Where Does the Road to Rome Lead Ch. 10

Catholic Concerns
Where Does the Road to Rome Lead?
Mary Ann Collins, a former Catholic nun
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Chapter 10

The Birth of the
Roman Catholic Church

The Roman Catholic Church claims that the early Christians were all Roman Catholics, and that (aside from the Orthodox Church) all Christians were Roman Catholics until the Protestant Reformation. It claims that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope, ruling from Rome. It also claims that it gave us the Bible.

As we have seen in Chapters 6 and 7, Peter was not a Pope, and the Catholic Church did not give us the Bible. Now we will examine the origin and degree of antiquity of the Roman Catholic Church.

Some of the Early Fathers used the term “catholic,” but that just meant the entire body of believers in Jesus Christ. (Some Protestants use the term, with that meaning, today.) “Roman Catholic” is a very different matter. It refers to people who believe certain doctrines, participate in certain “sacraments,” and acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope.

Emperor Constantine

On October 28, 312 A.D., the Roman Emperor Constantine met with Bishop Miltiades. (Catholics would later refer to him as Pope Miltiades, but at the time he was known as the Bishop of Rome.) Miltiades was assisted by Silvester, a Roman who spoke educated Latin, and acted as interpreter. The previous day, Constantine had seen a sign in the heavens: a cross in front of the sun. He heard a voice say, “In this sign you will conquer.” He painted crosses on the shields of his soldiers. He won an important battle, and was convinced that it was because of the power of the sign that he had seen. He asked for two of the nails that were used to crucify Jesus. One nail was made into a bit for his horse. Another nail was made a part of his crown, signifying that Constantine ruled the Roman Empire in the name of Jesus. He allowed Miltiades to keep the third nail.1

The fact that Constantine saw the cross and the sun together may explain why he worshiped the Roman sun god while at the same time professing to be a Christian. After his “conversion,” Constantine built a triumphal arch featuring the Roman sun god (the “unconquered sun”). His coins featured the sun. Constantine made a statue of the sun god, with his own face on it, for his new city of Constantinople. He made Sunday (the day of the sun god) into a day of rest when work was forbidden.2
 Constantine declared that a mosaic of the Roman sun god (riding in a chariot) was a representation of Jesus. During Constantine’s reign, many Christians incorporated worship of the Roman sun god into their religion. They prayed kneeling towards the east (where the sun rises). They said that Jesus Christ drives his chariot across the sky (like the Roman sun god). They had their worship services on Sunday, which honored the Roman sun god. (Days of the week were named to honor pagan gods. For example, Saturday is “Saturn’s day,” named for the Roman god Saturn.) They celebrated the birth of Jesus on December 25, the day when sun worshipers celebrated the birthday of the sun following the winter solstice.3

Historians disagree as to whether or not Constantine actually became a Christian. His character certainly did not reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ. Constantine was vain, violent, and superstitious. His combination of worshiping the Christian God and the old Roman sun god may have been an attempt to cover all the bases. (A similar spirit can be seen in Americans who financially support both opposing candidates during an election. No matter who wins, they expect to have the favor of the person in power.) Constantine had little if any respect for human life. He was known for wholesale slaughter during his military campaigns. He forced prisoners of war to fight for their lives against wild beasts. He had several family members (including his second wife) executed for doubtful reasons. Constantine waited until he was dying before he asked to be baptized. Historians disagree as to whether or not he actually was baptized.4

Constantine wanted to have a state Church, with Christian clergy acting as civil servants. He called himself a Bishop. He said that he was the interpreter of the Word of God, and the voice which declares what is true and godly. According to historian Paul Johnson, Constantine saw himself as being an important agent of salvation, on a par with the apostles. Bishop Eusebius (Constantine’s eulogist) relates that Constantine built the Church of the Apostles with the intention of having his body be kept there along with the bodies of the apostles. Constantine’s coffin was to be in the center (the place of honor), with six apostles on each side of him. He expected that devotions honoring the apostles would be performed in the church, and he expected to share the title and honor of the apostles.5

