Did Christ Establish the Catholic Church?
The Catholic Church claims to go back to the time of Christ and the apostles. Do the facts of history and God’s Word the Bible support that claim? If not, what are the facts regarding the origin and development of the Catholic Church?
ACCORDING to the Religious Information Bureau of the Knights of Columbus, the Roman Catholic Church, and only it, was established by Christ Jesus himself. In view of the fact that the apostle Paul instructs us to “make sure of all things; hold fast to what is right”; and that we should “let God be found true, though every man be found a liar,” let us examine those claims by the light thrown on this subject by the Christian Greek Scriptures. This should be wholly satisfactory to all holding that the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, since it also claims that “they were members of the Catholic Church who, under God’s inspiration, wrote the New Testament in its entirety.”—1 Thess. 5:21; Rom. 3:4, NW.
If Christ Jesus and his apostles did indeed establish the Roman Catholic Church, then why is it that we look in vain, from Matthew through the Apocalypse or Revelation, for any mention whatsoever of the “Holy Father,” or a pope, a college of cardinals, archbishops, metropolitans, patriarchs, monsignors, right reverends, priests, abbots, monks and nuns? The Scriptural record does tell us of Christians being organized back there, but if the structure of the Catholic Church is in line with that of the early Christians, how is it that we find absolutely no mention of it, not even a hint regarding such an elaborate system? On the contrary, Jesus said: “Whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave”; and, “One is your teacher, whereas all you are brothers. Moreover, do not call anyone your father on earth, for One is your Father, the heavenly One.”—Matt. 20:27; 23:8, 9, NW.
Further, if Christ established the Roman Catholic Church, why is it that we look in vain in the Holy Bible for such expressions most current among her, such as trinity, purgatory, mass, immortal soul, lent, novenas, indulgences, penances, holy water, veneration of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary, etc.?
On the other hand, we read much in the Bible regarding subjects seldom mentioned by the Catholic clergy, such as regards sin’s wages being death, the hope of a resurrection, a new heavens and a new earth, and, above all, the importance of Jehovah’s name.—See Romans 6:23; John 5:28, 29; Revelation 20:5, 6; 2 Peter 3:13; Psalm 83:18; John 17:4, 6; Acts 15:14.
Christ did not mix in politics. He told Pilate that his kingdom was no part of the world or else his followers would have fought to prevent his being delivered up. And said the disciple James: “Adulteresses, do you not know that the friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever, therefore, wants to be a friend of the world is constituting himself an enemy of God.” But the Catholic Church has for fifteen hundred years mixed in politics; a classic example being the shrewd, cunning and crafty Cardinal Richelieu, his example being so notorious that Roman Catholic-minded Hollywood did not dare portray him as a cardinal for fear of the wrath of the Catholic Church. Could we imagine a Peter, a John, playing the role of a Cardinal Richelieu?—John 18:36; James 4:4, NW.
Then again, ever since her inception at the time of Constantine, the Catholic Church has used force to spread her teachings. Especially notorious in this regard was Charlemagne, the first emperor to be crowned by the pope. Consider also the lives of millions lost in the futile crusades, the wanton massacring of entire cities by the crusaders, men, women and children, even as did Roman Catholic generals during the religious wars of Europe, and as was done in Paris on St. Bartholomew’s night, 1572. Consider also the diabolical tortures inflicted by the dreaded Inquisition, which are without parallel in human history. Catholic apologists, such as Gibbons in his Faith of Our Fathers, would excuse these acts by pointing to intolerance practiced by Protestant sects. But that does not prove that Christ established the Catholic Church, but merely that he also did not establish such Protestant sects!
In February, 1954, the public press headlined, “Italian Police Chisel Name Off U.S.-Financed Church,” indicating that the Catholic Church still practices intolerance. Yes, for it was Roman Catholic police, in Roman Catholic Italy (more than 99 per cent Roman Catholic, according to the Catholic Almanac), who chiseled the name of a Protestant church off its walls at the orders of Roman Catholic officials, orders that were based on a concordat signed by the Vatican and Mussolini.
Could we imagine Jesus or his apostles causing such a thing to be done? On the contrary, they showed that Christians used spiritual weapons, their sword is God’s Word, and that vengeance belongs to Jehovah and he would repay.—2 Cor. 10:4; Rom. 12:19.
IF NOT CHRIST, THEN WHO?
