The Rise of the Roman Catholic Church in a Nutshell

Here is what I taught last Tuesday at the Credo House.

In order to be a good Protestant, you must be a good anti-Catholic. I am not Catholic. I am Protestant. There are many doctrines of the Roman Catholic church that I am against, but there are many things that I appreciate about them.

Both Protestants and Roman Catholics have our lineage in the catholic church. Yes, I just said that. I am catholic, but not Roman Catholic. I’ve got some info for you: If you are a Christian, you are catholic too. This differentiation between catholic and Roman Catholic is part of a solid Protestant polemic against Roman Catholicism. It normally drives Roman Catholic apologists crazy, since it undermines their belief that they are the one true church. But it is true; Protestants are catholic Christians, but not Roman Catholic Christians. The word “catholic” was used very early to describe the church. It simply meant “universal,” describing the church’s universality. The church is not exclusive to Gentiles, Jews, Greeks, Romans, those in the East, or those in the West. The church that Christ built is universal, or “catholic.”

However, there was an institutional arm of the catholic church that eventually became known as the Roman Catholic church, complete with its own hierarchy, doctrines, and liturgical distinctives. The type of institutionalization that eventually characterized the Roman Catholic church is one of the major issues the Protestants battled against, believing that it had corrupted the catholic church to the core, even obscuring the Gospel itself. We now call it the Roman Catholic church due to its identification with the “seat of Rome.” This seat, according to the Roman Catholics, is the perpetual seat of ultimate authority that Peter passed on. It is known today as the papacy, which is the office of the Pope. The Pope sits in the seat of Rome, having the infallible authority to guide and direct the church in matters of faith and practice. He, along with the magisterium, form the institution and can, through “ordinary” or “extraordinary” means, intervene in church life and doctrine in a binding way. If a heresy arises in the church, the institution can condemn it, thus securing the faith of the church. Intervention rarely takes place (though this is debated), but this infallible safeguard  can theoretically step in at any time and protect the church from corruption.

How did this come into being? Protestants are right to point out that this institution is not biblical. If this is the truth, and this system is not biblical, how did such an institution come into being?

The answer is very complex, but let me attempt to give you a bird’s eye view by means of some charts!

Apostolic Succession

First, let’s get introduced to a concept called “apostolic succession.” This is not simply a Roman Catholic concept. As we will see, in its uncorrupted and ideal state, apostolic succession is very important for the church, Roman Catholic or not. Notice the chart. It starts with Jesus. Jesus handed his teaching over to twelve Apostles. The Apostles were authorities in the early church. When they spoke, people listened. Why? Because they were trained by Christ. They were witnesses of his death, burial, and resurrection. They carried unique authority in the establishment of the church.

So far, so good? Protestants and Catholics agree to this point. The next step is that the Apostles passed on their faith to others. Easy enough. The Apostles commissioned others to be leaders and authorities in the church. They handed over the faith to followers, like Timothy, who were approved in both their life and teaching. This created a succession of faith and teaching. They would often call this “laying on of hands.” With this “system” in place, the church maintained a safeguard against rogue expressions of the Christian faith. This is why Paul warned about commissioning people too hastily (1 Tim. 5:22).

Again, to this point both Protestants and Catholics agree. We need to pass on the faith. We need to commission others that have been approved. There needs to be accountability. However, the departure comes when we begin to define not only what this succession of authority is, but what it does. Again, we agree that it is the duty of the church to pass on the faith once for all handed to the saints (Jude 3). We agree that the church is the “pillar of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). We also agree that all in this succession are saints and a part of the church. However, Catholics believe that in order for this succession to be valid, it has to be seen as primarily a succession in person. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that the primary issue involved it is a succession in teaching, doctrine, and practice. Therefore, Roman Catholics focus on the one to whom the succession is given, while Protestants focus on the teaching and doctrine itself, believing that the person who receives the succession is instrumental, not integral.

Therefore, in essence, for the Roman Catholic, the persons in succession define the Gospel and make up the institutional church which presides over the Gospel. Hence, Catholics have the Pope and the magisterium of bishops (as represented by the fellows in the graph that follow the apostles). For the Protestant, on the other hand, it is the other way around. Only to the degree that the person is in succession with right teaching are they in apostolic succession. A hasty “laying on of hands” is possible, and can damage both the doctrine and reputation of the church.

This is why Protestants are continually going back to the source – the Bible – for final authority (sola Scriptura) and why Roman Catholics are continually going to the institution for final authority.

But there is one more way in which the chasm is further widened between Roman Catholics and Protestants with regard to the issue of apostolic succession. For the Roman Catholic, in order for this institution to have ultimate authority, it must possess the gift of infallibility. For the Protestant, the person upon whom the hands are laid (along with the institution, which is made up of a bunch of fellas upon whom hands have been laid) is fallible. Only the Apostles’ teaching is not. For the Protestant, apostolic succession is a safeguard to the Gospel, but it must be continually tested by the Scriptures.

So both believe in “Apostolic succession” and have some similarities in their understanding and rationale for Apostolic succession.

Regula Fide

The next component which characterizes both Roman Catholics and Protestants is the idea of the regula fide (though it is much more central for Roman Catholicism). This literally means “rule of faith.” In essence, the rule of faith was the unwritten tradition which summarized the orthodox understanding which is found both in the Scriptures and the apostolic succession of the church. This is expressed through the creeds, confessions, and traditions that are passed from generation to generation. Because Scripture is the final authority, individual interpretation is not the final authority. We interpret the Bible in and with the church. When doctrine is established, it is not established with an individual, his Bible, and the Holy Spirit, but with an individual, his Bible, and the Holy Spirit who is at work both through the individual and the historic body of Christ represented through apostolic succession.

The idea of the regula fide is organic, but was articulated through events and controversy in history. When someone in the church would propose an interpretation of the Bible, his or her interpretation was tested against the Scripture itself and against how Christians have always interpreted Scripture. So, for instance, if someone came to the church and began to teach that Christ was created, not eternal, this doctrine would be tested first according to the Scripture. Then it would be tested according to the regula fide by asking the question, “What has the church always taught about Christ?” So, not only does the Bible deny that Christ is a created being, but the church, having its teachings handed down since the time of the Apostles, has always interpreted the Bible as teaching that Christ is eternal as the Father is eternal. We find evidence of this through the early church fathers and the great Creeds of the church.

