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The Papacy In History And Prophecy
The apostle Paul, describing the insidious introduction of false doctrine amongst the ecclesias, wrote "the spirit speaketh expressly that in the last days of Judah's Commonwealth some shall depart from the faith giving heed to seducing doctrines even doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared as with a hot iron, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the Truth," and again he warned them that these doctrines were already in existence when he said, "the mystery of iniquity is now already at work." These "perversions", eating, like a canker the body of Christ, were the seeds of Catholicism which culminated in the birth. of the man-child of sin, namely Constantine, who proclaimed himself the first Catholic Emperor.
History has recorded the literature which was extant among the Christians between the death of the Apostles and the ascension of Constantine (i.e. from AD 33 to 324). From these writings and epistles a number of facts can be extracted to illustrate the growth and development of the apostacy which was transforming the ecclesia into a church. Those who forwarded this falling away are those who are celebrated by the Church as "the Fathers" but who are designated by Paul as wolves in sheep's clothing particularly adept at fleecing the flock. To simplify the complex course of confusion amongst the Christian world of the first three centuries, this particular section of history has been divided into time periods revolving around the so-called Church "fathers", the first of whom was Ignatius.
IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH (died circum AD 110)
His major ideal was to attempt to unite the quickly fragmenting community of believers with what he saw to be the only remedy, namely to exalt the authority of the ministry and bishops and make them the center of church life. Consequently he increased the ministry from the apostolic equality of bishops (Gk. overseers) and deacons (Gk. attendants) to a three fold ministry emphasizing and enforcing the authority of the bishop. He was the earliest writer outside the New Testament to describe Christ in terms of current philosophy and in his writings the pre-existence of Jesus is distinctly implied whilst laying at the same time the basis for the deception of the world by Satan and the doctrine of transubstantian.
His life was a constant struggle fighting the Ebionites, who were the successors of the Judaisers, and the Gnostics who
aimed to reduce Christianity to a philosophy. Both these dangerous heresies drew many disciples after them but their adherents still retained the general appellative, "Christian".
POLYCARP OF SMYRNA (90-155)
Like Ignatius, Polycarp had a thirst for martyrdom. He was contemporary with the apostles and held a commanding authority in Asia Minor. During his life two more heresies arose in the form of the Marcionites who having an unbalanced appreciation of God and seeing only His goodness, rejected the Old Testament, and the Montanists who emphasized the Spirit Gifts and believed in continued prophetic inspiration. The danger of these teachings lay in the former's appeal to the emotions and the other's appeal to strict discipline. Both resulted in many conversions.
JUSTIN MARTYR (AD 150-166)
This man, styled "philosopher and martyr," had studied different systems of Greek philosophy prior to his "conversion" and ultimately became a keen follower of Plato. When he was "converted" he did not understand this to mean the abandonment of his philosophical enquiries, nor even the renunciation of all that he had learnt from Platonism and so he continued to wear the philosopher's mantle traveling from place to place teaching what he thought to be the gospel. He regarded Christianity as the "true philosophy" and when he began to write, his influential penmanship started to weave Platonism and Christianity together describing New Testament ideas in philosophic phrases. Justin insisted in clear terms that the soul was immortal, and because he occupied a central position in the history of Christian thought at this time, his approach to Greek philosophical tradition was expanded and adapted by others.
IRENAEUS OF LYONS (wrote circum AD 180)
He was a distinguished theologian at the end of the second century and unfortunately the majority of his ideas had been moulded by Justin. Irenaeus devoted particular attention at trying to reconcile the numerous sects which menaced the existence of the church. He built upon the thoughts of Ignatius and taught that "the grace of truth" which the apostles had called down upon their first disciples by the laying on of hands, was now imparted by way of succession to the bishops from generation to generation without a break. The idea went further and established the bishops as authorities upon salvation. In his writings "Against Heresies he advocated infant baptism, transubstantiation, and Christ preaching the gospel to the righteous dead of the Old Testament period in hell.
CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA (wrote circum AD 200)
Being a diligent student of philosophy in one of the most learned centers of the day equipped Clement to bring all the culture of the Greeks and all the speculations of the Christian heretics to bear on the exposition of Christian truth. In fact he lead the way in discerning the points of affinity between choice utterances of the heathen sages and the writings of Scripture. He considered that Greek philosophy was the preparation of the Greeks for Christ, being the schoolmaster to lead them to Christ. His eminence and bearing made him one of the illuminaries of church teaching and he was a "saint" in the Roman Church until the time of Pope Benedict XIV who ignominiously struck his name out of the calendar. His philosophicaI mind expanded Irenaeus' teaching that Christ preached the gospel to the righteous dead of the Old Testament in hell by making the righteous dead those Gentile philosophers who did not accept the gospel but did not reject it either.
ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA (185-254)
He is considered by the Church to be a giant among the early Christian thinkers. He was completely at home in the arguments of the Greek philosophical schools and could move with the familiarity of a master among the different positions of a Stoic, an Epicurean, a Platonist, and an Aristotelian, using whatever position he could to make his point, but never identifying himself with one school. Like Clement and Justin before him he welcomes the help of these arguments in questions on ethics and the soul. Thus he taught that the pious dead were transferred to Paradise, which he considered an intermediary stage between hell and heaven.
Origen followed a policy of many of his contemporaries when preaching the truth to the less educated and less intellectual. Besides a prudent silence on matters above the comprehension of the pupil they thought it not wrong to appear to countenance erroneous and superstitious beliefs which were deemed to be not harmful in their effect.
TERTULLIAN (wrote circum 200)
Tertullian was a vigorous and prolific writer from North Africa and ended up a most conspicuous convert of Montanism, which laid emphasis on the Spirit Gifts. Being familiar with Roman law and possibly an advocate before his conversion, he introduced legal phraseology and Roman legal concepts into theological discussions. He was the first to use the term "trinity" as applied to the Father, Son and Spirit.
CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (died in 258 AD)
Cyprian wrote as an ecclesiastical leader mainly on the subject of Church Government and discipline. It was Cyprian who wrote "Beyond this visible Church there is no salvation". He opposed Novatian, presbyter of Rome who advocated the permanent exclusion of those fallen from the faith. When the schism at Rome flared up he wrote and proclaimed the doctrine of the one church founded by the apostle Peter whose "tangible bond is her united episcopate, an apostleship universal (or catholic) yet one." During his life he also deplored the great amount of worldliness which was ruling both bishops and congregations at that time. He wrote, "Forgetting what believers did in the times of the apostles and what they should be doing, Christians laboured with insatiable desire, to increase their earthly possessions. Many of the bishops, who by precept and example should have guided others, neglected their calling to engage in the management of worldly concerns."
As a summary Dr. Mosheim in his "Ecclesiastical History" Vol. 1, page 157 says "Philosophy, imprudently adopted by Origen and other Christians, did immense harm, to Christianity. For it led the teachers of it to involve in philosophic obscurity many parts of our religion, which were in themselves plain and easy to be understood, and to add to the precepts of the Saviour no few things of which not a word can be found in the Holy Scriptures. Finally it alienated the minds of many in the following centuries from Christianity itself, and produced a heterogeneous species of religion, consisting of Christian and Platonic principles combined."
THE ASCENDANCY OF THE BISHOP OF ROME
From the lives of the so-called "Church fathers" it can be seen how all the ancient systems of paganism and philosophy mixed freely with the Truths of Scripture. But there was a more subtle doctrine which permeating the Christian world began to elevate those eager to gain the ascendancy over their fellows. It was the deceitful doctrine of greed and power, and it formed the reigning sentiment amongst the early bishops at Rome.
The public functions of religion were originally intrusted to the established ministers of the ecclesia; the bishops, presbyters and deacons. The terms bishop and deacon, both describe the same function and the same collection of persons. Presbyter was expressive of age, gravity and maturity whilst bishop denoted the nature of their task in overseeing the care and faith of the community. The deacons, on the other hand were those who labored on an
equal basis performing such functions as exhorting, prophesying, teaching etc. to the edification of the body. In proportion to the respective numbers of believers a larger or smaller of these bishop-presbyters guided each ecclesia by authority and united counsels.
"But the most perfect equality of freedom" remarks Gibbon in his fifteenth chapter of his work "The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", requires the directing hand of a superior person who can collect the sentiments and execute the resolutions of assemblies. Instead of rotating this honour freely amongst their equals, the one chosen by the assembly began to fill the position on every occasion. It was under these circumstances that the lofty title of Bishop began to raise itself above the humble appellation of Presbyter and a new honour was appropriated to the dignity of the new president. This form of ascendancy was acquired in a very early period of the Truth's history and by the end of the first century its popularity was diffused over the area of the Christian world by those eager for popularity and fame. Today it is revered by the Catholic Church as a divine establishment.
