Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 13, 1961
NUMBER 10, PAGE 4-5,13b

Errors And Dangers Of Roman Catholicism --- No. 2

Frank Van Dyke (Reprinted From Spiritual Life, April, 1961)

(In 588 A. D., John the Faster who was at that time bishop over Constantinople assumed the title of universal head of the church. Pelagius II who was at that time bishop of Rome was astonished at the boldness of John and spoke out vigorously against him for having assumed such "a profane appellation" and said "let none of the patriarchs ever use it.")

After a few years, Gregory the Great succeeded Pelagius as bishop of Rome, and he also spoke out in bitter denunciation against the actions of John over in Constantinople. Here is what Gregory said: "No one of my predecessors ever consented to use this so profane appellation, for if a single patriarch be styled 'universal,' the name of 'patriarch' is taken from the others....To consent to the adoption of that wicked appellation is nothing less than to apostatize from the faith....I indeed confidently assert that whosoever calls himself or desires to be called 'universal priest,' that person in his vain elation is the precursor of the anti-Christ, because through his pride he exalts himself above the others." These statements can be found in NOVELTIES OF ROMANISM by Colette. We are not dealing in platitudes and charges of our own, but these are statements that were made by men of their own at the time these things occurred. Pelagius II and Gregory the Great are listed in the Catholics' catalog of their own popes. These men were bishops of Rome at that time; they are in the line of bishops of Rome which Catholics today claim is the unbroken succession of popes all down the line from Peter. Certainly these men should be good authority. They spoke out against one assuming to be a universal bishop, and Gregory said not one of his predecessors up to that time had ever dared wear such a title. You will notice too that these men were not condemning John the Faster for assuming a title which they claimed belonged exclusively to the Roman Bishop. That was not the point. No, they were telling John that in his pride and elation, he was assuming a vain and wicked appellation which none had the right to wear, and none of the bishops of Rome who had preceded Gregory had ever "used such a profane appellation" and to do so, was to "apostatize from the faith."

That is the way they spoke about it; but a few years later there was a peculiar turn in events and this turn is rather ironical, because in 606 A. D., it was the Roman Bishop that was declared to be the universal head of the church and since that time, they have made this presumptuous claim. The details of that incident are interesting and enlightening. Remember now how that the Roman bishop Pelagius II and Gregory the Great had spoken out against the idea that any bishop should ever wear the title of "Universal Bishop," yet in just a few years there was a "political deal" and a trade out by which the bishop in Rome gained the title and honor, if indeed it is an honor, of being the universal ruler or head of the church. That came about this way: Over in Constantinople old Emperor Phocas had come to the throne through treachery, murder, and usurpation. He had killed Mauritius, his predecessor, and his family in order that he might gain the throne. This was about 606 A. D. All these temporal rulers loved to have the approval of the bishops, but the bishop of Constantinople would not place his approval upon Phocas as the rightful ruler. He would not approve such murderous action on the part of Phocas. Old Phocas knew there was rivalry between the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople, so in vindictiveness and revenge he turned to the bishop in Rome, who was at this time Boniface III, and offered to crown him as the universal head of the church in turn for his recognition and approval of Phocas as the rightful emperor of Rome. The deal was made and in the year 606 A. D., Boniface III was designated as the first universal head of the church in the line of what Catholics have considered until this day as successors of Peter. That was the climax to it all; hence, the ecclesiasticism was full blown and full grown, but that did not come until approximately 573 years after the establishment of the Lord's church. Rome did not gain that ascendancy and so-called superiority and authority until after a long, hard-fought struggle. And only then did she come into that place and position of power and superiority by an unrighteous, political sell-out.

I must trace briefly with you how that the papacy came to be a temporal power; how that the Pope of Rome came to have power over temporal or civil governments; how that the papacy came to possess land. Even though the ecclesiasticism is fully developed in the year 606 A. D., the papacy did not come to possess temporal power until a long time after that. In fact, the first record of the pope coming to reign over territory with temporal power is in the year 751 A. D. It came about this way. The pope at this time was having difficulties. His name was Zachary or sometimes spelled "Zacharias." The Lombards were pushing down from Central Europe into Italy. Hence, Rome was being threatened and the pope was afraid; he needed some help; he needed protection against the invaders, so he turned to old Pepin the king of France. Pepin too had come to be king of France by unrighteous acts. Now Pepin was looking for approval as the rightful ruler of France as Pope Zachary was looking for protection from the invading Lombards, so the pope simply turned to Pepin the Short and said, "If you will provide protection for us against the Lombards, I will put my stamp of approval upon you as the rightful king in France." We cannot appreciate what those proposals meant until we have a grasp and an understanding of how powerful the pope was becoming by this time and how the kings of the earth looked up to him for approval, so it meant a lot for Pepin the Short to have the approval of the pope, and it meant a lot to the pope to get protection from the Lombards; hence, the deal was made. Two years later in 753 A. D., Stephen II, who was the successor of Zachary, was still troubled by the invading Lombards, so he rushed up into France and said to old Pepin the Short, "I want protection against the Lombards; if you will send an army into Italy and fight against them, I will crown you again as the ruler of France." So he re-crowned Pepin, thus acknowledging and approving that which Zachary had done before him. As a result, Pepin the Short sent an army into Italy, fought against the Lombards, took away from them some of the territory they had gained in and around Ravenna, Italy, took over a portion of the central part of Italy including a part of Rome and simply put it into the lap of the pope and said, "Here, it is all yours as a part of our deal." That is the way the pope of Rome came to possess land and the papacy came to be a temporal power. From that time on the pope wielded and exercised a greater power than any civil ruler throughout the middle ages. In the year 800, what is known as the "Holy Roman Empire" had its beginning.

