Roman Catholic Church hunted down “heretics” and killed them. Some of these “heretics” were people with strange beliefs. But, as we will see, many of them were Bible-believing Christians.
One well known group of Christian “heretics” were the Waldensians. They were Roman Catholics who (like Francis of Assisi) taught the value of poverty and simplicity. Their views were orthodox. They were poor, humble, itinerant preachers, barefoot and wearing humble peasant clothing. [Note 22] As we shall see, the Pope examined them and found no heresy in them. (But later another Pope declared them to be heretics.)
The Waldensians were persecuted from 1211 until the time of the Protestant Reformation. I thought you might like to get to know these heroic men and women who, for hundreds of years, paid the ultimate price for their faith.
Peter Waldo (1140-1218) was a rich merchant of Lyons, France. He asked a priest how to live like Jesus Christ. The priest quoted the words of Jesus to the rich young ruler, “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give it to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.” (Matthew 19:21) Waldo made financial provision for his wife, put his daughters in a convent, and gave the rest of his money to the poor. Waldo memorized portions of the Bible, and began preaching to people. As he gained followers, he sent them out in pairs to preach.
Waldo’s followers called themselves “the Poor in Spirit”. They are also known as the “Poor of Lyons” (the movement started in Lyons, France), the Waldensians (after Waldo), the Wandenses (a variation of Waldensians), and the Vaudois (Vaudes is French for Waldo).
The Waldensians were orthodox in their beliefs, but they were outside of the organizational structure of the Roman Catholic Church. They travelled in pairs, preaching the Gospel. They were humble people who believed in “apostolic poverty”. They were barefoot, owning nothing, and they shared all things in common. Their teaching was orthodox. However, they were considered to be a threat because they set standards which made many members of the Catholic clergy look bad by comparison. [Note 24]
The humility and voluntary poverty of the Waldensians were a striking contrast to the pride and luxury of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church. A prime example of this was Pope Innocent III. He reigned from 1198 to 1216, which was during Waldo’s lifetime. Innocent wore clothes covered with gold and jewels. He made kings and cardinals kiss his foot. [Note 25] He said that the Pope is “less than God but more than man”. [Note 26] Another example is Pope Boniface VIII, who reigned from 1294 to 1303. He said, “I am Caesar. I am emperor.” He wore a crown which was covered with costly jewels, including 48 rubies, 45 emeralds, 72 sapphires, and 66 large pearls. [Note 27]
Waldo’s beliefs were founded on the Bible, especially the Gospels. He believed that there was no need to interpret the Bible because it spoke clearly for itself. All that was needed was to make the whole of Scripture available to the people. Waldo was French, so he commissioned two priests to translate the Bible into French, starting with the Gospels. As soon as the first Gospel (Matthew) had been translated, Waldo applied it to his life “to the letter” and began preaching it to the people. [Note 28]
In 1179, Pope Alexander III found no evidence of heresy among the Waldensians. However, because they were laymen, he forbid them to preach unless they were requested to do so by a bishop. The Archbishop of Lyons ordered Waldo to stop preaching. Waldo quoted Acts 5:29 (the Apostles’ response when the Sanhedrin told them to stop preaching), “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Waldo kept on preaching, and the Archbishop excommunicated him. Then, in 1184, Pope Lucius III excommunicated Waldo and his followers. [Note 29]
In 1211, more than eighty Waldensians were burned for “heresy”. This was the beginning of centuries of persecution. [Note 30]
Because they were persecuted, the Waldensians went underground and spread to other countries, especially Italy, Switzerland, and Austria. The magnitude of their persecution is shown by the fact that in one year, in Italy alone, nine thousand Waldensians were killed and another twelve thousand were put into prison, where most of them died. In spite of this, somehow the itinerant Waldensian preachers were able to maintain links throughout Europe. [Note 31]
The Waldensians survived until the sixteenth century. Then they joined the Protestant Reformation. [Note 32]
One of the things which was used to try to suppress the Waldensians and other “heretics” was the Inquisition. It began in 1180, four years before Waldo and the Waldensians were excommunicated by the Pope.
From 1180 to 1230, the Catholic Church enacted legislation against heresy. It created a permanent tribunal, staffed by Dominican friars, which became known as the Inquisition.
