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
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
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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