Catholicism’s Brief History

By Luther W. Martin

Compared to the life-span of man, Catholicism’s history is not brief. However, when compared to the Jewish Religion of the Old Testament, it is brief. Also, when contrasted with the church of the New Testament, Catholicism is a “Johnny-come lately.”

Typically, a person celebrates a day of birth and a year of birth. Most religious movements trace back to a year or decade of development. But Catholicism is unique, in that it has slowly evolved over decades and centuries, with each change or new doctrine and practice, contributing to the over-all super-structure.

When a building of brick and stone is built, a date is selected for the “laying of the corner stone.” At one time, the corner-stone was put in the place at the early start of construction, so that it could be used for sighting out the rest of the foundation walls, etc. In modern times, the laying of the corner-stone is a ceremony, culminating all construction. Some large structures have been centuries under construction. Such is the case with the Catholic Church.

The New Testament Church

Christ referred to his church in the future tense in Matthew 16:18. He later instructed the apostles to “tarry in Jerusalem” until they would receive power from on high. This power was then received in an overwhelming (baptismal) measure on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). From this time onward, the church was referred to in the present tense. The Lord’s church or kingdom came with “power as had been promised (see also Dan. 2:44). The place was Jerusalem, and the time was circa 30 A.D. It can therefore be readily demonstrated that any religion not having Christ’s authorization for its beginning; not starting in Jerusalem; and, not beginning circa 30 A.D., cannot be and is not the New Testament church.

Man-Made Churches Easily Traced

The greater number of man-made churches are only a century or so old. For this reason, they can be easily traced backed to their respective beginnings. Numbers of them seemingly with pride, point to some mere man as their founder. The specific date of their start may be identified by a certain happening in history. Followers of Catholicism point to the beginning of some younger sect, and exclaim: “See there, 1830 was when the Mormon Church began, but just show us the date that Catholicism began!” This, we now propose to do!

The New Testament Warned of Future Apostasy!

It comes as no surprise, that religious movements departed from the New Testament church. The New Testament itself foretells of such apostasy or failing away. Note the following passages: “For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30). So the apostle Paul spoke to the Ephesian elders, and Luke recorded it.

“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul,’ or ‘I am of Apollos,’ or ‘I am of Cephas,’ or ‘I am of Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor. 1:11-13) Here, Paul was reprimanding the Corinthian Christians, because they were beginning to wear the names of their preferred preachers.

“Let no one deceive you by any means; for that day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (2 Thess. 2:34). So Paul wrote to the church in Thessalonica.

“Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:1-3). Thus, Paul warns Christians, in writing to the preacher Timothy.

The four foregoing Scriptures are examples of the New Testament warnings concerning an apostasy that would develop.

The Greek Orthodox Church

Egypt had its succession of Pharaohs, Rome had its series of Caesars, and Rome, as an Empire, had eleven “Constantines,” who reigned from Constantinople. Constantine the Great, was thefirst of the Constantines. He decreed that the new religion of Christ (new compared to paganism and Judaism) should be the official religion of the Roman Empire. Constantine the Great also called for the “First Ecumenical Council” to be convened at Nicaea, in 325 A.D.

The first eight of the General Councils, or Ecumenical Councils, were each convened at the directive of the Emperor, not by an ecclesiastical personage. The first seven of these Ecumenical Councils are acknowledged by both the Greek Orthodox Church and by the Roman Catholic Church, as being “Ecumenical.” We give below, the attendance which shows the ratio between Greek and Latin members present.

I Council of Nicaea 325 A.D. 315 Greeks 3 Latins
I Council of Constantinople 381 A.D. 150 Greeks 1 Latin
Council of Ephesis 431 A.D. 67 Greeks 1 Latin
Council of Chalcedon 451 A.D. 350 Greeks 3 Latins
II Council of Constantinople 553 A.D. 158 Greeks 6 Latins
III Council of Constantinople 680 A.D. 51 Greeks 5 Latins
II Council of Nicaea 787 A.D. 370 Greeks 7 Latins

There were 1,487 in attendance at the first seven councils. Of that total, only 26 were Latins, while 1,461 were Greeks. The proceedings of these seven councils were recorded in the Greek language. The proceedings of the eighth council, the IV Council of Constantinople, were recorded in both Greek and Latin in 869-870 A.D.

