While many Protestants deny that Roman Catholicism is a Christian denomination, one of the most persistent criticisms of Protestants by Roman Catholics is that we, allegedly, can only trace our religion back to the 16th century. Arguing that point, the Roman Catholic apologist offers what he believes to be the most compelling rebuttal possible: if Roman Catholicism is not the True Church, then the True Church must have perished shortly after it was formed, being then revived only in the 16th century, making Jesus a liar (Matthew 16:18). The Protestant is thereby presented with an unpalatable dilemma: either accept that Roman Catholicism is and always has been the True Church, or acknowledge that Jesus Christ is a liar. Many a professing Evangelical has stumbled at the false dilemma, concluding that because Jesus is not a liar, then Roman Catholicism must be the True church.
By way of a recent example, K. Albert Little of the Cordial Catholic, capitulated to that argument, as explained in his article, “Why I’m Becoming a Catholic At Easter.” He was seeking “a more ancient faith,” and right on cue, he determined that he must accept Roman Catholicism as Christ’s Church, for if he does not, “[t]hen Jesus is a liar and not God.” Persuaded by that reasoning, Little converted in 2015, thinking he had found a religion that “can clearly trace its roots back to the very first apostles and to Christ’s promise to build a Church.”
As we have noted in many different articles in our blog, however, the early Church rejected the very things that make Roman Catholicism what it is—papal primacy, Roman primacy, papal infallibility, priestly celibacy, baptismal regeneration, the immaculate conception, the perpetual virginity, dormition and assumption of Mary, Mary as Mother of the Church, transubstantiation, eucharistic adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, kneeling on the Lord’s Day, incense, candles, relics, images, the title Pontifex Maximus, communion on the tongue, the liturgical mixing of water with wine, etc., etc., etc… These all find their origins in the 4th century and beyond, not in the 1st. No, Roman Catholicism cannot “clearly trace its roots back” that far, which is why her apologists are always Longing for Nicæa in order by fraud, fabrication, insinuation, inference or deceit to find some scrap of evidence that might support her claim of early origins. In reality, Roman Catholicism hates the early church, even while claiming to be its sole heir, so different is the early church from the later Roman imposter.
The Roman apologist’s—and, we might add, the pliable Evangelical’s—approach to this issue takes as its starting point an erroneous assumption that they cannot prove and which we refuse to grant to them: namely, that medieval Roman Catholicism was the result of a continuous unfolding and maturing of the apostolic faith, and therefore represents the sole manifestation of Christ’s Church for the first 1,000 years of Christianity. Relying on that invalid assumption, they end up converting to or defending not a 1st century apostolic religion but a late 4th century novelty that is nothing but a carnal, diabolical attempt to imitate Christianity.
We join the Roman apologist and the impressionable Evangelical, of course, in their affirmation that Jesus is not a liar, and we agree that the late 4th century emergence of the Roman Papacy is a testimony of His truthfulness. Nor, we add, were His prophets and apostles liars, foreseeing the rise of Roman Catholicism from the fragments of the Roman Empire, warning of the Roman Papacy as the Little Horn of Daniel 7:8, the Beast of Revelation 13:1-2, and “that Wicked” “man of sin” and “the son of perdition” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3-8. Based on their warnings, we can hardly be surprised that such a religion as Rome, emerging late in time, three hundred years after the apostolic era, would also implore us to worship an image that comes to life and speaks (the Eucharist) at the insistence of a false prophet that works miracles, even to make the sun come down to earth in the sight of men (the Apparitions of Mary). No, we are not surprised at all, for Jesus has not lied to us (Revelation 13:13-14).
As surely as the gates of hell could not prevail against Christ’s Church, the rest of the world could by no means fail to succumb to the “strong delusion” His Father would send upon them (2 Thessalonians 2:11). And Roman Catholicism could by no means fail to emerge in the late 4th century from among the thirteen fragments of the Roman empire, subduing three of them and rising up among the remaining ten, ruling as Rome’s successor for 1,260 years, persecuting Christ’s Church through it all. All of these have surely come to pass, for Christ, His prophets and His apostles have told us they would. They have not lied to us.
Since Jesus is no a liar, and Roman Catholicism is not the true Church, then there must have been a religion that actually originated with Christ and His apostles, survived the late 4th century apostasy, rise and medieval reign of Roman Catholicism, and still perseveres to this day. But because the Roman apologist and the pliable Evangelical are ignorant of and cannot find that actual True Church in their history books, they have settled for what they can find. And what they can find is Roman Catholicism writ large across the pages of yore, complete with its clamorous and inventive protestations of apostolic continuity.
