Contrary to popular belief, the term "Catholicism" includes some twenty-two different religious bodies in the United States, although the word is mostly used in reference to the "Roman" Catholic movement in the U.S.
Over 3,250,000 members make up some 19 groups listed in the 1965 World Almanac, under the heading of "Eastern Orthodox Churches." Two other groups, the Old Catholics and the Liberal Catholics, are also listed under "Catholic Churches" but not counted with the Roman Catholic Church's nearly 45 million in the U. S.
In the world, the 1965 World Almanac lists Roman Catholic population as nearly 572 million, Eastern Orthodox as nearly 141 million and Protestant 220 million.
Divisions Within Catholicism
The initial departures from the New Testament pattern of the Lord's church came as Inspiration predicted, from forces both outside the church, and from among the bishops of the congregations. (See Acts 20:29-30; II Thess. 2:3-12; I Tim. 4:1-4; II Pet. 2: 1 -3; I John 2: 19-20.)
The first permanent departure from the Lord's church occurred when Emperor Constantine called together the first "ecumenical council" in 325 A. D., at Nicea in Bithynia. This "world-wide" council was composed of 318 bishops, only 3 of whom were Latins. All transactions of the meeting were in the Greek language. In fact, the first seven so-called "ecumenical councils" were conducted in the Greek tongue, and of the 1,486 bishops attending; only 26 of them were Latins.
Although there were numerous issues contributing to the division of the Roman and Greek (Eastern and Western Churches) Catholicism, perhaps the outstanding factor was the matter of what became known as "Papal Supremacy."
The title of "ecumenical" (world-wide, universal, or catholic) patriarch was given for the first time at the "Robber Council of Ephesus" in 449 A. D., to Dioscurus, Patriarch of Alexandria. The Catholic Encyclopedia states concerning this event: ". . . at the time it looked like a dangerous innovation, and was repudiated at the Council of Chalcedon." (451 A. D. LOOM.) (Vol. VI, pp 759.) It was later applied to Roman bishops; Leo I, Hormisdas, and Agapitus; also to Patriarchs of Constantinople . . . John II, Epiphanius, Anthimus and Menas. Still later, in 588 A. D., this title was exclusively given to the Patriarch of Constantinople, John "the Faster," to be used in a restricted sense to his own office. This started a renewed quarrel with the bishop in Rome. Pelagius, who claimed the authority to annul the action that had awarded John "the Faster" the "universal" or "world-wide" title. Gregory "the Great," followed Pelagius as bishop of Rome, and is noted for his correspondence with the Patriarch of Constantinople relative to the "ecumenical" title. Gregory asserted: "Whoever adopts or effects the title of 'Universal Bishop' has the pride and character of Antichrist, and is in some manner his forerunner."
Later, a successor of Gregory, as bishop of Rome, Boniface, begged a similar title for the Roman bishop, from Emperor Phocas After the death of Phocas, both religious leaders assumed the title. (See Vol. I, page 514, Milner's Church History.) This occurred in 606 A. D.
Other subjects that contributed to the Roman and Greek separation included: The veneration of images and relics, the doctrine of purgatory, and, the matter of clerical celibacy. The final and complete division between the Eastern and Western churches occurred in 1054 A. D. Since that date, additional trends have developed in both groups that make them less likely ever to come together; the most notable being the 1870 dogma of Papal Infallibility, i. e., the Bishop of Rome is incapable of being in error when he defines any matter of faith and morals for the entire Catholic Church as a consequence of his "occupying the chair of Peter."
"Authority" in the Roman Catholic Church
Obviously, if the dogma of "papal infallibility" is accepted, then any new doctrine or practice, any innovation, MUST be accepted by the membership.
Another source of Roman Catholic teaching is from their Bible, (which contains seven more books than does the non-Catholic Bible) when it is "interpreted according to the unanimous consent of the ancient church fathers." However, the "catch" to the subject is that the ancient "church fathers" were by no means UNANIMOUS in their understanding of various passages in the Bible. Nor has the Roman wing of Catholicism been very active in defining or handing down "definitions" of doubtful Scripture passages. In fact, I challenge any devout and sincere Catholic member to ask their priest to give them a list of the Bible passages that have been actually "infallibly" interpreted by the Roman Catholic Church. If the first priest gives a list of five or six, and names them . . . then, consult a second priest for a list, and unless he is "tipped off" so that he contacts the first priest, the list produced by the second priest (if he produces one at all) will not at all agree with the list given by the first priest. Thus, what constitutes "authority" in the Roman Catholic religion is very hazy.
Identifying Characteristics of the Roman Catholic Church
- An allegedly "infallible" Pope in Rome; one bishop over the entire church. The New Testament had a plurality of bishops or elders in every congregation. (See Acts 20: 17 & 28; Acts 14: 23; Philippians 1:1.)
- Unmarried priests and bishops; this has varied through the centuries. The Apostle Peter was a married man. (See Matt. 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38.) Philip the evangelist was a married man. See Acts 21: 8-9. )
- A service called "Mass" wherein allegedly the literal BODY OF CHRIST is SACRIFICED over and over again, day after day. Yet, the New Testament teaches: "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many . . ." (Hebrews 9:28.)