Constantine told Bishop Miltiades that he wanted to build two Christian basilicas, one dedicated to the Apostle Peter and one dedicated to the Apostle Paul. He offered a large, magnificent palace for the use of Miltiades and his successors. Miltiades refused. He could not accept the idea of having Christianity be promoted by the Roman Empire.6

Constantine rode off to war. By the time that he returned in 314 A.D., Miltiades had died. Bishop Silvester was Miltiades’ successor. Silvester was eager to have the Church be spread using Roman roads, Roman wealth, Roman law, Roman power, and Roman military might. Constantine officially approved of Silvester as the successor of Miltiades. Then he had a coronation ceremony for Silvester and crowned him like a worldly prince. No bishop had ever been crowned before.7 Constantine’s actions give the impression that he believed that he had authority over the Church.

Before Constantine’s “conversion,” Christians were persecuted. Now, instead of facing persecution, Bishop Silvester lived in the lap of luxury. He had a beautiful palace, with the finest furniture and art. He wore silk brocade robes. He had servants to wait on him. Near his palace was a basilica which was to serve as his cathedral. This luxurious building had seven altars made of gold, a canopy of solid silver above the main altar, and 50 chandeliers. The imperial mail system and transportation system were placed at Silvester’s disposal. It was now possible to have worldwide church councils.8

One result of this cathedral was a drastic change in how Christians worshiped together. In the Book of Acts, we see them “breaking bread from house to house.” (Acts 2:46) They met in one another’s homes, and shared bread and wine in memory of Jesus Christ.

But now, all of a sudden, the Roman Emperor built an elaborate and expensive cathedral for them. You can’t just sit around informally sharing bread and wine in that kind of atmosphere. You have to do something worthy of a cathedral. And you have to use the altars. So you have to have priests, and vestments, and a formal liturgy of some kind. To fail to do that would be to insult the Emperor, thereby risking persecution.

Read the Book of Acts and the Epistles and compare the Church shown there to the Church of Bishop Silvester. Here is how the Apostle Paul described the kinds of things that he had to endure, as a leader in the early Church.

“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.” (2 Corinthians 11:24-27)

After Constantine’s “conversion,” the Church was radically changed. Suddenly, being Christian resulted in power, prestige, and promotion (whereas previously it had resulted in persecution). Suddenly, by the Emperor’s decree, Christianity became “politically correct .” So ambitious people joined the Church for worldly reasons. The Bishop of Rome was supported by the military might, political power, and wealth of the Roman Emperor. Worldwide church councils were convened.

This was the birth of the Roman Catholic Church. It was created in the year 314 A.D. by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Silvester.

A Tale of Two Bishops

The degree of change which Constantine caused in the Church can be illustrated by looking at the lives of two Bishops of Rome. So let’s go back in history for about 100 years before Christianity became “politically correct,” to look at the life of Bishop Pontian. Then we will compare Pontian’s life with the life of Bishop Silvester, who lived during the time of Emperor Constantine. (The following information about Bishops Pontian and Silvester comes from several sources.) 9

Pontian became the Bishop of Rome in the year 230 A.D. He was made bishop suddenly and unexpectedly when his predecessor was arrested and killed by Roman authorities.

On September 27, 235 A.D., Emperor Maximinus decreed that all Christian leaders were to be arrested. Christian buildings were burned, Christian cemeteries were closed, and the personal wealth of Christians was confiscated.

Bishop Pontian was arrested the same day. He was put in the Mamertine Prison, where he was tortured for ten days. Then he was sent to work in the lead mines of Sardinia.

The prisoners worked in the mines for 20 hours a day, with four one-hour breaks for sleep. They had one meal of bread and water per day. Most prisoners died within six to fourteen months from exhaustion, malnutrition, disease, beatings, infection, or violence.

Pontian only lasted four months. In January, 236 A.D., Pontian was killed and his body was thrown into the cesspool.

What happened to Pontian was not unusual. Many Christians were sent to the Sardinian lead mines, or persecuted in other ways. If a man accepted the position of being a Christian leader, he knew that his life from that time on was likely to be short and painful. There were 14 Bishops of Rome in the 79 years between the arrest of Pontian and the coronation of Silvester.