With that limited and incorrect information, the Roman Catholic digs in and the exasperated Evangelical finally capitulates, as if the Church of Rome was the only possible answer to the quest for the ancient religion founded by Christ and His apostles. In this, both the apologist and the convert are oblivious to the fact that a “strong delusion” from God (2 Thessalonians 2:13) is just as irresistible as His grace, and that Rome’s historians were not immune to the delusion. In fact, the Roman Catholic presumption of apostolic continuity is actually the delusion, and their manifold idolatries—bowing in the service of relics, images, Mary and the Eucharist—is the “pleasure” the deluded take “in unrighteousness” (2 Thessalonians 2:14). That presumption of continuity is precisely why people stumble at the arguments of the Roman apologists, and swallow their idolatries whole.
Take for example two converts to Roman Catholicism who “returned” to what they were told was the “apostolic faith,” laboring under the delusion that Rome’s errors could be traced to the earliest ages of Christianity. Walid Shoebat converted in part because he was persuaded that the church of the first four centuries permitted incense and images in its worship:
“But as I researched the oldest Christians and their churches from the first century to the fourth … all these churches used icons and incense.” (Walid Shoebat, Why Catholics Having Icons Is RIGHT, And Evangelicals Not Having Icons Is WRONG)
Or consider Elizabeth Esther who converted because she was persuaded that the Holy Spirit had led the early Church into the doctrine of Mary’s immaculate conception:
“To be honest, when I was a Protestant, all these Marian doctrines confused me. … Ultimately it came down to an issue of trust: could I trust that the Holy Spirit had led the early church?” (Elizabeth Esther, Why the Immaculate Conception Makes Protestants Squirm)
Yet even Rome’s apologists—and her very own Catholic Encyclopedia—know very well that Mr. Shoebat and Ms. Esther are misled on the very things that caused them to convert in the first place: the presumption of continuity:
“When, exactly, incense was introduced into the religious services of the Church it is not easy to say. During the first four centuries there is no evidence for its use.” (Catholic Encylopedia, Incense, Use)
“[I]n the first ages of Christianity, when converts from paganism were so numerous, and the impression of idol-worship was so fresh, the Church found it advisable not to permit the development of this cult of images…” (Catholic Encyclopedia, The True Cross, “Catholic doctrine on the veneration of the Cross”)
“From the close of the Apostolic Age to the Council of Nicaea (325 AD) the literary heritage of Western Christianity contains so remarkably little on the theme of Our Lady’s holiness that a pointed question is inevitable. Was the pre-Nicene West even conscious of the problem? … A significant turning point in the Mariological consciousness of the West does not occur until 377 … with respect to Our Lady’s holiness, the year 431 marks a turning point for Eastern patristic thought.” (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics (ECA) The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God: from Juniper Carol’s Mariology and Ullathorne’s Immaculate Conception.)
What can we make of such converts as Shoebat and Esther, who insist that they converted to Roman Catholicism because icons, incense and the Marian dogmas are all from the earliest days of Christianity, when their own apologists and Encyclopedia acknowledge that they cannot find any evidence for icons, incense and the Marian dogmas in the earliest days of Christianity? It is a delusion of eschatological proportions, and her apologists labor under it constantly.
Take for example, Scott Hahn, former Presbyterian minister turned Roman Catholic apologist, as he alleges apostolic continuity even while tacitly acknowledging that he cannot find it:
“The Immaculate Conception was a commonplace of the early Church. Saint Ephraim of Syria testified to it in the [late] fourth century [360 A.D.], as did Saint Augustine in the fifth.” (Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, (Doubleday, 2006) 96)
It is for this reason that we focus on the late 4th century—that brief point in time at which the Roman Empire was divided into thirteen dioceses (of which Roman Catholicism claimed three), and the point at which so many of Rome’s errors originated. We do this to show that Roman Catholicism emerged not as a continuous expression of Christ’s faithful church, but rather as a step-wise and sudden departure from it, just as it was prophesied to do. Roman Catholicism is the “falling away,” and its deeply flawed historiography the “strong delusion” (2 Thessalonians 2:3, 11). Those misguided shepherds of the deluded apostasy became the guardians of the library of history, writing a fictitious account of their origins, attempting to construct a plausible account of their illegitimate rise to power, convincing even themselves that they were the heirs of the apostles, alleging continuity even as they are baffled at the endemic discontinuity of their religion. The belief in Roman Primacy is no different.
