Is Roman Catholicism Apostolic?

THE QUERY COLUMN: Is Roman Catholicism Apostolic?

The answer and reasons behind it

Associate Secretary, Religious Liberty Department

Is the Roman Catholic Church correct in claiming to be the original apostolic church?"

NO. The Roman Catholic Church is a system of religion which developed gradually out of the original Christian church in Rome. This original Christian church of the old metropolis had apostolic foundations. It was perhaps started by Jews from Rome who, having been converted on the day of Pentecost at Jerusalem, returned to the city of Rome, and organized a Christian community there. Concerning this early beginning of the Roman Church, we do. not have the actual historical facts. Paul wrote to the church of Rome before he visited there, and was there in person probably as early as A.D. 62. Peter visited the church at Rome (Acts of the Apostles, p. 537), and doubtless made his apostolic contribution to its development. There is a later tradition that Peter visited Rome as early as A.D. 44, but there is no historical confirmation of this.

Out of this beginning the Christian church in Rome increased and prospered. It is impossible to date the beginning of its apostasy. About A.D. 150 Sunday keeping began in the Roman Church. At A.D. 200 the head of the church of Rome, a man by the name of Victor, tried to excommunicate other churchmen who refused to keep the new festival of Easter on Sunday. It was from Rome that Constantine issued his famous Sunday law of A.D. 321, which, although a civil law, was probably instigated in part by the leaders of the Roman Church. As the entire church developed false ritualistic and theological elements, Rome participated, and often led in the process.

The apostasy of the Roman Church became marked by A.D. 400, and objective historians speak of Christianity of that date, which was already looking to Rome for leadership, as having become a "mystery cult." The emperor Valentinian III, in A.D. 445 made Pope Leo the judge of other bishops. By the time of that pope's death the Papacy was already established as an institution. In 533 the emperor Justinian I recognized the pope of Rome as the arbiter of church dogma, and by 538 the power of the Arian Germanic kings of the west was so weakened or destroyed that the Papacy was able to develop its historic temporal and political power.

Therefore, sometime prior to A.D. 400 the church in Rome had already ceased to be the truly apostolic church, and had become the apostate cult of Rome that we now call the Roman Catholic Church. Seeming historic continuity should not be confused with genuine continuity, and the fact that there was an early Christian church in Rome does not mean that the present Roman Catholic Church is the true spiritual continuation of that early church.

It must be understood that the so-called Greek Orthodox Church is a product of a similar apostasy. This church also claims to be apostolic, but is not apostolic for reasons very similar to those applicable to the Roman Church.

 


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Associate Secretary, Religious Liberty Department

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