In 314 A.D., Emperor Constantine crowned Silvester as Bishop of Rome. Silvester lived in luxury, with servants waiting on him. Constantine confessed his sins to Silvester and asked for his advice. Silvester presided over worldwide Church councils. He had a splendid palace and a sumptuous cathedral. He had power, prestige, wealth, pomp, and the favor of the Emperor.

Churchmen wore purple robes, reflecting the purple of Constantine’s court. That was an external change. The most important change was an internal one. The Church took on the mentality of Rome. Under Silvester, the internal structure of the Church took on the form and practice and pomp of Rome.

Silvester died in December, 336 A.D. He died peacefully, in a clean, comfortable bed, in the Roman Lateran Palace. He died surrounded by well dressed bishops and priests, and attended by Roman guards. His body was dressed in ceremonial robes, put in an elegant casket, and carried through the streets of Rome in a solemn procession. He was buried with honor and ceremony, attended by the cream of Roman society and by the Roman people.
It is understandable that many Christians would have preferred an officially approved status for the Church. But what was the result?

Before Constantine, the church was a band of heroic men and women who were so committed to serve the Lord Jesus Christ that they would endure any hardship. After 314 A.D., the Church became infiltrated by opportunists who were seeking power and political advancement. Church leaders were no longer in danger of persecution. Rather, they enjoyed all the trappings of power and luxury.

State Religion

In 380 A.D., Emperor Theodosius published an edict requiring that all Roman subjects profess the faith of the Bishop of Rome. Those who refused were considered to be “heretics .” Jews, pagans, and “heretics” were subject to harsh punishments. In 390 A.D., Bishop Ambrose excommunicated Emperor Theodosius and required him to do penance for eight months in order to be restored to the Church. Theodosius complied.10

It is amazing how much power the Roman Catholic Church gained in 66 years. Constantine had promoted the Church by giving it special benefits, but Theodosius forced people to become Catholics by imposing harsh punishments on anybody who disagreed with the Bishop of Rome. Constantine had asked for advice from Bishop Silvester, but Emperor Theodosius obeyed orders given by Bishop Ambrose.

Roman Catholicism was now the state religion of the Roman Empire. The Roman Catholic Church—which was born under Emperor Constantine—had now become so powerful that a bishop could give orders to the Roman Emperor.

The “Early Fathers”

Catholic apologists often quote the “Early Fathers” in support of Catholic doctrines, the papacy, and the idea that the Roman Catholic Church goes back to Jesus and the Apostles. Who were these people?

There were many early Christian leaders, including priests, bishops, and scholars. There were a lot of these men, and they had a wide variety of opinions on religious matters. Their theological differences were as widely varied as those of theologians from different denominations are today.11

So one person finds some “Early Fathers” to support one position, and another person finds other “Early Fathers” to support the opposite position.

But it’s not a level playing field. Among all of those early Christian leaders, who decided which ones qualified to be called “Early Fathers”? The Catholic Church. Who decided which works should be copied and passed on to posterity? Copying was a slow, tedious job before the invention of the printing press. Who decided which writings were important enough to copy? The Catholic Church.


The Roman Catholic Church was created by Emperor Constantine and Bishop Silvester in the year 314 A.D. It grew in power until, by 380 A.D., it was the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Christianity started out as a humble group of persecuted believers. Leaders (especially bishops) were self-sacrificing men who were willing to risk torture and death because they believed that God had called them to lead His flock. Believers shared a simple communion meal in one another’s homes.

Then suddenly, the Church became partners with the Roman Empire. Christianity became “politically correct,” thus inviting people to join the Church for the wrong reasons. The Church took on the pomp and prestige and power of Roman nobility. And instead of meeting in homes, Christians met in luxurious cathedrals, where priests in ornate vestments led elaborate rituals. Bishops had power, prestige, wealth, and the respect of the Roman Emperor, so ambitious men coveted Church leadership.

In 314 A.D., a bishop and an Emperor became colleagues. And suddenly the Church went through an “extreme makeover,” resulting in the Roman Catholic Church.