Again, so far so good. Roman Catholics and Protestants agree. Where we part ways is when we begin to define the authority of this unwritten tradition called the regula fide. The Roman Catholic church believes that this tradition is infallible. Protestants believe that it is only infallible to the degree that it rightly represents the Scriptures. Therefore, the regula fide, while serving as a safeguard for doctrine, needs a safeguard itself.

Both of these ideas, apostolic succession and the regula fide, have the same goal for both Protestants and Roman Catholics: to protect the faith once for all handed to the saints. However, the Roman Catholic church, having all the right intentions, believes that these safeguards must be infallible in order to be effective.

The Rise of Rome

This is where history takes an interesting and definitive turn. It is not unlike our desire to protect our children. There are two extremes. One extreme locks the children up in the house and thows away the key in order to protect them from all harm (like I am tempted to do!). Nothing wrong with the intentions here. The other extreme lets their children run wild, believing they have to learn the ways of the world in order to learn to protect themselves. Again, intentions good. As the church began to face more and more dangers, as doctrine was continually manipulated, as teachings that did not fall in line with Scripture or the church’s historic interpretation of Scripture were put forth, the church began to institutionalize itself. In other words, we brought all the children in the house and locked the door. This is what it looked like:

Now we have a shut door. Behind that shut door is both the Bible and the regula fide (unwritten tradition). Guarding the door is a representative of the now-institutionalized church. This representative is a successor of the Apostles. In the Roman Catholic system, the ultimate guard is the Pope (the successor of Peter). He holds the keys to the door. The Scripture is infallible. The regula fide is infallible. And, now, the representative guard is infallible. The people on the outside must go through him (the institution) in order to access the doctrines of the church.

But notice (and this is important), while the institution of the church was protecting both the Bible and the regula fide (unwritten tradition), the regula fide was also protecting the Bible. So there were two layers of authority standing between the people and the Bible.

While we Protestants would begin to protest here, we still understand why this situation arose. Who of us does not understand and sympathize with the mentality to bring all the kids in the house and lock the door? Yes, it may be wrong. Yes, it may be extreme. Yes, it may lack faith in God. But it makes sense.

Where things really go wrong is when infallibility is invoked upon the guardian. To say that he is right is one thing. To say that he is infallibly right, in order to curtail any rebellion, is another.

Once the church is institutionalized in such a way, understandable or not, corruption of its most fundamental beliefs becomes a serious danger. And this is the turn the church took in the later middle ages. Here is another chart (!):

The regula fide, because it is unwritten, is easy to abuse. The Scripture is not. And this is what happened in church history. The institution of the church (now quickly on its way to becoming the Roman Catholic church) began to expand on the regula fide, moving it from a summary of the essentials to requirements of non-essentials (notice the chart). Everything from liturgy to doctrine were added. What started as a small confession of Christian doctrine, as represented by the likes of the Nicene Creed (325) and the Statement of Chalcedon (451), became full catechisms, with infallible requirements of doctrines and practices that fell well outside of the regula fide and far outside the bounds of Scripture itself.  Now included in this unwritten tradition were non-essential doctrines concerning the mother of Jesus, celibacy in the priesthood, how one is to break the bread in the Lord’s supper, and a thousand other things. The unwritten traditions that were meant to preserve the essence of the Christian faith had developed to such a degree that one could not even see the Christian faith. The essence, which was important before, took on a secondary status to the authority of the institution. In the midst of this, the Gospel began to be obscured to such a degree that a major reformation was needed.


I think that we can all understand and empathize with the rise of Rome. While I seriously disagree with the “lock the doors, don’t let the kids out, and mom and dad are infallible” approach, I know why it happened. In fact, being a chapter in the history of the catholic church, it is a part of my history. However, in the Reformation, the door was unlocked, the regula fide was minimized (not abandoned), and apostolic succession became no longer a guarantee of infallibility, but a responsibility that must continually be submitted to the Scripture.

That is it. The rise of Roman Catholic Church in a nutshell.

54 Responses to “The Rise of the Roman Catholic Church in a Nutshell”

  1. Wow.

    The most informative piece of text I have ever read in my entire life, on catholic dogma (Roman or general). Very impressive. Thank you so much for this clarification.

    Although not the main thing in life, but when I am asked why protestant and not catholic, I never really knew what to say. In order not to offend someone I would say something “nice”. Now I actually know something about the difference that makes sense to me. Thank you for putting it in a way that can be understood by simple people like me.


  2. One more thought that lingers after reading all this.

    I think we should look out for Pope’s (or poops like my boss refers to them) in Protestant environments as well. If we don’t think it’s a good idea having that kind of authority.

    Several cases of Evangelical Church leaders who lock up their children and poses as the exact replica of what you refer to as the “Representative guard”. Armani suits instead of capes, iPad replacing sceptre and a flash bimmer for popemobile.

    Just a thought. Perhaps I’m not the only one who’ve come across that.

  3. “This is why Protestants are continually going back to the source – the Bible – for final authority (sola Scriptura) and why Roman Catholics are continually going to the institution for final authority.”

    But as your diagrams show, the true source is Christ himself working through His Church, i.e. the apostles and their successors. No Church – no Tradition. No Church – no New Testament writings. No Church – no determination of which of those writings comprise the canon of Scripture.

    So, how do you defend the notion that the Bible is the source when it is logically and chronologically the product of the Church?

  4. More pithily, where in the Bible does the Bible say that the Bible is the final authority, and where in the Bible does it say which books are in the Bible?

  5. This is confusing to read, and difficult to respond to, because you are misrepresenting infallibility and apostolic succession by linking the two doctrines too closely together…like the vertical poles of a ladder. But they are separate doctrines and do not correspond one-to-one as you present them here. The Catholic Church does not hold that infallibility is present wherever apostolic succession is present.