The powers of the bishop were at first mostly spiritual but in due course of time their authority was necessary to consecrate ecclesiastical ministers and appoint to their labors certain tasks and functions. Whenever the episcopal chair, became vacant however a new leader was chosen by the election of the congregation, but this soon changed.
Towards the end of the second century there arose, with a large number of believers, synods or assemblies which were based on the leagues and councils of the Pagan cities of Greece and Asia. It was soon established, first by custom and then by law, that the bishops of each church (for they had by this time disgraced the name "ecclesia") should meet in the capital of the province in spring and autumn. This institution of synods regulating every important controversy of faith and discipline, was so well suited to private ambition and to public interest that in the space of a few years it was received throughout the whole empire.
As the legislative authority of the particular churches was insensibly superseded by the use of councils, the bishops found themselves with a much larger share of executive and arbitrary power, and as soon as they were connected by a sense of their common interest they were able to attack with united vigor the original rights of the clergy and people. There was some resistance, but its objection was received with the ignominious epithets of faction and schism. The episcopal cause was indebted for its rapid progress to the labors of the church fathers.
The same causes which had destroyed the equality of believers at the first, introduced amongst the bishops themselves a pre-eminence of rank and from thence a superiority of jurisdiction. The office of perpetual presidents in the synods and councils of each province was conferred on the bishops of the principal city and these aspiring prelates, who soon acquired the lofty titles of Metropolitans and Primates, secretly prepared themselves to usurp over their episcopal brethren the same authority which the bishops had so lately assumed above the college of presbyters. It was not long before an emulation of pre-eminence and power prevailed amongst the metropolitans themselves, each of them affecting to display, in the most pompous terms, the temporal honors and advantages of the city over which he presided.
Such were the imperceptible advances of the bishops throughout the Christian community and from every cause, either of a civil or an ecclesiastical nature, it was inevitable to foresee that Rome must enjoy the respect, and would soon claim the obedience, of the provinces. Its churches were the most numerous and it claimed two apostolic founders as superior to the one founder of Antioch, Ephesus and Corinth; whiIst its bishops attached to themselves the prerogatives of those who claimed to be the successors of Peter.
With the previous description in mind, the bishop of Rome's ascent to authority can be seen as follows:
Those believers in Rome after the death of the apostles were led to embark in founding the faith in the neighboring towns, not from the worldly and ambitious views which motivated their successors, but with zeal of preaching. It was natural that communities founded in such circumstances applied for advice in difficulty. That advice was purely paternal and implied neither superiority or dependency. But in process of time when the Church of Rome was
governed by lovers of pre-eminence, the homage, at first voluntarily was later exacted as a right and taking the form of a command it was delivered with a tone of authority. These beginnings of assumption were small but their power accumulated.
In this age it became customary to regulate the consideration and rank of the bishops by that of the city in which they resided. Rome was the capital and mistress of the world, therefore influence and dignity began to accrue
to the bishops of Rome. As the free states that formerly existed in the world had rendered their wealth, independence and deities to form one colossal empire, why, asked the bishops of Rome, should not the various churches throughout the world surrender their individuality and their powers of self government to the metropolitan see, in order to form one mighty Catholic Church? Why should not the Christian Rome be the foundation of law and faith to the world, as Pagan Rome had been? If the occupant of the temporal throne had been a king of kings, why should not the occupant of the spiritual chair be a bishop of bishops? That the bishops of Rome reasoned in this way was a historical fact.
The bishops of Italy and of the provinces were disposed to allow those of Rome a primacy of order and association in the Christian aristocracy. But the power of a monarch was rejected with abhorrence and the aspiring genius of Rome experienced a vigorous resistance to her spiritual dominion from the churches in Asia and Africa. Cyprian, who ruled the church at Carthage and the provincial synods with absolute sway, opposed with resolution and success, the ambition of the Roman Pontiff. Invectives and excommunications were their only weapons and these during the process of the controversy they hurled against each other with equal fury and devotion. "The hard necessity of censuring either a pope, or a saint and martyr", remarks Gibbon, "distresses the modern Catholics whenever they are obliged to relate the particulars of a dispute, in which the champions of religion indulged such passions as seem more adapted to the senate or to the camp, than to religion."
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