The Inquisition used procedures which were banned in regular secular courts. It used anonymous informers. The accused man or woman was not allowed to know who accused them and they were not allowed to have anybody defend them. People were allowed to accuse their personal enemies. The inquisitors were allowed to use torture in order to get accused people to “confess”. Once a person was accused, some kind of punishment was inevitable. If secular officials were reluctant to punish the victims, they were likely to become victims themselves. [Note 33]
If enough witnesses testified that the accused person was guilty, then he or she was considered to be guilty. At that point the accused person had to choose between confessing and renouncing their “errors” or else being burned. If they confessed, then they would stay in prison for the rest of their life, but they would be spared being burned at the stake. [Note 34]
When secular rulers resisted the harsh methods of the Inquisition, popes pressured them by excommunicating the rulers and placing their subjects under interdict. (Interdict means that no religious services or sacraments were allowed, including communion, confession, marriages, and Christian burial.) For example, when King Edward II protested that torture was opposed to English law, Pope Clement V told the king that the law of the Roman Catholic Church was higher than the law of England. The Pope said,
“We hear that you forbid torture as contrary to the laws of your land…. I command you at once to submit those men to torture.” [Note 35]
The Pope gave orders to the King of England, and the King obeyed. The nation of England took a giant step backwards and started torturing people again.
The Inquisition was financed by confiscating the property of people who were condemned. It had to get people convicted in order to get the money that it needed for its operations. This was a strong motive for using torture to make people “confess”. In Spain, the Inquisitors usually got all of the money. In other countries, the money was divided between the Inquisitors and the Vatican. [Note 36]
Even the grave was no protection from having property be confiscated. Corpses were dug up, and dead men and women were convicted of heresy. This allowed the Inquisitors to take the property of the heirs of the dead “heretics”. [Note 37]
Sometimes people were convicted of heresy for reasons that are difficult to comprehend. For example, a young nobleman failed to take his hat off when a religious procession was going through the streets. It was raining at the time. He paid a heavy price for trying to keep his head dry. He was convicted of blasphemy. He was sentenced to “torture ordinary and extraordinary”. His hands were cut off. His tongue was ripped out with pincers. And he was burned alive. [Note 38]
In 1545, the Inquisition published an Index of prohibited books. Reading one of these books was said to put Catholics in danger of damnation. The Index included all of the books of the Protestant Reformers, as well as Protestant Bibles. In Spain, owning one of these banned books was punishable by death. The list of forbidden books was kept current until Pope Paul VI abolished the Index in 1959. [Note 39]
In the eighteenth century, the Inquisition ran out of money and became largely inactive. Its last execution was in the early nineteenth century (1826). A Spanish schoolmaster was hanged because he substituted the phrase “Praise be to God” in place of “Ave Maria” (“Hail Mary”) during school prayers. [Note 40]
The Office of the Inquisition still exists. It is located in the Vatican. In 1965 its name was changed to “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. It is headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. [Note 41]
REFLECTIONS ON HERESY HUNTING
There was a wide variety of Christian “heretics”. On the one hand, there were the Waldensians, who were simple, humble people who were just trying to live according to Biblical principles. But when told not to preach, they continued preaching.
On the other hand, there were people like Wycliffe, who said inflammatory things. Wycliffe started out as a Catholic Reformer and eventually wound up becoming a Protestant. He taught that the government of England should remove morally corrupt churchmen and confiscate their property. He said that the Pope is “Antichrist itself, the man of sin who exalts himself above God.” Now those are “fighting words”. Of course the Pope was angry. Wycliffe’s followers (the Lollards) were severely persecuted. [Note 42]
But did Jesus and his Disciples kill people for saying offensive things? They could have.
Elijah called down fire on people.
“And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.” (Luke 9:54-55)
There is an old story about a man who asked a woman, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” She said, “Well, for a million dollars, I guess maybe I would.” Then he said, “Would you sleep with me for five dollars?” She replied, “What kind of woman do you think I am?” And he answered, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re haggling price.”
A million dollars is a strong enticement. For the Pope to be publicly accused of being the Antichrist is a strong provocation. But no matter how great the enticement or the provocation, some things are just plain wrong.