    Another way you are incorrectly presenting Catholicism is to call it Roman Catholic. If you are going to explain where the terms Catholic and Roman came from, it’s only fair to give the complete answer, including what the Catholic Church calls herself, not just what Protestants call the Catholic Church. We readers, who are trying to learn something here, deserve a more sophisticated answer, and I think you know better.

  6. Peter Lampe, in the book “Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries: From Paul to Valentinus,” provides some pretty convincing evidence that, not only was the “bishop of Rome” not recognized as the Vicar of Christ or Pastor of the global church in the earliest years of Christianity; there was, in fact, no recognized “bishop of Rome” until at least the end of the second century, just elders of individual house churches. The lists of supposed “Roman bishops” provided by Irenaeus and Hegesippus, and later cited by Eusebius, are with all likelihood retroactive reconstructions, taking names of individual house church elders and refitting them with an authority and position only beginning to evolve in the late 2nd century.

  7. Catholics believe in the historic episcopate (wherein the ordained get something special that the rest of us don’t have- that’s why they can preside over the sacrament and the rest of us schlubs can’t).

    We Protestants (well, us Lutherans anyway) don’t buy that for a second (although the ELCA wants to go there and has stupidly made a deal with the Episcopalians to do just that).

    The Word is where we get our authority. Not from particular set of fingertips that touches us.

  8. CMP, some errors that I must point out.

    “I am catholic”. You appear to have accepted the Roman Catholic definition of catholic, which is “universal.” Makes sense, since your group is a breakaway part (or schism) of the RC. The traditional 1st millenia definition for catholic is not the ultramontanist one Rome uses, but rather simply what the word actually means—katholikos, from kata and holos, “according to the whole.” That is, the catholic faith is the whole Christian faith, and the one Church is catholic because she maintains the wholeness of the Christian faith, not merely a few minimal parts. One cannot, for instance, debate whether Scripture must be somehow read apart from the tradition that produced it or whether succession from the Apostles avails anything at all, considering such things non-essentials, and yet somehow be catholic.

    “Everything from liturgy to doctrine were added.” Simply untrue. Christian worship has ALWAYS been liturgical. The Liturgy of St. James can be traced back to the earliest centuries. The liturgy of St. Basil was created before the Nicene Creed was completed.

    “non-essential doctrines concerning the mother of Jesus”. What was documented from the Eucumenical Council of Ephasus of 431 concerning Mary was entirely because of heretics attacking the humanity of Jesus Christ. If Mary isn’t truly the Mother of God…then who is she? And if she isn’t, then who – or maybe what exactly – is Jesus Christ? These are essential, not non-essential, questions.

    And of course you left out the point of “creation” of the Roman Catholic church, which was in 1054, when the RCC left the eastern church in favor of papism and the filoque. It “rose” as the RCC during the 2nd millenia.

  9. Sorry, missed one more point.
    You create a false dichotomy of only 2 choices: “Catholics believe that in order for this succession to be valid, it has to be seen as primarily a succession in person. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that the primary issue involved it is a succession in teaching, doctrine, and practice.”

    What if there was a 3rd choice? What if there was a church with apostolic succession, BUT that could also trace its doctrine back to the earliest times and find the EXACT same faith, using the EXACT same Bible?

  10. Richard Roland July 19, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    >”The Pope [has] the infallible authority to guide and direct the church in matters of faith and practice. He, along with the magisterium, form the institution”

    You seem to be mixing ruling authority with teaching authority. Consult your copy of the Catechism (880 – 896). You do have one, don’t you? You’ll see that the Catholic Church teaches that the college of bishops, and the pope, are infallible only when promulgating (in certain circumscribed ways) doctrines concerning faith and morals. It is not even meaningful to apply the concept of infallibility to the exercise of rule over the church.

    Also, the pope’s teaching authority is said to be (888 – 892) part of the magisterium or teaching office, not “along with” it. And the Church certainly does not claim that the pope and the magisterium somehow form the institution of the Roman Catholic Church. This in no way resembles their ecclesiology.

    >”infallible requirements” that include “how one is to break the bread in the Lord’s supper, and a thousand other things.”

    Not even close. Where on earth did you come up with that notion?

    Michael, if we Protestants want to disagree with Rome, fine. But let’s be careful to get our facts straight.

  11. Thanks Pete,

    But I am sure you must understand that your pointing out of errors is not errors of fact, but error that one would expect any RC to assume. I appreciate your statements though, but the would not qualify as corrections in the proper sense, only opinions.

  12. Richard, I think it would be best if you asked questions first. That way more meaningful discussion can take place. When Protestants speak of church history, they speak of the rise of institutionalization. This is not borrowing from an internal system of RC as is defined from the chatechism, but from theological history from the standpoint of a Protestant. So, the institution does indeed include the magisterium and pope and these represent them sufficiently from the standpoint of theological history. Hope that helps my friend

  13. This summary seems a bit anachronistic and makes many questionable assumptions. To start with, it ignores the other ancient centers of Christianity – Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Constantinople – which all rejected the papal claims to be the universal infallible head of all Christianity. The papal claims of universal authority only really began in earnest in the 9th century after power in western Europe had shifted into Frankish hands. Forged documents in support of universal papal authority began to surface after that time – the Donation of Constantine and Pseudo-Isidorian Decretals being among the most significant. Up to that time, the Roman patriarch was “first-among-equals”, not a universal authority (although Roman Catholics would of course disagree with this), and certainly not claiming to be infallible. So, to say “For the Roman Catholic, in order for [apostolic succession] to have ultimate authority, it must possess the gift of infallibility” is to impose an idea that came much much later.