As we noted in our article, “And Now Ye Know What Withholdeth” and in our series, The Visible Apostolicity of the Invisibly Shepherded Church, the Early Church steadfastly rejected any presumption of primacy from the Bishop of Rome, despised the very notion of an earthly chief metropolis, and opposed any attempt to establish a central episcopate on earth before Christ’s return. Christ, the Chief Shepherd, ruled His Church from Heaven and would not establish an earthly government until His return. The Early Church was entirely satisfied with that arrangement, and scoffed at the Bishop of Rome for even hinting at anything different.
But then came Pope Damasus I (366-384 A.D.) who claimed against all evidence that “the holy Roman church is given first place by the rest of the churches,” branding the city of Rome the chief metropolis of Christianity, ranked “before all other cities in the whole world” (Council of Rome, III.1-2). Under his reign, Emperor Theodosius I issued De Fide Catholica (380 A.D.), claiming that Pope Damasus I was the new Pontifex of the state, and Catholicism its new religion. Two years later, Emperor Gratian formally renounced the title Pontifex Maximus. Thus was the Bishop of Rome finally elevated to his coveted position of prominence, a primacy until then denied to him by the Church of Christ. It was a position secured in pride, ambition, blood, savagery and intrigue, such was “the violent character of the episcopal elections at Rome” in those days. One hundred thirty seven men lay dead at his ascension (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. III, § 72 The Roman Schism of Damasus and Ursinus). Those 137 deaths would not be the last at the hands of the new religion and empire. No, far from it.
Truth, too, would be a casualty of the rise of the Roman Papacy, as can be seen in a survey of how Rome twisted the canons of the early councils to forge them fraudulently into conciliar recognition of Roman primacy. As we showed in False Teeth, and “Unless I am deceived…”, Canon 6 of Nicæa (325 A.D.) had recognized the bishop of Rome as a minor custodian of several provinces within the Diocese of Italy (Milan being the chief metropolis) and therefore a suitable precedent for making the bishop of Alexandria the custodian of a few provinces within the Diocese of Oriens (Antioch being the chief). But Jerome (398 A.D.), Rufinus (403 A.D.) and Pope Innocent I (411 A.D.) had all mistakenly assumed that the Diocese of Egypt was already in existence at Nicæa and further that the Council had made the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch the chief metropolitans of their respective dioceses.
The Diocese of Egypt, in fact, was not formed until at least 374 A.D., which is the very reason the council had to wrestle with the problem of the jurisdictions of two metropolitans within a single civil diocese, a situation that mirrored the current status quo in Italy in the early 4th century. Just as Rome had recently been allocated a portion of the Diocese of Italy, Alexandria would be allocated a portion of the Diocese of Oriens, which was the only reason Canon 6 had invoked the Bishop of Rome at all. Jerome’s, Rufinus’ and Innocent’s anachronism completely changed the geographic context of Canon 6. Ever since then Roman Catholicism has employed the anachronism to recast the 6th of Nicæa as a formal codification of the ancient primacy of Rome, whose bishop allegedly assigned metropolitans to their dioceses, very nearly the exact opposite of the canon’s original meaning.
Two decades later, during the trial of Athanasius, Bishop Julius of Rome was adhering to Constantine’s recent judicial reforms when he dutifully compiled his opinion and forwarded it to the Emperor for a judicial review, and thence to the Council of Sardica (343 A.D.) for a final ruling. As we showed in our series, Anatomy of a Deception, Julius’ famous quip that “the custom has been for word to be written first to us” and for “a just decision to be passed from this place” (Athanasius, Apologia Contra Arianos, Part I, chapter 2, Letter of Julius to the Eusebians at Antioch), was simply a criticism of the Eusebians’ failure to comply with Constantine’s recent prohibition of consultatio ante sententiam, the illicit practice of appealing to the Emperor while a lower court was still considering the case (Lord Thomas Mackenzie, Studies in Roman Law (1886), 379). As Julius and Athanasius both testified, the Eusebians had written to him first but had also continued arguing their case at the Imperial Court, in violation of Constantine’s reforms (Athanasius, Apologia Contra Arianos, Part I, chapter 2, Letter of Julius to the Eusebians at Antioch, paragraph 26; Letter of Julius to the Eusebians at Antioch, paragraph 1). That circumvention of the lower courts was illegal no matter which metropolitan bishop was handling a case. Julius’ objection was not about Roman primacy but about honoring Constantine’s appellate reforms.