The first ruler or emperor of that "Holy Roman Empire" was crowned by the pope and through the centuries after that, there was that inter-play between pope and emperor that continued throughout the middle ages and reached its climax of power and influence by the pope over civil rulers on into the eleventh and twelfth centuries under the rulership of Hildebrand and Innocent III. Those two popes stand out in history as the ones who exercised the power and influence of the papacy at its greatest height. Old Hildebrand, for example, had enough power over the civil rulers, the emperor of the "Holy Roman Empire," that he made him stand for three days, some historians say, in the snow bare-footed, before he could get an audience with him. Other historians suggest that maybe he did not actually stand in the snow for three days, but on three consecutive days presented himself bare-footed in the snow for an audience with the pope before he gained it. The circumstances of that are interesting. The issue of investiture was up, and that was the question of who would crown the bishops or invest them with their ecclesiastical power. The civil authorities had been doing that, and Hildebrand said, "I think I will put a stop to it." Henry IV, the emperor up in Germany, said, "No, I think we do not want to give up that right." Then Hildebrand retaliated simply by releasing his subjects from all allegiance to Henry IV, he said, "I absolve you of all allegiance, responsibility, and submission to the emperor," and old Henry IV was helpless. Hildebrand was going up in Germany for a meeting, but Henry IV did not wait for that meeting. He rushed down into Italy and met Hildebrand on the way at Canossa, and that is where he presented himself bare-footed in the snow pleading for mercy and leniency and absolution at the hands of the pope. Now, notice how that emphasizes the power which the pope had. The pope had said, "I think we will take away the right of the civil authorities to invest bishops with their ecclesiastical power." Henry IV said, "No, I don't think we will do that," hence the pope placed an interdict against them and refused them the blessings of the church and absolved their allegiance to the emperor, the civil ruler, and he was helpless and hopeless. In fact, he was threatened with the danger of being removed from the throne within a year unless he gained absolution at the hands of the pope, and that is why he went trembling before the pope to gain absolution.

Then came Innocent III later on, who had enough power that in his inaugural address, he said, "The bishop of Rome, the successor of Peter, is below God, above man, is judge of all and is judged by none." He had enough power that he made old Phillip of France take back his divorced wife. Maybe he should have. I am not contending the issue there, but the fact that the pope had enough power to make him do it is the thing that we are interested in here. Then he had enough power to take away the crown of King John up in England and said in effect, "Now John, you put that crown into the hands of the Roman primate there, and you may have it back when you agree to be a good boy and will take it back with the understanding and acknowledgment that you are subject to the pope." Those are just a few of the many instances which show the power of the papacy throughout the middle ages. That power continued for awhile before it began its decline but was not completely lost until the year 1870 when the Italian armies marched into Rome and took away the temporal possessions of the papacy. In the year 1929, there was a special treaty made between the Roman Catholic Church and the Italian Government. A great amount of money was paid to the Catholic Church and what is now known as the Vatican State was formed. That is a plot of land in the city of Rome consisting of about 109 square miles, if I remember correctly, over which the pope is supreme ruler both civil and spiritual. It is with that territory with the pope as head, which in effect is both a political and a religious state, that our government in recent years has sought to have relations such as they think will demand a formal, official appointment of an ambassador. That was the issue that was raised a few months ago (1951) when the president proposed to the senate that he appoint and they approve an ambassador to the Vatican. Those who defended that move had a defense that at first might seem plausible. They said they were not saying necessarily that any church had a right to be a temporal power but were merely recognizing what did exist — that the Catholic Church owns the territory known as Vatican State; she rules over it; it is a temporal power, and we have the right to deal with it as such. That was their argument, and it seems plausible to many people but in effect, it falls down upon critical analysis. Though the Vatican is a temporal power, the head and ruler of that territory is the Pope of Rome, the head of the Catholic Church, to deal with that temporal power is in effect dealing with a spiritual power and to recognize it with the appointment of an ambassador, is simply to recognize a church and to have an official representative with and before a religious body. If one religious body has that right then why not others? That is why so much opposition was aroused and protests flooded Washington and until this time, it seems that such a step has been prohibited, or at least forestalled and delayed, and we hope the delay will be permanent.

This is a brief resume of the development of the papacy and the acquirement of its temporal powers bringing it right down to the present time. In the next article we will take up some of the specific claims of the Catholic Church. We urge you to continue to study these matters with us.