Killing “heretics” because of their religious convictions is never justifiable. As one man said, “Either the victim resists, and you murder his body, or he yields and speaks against his conscience, and you murder his soul.” [Note 43]
APPENDIX B – THE APOCRYPHA
The Apocrypha are books which occur in Catholic Bibles but not in Protestant ones. They were never part of the Hebrew Bible, and the Jews did not recognize them as canonical. In 1548 the Council of Trent declared that the Apocrypha are canonical (part of inspired Scripture) and it anathematized anybody who believes otherwise. [Note 44]
Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Old Testament hundreds of times, but they never treated any of the apocryphal books as being authoritative. The apocryphal books themselves never claim to be the Word of God. The books of Tobit and Judith contain serious historical inaccuracies. [Note 45] [Note 46]
Following is a summary of the main events in the Book of Tobit. I’ve given links so that you can get the book on-line for yourself. [Note 47]
My references to chapters and verses are those of the Revised Standard translation of Tobit. There is a wide variation in translations of Tobit, including differences in essential matters. There are also historical and geographical inaccuracies in the Book of Tobit. For example, Sennecherib was not the son of Shalmaneser. (Tobit 1:15) He was the son of Sargon the Usurper. [Note 48]
SUMMARY OF THE BOOK OF TOBIT
One night Tobit slept outdoors, with his face uncovered. He slept by the courtyard wall. There were sparrows on the wall, and bird droppings fell into Tobit’s open eyes. As a result, a white film formed over his eyes and he became blind. The physicians were unable to help him. (Tobit 2:9-10)
A maiden named Sarah was reproached by her maids, who accused her of strangling seven husbands before they consummated their marriage with her. This was attributed to a demon named Asmodeus. (Tobit 3:8)
The angel Raphael was sent to heal Tobit’s eyes, and to bind the demon Asmodeus, and to give Sarah in marriage to Tobias, the son of Tobit. (Tobit 3:17)
Tobias (Tobit’s son) was travelling with the angel Raphael (who appeared in the form of a Jewish man named Azarias). A fish leaped up from the river and tried to swallow Tobias. Then the angel told Tobias to catch this fish. He caught it and threw it on the land. Then the angel told Tobias to cut the fish open and to keep the heart and liver and gallbladder. He said that smoke from the heart and liver would drive demons and evil spirits away. He also said that if a man’s eyes are covered with white films, then having them anointed with the fish gall would heal him. (Tobit 6:1-9)
Tobias was afraid to marry Sarah because seven husbands had died in her bridal chamber. The angel told him to take burning incense and put the heart and liver of the fish on it in order to make a smoke. He said that when the demon smelled the smoke he would flee and never return. (Tobit 6:11-17)
Tobias married Sarah. He put the heart and liver of the fish upon burning incense. When the demon smelled the odour he fled to the “remotest parts of Egypt” and the angel bound him. Tobias and Sarah went to sleep. Sarah’s family was greatly relieved the next morning when both of them were still alive. (Tobit 7:1-8:14)
Tobias and his new wife went to Tobit’s home. The angel Raphael told Tobias to take the fish gall with him and rub it on his father’s eyes. He did, and Tobit’s eyes were healed. (Tobit 11:2-16)
Does this sound like inspired Scripture to you? Does it reveal God’s nature and character, and His ways of dealing with His people? Does it inspire you to want to know God better? Does it give you strength and courage to be a faithful Christian?
If this was considered to be part of the Bible, would that increase your confidence in the Word of God?
APPENDIX C – “ACCORDING TO TRADITION . . .”
We often hear the expression, “According to tradition…”. But how reliable are these statements? The following illustrates that people’s confidence in these traditions can be disproportionate to the evidence supporting them.
According to tradition, around 40 A.D., the Apostle James (the Greater) was in Saragossa, Spain. He was discouraged because his mission had failed. Mary appeared to him. She gave him a pillar (column) of jasper wood, and a small wooden statue of herself. She also told him to build a church in her honour. This is considered to be the first apparition of Mary. [Note 49]
There are some problems with this story. In the first place, in 40 A.D., Mary may well have been alive. (It was only a few years after Jesus was crucified.) If she was alive, then how could she “appear” to anybody?
