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Particulars of Christianity:
301 Roman Catholicism


Roman Catholicism (Part 4)

Roman Catholicism (Part 1)
Roman Catholicism (Part 2)
Roman Catholicism (Part 3)
Roman Catholicism (Part 4)
Roman Catholicism (Part 5)
Roman Catholicism (Part 6)
Roman Catholicism (Part 7)
Roman Catholicism (Part 8)
Roman Catholicism (Part 9)
Roman Catholicism (Part 10)
Roman Catholicism (Part 11)
Roman Catholicism (Part 12)
Addendum: In Their Own Words



(Continued from previous section.)

As we proceed with our investigation of the early Church writing (Sacred Tradition) of the 1st and 2nd centuries, we will complete our examination of the legitimacy of the RCC on these very grounds, which the Catholic Encyclopedia provided in the above quote.

Before we get to the writings themselves we should note some historical commentary on the availability of early evidence for the Roman Catholic doctrine of (Papal or) Apostolic Succession.

"Apostolic Succession - The origins of the doctrine are obscure, and the New Testament records are variously interpreted." - Britannica.com

"Christianity - For the first three centuries of Christianity, history is dependent on apologetic and religious writings; there are no chronicles (see patristic literature). Historians differ greatly on how far back the 4th-century picture of the church (which is quite clear) can be projected, especially respecting organization by bishops (each bishop a monarch in the church of his city), celebration of a liturgy entailing a sacrament and a sacrifice, and claims by the bishop of Rome to be head of all the churches (see papacy)." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

"Papacy - There is no unequivocal evidence about the status of the pope in the earliest days of the church." - The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition. 2001.

Additionally, we must recognize that Roman Catholic scholars are fond of referring to the early bishops of Rome by the title pope. However, in all fairness, to avoid being called for dishonest scholarship, Roman Catholic authors should make their readers aware that the title pope was not used in the early Church as it is employed by today's Roman Catholics.

"Pope - The teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) on the role of bishops the office and jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome, or the pope (Latin: papa, from the Greek pappas, "father"), who presides over the central government of the Roman Catholic church, the largest of the three major branches of Christianity. The term pope was originally applied to all the bishops in the West and also used to describe the patriarch of Alexandria, who still retains the title. In 1073, however, Gregory VII restricted its use to the bishop of Rome. According to the Annuario Pontificio, the papal annual, there have been more than 260 popes since St. Peter , traditionally considered the first pope. Among these, 78 have been proclaimed saints, as have some antipopes (rival claimants to the papal throne who were appointed or elected in opposition to the legitimate pope)." - Britannica.com

"The Pope - The title pope, once used with far greater latitude (see below, section V), is at present employed solely to denote the Bishop of Rome, who, in virtue of his position as successor of St. Peter, is the chief pastor of the whole Church, the Vicar of Christ upon earth." - Catholic Encyclopedia

When they do not make this clear, Roman Catholic authors run the risk of implying to the reader by default that the early Church recognized the office that Roman Catholics associate with the term pope. When Roman Catholics employ this tactic without making this distinction they are transposing their conclusion upon history and taking advantage of those who may not realize that such revisionism is occurring. We commend the Catholic Encyclopedia for mentioning this fact in their article on the Pope.

It would be our preference to simply survey the writings of the first two centuries and let them speak for themselves. However, we will instead, first address the claims made by the Catholic Encyclopedia as it argues for the historicity (historical actuality) of their papal doctrine from the earliest times, specifically the first three centuries A.D.

Consider the following quote from the Catholic Encyclopedia.

"The Pope - History bears complete testimony that from the very earliest times the Roman See has ever claimed the supreme headship, and that that headship has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church. We shall here confine ourselves to the consideration of the evidence afforded by the first three centuries." - Catholic Encyclopedia

The quote above plainly states that evidence for RCC papal doctrine is "afforded by the first three centuries" and comes "from the very earliest times." But despite this claim, as the following quote will demonstrate, the Catholic Encyclopedia does not begin in the earliest period, with the 1st century writings, or even with 2nd century writings, but instead, begins with third century works. Their reason for this is due to the fact that it is only in the third century that Sacred Tradition exhibits frequent references to this crucial doctrine.