  14. “Protestants, on the other hand, believe that the primary issue involved is a succession in teaching, doctrine, and practice…. Protestants are continually going back to the source – the Bible – for final authority” – there are several problems with this theory. First, the idea that the Bible is the final and sole authority is not in the Bible (please note I am not disagreeing with this idea, just pointing out that it is a tradition). 2 Tim. 3:16-17 refers to the Old Testament writings, so if those verses mean what Protestants claim they mean, then we would only need the Old Testament “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness…” Further, the Bible does not anywhere say to collect certain writings into a book that will be the final authority, much less say what those writings are. All these ideas come from the traditions of the churches of the 3rd and 4th century. If Protestants “believe that the primary issue involved is a succession in teaching, doctrine, and practice” by what means can Protestants pick and choose which teachings, doctrines, and practices to accept and reject? Why not reject the Epistle of James as Martin Luther sought to do, or “adjust” the text as he sought to do in Romans 3:28? Why not reject the pericope adulterae since it is not present in the earliest texts?

  15. “For the Protestant, the person is in apostolic succession only to the degree that the person is in succession with right teaching” (paraphrase). This is very circular…how do you know what is right teaching? How do you know your interpretation of the Bible is correct? If the Roman church deviated from right teaching early on, and Protestantism is the result of protesting Roman errors, on what grounds can you think Protestant teaching is in succession with right teaching? And which Protestant teaching is right? How do you know the supposedly corrupted early church selected the correct writings for the canon, and did not corrupt those writings? If the Holy Spirit preserved and guided the selection of the correct writings (an idea also not contained in Scripture), on what basis can you say the Holy Spirit did not also do the same with Apostolic tradition?

  16. Sorry to be writing so much, but it is hard for me to get this out concisely.

    It is good to remember Christianity existed in many other places besides Rome, and those places also claim apostolic authority. The eastern churches rejected absolute authority vested in one person and kept to the conciliar model given in the first Council of Jerusalem (over which James presided). The eastern churches never had purgatory, indulgences, celibate priests, immaculate conception of Mary, papal infallibility, or an idea that Scripture must be subservient to Tradition. Bishops met in Ecumenical councils, but even these were subject to acceptance by the whole of believers. Yes, there are unwritten traditions, but Paul himself said to “stand firm hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter”. Is it always wrong and/or unbiblical for church practice to develop and evolve over time? Protestantism has most certainly evolved since it’s beginnings, and today is the most fractured Christian body.

    I don’t find the idea that Protestants were able to reconstruct right teaching/practice 1500 years after the fact, based on a reaction against a corrupted Roman church and often out of line with what Christians have believed everywhere and at all times, to be more compelling than the idea that right teaching was preserved in the eastern Orthodox churches. To me, the history of the western churches since the 11th century seems like one long violation of Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians: “that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.” If a tree is known by it’s fruit, what do we make of the constant and historically violent fracturing within Protestantism? It causes me to question whether Protestantism is truly “in succession with right teaching.”

  17. I just saw the “one comment at a time” rule. My apologies. Feel free to delete my comments.

  18. Fred, good stuff. But you do understand that your statements in critique beg your assumptions? In the end, your tradition is just one of the many, not the standard upon which the outsider is going to assume. In fact, the more exclusive you are, the more divisive YOU are. Therefore, who fails to keep unity? Maybe you? But this is totally dependent on you view of unity. It it ontological, doctrinal, functional, emotional, institutional, or missional. Maybe it is all? Maybe it is a matter of degree on each? The point is that we are not all playing with the same deck of cards!

    As well, you misunderstanding of sola Scriptura is both common and has conversation stopping ability. I would read my series here called “In Dedense of Sola Scriptura” for a more accurate view from which to critique.

    Thanks for your contribution brother.

  19. The term Roman Catholic:

    The church led by the bishop of Rome does not call herself the Roman Catholic Church. The term catholic started out being used in a primitive way as Michael said. And sooner or later, depending on how you interpret this and that, it became known as the catholic church in a technical way. Much later, the Anglicans invented the terms Roman Catholic and Romish in order that they could differentiate themselves from the church led by the bishop of Rome, so that they could claim to be “catholic” as well. (Everybody wants to claim that their church is really the catholic church, don’t they? Then they define catholicity in a way that just happens to fit their church).

    However, there is a place for the term Roman within the Catholic Church–just not to describe the whole Church. Within the Catholic Church there are different “rites”–different practices, cultures, and ways of doing things…..such as the Chaldean Rite, the Maronite rite, the Byzantine rite, etc. There are quite a few, depending how you divide them up and categorize them. The Latin rite, also referred to as the Roman rite, is the largest. So a Roman Catholic is not someone who belongs to the “Roman Catholic Church”. A Roman Catholic would be someone who practices the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church. Not all Catholics are Roman Catholics.

    So, using the term Roman Catholic in reference to the church as a whole really just shows either ignorance, or a disrespect of Catholics by refusal to call the church by its self-given name. Neither one will win many converts.

  20. Thank you for your graciousness Michael.

  21. I don’t have to be a anti catholic to be a good protestant, or, if I do have to I am no longer a protestant. there is a difference between disagreeing with something and hating it. and the level at which we hate RC doctrine is the extent to which we are tempted by it

    moreover my lineage is not a catholic (small c) church. my lineage is not a church at all, and neither should it be

    my lineage is CHRIST, for no church died for me, or even cared enough to bother sit with me in my despair, but the Holy Spirit did.

    Besides, what makes us protestants think we are any better than Rome?

    they may specifically deny biblical doctrine, but our failure to live by them shows our own unbelief.

    in fact our carping on about doctrines we do not believe, as shown by our lives, makes us worse than Rome.

    does anyone else here care to admit that the 30 years war ended in 1648.

    even if we apply the principle logs and splinters, we look to our own unbelief as shown by eg our depression, rather than try and pry splinters out of others.

    fair enough?

  22. I know many good Catholics who agree with everything the Bible says about salvation. I don’t think we can judge them by their denomination, as Christians, no matter how much we may disagree with their practice of it. In the end it is not about that corporate belief or practice but our individual belief in Christ, the Lord as our Savior.

  23. well said, mbaker. I hold that all the churches that hold the core doctrines are as christian as each other. if the catholics are not christians NEITHER ARE WE

  24. Michael Brandon July 21, 2012 at 6:12 am


    How sad!!!

    May we all be two or three or 10,000 as Christ and the Father aren’t.

