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Roman Catholicism

After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 78 A.D., the Christian Church of Jerusalem temporarily ceased to exist, and the Roman congregation and the administration of its bishops advanced to the forefront.

Basing their actions on the central location of Rome as the imperial city and on the fact that Rome was the seat of many first century apostles, the Roman bishops began as early as the third century to advance their leadership position in the Church. The bishops of the eastern provinces of the Roman empire disagreed with this attempt of the Roman hierarchy to assert its preeminence or supremacy.

We have already discussed the church administration and the various ranks of church leadership in cities and regions of the widespread Roman empire, starting from the second and third centuries. Ireneus of Lyon was considered the leader of Gaul, Cyprian of Carthage was another church leader, and Bishops Mauritania and Numedia of Alexandria guided the churches in Egypt. Ephesus became the seat of the churches in Asia Minor, as Rome was the seat of the churches in the Italian peninsula and Gaul. Following the establishment of Ecumenical Councils, such churches emerged as leaders in their regions, possessing both ecclesiastical and secular power. This did not create a conflict among them, nor detract from their equality, and matters regarding all the churches were decided by all the Church representatives in the Ecumenical Councils.

The thirty-fourth apostolic rule states, "bishops of all churches are required to be the first, as the head, and nothing is to be decided without their consent: each one to do only that which concerns his area and region which is his responsibility. But the head does not decide without the consent of the rest. This preserves solidarity. Blessed be God the Lord, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit." In this rule was expressed the main principles guiding the Councils.

In general, apostolic rules and rules of the ancient councils did not allow independence of the head bishop, and especially not absolutism of the Church. Decisions on religious and canonical matters were the responsibility of the Councils of bishops, regionally, or when necessity demanded, at an Ecumenical Council.

Furthermore, political situations resulted in a continually growing influence of the bishops of Rome (the popes). Attacks of barbarians in the 4th century and the resulting emigration of European people contributed to this. Such barbaric attacks advanced across ancient Roman provinces, washing away signs of Christianity. In the midst of the newly created governments, Rome stepped forth as the standard bearer of the apostolic faith and heritage. The high authority of Roman bishops also controlled religious matters from 4th to the 8th centuries in the Byzantine Empire, where the bishops of Rome were considered the defenders of Orthodoxy. Thus, gradually the bishops of Rome considered themselves called to govern the entire Christian world. A new push towards strengthening this despotic attitude of the Roman popes was in a decree issued during the 4th century by the Emperor Gracianus, acclaiming the person of the Roman pope (a title carried by the Roman and Alexandrian bishops meaning "father"). As early as the 5th century, Pope Innocent declared, "nothing can be decided without the assembly of the Roman Council and especially in regards to faith, all bishops must defer to the Apostle Peter, who is the head of the Roman bishops." In the 7th century, Pope Araphon demanded that all the churches accept the rule of the Roman church, claiming its institution by the words of Apostle Peter. In the 8th century, Pope Stephan wrote, "I am the Apostle Peter, by the will of God through the merciful calling of Christ, Son of the living God, in charge of all His power to be the light of the whole world."

All these grandiose claims of the popes were not at first taken seriously by the eastern bishops and did not divide the Church. All were bound by one faith, Sacraments and the awareness of belonging to the one Holy, Apostolic Church. But, unfortunately for the Christian world, this union was shattered by the Roman bishops in the 11th century and the centuries following. The separation of the Roman Church deepened when new dogmas appeared. First, the Roman church changed the Creed of Faith, adding the words "and the Son" after the words indicating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This addition to the Creed is referred to as "filioque" and represents a profound departure from the earliest apostolic theology of the Church. In short, is incorrect and lacks any historical or dogmatic support. Next, they developed new and alien doctrines including a system of "papal indulgences," which provided absolution from sin through payment of money to the church. This was followed by other strange teachings such as the "immaculate conception" of the Virgin Mary and the so-called "infallibility" of the Pope. In so doing, they departed further and further from the true Church, and they distorted the very nature of the Church.