"The Pope - It is no longer denied by any writer of weight that St. Peter visited Rome and suffered martyrdom there (Harnack, "Chronol.", I, 244, n. 2). Some, however, of those who admit that he taught and suffered in Rome, deny that he was ever bishop of the city e.g. Lightfoot, "Clement of Rome", II, 501; Harnack, op. cit., I, 703. It is not, however, difficult to show that the fact of his bishopric is so well attested as to be historically certain. In considering this point, it will be well to begin with the third century, when references to it become frequent, and work backwards from this point." - Catholic Encyclopedia

However, it seems that if one claims, as Roman Catholics do, that the doctrine of papal authority originated from the onset of Christianity that it would be more natural to begin at the onset and work forward as time progresses. Only in this way do you show that the doctrine was present at the beginning and was not merely a later development.

In order to demonstrate that a teaching is inherent to Christianity it is critical to establish the presence of that teaching at the onset of Christianity. Since, the RCC claims that the papal doctrine is inherent to Christianity they should have no trouble showing its presence in the first two centuries of Church history. So, why do they start later instead?

The Catholic Encyclopedia's decision to start at a later period of history when references become frequent itself attests to the lack of evidence from the1st and 2nd centuries. Consider this question, as long as we aren't starting at the beginning why should we start with the 3rd century? Why not start with the 4th century? Why not start with the papal decrees of later times, which solidified this teaching in formal language in the Roman Catholic Catechism? The Catholic Encyclopedia provides the answer to these questions by affirming the difficulty of finding unequivocal evidence of the doctrine of papal succession in the earliest period of Church history.

"The Pope - The limits of the present article prevent us from carrying the historical argument further than the year 300. Nor is it in fact necessary to do so. From the beginning of the fourth century the supremacy of Rome is writ large upon the page of history. It is only in regard to the first age of the Church that any question can arise." - Catholic Encyclopedia

The clear advantage of starting at the 3rd century and working back towards earlier periods is that the Catholic Encyclopedia can establish their doctrine when it is readily evident in later times and then use this documentation to color the information that we have from the earliest period where evidence is insufficient on its own to validate this teaching. To start later than the 3rd century would be too obvious because 4th or 10th century documents for example would not be useful in demonstrating that the RCC's doctrine of papal authority originated in Jesus' own teachings in the early 1st century A.D.

Therefore, the Catholic Encyclopedia must recognize that it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to sufficiently and reasonably demonstrate the legitimacy of their papal doctrines based purely on 1st and 2nd century Christian writings. Their solution to this dilemma is simple: start with the third century, where the Roman Catholic position becomes more arguable. In employing this approach the Catholic Encyclopedia essentially makes a very bizarre argument: "In order to prove once and for all that the 1st century Church held to the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal authority we now turn to these third century documents…"

So, even though some of the proof that the Catholic Encyclopedia offers from the 3rd century does manage to support the Roman Catholic doctrine of papal succession this does not demonstrate that the doctrine originated with Jesus Christ. At best it only demonstrates that this Roman Catholic belief was present in the 3rd century Church. As such it remains unknown then whether the 3rd century Church was affirming existing doctrine, developing new doctrine, or borrowing doctrine from some other non-Christian source. The critical question remains as to whether or not evidence in support of this doctrine can be found in the earliest Christian period - the first two centuries A.D., which we will examine after taking the time to call into question a few of the 3rd century evidences offered by the Catholic Encyclopedia.

The Catholic Encyclopedia makes two claims in their attempt to establish the legitimacy of their papal teaching. The first claim is that Peter was the first bishop of Rome. The second claim is that the bishopric of Rome, which Peter occupied, enjoyed supreme authority over the Church. This is referred to as the doctrine of Roman primacy.