  25. Michael,

    Good article, I would take issue with a couple of things historically, but nothing substantial. I do think your still using circular logic when you use scripture as the final authority, because as others have pointed out, based on who’s interpretation. Even Systematic Theology falls into the trap of cultural preference for ones starting theology. Also your characterization of the Papacy is way to broad, the RCC have very select criteria for how it’s applied.

    That being said, I left the RCC a short while ago for the reason that you cite, even with limitations, infallibility as defined in 1870, cannot be shown to exist anywhere in the early church. Historically one can watch the Papacy evolve into what happened in 1870 (Catholics would call it the development of doctrine, but it’s hard to develop without any starting point historically). As well the dogma of 1870, introduces a number of issues that have left apologists defending a position that’s untenable. The more history I read of the early church, and read the actual writings of the church fathers, the more I realize just how much changed after 1054.

    So I’m heading to the EO, given all choices, I find that theologically, doctrinally, and aesthetically they align the closest to what I have come to believe. There is no perfect choice, and to be clear I still love the RCC, I found great things while there, and learned a great deal. But I could not get past 1870, no matter how much I studied (including some fabulous RCC scholars), that and the dogmatic changes regarding Mariology finally did me. They would have never had a chance before 1054, and arguing doctrinal development for those issues is a red herring.

    Good stuff…


  26. Truth Unites... and Divides July 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm

    “I think that we can all understand and empathize with the rise of Rome. While I seriously disagree with the “lock the doors, don’t let the kids out, and mom and dad are infallible” approach, I know why it happened.”

    Did the Pharisees in the NT do the same thing as Rome? Did they do (in roughly similar fashion) the “lock the doors, don’t let the kids out, and mom and dad are infallible” approach too?

  27. “Who’s interpretation of scripture?” That is an argument designed to wiggle out of the fact that the scripture speaks plainly and clearly about so many things.

    Even the council of Trent said the Bible was the Word of God, infallible and inerrant.

    What? are we to believe that when God spoke His word, ie what He actually said, is not authoritative, and is not logically self interpreting, and has to be interpreted by some priest, by some personal authority, and rather by its own internal logic as a matter of logical principle?

    the proper question is not “WHO interprets it?” but “WHAT does it mean?”

    and for that the meanings of the words suffices.

    we need no priests, no popes, no circular reasoning requiring popes, neither the terror of error whereby we choose a man with a mitre and say “there!! this man can do it”

    sola scriptura is not a piece of circular reasoning. If God spoke at all then He meant something, which is contained in the words He spoke. This simply requires scholarship not appeal to a priestly authority

    Questions about “who’s interpretation” are about wiggling out of Who in fact spoke and what He said.

    and, no, this is not an anti catholic rant. for the eagerness whereby we protestants chase after preachers and christian authors show we do not really believe in sola scriptura either

  28. Steve, that sounds like a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura…more like Solo Scriptura. Check out Michael’s series “In Defense of Sola Scriptura”.

  29. Hi Steve Meikle,

    I don’t propose to convince you of the truth of the Catholic faith here in a comment box, rather to  clear up a false dichotomy you set up.  There’s so much misinformation out there that it’s easy to do.  So, even if you don’t agree with the Catholic stance, I hope you’ll be open minded and gracious enough to just see why Catholics think what they do. 

    You said  “This simply requires scholarship not appeal to a priestly authority” as in no human power should come between anybody and Gods Word. This is true. But Catholics don’t see the magisterium as a human power set up by men. They believe the magisterium is a group of men, yes, but with authority FROM GOD, and a job assigned to them FROM GOD.  So they believe that when they obey the Church, they are obeying God.  Agree or disagree with this definition, but in their minds, Catholics are not setting up a human power between themselves and God. It is the Spirit of God continuing to guide and protect the interpretation of his word, by means of the magisterium.  (So the problem is not a lack of respect of the Bible, but a difference in its interpretation)

    Hope this helps a little anyway.

  30. I am well aware that the RCC claims the magisterium is set up by God. But whether it is is to be seen by comparing its teachings with those of scripture.

    A catholic friend of mine tried to convert me to his belief some years ago. He tried to do it from scripture. I was literally shocked at his attempt, for the bible verses he quoted to justify the place of Mary, for example, simply did not bear the weight his tradition put on it.

    when the Bible is let speak plainly for itself we see that Mary was not a perpetual virgin. to argue that Jesus’ brethren were cousins or step brothers is to bring an assumption of the perpetual virginity to the table, ie to argue in a circle.

    And there is absolutely no place in the Bible for a separate priesthood.

    He proved nothing from scripture, he viewed scripture not by its own words but from a catholic preconception

    thus the circular reasoning is from the RCC side. Sola scripture is implied by the belief held by all sides that the Bible is the Word of God. If God is Emperor when we hear his word we do not chase men to interpret it we fall on our faces

    When RCC tradition contradicts the plain wording of scripture then it is a human authority and moreover an interloper.

    I know, Irene, you will not believe this. I am aware of the dynamic of belief which is why i increasingly hold religious discussion is a waste of effort

    I do not misunderstand catholicism, neither am i so ignorant or bigoted as many of my associates are on this, for I still hold that RCC and protestants are as christian as each other, BUT THAT IS NOT MUCH, we are all carnal minded and riddled with heresy if our fruit is carnal. As it is

    another thing. Catholics are on about their institution. but protestants of my stripe reject this model of the Church at the outset.

    The Church is not an institution but a family

    BTW I regard the Reformation as a counterfeit and a hate fest, and regard protestants who think otherwise as naive…

  31. Fred, I am well aware of what Sola Scripture means: namely that the Bible and the Bible alone is the authoritative benchmark for determining the validity of everything else. In fact I take issue with cessationist protestants who claim that the SS means we have no need for miracles dreams or revelation.