In the early centuries, there were numerous heresies and schisms that plagued the New Testament church, and later the Greek Church. It was not until 1054 A.D., that the Western Churches seceded from the Greek Churches of the East.

Some Doctrines And Practices Of The Greek Orthodox Church

This religious movement rejects the idea of the Roman Bishop being a world-wide bishop, over all churches. They also reject the idea that the Bishop of Rome is in any sense “infallible”; i.e., “incapable of being wrong in matters of faith and morals, when speaking for the church.” This Greek church also rejects the doctrine of “purgatory” as taught by Rome; they reject the teaching of “immaculate conception”; their priests are allowed to marry and they have refrained from using instrumental music in their worship.

The Eastern Church is divided into six basic “Rites”: Coptic, Maronite, Chaldean, Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine. The Byzantine Rite is by far the major element among the Eastern congregations. It is divided into five different groups: Rumanian-Byzantine Rite, Slavonic-Byzantine Rite, Georgian-Byzantine Rite, Arabic-Byzantine Rite, and Green-Byzantine Rite.

The United Greek Church – Or Uniat(e) Church

The Greek Orthodox Church and the Greek Uniate Church are different! They are not the same movement! The word “Orthodox” indicates that they are separated from Rome; while the Uniate Church includes: the Ruthenian Church of Galicia, the Rumanian Church of Austria-Hungary, the Bulgarian Church of Turkish Bulgaria, the Melchite Church of Syria, the Georgian Church, the Italo-Greek Church, and the Church of the Greeks in Turkey or in the Hellenic Kingdom – all of them Catholic, and in communion with Rome.

The Ruthenian-Greek Church united with Rome in 1596.

The Rumanian-Greek Church united with Rome in 1700.

The Syrian (Melchite) Greek Church united with Rome in 1700.

The Italian-Greek Catholics, in extreme southern Italy, never parted from Rome.

The Western Church: Roman Catholic

The differences in doctrines and practices that contributed to the Great Schism, between the Eastern Churches and the Western Churches, in the year 1054 A.D., are the doctrines and practices that have become peculiarly Roman Catholic.

It is interesting to note that the use of the Greek word, catholic, is not Peculiar to the Roman Church. The word catholic, is not found in Holy Scripture, so was never used to either describe the New Testament church, or as its proper name. The word actually means “universal,” and therefore appropriately describes the worldwide scope of the gospel of Christ, which, when proclaimed, results in the establishment of congregations of the Lord’s church. It is most inappropriate to take a word meaning “universal” and then limit it to Greek, Roman, or some other restrictive limit. Yet that is exactly what has been done by the various religious movements that choose to use the term “catholic.”

Since the word “catholic” has been used by several different religious groups, it cannot be used to identify, or serve as an identifying characteristic of the Church of Rome. However, we will now list a number of peculiar teachings or practices that are identifying characteristics of the Roman Church.

(1) World-wide bishop over all the churches – Pope of Rome.

(2) World-wide councils – issuing decrees for all congregations.

(3) College of Cardinals.

(4) Papal infallibility – incapable of error when speaking on faith and morals for the entire church (ex cathedra).

(5) Worship or veneration of images and relics.

(6) Praying to dead saints – invocation of saints.

(7) The Immaculate Conception of the mother of Jesus.

(8) The Bodily Assumption of Mary directly into Heaven.

(9) Purgatory and Indulgences – prayers in behalf of those already dead.

(10) Transubstantiation – Christ’s literal body and blood, produced by priestly prayers, changing the unleavened bread and the juice of the vine.