"The Pope - It is no longer denied by any writer of weight that St. Peter visited Rome and suffered martyrdom there (Harnack, "Chronol.", I, 244, n. 2). Some, however, of those who admit that he taught and suffered in Rome, deny that he was ever bishop of the city e.g. Lightfoot, "Clement of Rome", II, 501; Harnack, op. cit., I, 703. It is not, however, difficult to show that the fact of his bishopric is so well attested as to be historically certain. In considering this point, it will be well to begin with the third century, when references to it become frequent, and work backwards from this point.

"The Pope - History bears complete testimony that from the very earliest times the Roman See has ever claimed the supreme headship, and that that headship has been freely acknowledged by the universal Church. We shall here confine ourselves to the consideration of the evidence afforded by the first three centuries." - Catholic Encyclopedia

It must be noted that the first claim, that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, is not sufficient by itself to establish the legitimacy of Roman Catholic papal teaching. Instead, it must be demonstrated that Peter was not only the bishop of Rome, but that he was the supreme authority over the Church and exercised sovereignty over all the other bishops.

The fact, that Peter was bishop of Rome, need not be disputed by non-Catholics, for in and of itself, this detail does not support the legitimacy of Roman Catholic papal doctrines any more than the Apostle John's being bishop of Ephesus would indicate that John was the supreme authority over the Church. Therefore, even an unlimited amount of proofs from 1st and 2nd century authors declaring Peter to be the first bishop of Rome would not mean that Peter was the supreme authority in the Church any more than a picture of my license plate proves that I own a red 1965 Ford Mustang convertible.

Only by proving both claims can Roman Catholics hope to substantiate their papal doctrines. But, we will see that the evidence that they offer fails to conclusively support either claim.

The first evidence that the Catholic Encyclopedia appeals to as support for its second claim, that the bishop of Rome wielded authority over the other bishops, comes by way of an incidents involving bishop Cyprian of Carthage and bishop Stephen of Rome.

"The Pope - In considering this point, it will be well to begin with the third century, when references to it become frequent, and work backwards from this point. In the middle of the third century St. Cyprian expressly terms the Roman See the Chair of St. Peter, saying that Cornelius has succeeded to 'the place of Fabian which is the place of Peter' (Ep 55:8; cf. 59:14). Firmilian of Caesarea notices that Stephen claimed to decide the controversy regarding rebaptism on the ground that he held the succession from Peter (Cyprian, Ep. 75:17). He does not deny the claim: yet certainly, had he been able, he would have done so. Thus in 250 the Roman episcopate of Peter was admitted by those best able to know the truth, not merely at Rome but in the churches of Africa and of Asia Minor." - Catholic Encyclopedia

Of course, keep in mind from earlier, that the term "pope" was not used exclusively of the Bishop of Rome until the eleventh century AD as stated in both the Britannica.com as well the Catholic Encyclopedia. In this page of history bishop Cyprian of Carthage challenged the authority of bishop Stephen of Rome, whom Roman Catholics call Pope Stephen. A little historical background is in order before we proceed. Cyprian became the bishop of Carthage in 248 A.D.

"Cyprian, Saint - born AD 200, Carthage died September 14, 258, Carthage; Western and Eastern feast day September 16; Anglican feast day September 26 Latin in full Thascius Caecilius Cyprianus early Christian theologian and bishop of Carthage who led the Christians of North Africa during a period of persecution from Rome. Upon his execution he became the first bishop-martyr of Africa." -Britannica.com

"Cyprian, Saint - Cyprian was born of wealthy pagan parents and was educated in law. He practiced as a lawyer in Carthage before he was converted to Christianity about 246. In baptism he found complete release from the sinful and useless life he believed he had led hitherto. Within two years he was elected bishop of Carthage and a few months later, early in 250, was confronted by the Decian persecution. He went into hiding. Bereft of his leadership, thousands of Christians apostatized (rejected their faith) or obtained libelli (certificates), by which they declared that they had sacrificed to the pagan gods." -Britannica.com

The Catholic Encyclopedia reports the details of the incident between Cyprian and Stephen in the following quote.