In the second place, the early Christians didn’t have churches. They met in people’s homes. (See Acts 2:46; Acts 20:20; Romans 16:19; 1 Corinthian 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2, which all refer to churches meeting in people’s homes.) The Book of Acts ends around 60 A.D., when Paul was in Rome. There is no record of any church buildings.
Furthermore, starting with the stoning of Stephen, Christians were killed for their faith. It is basic common sense that people who are being killed for their faith do not want to call attention to their religious gatherings. That is not a good time to build church buildings.
According to tradition, in the eighth century, a hermit “discovered” the body of the Apostle James in Saragossa, Spain. [Note 49]
This discovery is questionable in view of the fact that (as we shall see) the Catholic Church has a history of fake discoveries of relics (bodies of saints, pieces of the “true” cross, the nails which were used to crucify Jesus, bread from the Feeding of the Five Thousand, etc.).
Relics were believed to have spiritual power to protect people from demons, give them victory in war, and bless them in other ways. People wore small relics on chains around their necks, as charms for protection. Churches were built over the bodies of saints. Important relics drew pilgrims, which could have a significant financial impact on a community. Bodies of saints were stolen and portions of them were sold for money. Kings and bishops took great risks to steal the bodies of important saints. Towns that had relics prospered and expanded. [Note 50]
Relics were important for raising money. Historian Paul Johnson says, “A cathedral without a well-known saint was missing an important source of revenue”. Fraudulent relics were peddled. Graveyards were robbed, and the bodies were passed off as relics of saints. [Note 51]
A great cathedral was built in Saragossa in honour of Our Lady of the Pillar. It is in an area of Saragossa known as Campostella (which means “starry field”) . It is a major pilgrimage site. The wooden statue of Mary, and the pillar (the column of jasper wood) can be seen on special occasions. [Note 52]
The Cathedral has a statue of Our Lady of the Pillar which wears clothing. It has a crown made of 25 pounds of gold and diamonds, with so many diamonds that you can hardly see the gold. In addition, it has six other crowns of gold, diamonds, and emeralds. It has 365 mantles, embroidered with gold and covered with roses of diamonds and other precious stones. It has 365 necklaces of pearls and diamonds, and six chains of gold set with diamonds. The cathedral has another statue of Mary which is five feet high, made of pure silver set with precious stones, with a diamond-studded crown of pure gold. In the 1700s the English General, Stanhope, was shown this treasury. He said that the combined treasuries of all the kings of Europe would not be able to buy half the riches of the treasury of Our Lady of the Pillar.
According to tradition, the head of the Apostle James (the Greater) is buried in Jerusalem. It is in the Cathedral of St. James. [Note 54]
USE OF THIS ARTICLE
I encourage you to link to this article. You have permission to quote from this article, as long as you do it fairly and accurately. You have permission to make copies of this article for friends and for use in classes.
Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church” (New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981), pages 31-33. A major theme of this book is the radical change which occurred in the Church as a result of Constantine. Malachi Martin recently died. He was a Catholic priest, a theologian, and a Vatican insider. He was the personal confessor of Pope John XXIII.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1995), pages 67-68. Paul Johnson is a Catholic and a prominent historian.
Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” page 33; and Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 67. Information about the days of the week being named for pagan gods and goddesses can be found in a good dictionary. Look up each day of the week, and “Saturn”. I used “Webster’s Dictionary,” 1941 edition, which gives the origins of words.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 68-69.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 69.
Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 33-34.
Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 34-35.
James G. McCarthy, “The Gospel According to Rome” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1995), pages 231-232. James McCarthy is a former Catholic
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 69.
Theodosius was forbidden to go into the Cathedral of Milan or to take the sacraments. This is excommunication, being cut off from the Church. Theodosius had to repent in order to be restored to the Church. Articles about this event are on-line at the following addresses.
“Ambrose, Saint” in “The Columbia Electronic Encyclopaedia,” Sixth Edition, copyright 2000.
“Theodosius I” in “The Catholic Encyclopaedia,” Volume 14. This article is available on-line.
“St. Ambrose Humiliates Theodosius the Great”.
Christopher S. Mackay, “Theodosius”. See the section “Theodosius in the Thrall of Ambrose”
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 112-119. Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” Updated 2nd Edition (Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), page 128.
