Dating Roman Catholicism
However, I do feel comfortable offering a range of dates for the beginnings of Catholicism. Things just don’t happen overnight – it takes time. And without an understanding of events including the complicity of the Roman emperors and the problems found within the early churches, we may not understand how things got started. It would never have gotten going without the persistence and diligence (can I say that?) of many. Yet if the apostasy of Western Catholicism had not happened, then something else would have fallen in place to start the denominational ball rolling.
The range I suggest for the start point of the first denomination would begin around the time of the second Edict of Toleration or by the Nicene Council, moving onward with the continuing decline of Rome. It would go along through the rise of Constantinople and end up somewhere in the seventh and eighth centuries with the rise of Islam.
It was both a process and a product, but a solid timeline is pretty hard to nail down. I start with dates around 325 heading up to 606 or beyond to 800 with the establishment of the Holy Roman Empire as was just noted. The mentioned 606 date heralds the ready assumption of the title of “Holy Father” and Pope by Boniface III, but things were already well formed by then. On the other end of the range during the seventh and eighth centuries you have Islam growing rapidly and the fear of it for a possible upper range point. You could span those years with some more or some less time as you might see things a little differently, but a similar range is not without some historical support – allowing for a half century or two either way. So I might conclude reasonably that Roman Catholicism had its beginning around 325 or even a little earlier, and was well constructed by 800. As said, you may differ with where to start or to end.
By the fifth century much of Europe had fallen to aristocratic feudalism and religiously had come under the control of Catholicism – which is another form of feudalism. It is only due to the resistance and intervention of the Anglo Saxons that England was a “late arrival.” To this day the Anglicans claim their denomination is “more an English church” than its Roman mother. Unfortunately it is more about traditions and ascendancy and has little to do with Christian doctrine. They may have been late to the party, but they were led by the nose into the pen without much of an outcry. Most of Europe and the Scandinavians had already fallen down on bloodied knee or were on a steady slide by 600. The Caliphs, the Sarasin and the rest of Islam would soon cause the gaze of Europe (and the power of Rome) to turn to the east, while adding to their increasing strength and numbers.
The Frenchman Pepin and his army managed to cede much of Italy to what would soon become the Holy See and aided in the legitimization of its power base by the mid seven hundreds. To quote Philip Schaaf: “But by this gift of a foreign conqueror he (the Pope, RAV) became a temporal sovereign over a large part of Italy, while claiming to be the successor of Peter, who had neither silver nor gold, and the vicar of Christ who said: ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ The temporal power made the papacy independent in the exercise of its jurisdiction, but at the expense of its spiritual character.”
Later by the time of the first crusades you have the rising response against the movement and expansion of Islam through the East and toward the West. And in these times there appeared, in the minds of some, a clear need to continue to consolidate power between state and church in order to meet headlong this fierce and defined foe.
The end product is that Rome and its church-states have successfully tightened the noose over the ensuing centuries and they will surely not release their grip this side of Judgment. It was in response at first to the changing face of Rome, and moved out into the control of the Germanic tribes and the rest of Europe. It built its walls higher in response to Islam and the East.
Today the Roman church is far and away the wealthiest organization in the world and although perhaps they wield the power more quietly now — they still exercise a form of rule over millions with acquired billions that should not be ignored. They have been reined in slightly by some long overdue accounting and some bits of reason. And they have been somewhat stifled in their overt political manipulations in the Americas due to the strength of the Protestants and the strength of political awakenings mainly in North America.
In my opinion, the Roman church still offers the gullible a legacy of apostasy and a “two door policy” – a closed door to the scriptures and an open door to destruction. And they use the poor and simple among us to heap riches to themselves. I apologize only half-heartedly for the assessment; but I see it as a church of men mostly serving each other. Again, this is not about people but about godliness and its opposite. I suggest that like the rest of the denominations that have followed them out onto the landscape: they have nothing at all to do with the Christ, his Word, salvation or the work of the apostles and disciples.
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
(2 Timothy 3: 1 – 7)