There are numerous other doctrines and practices of the Roman Church, but these ten will serve to demonstrate that “The Roman Catholic Church as it is known and recognized in the year 1987, is vastly different from what is was in earlier years, decades and centuries.”

(1) World-Wide Bishop Over All The Churches – “Pope of Rome.”

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist as we know it today prior to the year 606 A.D., inasmuch as that was the year in which the Bishop of Rome was first given the title “Universal Bishop.” This title had first been given to the Patriarch of Constantinople, known as John the Faster, in 588 A.D. But when the bishop of Rome, heard of his fellowreligionist being given such a title, Gregory wrote: “Whoever adopts or effects the title of ‘Universal Bishop’ has the pride and character of Antichrist, and is in some manner his forerunner” (History of the Christian Church, William Jones, p. 217).

Just eighteen years later, another bishop of Rome, named Boniface, sought the title from Emperor Phocas (as if the Emperor possessed such authority), and wrested the title from the Patriarch of Constantinople. After the death of Phocas, both the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Bishop of Rome assumed the title (see History of the Church of Christ, Joseph Milner, Vol. 1, p. 514).

(2) World-Wide Councils – Issuing Decrees For All Congregations.

The Roman Catholic Church could not have existed as we know it today prior to the year 325 A.D., since that is the date of the first Ecumenical Council (I Council of Nicaea). This Council was assembled at the directive of Emperor Constantine. The Roman Catholic Church now has a list of some twenty such councils. Down through the centuries, councils have contradicted councils, and also contradicted bishops of Rome. Most of these councils lacked much of actually being “world-wide” in representation. (See McClintock and Strong’s Theological and Ecclesiastical Cyclopedia, Vol. 2, pp. 537-538.)

(3) College of Cardinals.

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist as we know it today, prior to the year 1059 A.D., in view of the fact that in that year, Nicholas 11, authorized such a group to be established. It was composed of only seven cardinals. These are the men who nominate and elect re-placement popes; thus conferring “infallibility” upon whomsoever they choose (see McClintock and Strong, Vol. 2, p. 119).

(4) Papal Infallibility – Incapable of Error When Speaking Er Cathedra.

The Roman Catholic Church did not exist as we know it, before the year 1870, when the Vatican Council proclaimed the pope’s infallibility. This subject had been bandied about over the years, with differing viewpoints existing within the Roman Church. If a Council can pronounce popes “infallible,” then the Council possesses higher authority than the one so pronounced! There had been schools of thought in Catholicism that held Councils to be infallible; others said that it took a combination of pope plus council for infallibility to exist. The 1870 council had a very turbulent session before approving “papal infallibility.” Turbulence is not surprising, when one considers that:

(1) Popes have contradicted popes! John XII and Nicholas 11 uttered contrary decrees on the question as to the possession of property by Christ and his apostles.

(2) Pope Innocent III and Celestine contradicted each other in the matter of divorce when either the husband or wife were heretics.

(3) Alexander III, in a council held at Rome, in 1179 A.D., consisting of three hundred in attendance, condemned Peter Lombard, master of the sentences, of a heresy concerning the incarnation. Innocent III, in 1215 A.D. (36 years later), absolved him without repentance or recantation of his sentiment (see Elliott’s Delineation of Roman Catholicism, Drawn from the Authentic and Acknowledged Standards of the Church of Rome, Vol. 2, pp. 356-357).

(4) Popes have issued officially impious and wicked decrees (Elliott, p. 357)!

(5) Popes have contradicted Scripture (Ibid., p. 357)!

(6) Popes have made ignorant and foolish decisions (Ibid., p. 358)!

(7) Popes have been heretics and taught heresy (Ibid., p. 358)!

(8) Popes have contradicted councils (Ibid., p. 359)!

Hans Kung, a faculty member at Tubingen University, Tubingen, Germany, a prolific writer, has authored a book entitled: “Infallible? An Inquiry” (1971). We copy from the dust jacket of said book:

The pope is not infallible, even when exercising the full authority of his office as Vicar of Christ on earth and Supreme Head of the Roman Catholic Church, he passes judgment on a matter of faith and morals. This is the startling thesis posited by the distinguished and controversial theologian, Hans Kung, in this forceful, dramatic challenge to the most basic concept of authority in the Catholic Church: papal infallibility.