Canon 751, “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition, New English Translation (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1989), page 247. According to Canon 751, “heresy” applies to people who have been baptized. However, most Catholics are baptized as infants, when they have no say in the matter. Also, the law does not say that it only applies to baptized Catholics, so it could be interpreted to apply to people who have been baptized as Protestants. During the Protestant Reformation, people who had been born and raised Protestant were killed as “heretics”. For centuries, the Waldensians and other Bible-believing Christians (who were never baptized as Catholics) were persecuted as “heretics”. In Spain, Jews and Muslims (unbaptized people) were persecuted as “heretics”.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 273.
“Tyndale, William” in the “World Book Encyclopaedia 2000” (on CD-Rom). Information about William Tyndale is available on-line.
If you want to get a feel for the times, then read the book “God’s Outlaw” by Brian H. Edwards (England: Evangelical Press, 1976, 1999). This book is available at regular book stores.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 254-255; 273.
William Webster, “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History” (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995), page 8. “The Canon of the New Testament: A Brief Introduction”. (This article is available on the Internet).
Walter A. Elwell (editor), “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology” (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), page 141.
Vatican finances are a major theme of David Yallop’s book, “In God’s Name: An Investigation into the Murder of Pope John Paul I.” This book is well written, thoroughly researched, and gripping. Don’t start reading it before bed because it’s hard to put the book down. You may wind up reading all night. Vatican insiders asked Yallop to investigate the Pope’s death because they believed that he had been murdered. Yallop did his homework. He interviewed Mafia gangsters and Vatican insiders.
On-line articles about Weems and the cherry tree story are at the following addresses.
These different beliefs and practices are described by Malachi Martin in “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 11-28. Martin was a Catholic priest, an eminent theologian, and a professor at the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute.
Gabriel Audisio (translated by Claire Davison), “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival” (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), pages 11-12. “Francis, Saint” and “Francis, Saint, Conversion” in Encyclopedia.com.
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” pages 207-208.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 251.
Clifford Pereira, “Glimpses of Church History, 1200 – 1300”. On-line article.
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” page 185.
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” page 215.
Gabriel Audisio, “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival,” page 11.
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” pages 206-209.
“Waldenses” in Encyclopedia.com (an on-line encyclopaedia published by Columbia University; it has a search engine).
Gabriel Audisio, “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival” (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1999), summary from the back cover of the book. J. McCabe, “The Waldensians”. This article is on-line.
Gabriel Audisio, “The Waldensian Dissent: Persecution and Survival,” pages 189-190. “Waldenses” in Encyclopedia.com. J. McCabe, “The Waldensians”. An on-line article.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 253-255. Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” pages 211-212.
“Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” page 231.
Dave Hunt, “A Woman Rides the Beast” (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1994), page 246.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 308.
Dave Hunt, “A Woman Rides the Beast,” page 253.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 353.
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” page 274.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 308.
Following is a link to an article on the Vatican’s web site.
[Click on “Profile”.]
The Vatican web site is slow and it doesn’t always come up. You can also find information about the change of name of the Office of the Inquisition at the following sites:
Bruce L. Shelley, “Church History in Plain Language,” pages 225-231. “Lolladry” in Encyclopedia.com.
Quoted in Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 318.
Walter A. Elwell (editor), “Evangelical Dictionary of Theology,” pages 66-67.
Gregory Koukl, “The Apocrypha,” 1998. This article is available on-line. If this link doesn’t work for you, then go to www.str.org. It has a search engine. Search for “apocrypha”.
The Epistle of Jude refers to an event which is described in the Book of Enoch, a work which was familiar to his readers. However, Jude does not state or imply that the book itself is inspired Scripture. Rather, he uses it in a manner which is similar to a modern pastor using current events or a well known book or movie to illustrate a point which he is making in his sermon. The Book of Enoch is not one of the Apocrypha. It is not part of the Catholic Bible.
The Book of Tobit is available on-line.
“International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia,” Electronic Database, 1996, by Biblesoft (a Bible study computer program).
“Some Important Marian Apparitions”.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 105-107 and 161-166.
Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” page 226.
“Some Important Marian Apparitions”.
Dave Hunt, “A Woman Rides the Beast,” pages 239-240.
William Steuart McBirnie, “The Search for the Twelve Apostles” (Wheaton, Illinois: Living Books, Tyndale House Publishers, 1973, 1982), page 103.