That unlawful practice of consultatio ante sententiam was formally prohibited by the 7th Canon of Sardica—”[f]or many of the bishops do not intermit resorting to the imperial Court”—and Julius’ compliance with the new appellate procedure was formally recognized in Canon 9 which required appeals to the Emperor’s Court to advanced only through the metropolis of a diocese. But a special case existed in Italy where, as we have noted above, there were two metropolitans—one in Milan, and one in Rome—so the canon clarified the procedure, taking into account Rome’s diminutive status within the diocese. Appeals would generally be advanced through the chief metropolis (Milan), but if the appeal was lodged in Rome, the Bishop of Rome was allowed to advanced the appeal himself:
“But those who come to Rome ought, as I said before, to deliver to our beloved brother and fellow bishop, Julius, the petitions which they have to give, in order that he may first examine them, lest some of them should be improper, and so, giving them his own advocacy and care, shall send them to the [Imperial] Court.” (Council of Sardica, Canon 9)
The canon was simply an acknowledgment of Rome’s diminutive status within the Diocese of Italy, a material recognition that Milan was yet its chief metropolis, as Athanasius twice observed (Athanasius, History of the Arians, Part IV, chapter 33; Apologia de Fuga, chapter 4).
But again by ignorance and myth Roman Catholicism was able to recast Julius’ comments and the 9th of Sardica as an ancient acknowledgment of Roman episcopal primacy, when in fact the canons had authorized all metropolitans to prepare rulings for judicial review by the Emperor, and every appellant to advance his case through the metropolitan of his choosing. According to Canon 9, Rome was only exceptional in its diminution, for its bishop presided in the lesser metropolis of a diocese in which there were two metropolitans.
By the time of the deposition of Apiarius of Tabraca (418 A.D.), the Canons of Sardica were reinterpreted by Pope Zosimus as if they required all episcopal disputes to be handled by the Bishop of Rome alone. What is more, Zosimus had falsely purveyed the Sardican canons as Nicæan in an attempt to imbue his medieval misrepresentation with the impression of antiquity.
By Chalcedon (451 A.D.), Pope Leo took up the mantle of Zosimus’ deception, and in full knowledge of Zosimus’ error, continued to advance the fraudulent presumption of primacy. When Leo sent his legates to the council, they carried with them a conveniently edited Canon 6 from Nicæa:
“The church of Rome has always had primacy. Egypt is therefore also to enjoy the right that the bishop of Alexandria has authority over everything, since this is the custom for the Roman bishop also.” (Richard Price & Michael Gaddis, The Acts of the Council of Chalcedon, vol 3, in Gillian Clark, Mark Humphries & Mary Whitby, Translated Texts for Historians, vol 45 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2005) 85)
That introductory clause was pure fraud, but was put forward as ancient evidence of Roman primacy even as Leo continued insisting that the canons of Nicæa “can never be modified by any change, nor … perverted to private interests” (Leo the Great, Letter 106, paragraph 4). His perverted modifications could not be found in any of the ancient records of Nicæa, but the facts of history were no obstacle to the ambition of the Bishop of Rome. By the relentless power of repetition, with an occasional rewriting of history, plus some creative editorial modifications to the canons, the square peg of Roman primacy was steadily pounded into the round hole of a history that could not have otherwise accommodated it.
Thus is the unnatural birth and fraudulent rise of the religion called Roman Catholicism—which is nothing but a widespread apostasy from the late 4th century—presented to us as the only viable option in our quest for the true ancient, apostolic church. We are told that we must finally kneel at the threshold of a library of history that is fraudulently maintained at the gates of Rome, and accept as our mother this institution born of blood, scandal, political intrigue, conciliar misunderstandings, canonical lies, historical errors, doctrinal inventions, novel idolatries, geographical myths and outright deception.
Because … you know … otherwise Jesus is a liar.
The fundamental historical flaw in the reasoning of the Roman apologist and the pliable Evangelical is that both overlook the three century gap in her alleged doctrinal continuity, and see Damasus’ bloody, carnal ascension and Rome’s unscrupulous rise to earthly power as the excusable consequence of the fall of man and the supposed necessity of having a visible shepherd on earth. Roman Catholicism, they say, is nevertheless our only option.