    When I talk about belief I mean not express stated doctrine but how we live. And by that Biblical standard (no i am not preaching forced works, for living works are not forced and faith without them is still dead) almost none of us in fact believe. I know I do not

    when protestants chase visiting preachers like teenagers chase rock stars, and christian authors like CS Lewis and the like are viewed as sacrosanct (I have been flayed alive for daring to criticize the Oxbridge don who dared to say of unbelieving thoughts, “SHOVE THEM BACK”) they do not hold a good faith belief in sola scriptura. They do the cult thing and put these books alongside the Bible.

    I did so and paid a terrible price. I was consistent in my “obedience” to these things when most church people are pew warmers content with a toke gesture from time to time. I went mad

    whatever the truth of SS the secret is that we protestants use it as a battle cry to bash Catholics with.

    we do not believe it, even when we argue for it. Just like things like the forgiveness of sins.

    What? we are full of joy? I think not. Where is our faith then?

    we do not believe spiritual truth when we argue for it angrily, for the fruit of the spirit is what reveals if we know God. If we do not we walk in the dark ad our minds are darkened (see I John.

    I am not saying that protestants believe the gospel and the Catholics do not

    I am saying our anger depression and struggle show that we are as afflicted by unbelief as we accuse Catholics of being.

  32. @Steve Meikle #30
    How’s this for Catholicism and “plain wording of Scripture”? (;
    For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.
    Scriptural interpretation is absolutely unavoidable. Even translating from the original languages involves varying degrees of interpretation.

  33. CMP, are you still paying attention down here? (:

    I am still confused about how you are using regula fide. You are using it to rightly interpret Scripture, correct? But it’s not infallible. And Scripture trumps it. So you are using regula fide to interpret Scripture and the Scripture to keep the regula fide in line. So is there no absolute certainty of correct doctrine in Protestantism?

    Also, what is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this? Doesn’t He protect the regula fide? If not, then why is it not infallible?

    In your original post, you also said that regula fide is organic and evolves with history. Wouldn’t this be similar to development of doctrine, as happens in Catholicism?

  34. #33 should have read in the middle part

    Also, what is the role of the Holy Spirit in all this? Doesn’t He protect the regula fide? If so, then why is it not infallible?

  35. @ Irene: the plain wording of scripture is also modified by context. If you thought I was unaware of this were you being disingenuous?

    context requires that this passage about eating flesh and blood be metaphor for intimate relationship. and why? the Bible would never command sin and cannibalism is sin

    Jesus spoke in metaphor. as well as plainly. Which is metaphor and which is not is determined by context, the OVERALL context. this requires nothing but scholarship, not a priest

    after all, He also said He is the vine

    Does anyone in their right mind take that literally? that he has wood for flesh, leaves for hair and sap for blood? of course not.

    Hermeneutics does not need a putatively infallible authority of some pope who only presumed the role as the Roman Emperor in the 3rd and 4th century was away from Rome in border towns like triest and milan fighting of the by now constant barbarian incursions.

    As the saying goes , when the cat is away the mice will play.

    I read a LOT of history, and history as well as scripture explodes the claims of any pope

    Besides the Bible says Jesus is God. This does not need an interpreter.

    It also says he rose physically on the third day. Who needs a priest for this. The words in the Word say so.

    I argue this no further, for your belief is preset by your commitments and not the biblical evidence, and you will likely think this of me also

    • wineinthewater June 24, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Steve Meikle,

      I know this is an old post, but this really bothered me:

      “context requires that this passage about eating flesh and blood be metaphor for intimate relationship. and why? the Bible would never command sin and cannibalism is sin”

      On the contrary, context requires that it be taken literally. The Greek word for “eat” used here has very visceral connotations: the gnawing and chewing of meat. If it were a metaphor, why did so many followers leave? There’s nothing hard or radical about the teaching if it is a metaphor for relationship. The scene only make logical sense – something you say can readily be applied to scripture to discover its meaning – if he is speaking in a more literal sense.

      The meaning of much of scripture is readily evident, but the meaning and implications of much of it is not. Unfortunately, the landscape of Christianity, especially post-Protestant Christianity, completely explodes your position. If scripture required no authoritative interpretation beyond what can be rationally accomplished through study, then there would not be so many different opinions about its meaning. If scripture were so self-evident, all Christians, or al least all scripture scholars, would agree on the meaning. Or at least most. But the reality is that they do not. Contradictory hermeneutics is a consistent element of sola scripture in action. Unfortunately, your stance amounts to: “sure, it doesn’t work in reality, but it works in THEORY, and thats all that matters.” Even scripture says that the Church, not scripture, is the pillar and bulwark of truth. And the fact that you disagree with my interpretation disproves your own position.

  36. Reformation in a nutshell?

    people got sick of paying taxes to Rome. The so called peter’s pence in a time when a penny was a lot of money.

    and the corruption of the popes of the day was known by all and fueled the resentment.

    Henry VIII’s lust (and it was lust) was only a trigger and only in England. His divorce and the reasons for it were totally invalid and his biblical scholarship justifying it was dishonest

    that the whole thing was a hate fest can be seen by martin luther’s foul temper and even fouler language, Calvin’s dictatorship, etc etc etc

    I just happen to think that the reformers had the better doctrine for they correctly saw that the magisterium did not add up to the Bible

    but what good did it do them, with all the hatred, bigotry, quarrels eventually ending up in the 30 years war?

    given its foul fruit the reformation is a spiritual counterfeit, no better than the heresies in catholicism.

    with such ill temper as they had what is their few scraps of sound doctrine worth?

    the reformation is a disgrace, a carnal response to a real and manifest evil.

    I do not go to Luther Calvin or any other dead reformer. they are likely damned for their hatred if not their doctrine

    I go to the living and risen Christ.

    Or I am damned, It is that simple

  37. Steve,

    I only threw out that verse as a good example of how it’s not just as simple as reading the text and there you go. You brought up the good point that context is critical. But using context requires interpretation, too. And that interpretation is not as quick and easy as you make it sound. All I’m saying is that intelligent people can end up having different interpretations of Scripture. After all, it’s not like Christian theologians didn’t start growing brains until the 1500s.
    And how are we to know which interpretation is true? What is needed is divine intervention…as in the Holy Spirit guiding a visible Church.
    And Heck…even which context you are going to use to interpret a verse must first be decided before you do that interpretation. Should you use the Catholic canon of Scripture, the Orthodox canon, or Protestant canon? As you know, they don’t all have the same books in their bibles. So a verse has a different greater context depending on which canon you use. And the bible certainly doesn’t tell you which canon is correct. The canons themselves were set according to theological traditions or presumptions.