If Christ Jesus did not establish the Catholic Church, who did, and when and how? The apostle Paul foretold that after his death wolfish men would enter the Christian congregation and that these would “speak twisted things to draw away the disciples after themselves.”—Acts 20:29, 30, NW.
In writing the Thessalonian Christians not to expect the return of Christ in their day Paul warned that it would not come before there was an apostasy, that this apostasy or mystery of lawlessness was already at work in his day and that it would blossom out after he and others who acted as a restraint to it were out of the way. (2 Thess. 2:5, 7, 9) If such conditions began to manifest themselves while the apostles were alive, what could be expected after the apostles passed from the scene? What could? In answer to that question note what the historian Lord in his Old Roman World has to say about the gradual development of this apostasy:
“In the First Century not many wise or noble were called. . . . In the Second Century . . . It was a disgrace to be a Christian in the eye of fashion or power.” However, it was during this century that “bishops became influential, not in society, but among Christians.” This calls to mind what the apostle John had to say about one Diotrophes, “who likes to have the first place among them,” and who did not receive with respect anything John and the others with him had to say.—3 John 9.
“The Third Century,” continues Lord in his Old Roman World, “saw the church more powerful as an institution,” although “it was not until the Fourth Century—when imperial persecution had stopped; when the emperor Constantine was converted [only ostensibly, since he was not “baptized” until he lay on his deathbed]; when the Church was allied with the State, . . . that men of rank entered the Church. When Christianity became the religion of the court and of the fashionable classes, it was used to support the very evils against which it originally protested. The Church was not only impregnated with the errors of Pagan philosophy, but it adopted many of the ceremonies of oriental worship.”
Thus we see that when apostate Christianity fused itself with pagan philosophy and religion, and in the interests of worldly fame, wealth and political power it joined hands with the state, that marked the beginning of the Catholic Church as she has been known for the past sixteen centuries. Although claiming to be espoused to Christ she has had worldly paramours from the time of Constantine down to Franco, whom she allows to have a voice in the appointing of her bishops in Spain.
While the birth of the Catholic Church may be pinpointed at A.D. 325, when Constantine decided the debate on the trinity held at Nicea in favor of Athanasius and against Arius, it was not until after the year A.D. 440 that the bishop of the Roman see, Leo I, became in fact the first pope. He was the first Roman bishop able to hold undisputed sway over the other three sees into which the Christian world at that time was divided, namely, the Constantinopolitan, the Antiochian and the Alexandrian.
Upon becoming bishop of Rome, Leo I presumptuously stated: “I will revive government once more upon this earth; not by bringing back the Caesars, but by declaring a new theocracy, by making myself the vicegerent of Christ, by virtue of the promise made to Peter, whose successor I am, in order to restore law, punish crime, head off heresy, encourage genius, conserve peace, heal dissensions, protect learning; appealing to love, but ruling by fear. Who but the Church can do this? A theocracy will create a new civilization. Not a diadem, but a tiara will I wear, a symbol of universal sovereignty, before which barbarism shall flee away.”—Beacon Lights of History, Vol. III, pages 244, 245.
That some even in Paul’s day had an ambition similar to that of Leo I is apparent from Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “You men already have your fill, do you? You are rich already, are you? You have begun ruling as kings without us, have you? And I wish indeed that you had begun ruling as kings, that we also might rule with you as kings.” (1 Cor. 4:8, NW) The ambition of Leo I was fully realized by Leo III, when, on December 25, A.D. 800, he crowned Charlemagne emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the Germanic nations. Here, then, we have the gradual development of the Roman Catholic Church.
Regarding the early Christian congregation Paul expressed this concern: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ. But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent seduced Eve by its craftiness, your minds might be corrupted away from the sincerity and the chastity that are due the Christ. For, as it is, if someone comes and preaches a Jesus other than the one we preached, or you receive a spirit other than what you received, or good news other than what you accepted, you easily put up with him.”—2 Cor. 11:2-4, NW.
Here we have it. Just as the “covering cherub” allowed his ambition to change him from an obedient spirit creature to Satan the Devil; just as the choice and pure vine of Israel allowed herself to deteriorate into a degenerate and wild vine; so, too, many of the Christian congregation, which began as a pure and chaste virgin, allowed themselves to be overreached by Satan the Devil and his world, to become unfaithful to their Lord Jesus Christ and to bring forth all manner of bad fruit, at which time they became known as the Catholic Church. So, instead of Christ, it really is Satan the Devil that is the one who established the Catholic Church.—Jer. 2:21; Ezek. 28:14-16.