Confronted with the claim of a different, purer, more ancient Church, they scour the history section of Rome’s library to search for another institution inflamed with the same carnal, demonic ambition for earthly power and primacy that has infected Roman Catholicism since her illegitimate birth. Because another such carnal monstrosity cannot be found in the post-apostolic era, Rome is supposedly exonerated and Protestantism ostensibly disproved. There is only one woman who can be our mother, we are told, and Roman Catholicism is her name. We are invited, nay, commanded, to kneel in submission before Holy Mother Church.
But Jesus told us there is not only one Woman from which to choose. There are two. Just as Proverbs 14 declares that both the foolish woman and the wise sit at the city gates saying “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither…” (Proverbs 9:4,16), even so there are two Women in the Book of Revelation vying for the allegiance of men—the Harlot decked in earthly beauty (Revelation 17:4) whose children are harlotry and abomination (Revelation 17:5), and the Bride of Christ arrayed in Heavenly beauty (Revelation 12:1) whose children “keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17). Roman Catholicism is associated with one of those two women, to be sure, but her origins, her seat, and her rise to power suggest she is affiliated with the former, not the latter. After all, the Harlot of Revelation 17 “is that great city,” Rome, which at the time of John’s Revelation, “reigne[d] over the kings of the earth” (Revelation 17:18). By Damasus’ own proclamation, his new religion was headquartered there (Council of Rome, III.2). And since Jesus is no liar, there is, indeed there must be, another Woman. That other Woman is the Israel of God, the Church of Christ, the Woman of Revelation 12.
Jesus had marked out that True Church of the 144,000 less than ten years before the rise of Damasus, as we highlighted in our article, Do Not Weep For Nicomedia. That is the True Church, its members marked with the seal of God on their foreheads (Revelation 7:3). It is she who kept Rome at bay for three centuries, resisting the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thessalonians 2:7). She was preserved from the wiles of the devil and removed to the wilderness to allow the unrestrained rise of “those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads” (Revelation 9:4), known now to history as the religion of Roman Catholicism, the fifth empire of Daniel’s visions.
To find the True Church that stood apart from the Harlot Rome, we will look to the wilderness as Revelation 12 instructs us to do. In our quest for her, we must be careful not to stumble where so many have before, encountering the Harlot in the Wilderness (Revelation 17:3) thinking to have found the True Church (Revelation 12:6,14). Both women cry out for our allegiance—the one who invites us to live, and to “go in the way of understanding” (Proverbs 9:6), and the other whose abode is death, and whose “guests are in the depths of hell” (Proverbs 9:18). By His Word, the Lord’s people may discern which Woman ought to receive our attention. We are looking for the Woman arrayed in Heavenly light (Revelation 12:1-2), not the Harlot burdened with earthly encumbrances (Revelation 17:4). We are not looking for a religion based in the harlot city of Rome.
What we shall find in the following series is that there is an apostolic religion that actually does trace its origins to the apostles, the members of which religion rejected the late 4th century novelties and apostasy of Rome, flying instead to a place of refuge in the wilderness where they were nourished and fed by their Lord and His Word. The godly purity and simplicity of their mode of life stood in remarkable contrast to the base carnality of Rome’s bloody, deceptive and scandalous rise to power, her grasp of the Scriptures so exceptional that her Roman detractors attributed it to demonic possession. At every turn, she resisted what Roman Catholicism invented and imposed mercilessly and relentlessly upon the world, from the late 4th century idolatrous novelties, to the demonic Crusades and the idolatrous 11th century introduction of Eucharistic adoration. Through it all, she was earnestly evangelical, coming down from her place of refuge to minister the Gospel of Christ to a world ensnared in the shackles of the Roman apostasy. Every notable Reformation movement of record—movements as early as the late 4th century—originated with her. The Scriptures, as we shall see, identify her for us along the way, not only by what she did, but also by what she could not be tempted to do.
No, we cannot “turn in hither” (Proverbs 9:16) to the harlot of Rome, for if Roman Catholicism is the True Church, then Christ’s Bride succumbed to the great apostasy and perished in error and idolatry at the end of the 4th century, making Jesus a liar.
But we know Jesus has not lied to us. So we “turn in hither” (Proverbs 9:4) to the Other Woman, for we Protestants, in our manifold denominations, are her offspring (Revelation 12:17).