In times past, the Roman Catholics taught that they were the only ones that would be
saved and go to heaven. Whether this teaching has changed or not, in America it has
been muted. In the U.S., churches were not named “R.C.” or “Roman Catholic” on the
assumption that there really was no other type of church.
Roman Catholic theology believes that the Bishop of Rome—the Pope—is descended
from a direct line to the first bishop of Rome, thought to be Peter, and that Jesus gave to
Peter “the keys to the kingdom (heaven)”. Thus the Popes in turn continue to exclusively
have “the keys to the kingdom” handed down to them.
A problem with this thinking is that there are many churches that precede the creation of
the Roman Catholic church in 351 A.D., i.e. the Coptic church of Alexandria, Egypt; the
Ethiopian church, the Antioch church of Syria, the Chaldean church of Iraq, the India
church in Kerala.
Around 1050 A.D., the “Great Schism” occurred between the eastern Orthodox church
and the Roman Catholic church. At that time, the world headquarters of the church was in
According to the Roman Catholic church, the bread and wine of the communion
service, or the Eucharist, are mystically transformed into the actual body and blood of
Jesus, so that communicants are eating the actual flesh and blood of Jesus. Some people
have described this as “eating your god”. This doctrine was formally adopted by the
Council of Trent in 1551.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches, the Eastern Catholic, the Oriental, and the Assyrian
Church agree with this Roman Catholic church teaching.
Dr. Martin Luther rejected this concept, and formed his own concept, which he called
“contransubstantiation,” namely that Jesus’ body and blood are all above, beneath, and
around the bread and the wine, but are not actually physically present.
According to Catholic tradition, the Church was organized by Jesus when he
appointed the twelve apostles and gave them authority to assume control of the Church
after his death.
As a corollary, the church asserts that there is an unbroken tradition of continuity of
authority from the apostles.
Rome considered itself as the unique center of Church unity because of its special
status as the official residence or “see”, from the Latin sedes, of the apostles Peter and
Paul, as capitol of the Empire, and as willing distributor of its considerable wealth. Special
honor and authority then became invested in the bishop of Rome, who became known as
At first, the Catholic clergy had not been sharply differentiated from the laity in their
lifestyle. They had married, raised children, and supported themselves by secular trades
or occupations. As the Church was able to accumulate money, however, the clergy
became paid from their secular occupations until by Constantine’s day such withdrawal
Eventually, Roman Catholic priests had to take vows of poverty and celibacy, and
Roman Catholic nuns are considered “brides of Christ.” They also must take vows of
poverty and celibacy.
Besides the Bishop of Rome, there were bishops in Alexandria and Antioch.
Constantine called a council of bishops, at Nicaea in 325, which was the first ecumenical
A creed associated with the Nicene Council, and still recited in the Catholic Church
today, asserts that the Son was begotten and not created, and that he shares in the
divine nature fully and equally.
The early Christians were persecuted by the authorities and the Roman emperors
until the time of the emperor Constantine in the year 313 AD Constantine did not formally
convert to Christianity until near his death in 337 AD.
Constantine actively advocated Catholicism. His support of the Church facilitated mass
conversions of pagans. The result was the incorporation of many pagan customs into the
Catholic liturgy, or system of worship. These customs included devotion to relics, the use
of the kiss as a sign of relevance for holy objects, and the practice of kneeling, the use of
candles and incense, and an increased use of ceremonies patterned on those used in
the imperial court.
Prayers to saints who would intercede in spiritual matters is part of Roman Catholic
In the 5th century, after the collapse of the Roman emperor, Popes took a leading part
in the political affairs of Italy.
The basis of authority within the early church had been the system of Episcopal
councils which rules on matters of doctrine and discipline. However, the early Popes tried
to assert a special status for the bishop of Rome. Pope Leo I (440-61) felt that Peter
himself spoke through the popes, who were simply Peter’s temporal representatives. This
led to the belief that the popes decrees should be received with more authority than that
of the other patriarchs, as the bishops of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and
Constantinople were called.
The clergy, nuns, and popes took vows of celibacy and poverty, but for many
centuries the popes indulged in riches and sexual license. In the 8th century, the papacy
took the ascendancy over the political establishment, and began the era of the Holy
The Pope’s rise to world power was facilitated by the situation in the Eastern Church.
There, the idea of papal primacy in spiritual matters was not questioned, but since the
Council of Chalcedon, as we have seen, there was an increasing move for jurisdictional
authority for Constantinople in the East. In the seventh century, the Moslem capture of
the patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem left Constantinople the unrivaled
head of the Eastern Church. The 8th century iconoclast controversy weakened the
Eastern Church when the monks were willing to recognize both the primacy and
jurisdiction of the Roman Church in their struggle against imperial interference. At the
same time the alliance of the patriarchs of Constantinople with the emperors, together
with the fateful alliance between the Franks and Rome, intensified the gap within the
Church between Constantinople and Rome.
In 1054 AD the Roman Catholic church and the Orthodox church in Constantinople
had a break that is known as the “schism,” a schism which has not been healed yet.
From this time on, until rather recently, the popes involved themselves in the political
affairs of Europe.
The so-called “Reformation” was initiated by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther, who criticized
the practice of selling “indulgences”.
These were sold throughout Europe by agents of the Pope, and conveyed the church’s
forgiveness of a sin prior to it being committed.
As a reaction to the reformation, the popes called for the Council of Trent to reaffirm
the traditions of the catholic church. Justification for salvation required not just faith, but
charity expressed through good works. As for the authority of the bible, the council
asserted that the bible must be interpreted according to the tradition of the church
fathers. The council established seven sacraments; baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist,
penance, final unction, orders, and marriage.
The Catholic teaching that marriage is a sacrament, and is between a man and a
woman, makes it difficult for Catholics to accept gay marriages.
After the Council of Trent (1545-63) the popes set a high standard of morality, doing
away with mistresses and luxurious living, and transformed the Vatican into a kind-of
monastery, for which it has never really suffered a serious relapse.
The Immaculate Conception
In 1854 Pope Pius IX promulgated a new doctrine, that of the Immaculate Conception of
Based upon the Adam and Eve story of the creation of original sin by disobeying God
and eating the fruit of the tree of life, the concept of the Immaculate Conception of Mary
is that she was conceived not having original sin.
The Pope said “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and
grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race,
was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
Burning heretics at stake