"The Pope - The views of St. Cyprian (d. 258) in regard to papal authority have given rise to much discussion. He undoubtedly entertained exaggerated views as to the independence of individual bishops, which eventually led him into serious conflict with Rome. Yet on the fundamental principle his position is clear. He attributed an effective primacy to the pope as the successor of Peter. He makes communion with the See of Rome essential to Catholic communion, speaking of it as "the principal Church whence episcopal unity had its rise" (ad Petri cathedram et ad ecclesiam principalem unde unitas sacerdotalis exorta est). The force of this expression becomes clear when viewed in the light of his doctrine as to the unity of the Church. This was he teaches, established by Christ when He founded His Church upon Peter. By this act the unity of the Apostolic college was ensured through the unity of the foundation. The bishops through all time form a similar college, and are bound in a like indivisible unity. Of this unity the Chair of Peter is the source. It fulfils the very office as principle of union which Peter fulfilled in his lifetime. Hence to communicate with an antipope such as Novatian would be schism (Ep. 68:1). He holds, also, that the pope has authority to depose an heretical bishop. When Marcian of Arles fell into heresy, Cyprian, at the request of the bishops of the province, wrote to urge Pope Stephen 'to send letters by which, Marcian having been excommunicated, another may be substituted in his place' (Ep. 68:3). It is manifest that one who regarded the Roman See in this light believed that the pope possessed a real and effective Primacy. At the same time it is not to be denied that his views as to the right of the pope to interfere in the government of a diocese already subject to a legitimate and orthodox bishop were inadequate. In the rebaptism controversy his language in regard to St. Stephen was bitter and intemperate. His error on this point does not, however, detract from the fact that he admitted a primacy, not merely of honour but of jurisdiction. Nor should his mistake occasion too much surprise. It is as true in the Church as in merely human institutions that the full implications of a general principle are only realized gradually. The claim to apply it in a particular case is often contested at first, though later ages may wonder that such opposition was possible." - Catholic Encyclopedia

It must be noted that while the Catholic Encyclopedia offers these incidents involving Cyprian as proof of their claim that Rome enjoyed a place of authority over the other bishoprics, this article makes several acknowledgments that Cyprian's views of papal authority are not consistent with this claim of the RCC.

First, it is noted that Cyprian "undoubtedly entertained exaggerated views as to the independence of individual bishops, which eventually led him into serious conflict with Rome." The cause behind this conflict with Rome is described by Britannica.com.

"Cyprian, Saint - Cyprian returned to Carthage (early 251) and at a council of bishops in May 251 was able to regain his authority. The decision of the council was that, though no one should be totally excluded from penance, those who truly had sacrificed (the sacrificati) should be readmitted only on their deathbeds, and those who had merely accepted certificates (the libellatici) were to be readmitted after varying periods of penance. Three important principles of church discipline were thus established. First, the right and power to remit deadly sins, even that of apostasy, lay in the hands of the church; second, the final authority in disciplinary matters rested with the bishops in council as repositories of the Holy Spirit; and, third, unworthy members among the laity must be accepted in the New Israel of Christianity just as in the Old Israel of Judaism." -Britannica.com

It is the second principle decided on by this council of bishops would be central to the dispute, which would develop between Cyprian and Stephen, the bishop of Rome.

"Cyprian, Saint - In the summer of 254 his position was tested again by a dispute with Stephen, bishop of Rome (254-257). Until then relations between the churches of Carthage and Rome had been cordial." -Britannica.com

Though Cyprian did affirm the centrality of the Roman bishopric as the Catholic Encyclopedia claims, he denied the authority of the Roman bishop over matters of faith outside the Roman diocese by his actions. In 254 A.D. two Spanish congregations appeal to Cyprian against a decision made by Stephen. In response to this appeal Cyprian does not affirm papal authority, but instead convenes a council to consider the matter.