(5) Worship or Veneration of Images and Relies.

“Veneration. The word commonly used to express in English that worship given to the saints either directly or through images or relics, which is different in kind from the divine worship given to God only” (A Catholic Dictionary, Donald Attwater, p. 512).

“Worship. The unique adoration and reverence paid to God, called latria, the word is sometimes used also for the honor paid to saints, dulia, but this is better distinguished by some such word as ‘veneration… (Ibid., p. 529).

“Relic. The corpse of a saint or any part thereof; any part of his clothing; anything intimately connected with him . . .”

“Honor may, and ought, to be paid to those relics whose genuineness is morally certain. . .”

“The Church does not guarantee the genuineness of a single specific relic. . . . “

“Honor given in good faith to a false relic is nevertheless profitable to the worshipper and in no way dishonors the saint. . . “

“Relics in their cases may be exposed on an altar during sacred ceremonies, presented to the people for veneration, carried in procession, and blessing given therewith. . . “

“It is forbidden to buy or sell relics. It is necessary for the valid consecration of an altar, whether fixed or portable, that it contain, sealed into the sepulchre, relics of at least one martyr” (all the above excerpts from Attwater’s Catholic Dictionary, pp. 423-424).

The Second Council of Nicaea, in its 7th Canon, decreed in Summary: “A bishop who in future is found consecrating a church without relics shall be deposed” (787 A.D.). This decree was issued in reaction to the “Iconoclasts,” the image-breakers. In earlier centuries, those opposed to the use of images and relics, had entered church-buildings and destroyed the idols or icons. The Council in 787 A.D., termed the Iconoclasts – heretics!

(6) Praying To Dead Saints: Invocation of Saints.

The Creed of the Council of Trent, contained in the bull, Injunctum Nobis, issued by Pius IV, on November 13, 1594, states in part:

I firmly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful. I likewise hold that the saints reigning together with Christ should be honored and invoked, that they offer prayers to God on our behalf, and that their relics should be venerated. I firmly assert that images of Christ, of the Mother of God ever Virgin, and of the other saints should be owned and kept, and that due honor and veneration should be given to them. I affirm that the power of indulgences was left in the keeping of the Church by Christ, and that the use of indulgences is very beneficial to Christians” (The Church Teaches – Documents of the Church In English Translation, p. 8).

(7) The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of Jesus.

On December 8, 1854, Pius IX, issued a bull, Ineffabilis Deus, wherein he defined that: “the most Blessed Virgin Mary … was preserved free, from all stain of original sin” (Ibid., p. 207).

An earlier Council, the Council of Trent, was aware that when they passed a “Decree On Original Sin,” they were pronouncing a state of sinfulness upon Mary, the mother of Jesus. Therefore, on June 17, 1546, this Council stated: “Nevertheless this same holy council declares that it is not its intention to include in this decree on original sin the blessed and immaculate Virgin Mary, Mother of God” (Ibid., p. 160).

(8) The Bodily Assumption of Mary Directly Into Heaven.

On November 1, 1950, Pius XII, issues a bull, Munificentissimus Deus, which he defined as a dogma for Roman Catholics to believe. We copy in part:

Bishops from all over the world with almost perfect unanimity have petitioned that the truth of the corporeal Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven be defined as a dogma of the divine, Catholic faith. . .”

We therefore, . . . by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by Our own authority, do pronounce, declare, and define as a divinely revealed dogma: The Immaculate Mother of God, Mary ever Virgin, after her life on earth, was assumed, body and soul, to the glory of heaven (Ibid., p. 213).

Dogma (Greek, ordinance). A truth directly proposed by the Church for our belief as an article of divine revelation . . . the content of a dogma is truth revealed by God and therefore must be believed: it is not assumed to be true because many believe it” (Attwater’s Catholic Dictionary, p. 154).