- College of Cardinals; formed in 1059 A. D., as it is now known. There is no reference whatsoever in the New Testament to Cardinals or Archbishops as used by the Roman Catholic Church.
- Auricular Confession the practice of confessing to a "Priest" and being interrogated by the "Priest" concerning one's sins. In contrast, the New Testament teaches that Christians are to confess their faults to one another and forgive each other. (See James 5:16; I John 1:9; Acts 19:18-19.) None of the foregoing Scriptures authorize a secret question and answer session with a priest.
- Veneration of Images and Relics. The Second Council of Nicea, 787 A.D., introduced the matter of revering images, etc. The Roman Catholic Church practices this today. On the other hand, the new Testament teaches, that Christians are not to revere, worship or venerate idols, etc. (See I John 5:21; Acts 17:29.)
- Invocation of the Saints. Praying to dead saints which is another identifying characteristic of the Roman Catholic Church, was no where practiced or authorized by the New Testament. That LIVING saints were asked to pray for the LIVING we readily accept. (See Acts 8:22-24; James 5:16.)
- The doctrine concerning purgatory. This effectively is a doctrine that offers a "second chance" after death . . . a "purging" or "cleansing" after death. If this doctrine had any basis in Scripture, then Luke 16 must be rejected. The only place where "praying for the dead" is mentioned is in one of the Old Testament books that the Roman Church added to the already existing Hebrew Old Testament. (II Maccabees 12: 44.) Incidentally, Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate rejected these seven books as not canonical, when he made his translation in the fifth century. In later years, the Western Church added the questionable books, and proclaimed them to be canonical in the 16th century Council of Trent.
Tracing Roman and Greek Catholic History
When the life history or biography of an individual is written, the work usually begins with the day of birth of the person and his early childhood. In compiling the history of a great building, the cornerstone usually gives a certain year of construction, although it may have required several years or even decades for the construction.
Most churches started by men in the Western world, are only a century or so old, and consequently it is easy to trace their history. This is not the case, though, in dealing with "Catholicism." Its early years were shrouded in uncertainty and fabricated historical documents. Modern Roman Catholic scholars now admit that numerous writings that were once held to be historically valid and accurate have in later centuries been found to be fictional, counterfeit, and fraudulent. Quite a number of Catholic traditions and practices were once thought to have been established by these old documents. Now, the proverbial "rug" has been pulled from under some of their most cherished teachings and customs. Modern Catholicism is not at all what it once was in the "Middle Ages" . . . although conceived in earlier centuries; it actually became the offspring of the Greek Catholic Church in 1054 A.D.
Prior to 1950, Catholics did not HAVE TO BELIEVE in the bodily assumption of Mary into Heaven. Since that time, they MUST! Prior to 1870, Catholics did not HAVE TO BELIEVE that the Pope was "INFALLIBLE" when speaking ex cathedra. NOW, they MUST! Prior to 1854, Catholics did not HAVE TO BELIEVE in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Since that time' they MUST! And so it goes.
Each and every doctrine or practice that is in itself peculiar to Catholicism can be traced back to some definition by a Council or Papal decree or encyclical. Thus, if one goes back year-by-year, and century-by-century, it is possible to remove one by one, the modern garments of Catholicism…. where she finally is again one Greek Church wed to the Roman Empire. But, if you keep on going back, one can finally reach 325 A. D., the date, as we have already mentioned, the time of Emperor Constantine's calling together of most of the bishops of the congregations. Then, on before that, we can come to the period when the "big" churches took the leadership over the smaller country congregations…. and the more outspoken and domineering bishops assumed full personal authority, taking authority away from his brother bishops or elders who had, in New Testament days, served jointly together as fellow laborers in the Master's vineyard.
"Rome wasn't built in a day" . . . nor was the Catholic Church a product of any one departure from the Scripture, or the product of any one man or any one-century. Unlike the denominations of the "Protestant" world that are merely kindergarten children compared to the Catholic Church, that can point to one event of history that produced their birth, the Catholic religion has been an extremely slow-moving departure from the purity of the church of the first century that is described and depicted in the New Testament.
One feature of Catholicism that may only be recognized by historians is its chameleon like quality of changing colors to harmonize with the conditions of the particular century in which it is studied.
For example . . . when the ancient pagan peoples observed the seeming re-birth of plant and animal life in the spring season of the year, they determined to celebrate the return to life of all things . . . and therefore honored Eostre, the goddess of spring, fertility, etc. Catholicism immediately wove a tapestry of paganism, Judaism, and some essences of the teachings of Christ, and called it "Christian," thus by compromising with the peoples and religions of that time, she evolved something that attracted popular following. This seems to have always been her way and means of attracting and spiritually seducing her converts.
Truly, it has seemingly been a "strong delusion" that caused people who wanted to follow her, "to believe a lie" etc. (See II Thess. 2:11-12.)