Quick History of the Roman Catholic Church

Someone asked me how the Roman Catholic Church “took over” from  the early apostolic church. The following response gives you a brief (and, I think, very interesting) history of the rise of the Roman papacy.

As for when the Roman Catholic Church “took over,” that is not really the right wording. The original church in Rome that was founded even before Peter and Paul, but which Peter and Paul heavily influenced, grew and was a great, truth-filled, godly church throughout the second century. As all the apostolic churches grew bigger, their bishops became more and more important, especially in Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome. Alexandria and Antioch became influential primarily because of their particular leadership and teaching, but Rome because it was the capitol of the empire, the strong interaction with other churches helped preserve solid teaching in it,  and it was a wealthy church that was very generous.

In the fourth century, controversy and the intervention of the emperors meant that a lot of bishops were installed by an emperor. Also, once Christianity was the official religion of the empire, the position of bishop became very powerful and attracted ambitious men. They weren’t all ambitious, but many were. Another problem was that the churches were no longer filled with only or mostly true Christians. They were filled with people for whom Christianity was merely the state religion. It could only go downhill from there.

It did not take long for there to be competition among the more important bishops for who was the greatest. Once Constantine was dedicated in 337, its bishop wanted to be the most important bishop, rather than the Roman bishop. From then on, there was a lot of conflict between the Roman bishop and the one in Constantinople. After the barbarians finished conquering the Western part of the Roman Empire, they looked to the only apostolic bishop in Europe, the bishop of Rome. Both his religious power and his secular influence over Europe grew stronger and stronger. In the tenth century (the 900s), though, barons and powerful families were in control of Rome and whichever one was in power put a bishop in Rome. It was pretty awful, and it was the start of several really awful centuries.

(You can read about Rome’s problems from 1294 to the 1420s at Christian-history.org, and I put a thorough history of the tenth century in my soon to be released book, Rome’s Audacious Claim. You can get a dose of why the tenth-century papacy was so bad by searching “Rome’s senatrix” or “Pope John XII.” A search for the “tusculum papacy” will give you a picture of the next century.)

The result of all this was a split between Europe and the Roman Empire, which was still being run by Roman emperors in Constantinople. (We call in the Byzantine Empire looking back, but it was still known as the Roman Empire for centuries after Rome was no longer part of it.)

After that split, in 1054, it is proper to call the church in Rome and their followers in Europe the “Roman Catholic Church.” So the Roman Catholic Church did not “take over,” but it developed from the original apostolic church of Rome.

If you enjoyed this, I did a longer Youtube videos called “The Authority of the Apostles and the Rise of the Papacy.”

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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