For justification of their leadership, the Roman popes refer to the words of the Savior spoken to Apostle Peter, "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:18) The holy fathers of the Church always understood these words to mean that the Church is built on the faith in Christ which the Apostle Peter confessed, not on Peter personally. The apostles did not consider the Apostle Peter to be their head, and in the Apostolic Council in Jerusalem in 51 A.D., the Apostle James presided. With regard to the authority of the Apostle Peter, he performed the laying of hands in many cities, not only in Rome, but in Alexandria, Antioch and others. Why did not the bishops in those cities consider themselves as supreme rulers of the Church? If Peter were the supreme head of the Church, his successors could also be said to be the bishops of these cities. Moreover, the Roman Church’s first bishop was Linus, not St. Peter, and Linus ruled as bishop when St. Peter was in Rome. Deeper research into this question leads us to one honest conclusion: the teaching that St. Peter was the head of the Church was a creation of Roman popes produced by their thirst for power and their straying from the true Faith. This teaching was not established by the early Church.

The arrogant claims to supremacy of the bishop of Rome, along with the false teaching that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Son, brought division between the Orthodox Churches of the East and the western Roman Church. The official separation occurred the year 1054 A.D., when the Roman Cardinal Humbert placed on the altar of St. Sophia in Constantinople the papal decree declaring a curse on all who do not agree with the Roman Church.

Religious and secular life in the Europe of the 11th century were closely intertwined. Secular government and the ability to declare war were not supposed to be within the powers of a bishop, yet the popes of Rome developed and consolidated such secular powers and influence. Pope Pius IX declared a mandate that all Catholics accept the Roman pope’s rule of their secular affairs. At the decree of the pope, whole nations, taking sword in hand, advanced towards those whom the pope named his enemies. In the 13th century, the pope not only crowned the kings, but allowed disputes between princes, and by his power was able to declare or conclude wars. Furthermore, he had the power to crown kings and emperors or have them removed and their supporters exiled, and he exercised other such far-reaching political powers.

In their battle for power the popes were tireless and used many occasions to remind others of their supremacy and infallibility. Thus, Pope Benedict VIII in 1302 wrote in his papal bull, "we announce that the holy apostolic clergy and Rome’s high priest are responsible for the whole world, and the high priest is the direct descendent of the Apostle Peter, prince of the apostles, representative of Christ on earth, head of the entire Church and father and teacher of all Christians." Similar words can be found in the declaration of the Council of 1870, which finally canonized the "infallibility" dogma and the heresy of the "immaculate conception." In the articles on canonical truth, published in 1917, Pope Benedict XV wrote, "The Roman high priest is inheritor of the first holy Peter, and not only has the honor of being first but has all the highest power of advocacy over the entire Church." This extreme arrogance of the Roman bishops gradually widened the chasm between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Church. One must remember, in spite of this growing schism, that before the 11th century, the Orthodox Church was in communion with right-believing Roman bishops who cherished the canonical principles established by the apostles regarding the independence of the regional churches. In fact, the Orthodox Church venerates several of the early bishops of Rome, such as St. Leo, as saints.

Nevertheless, in the battle for secular power over the world, the later Roman bishops engaged in disputes with the learned teachers, since a sword in the hands of "representatives" of the gentle Savior was not becoming, and deeply affected the image of the bishops’ service. Many representatives of the Church and independent nations began to be aware of that. The 14th century was the beginning of the religious and moral downfall of the popes. Their power became more secular than ever, with intrigues, courtly vanity, and avarice. The people began to be disgruntled under the despotic oppression of those representing the pope. A German historian writes, "The clergy behave disrespectfully towards the teaching of catechism, they ignore the Gospel and writings of the Holy Fathers, they are silent about faith, good works and other blessings, they do not speak of the worthiness of our Savior and His miracles . . . and these people hold the highest position in the Church which calls them to be pastors of souls!"

The results were soon evident. In the beginning of the 16th century, Protestantism was born, which came about as a protest against the Roman popes and was partly due to the criminal inquisitions and tortures committed by the Roman church, and the selling of papal indulgences. And before long, Protestantism itself fragmented into various sects.

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