(9) Purgatory and Indulgences Prayers In Behalf Of Those Already Dead.

During the sixth session of the Council of Trent, which was assembled from June 21, 1546 until January 13, 1547, the following excerpt from its decree is copied:

30. If anyone says that after receiving the grace of justification, the guilt of any repentant sinner is remitted and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such a way that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this life or in pugatory, before the gate to the kingdom of heaven can be opened: let him be anathema (The Church Teaches, p. 246).

During the last year of the Council of Trent (1563), a decree on the subject of “purgatory” was issued. We copy some portions of it:

The Catholic Church, by teaching of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with Sacred Scripture and the ancient tradition of the Fathers, has taught in the holy councils, and most recently in this ecumenical council, that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained there are helped by the prayers of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable Sacrifice of the Altar. Therefore, this holy council commands the bishops to be diligently on guard that the true doctrine about purgatory, the doctrine handed down from the holy Fathers and the sacred councils, be preached everywhere, and that Christians be instructed in it, believe it, and adhere to it (The Church Teaches, p. 352).

(10) Transubstantiation – Christ’s Literal Body and Blood, Produced By Priestly Prayers,

Changing the Unleavened Bread and Juice of the Vine.

In the year 1215, the Fourth Council of the Lateran, defined the subject wherein Christ’s body and blood were “changed” into the bread and juice of the vine.

Indeed, there is but one universal church of the faithful outside which no one at all is saved and in which the priest himself, Jesus Christ, is the victim; his body and blood are truly contained in the Sacrament of the Altar under the species of bread and wine, transubstantiated by the divine power – the bread into his body and the wine into his blood -that, for the enacting of the mystery of unity, we may take from his substance as he himself took from our substance. And no one can consecrate this sacrament except a priest who is rightly ordained according to the Church’s powers that Jesus Christ gave to the apostles and to their successors (The Church Teaches, p. 259). In the year 1274, the Second Council of Lyons, stated:

. . . The same Roman Church consecrates the sacrament of the Eucharist from unleavened bread, and she holds and teaches that in this sacrament the bread it truly transubstantiated into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the wine into his blood (The Church Teaches, p. 260).

Additional Information Concerning the Greek and Roman Churches.

The first eight councils that are accepted by both the Greeks and the Romans as being “ecumenical,” were all convened at the eastern region of the Mediteranean Sea. Nicaea in Bithynia, Constantinople in Thrace, Ephesus in Asia, and Chalcedon in Bithynia. The last of these eight councils was held in 869-870 A.D. The year 1054 A.D., as we mentioned earlier, saw the complete split of the Eastern and Western churches. Rome broke away from the Greek Church.

Sixty-nine years later, the next “ecumenical” council was held in Rome; the year was 1123. Then three more “ecumenical” councils were held in Rome: 1139, 1179, and 1215 A.D. In the interest of accuracy, I should point out, that the Greek Orthodox Churches had nothing to do with these supposedly “ecumenical” councils. Therefore, they were somewhat less than ecumenical.


The dates of the various innovations embraced by the Catholic religions, as heretofore listed, can generally be found in encyclopedias and church histories now extant. Also in the interest of accuracy, we must point out that changes and new doctrines and dogmas first were subscribed to by minorities; then gradually, a given teaching would attract more followers and proponents. Next the new teaching would be a subject in some council, where a conclusion might be reached; either for or against the teaching. Finally, the new teaching would be approved by a council or decreed by a pope, and from that date forward, the “faithful” would be required to subscribe to or agree with the decreed doctrine. Previously, the Catholic parishioner could choose to accept or not accept the teaching while it was a matter of controversy and discussion. But once it is decreed or has become the subject of a “dogmatic” utterance, then on pain of sin, the parishioner must accept it.

Source material covering the foregoing statements will be gladly provided.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 22, pp. 688-692
November 19, 1987