    I don’t know if you got burned by a particular Christian or a Christian church, but if so, I am truly sorry and I apologize for them. We should be bearing eachother’s burdens not making eachother lone wolf it. I certainly agree that Jesus will never fail us, unlike any other person on earth. But he wants us to try with all our hearts to love eachother, as family, like you said. (By the way, if you are really into church as family, you should read Scott Hahn’s stuff on church as covenant family.) The Catholic Church is certainly a family. (: We’ve got a Heavenly Father, priest fathers, godparents and godchildren, religious sisters and brothers, Mother Mary, and we call our fellow parishioners sisters and brothers during mass. If you are ever so inclined, we would be honored to have you join us.

  38. @Irene

    Steve Meilke is the “new wave” of Protestants who are pushing “Christian Darwinism”. CMP is also latching onto this new wave whether in knows it or not. Here is some background and their agenda:

    – The goal of the reformation was to bring the church back to the ways of the early church. This is true of the 1st tier reformers and even the radical reformers. Right or wrong, that was their goal, and they thought that they had succeeded via the solas.

    – 21st century Protestants, with 500 years in the rear view mirror, and much more info available on the church of the 1st millennia, have a much different perspective.

    – They have looked at the pre-reformation church and church history, they have read the church fathers and their historical documentation, and see that in many ways the RCC actually looks MORE like the early church than they do (I’ll leave the eastern church out of it since most Protestants have little knowledge of Orthodoxy).

    – The days of easily showing how the RCC was wrong are long gone. Several high-profile Protestant pastors have converted to the RCC. Ex-Catholics still turn Protestant, sure, but mostly to lite-rock mega-churches with varying degrees of doctrinal integrity.

    – This isn’t good for old-time Protestants. So…time for a new strategy! 1st step: denounce their own church founders, the reformers, or at the very least, clearly distance themselves. 2nd step: push the “development” concept to the limit, i.e. depict the early church as a drooling infant, and the modern church as a mature church that “got it right”. Sounds familiar? Exactly like one of CMPs charts.

    – What is the end game? “Christian Darwinism”! Something that sounds like this: “The RCC (and Orthodox) traditions were OK and correct for Christians in bygone years, but we have EVOLVED into a BETTER Christianity. So RCC folks can get to heaven, sure, but we are BETTER because we have EVOLVED.”

    -Sounds very similar to 19th century…

  39. Robert Eaglestone July 25, 2012 at 11:48 am


    “All I’m saying is that intelligent people can end up having different interpretations of Scripture. And how are we to know which interpretation is true? What is needed is divine intervention…as in the Holy Spirit guiding a visible Church.”

    At some level, I think you’re agreeing with CMP’s analysis: If we believe the magisterium is infallible, *but if* it is actually fallible, then we’ve locked the kids in the house and thrown away the key.

  40. According to Scripture itself (Matthew 16:19), the Church has been given the authority to bind and loose.

    This is why you can trust the Church’s determination that (for example) the Gospel of Mark is inspired but the Gospel of Peter isn’t. Otherwise, where do you get the Bible’s table of contents?

    This is why you can trust the Church’s teaching on the Trinity – which isn’t spelled out in the New Testament as evidenced by those Christian kids outside the house who believe in sola scriptura but not in the Trinity.

    This is why you can trust the Church’s teaching and practice regarding the Eucharist which no Christian questioned until the 16th century.

    This is why you can trust the Church’s teaching on abortion and artificial contraception which no Christian questioned until the 1930s.

    I think maybe you’re enjoying the sturdiness of the Church’s house on a rainy day when you want to stay inside and read the Church’s book – and then going to play outside when the weather is nice.

  41. @CMP
    Here is my #1 question: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in the preservation of the purity of doctrine?

    Thanks for that perspective–I didn’t know that term. Religious affiliation is often such a personal thing, right at the heart of our own identities, and I think thats why sometimes people have such a hard time admitting being wrong, accepting the truth even when they recognize it, and insisting on the surpassing wisdom of their own position. I know I sure ate humble pie when I told my husband I was converting.

    I don’t know about that. Even if the mag is fallible, the keys are not thrown away (think Reformation!).

    CMP used a door and lock in his analogy. But that sounds like someone saying its not fair that he can’t shoot a rainbow out of his own flashlight. (hear me out a second). If the deposit of faith is white light, the Church a prism, a life unified with Christ a rainbow. Then CMP comes along with his flashlight and says to the prism, “you have no right to lock away the rainbow! We should all have the right to split light!”. It’s not as if the Church is a locked door between us and truth. It’s just that, by it’s nature, the Church is that by which we receive Christ/stand in the rainbow.
    There’s my own clumsy analogy. :P

  42. @Luke
    Nicely said. Everyone has a pope. It can be the bishop of Rome, a particular pastor, or yourself. But, whether they know or not, or like it or not, every single person uses someone’s judgement about morality and Scriptural interpretation. Usually Protestants run things through their own minds (seeing if something makes sense to them), as the final step before making a judgement. Faithful Catholics, though, defer to the magisterium of Christ’s Church (using a judgement higher than their own judgement) for those matters on which the magisterium has spoken.

  43. If you look at how the early church used the word catholic, they used it to distinguish their group, which was the big world wide group, claiming to be the one with the traditions of the apostles, over and against various other sects and pseudo-Christian groups. This is seen also on the creed – I believe in ONE holy catholic and apostolic church.

    For a Protestant to claim to be catholic seems like a nonsense to me. I’ve never seen the word used in the early church to somehow indicate that it was universal in the sense that anybody outside the one official church could still claim to be catholic if they claimed the name of Christ. That is the exact opposite of how it was used. It was universal in the sense that it was the big world wide group. Not in the sense that anybody is just “in” because they follow Jesus.