"Cyprian, Saint - Though Cyprian may have written two drafts of an important passage concerning the primacy of the chair of Peter, he implied no acceptance of Roman jurisdictional prerogatives. When in 254 two Spanish congregations (Mérida and León) appealed to him against a decision by Stephen to restore bishops who had lapsed during the persecution, he summoned a council to consider the case. The council decided that the congregations not only had a right but a duty to separate themselves from a cleric who had committed a deadly sin such as apostasy. Cyprian wrote (Letter 67) that the Holy Spirit was no longer in such a priest and that his sacraments would lead to perdition and not salvation. The church as the "pure Bride of Christ" might be obliged to absorb a sinful laity, but a sinful priest making offerings on behalf of the people was unthinkable." -Britannica.com

Two things are worth noting from this historical account. The most obvious is Cyprian's denial that the bishop of Rome had authority on such matters. This disregard or disagreement with Rome over the bishop of Rome's authority is further strengthened by the fact that the two Spanish congregations themselves thought it appropriate to appeal to the bishop of Carthage (Cyprian) against a decree of the bishop of Rome. These facts, beg the question. If Stephen, as the bishop of Rome, wielded a supreme authority that was handed down to the Church from its onset by the Apostles, how is it that a council of bishops, Cyprian the bishop of Carthage, and two Spanish congregations not only failed to acknowledge this supreme authority, but acted in opposition to it?

These actions lead the Catholic Encyclopedia to conclude regarding Cyprian, that "it is not to be denied that his views as to the right of the pope to interfere in the government of a diocese already subject to a legitimate and orthodox bishop were inadequate." In saying so, the Catholic Encyclopedia undermines their own argument by acknowledging that Cyprian does not agree that the bishop of Rome exercised supreme authority over the Church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia also acknowledges that during "the rebaptism controversy his language in regard to St. Stephen was bitter and intemperate." This again undermines the RCC's claim that the bishop of Rome was acknowledged to have supreme authority by the other bishops.

Again, Britannica.com informs us of these events.

"Cyprian, Saint - Within months there was an even more serious dispute with Rome. For a few years the supporters of Novatian had been active in Africa, asserting against Cyprian that no forgiveness for lapsed Christians was possible. With the recovery of Cyprian's prestige, however, their threat began to fade. Many of those whom they had baptized clamoured to be admitted to the church. Was their baptism valid or not? In Rome, Stephen, confronted by the same problem, decided that all baptism in the name of the Trinity was valid. The Africans at first were of two minds. Cyprian held three councils between the autumn of 255 and September 256. The last, at which 87 bishops were present, decided unanimously that there could be no baptism outside the church, just as there could not be faith, hope, or salvation for those outside it. A minister could not dispense what he himself did not possess, namely, the Holy Spirit. Those who had received baptism from Novatianists must be baptized anew. Behind this clash over rites lay the more fundamental question concerning the nature of the church. Though Rome emphasized the church's universal and inevitably mixed character on earth, the North Africans stressed its integrity under all circumstances. Baptism entailed total renunciation of the world and the reception of the Spirit." -Britannica.com

These disagreements between Carthage and Rome were quite serious as anyone can see. A total split between the two was not avoided on the basis of Roman authority, but by Stephen's death in 257 A.D.

"Cyprian, Saint - A complete breach between Rome and Carthage was averted by Stephen's death on Aug. 2, 257, and his successor, Sixtus II, was more conciliatory." -Britannica.com

We ask, are Cyprian's actions those of a man who attests to the Roman Catholic claim that the bishop of Rome held superior authority? If not, then how is it possible that the bishop of Carthage failed to understand this important Church doctrine? That is, unless no such doctrine existed in the early Church.

