What is the origin of the Roman Catholic Church?
Question: "What is the origin of the Roman Catholic Church?"
Answer: The Roman Catholic Church contends that its origin is the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ in approximately AD 30. The Catholic Church proclaims itself to be the church that Jesus Christ died for, the church that was established and built by the apostles. Is that the true origin of the Catholic Church?
On the contrary. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament will reveal that the Catholic Church does not have its origin in the teachings of Jesus or His apostles. In the New Testament, there is no mention of the papacy, worship/adoration of Mary (or the immaculate conception of Mary, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the assumption of Mary, or Mary as co-redemptrix and mediatrix), petitioning saints in heaven for their prayers, apostolic succession, the ordinances of the church functioning as sacraments, infant baptism, confession of sin to a priest, purgatory, indulgences, or the equal authority of church tradition and Scripture. So, if the origin of the Catholic Church is not in the teachings of Jesus and His apostles, as recorded in the New Testament, what is the true origin of the Catholic Church?
For the first 280 years of Christian history, Christianity was banned by the Roman Empire, and Christians were terribly persecuted. This changed after the “conversion” of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Constantine provided religious toleration with the Edict of Milan in AD 313, effectively lifting the ban on Christianity. Later, in AD 325, Constantine called the Council of Nicea in an attempt to unify Christianity. Constantine envisioned Christianity as a religion that could unite the Roman Empire, which at that time was beginning to fragment and divide. While this may have seemed to be a positive development for the Christian church, the results were anything but positive. Just as Constantine refused to fully embrace the Christian faith but continued many of his pagan beliefs and practices, so the Christian church that Constantine and his successors promoted progressively became a mixture of true Christianity and Roman paganism.
Following are a few examples:
Most Roman Catholic beliefs and practices regarding Mary are completely absent from the Bible. Where did those beliefs come from? The Roman Catholic view of Mary has far more in common with the Isis mother-goddess religion of Egypt than it does with anything taught in the New Testament. Interestingly, the first hints of Catholic Mariology occur in the writings of Origen, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt, which happened to be the focal point of Isis worship.
The Lord’s Supper being a consumption of the literal body and blood of Jesus is not taught in the Bible. The idea that bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation) is not biblical. However, several ancient pagan religions, including Mithraism, which was very popular in the Roman Empire, had some form of “theophagy” (the eating of one’s god) as a ritualistic practice.
Roman Catholicism has “saints” one can pray to in order to gain a particular blessing. For example, Saint Gianna Beretta Molla is the patron saint of fertility. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals. There are multiple patron saints of healing and comfort. Nowhere is even a hint of this taught in Scripture. Just as the Roman pantheon of gods had a god of love, a god of peace, a god of war, a god of strength, a god of wisdom, etc., so the Catholic Church has a saint who is “in charge” over each of these and many other categories. Many Roman cities had a god specific to the city, and the Catholic Church provided “patron saints” for cities as well.
The idea that the Roman bishop is the vicar of Christ, the supreme leader of the Christian Church, is utterly foreign to the Word of God. The supremacy of the Roman bishop (the papacy) was created with the support of the Roman emperors. While most other bishops (and Christians) resisted the idea of the Roman bishop being supreme, the Roman bishop eventually rose to supremacy, again, due to the power and influence of the Roman emperors. After the western half of the Roman Empire collapsed, the popes took on the title that had previously belonged to the Roman emperors—Pontifex Maximus.
Many more examples could be given. These four should suffice in demonstrating the origin of the Catholic Church. Of course, the Roman Catholic Church denies the pagan origin of its beliefs and practices. The Catholic Church disguises its pagan beliefs under layers of complicated theology and church tradition. Recognizing that many of its beliefs and practices are utterly foreign to Scripture, the Catholic Church is forced to deny the authority and sufficiency of Scripture.
The origin of the Catholic Church is the tragic compromise of Christianity with the pagan religions that surrounded it. Instead of proclaiming the gospel and converting the pagans, the Catholic Church “Christianized” the pagan religions and “paganized” Christianity. By blurring the differences and erasing the distinctions, the Catholic Church made itself attractive to the idolatrous people of the Roman Empire. One result was the Catholic Church becoming the supreme religion in the Roman world for centuries. However, another result was the most dominant form of Christianity apostatizing from the true gospel of Jesus Christ and the true proclamation of God’s Word.
Second Timothy 4:3–4 declares, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
Recommended Resource: Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics by Ron Rhodes
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