  44. Michael as I told you this all is built on a false premise — that there isn’t a divinely instituted Roman Catholic Church evident in the earliest records, creeds, and councils, and still today. When at your 2011 Church history talk I explained to you that the early councils were all juridically, duly ratified by the Popes, you seemed to have no answer. That is because you were in a bind, for if you rely on them, then to admit it was a Roman Catholic council is to give away the argument, but to deny its validity meant the foundations of your own faith (trinity, 2 natures of Jesus, etc.,) are crumbled.

    Folks don’t be too easily impressed – -these facile explanations are and have been easily refuted, even at Credo House!

  45. First, thanks for the post.

    I would like to challenge the point made that the Papacy is completely unbiblical, as stated: “Protestants are right to point out that this institution is not biblical.”

    Any student of Scripture knows that Christ is the King of quoting His own Word (pun intended!). Rather than coming up with a new way to say the same thing He has been saying throughout Salvation history, Christ invariably turns people BACK to what He has already stated.

    In that vein, Jesus says in Matt 16:19:

    “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

    And what’s Jesus quoting? Is. 22:22:

    “And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David; he shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. ”

    A near verbatim quote. In Isaiah, Eliakim (the “master of the palace” or the one “over the household” of the King) is being replaced (office) by Shebna because he has displeased God. This office goes back even to Joseph in Pharoah’s court (see Gen. 41:39-42). In fact, look at Psalm 105 when speaking about Joseph in relation to Pharaoh:

    (21) “he made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, (22) to instruct his princes at his pleasure, and to teach his elders wisdom.”

    THIS is the context in which Christ himself refers to Peter. Only we’re not talking about Pharaoh or the King of Israel, we’re talking about THE King of Kings. Christ Himself gives over His own authority to Peter and his successors as a teaching office, one that He safeguards by the Holy Spirit. The Church has always seen this.

    One may reject it, but stating there is no “biblical” support for the idea of one who speaks in the name of God, by God’s own decision, is false. In fact, Christ even says to his Apostles, “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he…

  46. I just wish Michael had not said he had to be ANTI-Catholic rather than not Catholic or even unCatholic. That’s like saying that, because we’re Christians, we have to be ANTI-Jewish, even though our faith is based on Jesus’ reformation of his Jewish faith. Realize that Protestants have the Bible because the Western church, centered in Rome, introduced them to it when they sent out missionaries to convert Teutons, Franks, Visigoths, and Augustine of Canterbury to England. Although the Eastern church also sent out missionaries who hit the northern British isles even earlier, leading to the Easter date controversy later on. And the Slavic world, and later on Alaska. Christ’s message is stronger than all our all-too-human tribalism and squabbling; some day we’ll forget our egos and our doctrinal smugness, and do what Jesus asked. Love one another, as He has loved us — Pharisee, Sadducee, Samaritan, Roman occupier, Syrian Roman soldier, crucifiers, and every child ever born.

  47. Mr. Patton writes about the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. It seems logical that Protestants interested in this subject would also want to examine the rise of Protestantism and, specifically, what and why they, as Protestants, are still “protesting.”

    I studied the rise of both, resulting in my conversion from Methodism to Catholicism nine years ago this Wednesday.

    I recommend this three-part lecture by Christendom College theology professor Dr. William Marshner (a former Lutheran) on the Protestant reformers Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin:

    It’s from the Institute of Catholic Culture, which is somewhat similar to Credo House. You can download the lecture to your iPod.

    Dr. Marshner examines Luther’s, Zwingli’s, and Calvin’s reasons for breaking with Rome. The Church needed certain reforms in the 16th Century (e.g., venal priests, lax morals and discipline, etc.). But this lecture raises the critical question: Did Luther et al. throw the baby out with the bathwater?

    If you’re interested enough in Catholicism to read Mr. Patton’s post or attend his Credo House lecture, please don’t stop there. In addition to this lecture, read the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” to find out first-hand what Catholics believe. Or “Catholic Christianity” by Dr. Peter Kreef (a convert from reformed Presbyterianism). Or check out any of the other talks from the Institute of Catholic Culture.

    Be objective and search for the truth. You may be surprised where you end up.

    I certainly was.

  48. Hello CMP
    Avid reader here. I’m asking for your permission to translate this into Spanish (and maybe one or two other articles) and post it into my blog, with a reference to your original post. This is really a blessing that my spanish speaking friends would like to read.
    Thank you

  49. A well researched, well summarized, “in a nutshell” guide to the separation of what we generally know of as “Catholicism” and “Protestantism”. Certainly many details are left out – but that’s the nature of “in a nutshell”. The Roman Catholic (and yes THEY call themselves that, as well as “the Church of Rome” and other similar names referencing the current seat of power) religion is a syncretism of Holy Scripture, early church tradition (as found in the Bible), secularism (allowing government and religion to operate together and independently as various religious and civil leaders saw fit to accomplish their agenda), pagan tradition (adopted to make “the church” more palatable to the peoples being reached), humanism (setting mankind and the good of mankind again at the head of all endeavor, while giving lip service to the authority of God). Protestantism, easily seen in the many denominations, has the same problem, albeit to varying degrees. Calvin literally tried to set up in Geneva the same thing that he hated about Rome – and engaged in many of the same vile practices. Luther, Wesley, Ammann (and so many others) have all put their own views and religious tradition as equal to and even superlative to Scripture.And it is THIS that is the problem – As Christ said “in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandements of men”. Return to the written Word of God if you want to know what the real church (body of all who put their faith in Christ) is, what it is commanded to do (believe in the Lord Jesus Christ , and you will be saved; then: in all that you do, do all to the glory of God), and start showing mercy/love instead of engaging in, following, perpetrating, a false Christ, a false Gospel, and the precepts of men.

  50. The writer of this article has made some good points. A pity that he still mixes up Catholic with Roman Catholic.

    Regards, Keith R Rose


  1. Wednesday Link List « Thinking Out Loud - August 1, 2012

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