The Catholic Encyclopedia continues by insisting that Cyprian's "error on this point does not, however, detract from the fact that he admitted a primacy, not merely of honour but of jurisdiction." But how can this be their conclusion? How can the Catholic Encyclopedia offer these events as proof for the doctrine of the superiority of the Roman bishopric? Certainly Cyprian's belief that the bishop of Rome had no authority in the diocese of another orthodox bishop, his disrespectful words, and the actions he took to deny any supposed authority of the Roman bishop all strongly undermine the claim of the RCC that the early Church all understood the supremacy of the bishop of Rome, the bishopric of Peter.

In light of all of this the Catholic Encyclopedia attempts to redirect the evidence in their favor by saying that Cyprian's disagreements with Rome should not "occasion too much surprise" because, in their words, "it is as true in the Church as in merely human institutions that the full implications of a general principle are only realized gradually." Thus, instead of supporting their view, the Catholic Encyclopedia ends by having to defend their position against the very evidence that they themselves offered in the first place. Against the obvious implications of Cyprian's actions, they nevertheless conclude their defense by saying that the application of papal doctrine is "often contested at first, though later ages may wonder that such opposition was possible."

These remarks are nothing less than an admission of the inadequacy of this line of evidence in supporting their claim of the superiority of the bishopric of Rome. In effect their argument is that though Cyprian didn't understand it the bishop of Rome was superior in authority to all other bishops.

So, despite the fact that the case of Cyprian provides as much evidence against the supremacy of the bishop of Rome as it could in favor of it, the Catholic Encyclopedia chooses to offer it anyway in support of their claims. And when they realize that the reader may be having trouble understanding how such historical facts help their cause, they bolster their claim with circular reasoning. They conclude that the papal authority is true despite the case of Cyprian and that Cyprian was in error regarding these matters, which is understandable since they claim that true doctrine is often "contested at first."

And moreover, in their defense against Cyprian's actions, the Catholic Encyclopedia fully admits that the doctrine of the papal authority was not fully understood by the Church in or before Cyprian's day. But instead, as the Catholic Encyclopedia itself declares this essential doctrine of papal authority was "only realized gradually," which in the context of their article implies this doctrine wasn't realized until AFTER Cyprian's time.

"The Pope - In the rebaptism controversy his language in regard to St. Stephen was bitter and intemperate. His error on this point does not, however, detract from the fact that he admitted a primacy, not merely of honour but of jurisdiction. Nor should his mistake occasion too much surprise. It is as true in the Church as in merely human institutions that the full implications of a general principle are only realized gradually. The claim to apply it in a particular case is often contested at first, though later ages may wonder that such opposition was possible." - Catholic Encyclopedia

Britannica.com sums up the views of Cyprian regarding papal authority confirming the conclusions implied by the history of these events in a more reasonable manner.

"Cyprian, Saint - Unity was expressed through the consensus of bishops, all equally possessing the Holy Spirit and sovereign in their own sees. There was no 'bishop of bishops.' The church consisted of the people united to their bishop. Schism and rebellion against the priesthood were viewed as the worst of sins. These views-associated with an uncompromising insistence on the integrity and exclusive character of the church, which are believed to have been derived from the North African theologian Tertullian -received divine sanction for most North African Christians through his martyrdom." -Britannica.com

From all of this it is hard to see how the Catholic Encyclopedia can use Cyprian as support for the idea that the supremacy of Rome was established in the Church even during the 3rd century. In fact, if Cyprian has anything to show it is that the Roman Catholic doctrine of Roman primacy, which becomes so apparent in the 4th century was not even that well established yet, during the close of the 3rd century. This being the case, we must wonder why the Catholic Encyclopedia would bother to offer this kind of evidence? Perhaps more sufficient proof is not available? But with this kind of 3rd century proof at least we can understand why they would be reluctant to begin with 1st or 2nd century documents.

(Continued in next section.)