As a 4-year-old child in a family of devout Roman Catholics, I could recite by heart Matthew 16:18 and 19 long before I could read or write. On cue, when prompted by parent or sibling, I would emote as follows:
"Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and what- soever thou shalt bind upon earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
Those words, I was taught, spoken by Christ to the Apostle Peter, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Peter was the first pope, and that he was the rock on which Christ built His Church – the Roman Catholic Church, the only true Church. It is upon these two vitally important Scriptures, therefore, that the entire Roman Catholic monolith is supported. For, if Peter is not Catholicism’s foundation rock, if he was not the first pope, if he was not endowed with infallibility, then all its popes have been frauds, and all its claims of divine authorization are reduced to wishful vagaries. In this critical matter, history – not anti-Catholic “heretics” – is the Vatican’s most relentless, indefatigable enemy.
It shows, for example, that no bishop of Rome considered himself to have any greater authority than the many other bishops, nor sought monarchial authority over all Christendom, until the 3rd century was well underway. Then, Calixtus I, whose most celebrated accomplishment recorded in Britannica is the transfer of the Roman Christians’ cemetery from the Via Salaria to the Via Appia, attempted to hijack our Lord’s legacy by citing Matthew 16:18 as the establishment of Peter and all succeeding bishops of Rome to be rulers over all the churches. Putting a wagon in a garage does not make it an automobile; and declaring oneself to be the boss doesn’t produce a boss. The great Tertullian, bishop of Carthage, ridiculed Calixtus and his claim, referring to him as a “usurper.” In its Catechisms the Vatican quotes Tertullian whenever it is expedient, but you won’t find his appellation for Calixtus I in any RCC printed matter.
Nor will you find Rome confessing to the faithful Roman Catholic laity, that the great Augustine, joined by Cyril, Hilary, Basil, Ambrose, Jerome, Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and delegates to the Council of Chalcedon, declared the rock upon which Christ would build His Church was Christ himself, not the Apostle Peter. That is not this writer’s opinion or pipedream. That is hard, cold, unyielding history. In his 13th sermon, preserved I believe by divine intent, Augustine made his belief perfectly clear.
“Thou art Peter, and on this Rock – petra – which thou hast confessed,
on this rock which thou hast known, saying: ‘Thou art Christ, the Son
of the living God,’ I will build my church upon Myself, who am the Son
of the living God; I will build it on Me, and not Me on thee.”
Roman Catholic apologists have called this writer some unflattering names for stating that there was no pope and no papacy for more than 500 years after Christ returned to heaven. But history is history, and all the name calling in the world will not alter the fact that Augustine spoke the previously quoted words during his years in Africa as bishop of Hippo – get this, now – in the first third of the FIFTH CENTURY. Moreover, Augustine’s conviction – based on a correct interpretation of the Scriptures – that Jesus Himself was the foundation rock of Christianity, was shared almost 100% by the churches existing at that time.
Following the abortive attempt of Calixtus I to seize control of Christendom, Stephen I, bishop of Rome AD 253-257, took a shot at it citing as his authority some newly discovered documents now known as the pseudo-Clementine Letters and Homilies. This spurious collection contained a forged letter allegedly written by Peter to James the Lord’s brother in which he appoints Clement to be his successor as bishop of Rome, with binding and loosing authority unlimited. Since Linus and Cletus, according to church historian Eusebius, were, in that order, the first two known bishops of Rome, the authenticity of the purported Petrine letter was at once an issue, and Stephen’s effort failed as miserably as that of Calixtus I.
So, even when Constantine the Great convoked the famous Council of Nicaea early in the FOURTH CENTURY there was no pope and no papacy. Constantine, who is not listed as a pope in Rome’s papal lineage, himself assumed the leadership of the churches and took the title Pontifex Maximus – highest priest. Inasmuch as the Pontifex Maximus title is one of the many applied to Roman Catholic popes, Sylvester, bishop of Rome at the time, should have had that title if he was the reigning pope. He was not the pope or a pope, and he was not even in attendance at the AD 325 Council of Nicaea.
In that fourth century, five episcopates emerged as jurisdictional centers to which individual independent churches could look for counsel in ecclesiastical matters. These five were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. In AD 387, just before the Roman Empire split into separate East and West divisions, Siricius, another bishop of Rome, once again tried to highjack Christendom, and with the same result as Calixtus and Stephen. Nobody paid any attention.
More history, easily checked by those seeking truth and not vindication of false teachings: at the FIFTH CENTURY Council of Carthage, (AD 412) convoked by that city’s bishop Aurelius, the assembled prelates drafted a letter to the bishop of Rome warning him not to accept for ruling appeals from African bishops, deacons or other clerics. Besides that, he was forbidden to send any further emissaries or legates to the African churches. In another council of African churches, that one at Melvie, Augustine was the secretary. History shows he fully supported the synod’s decree of excommunication leveled at any in the African churches who would seek settlement of appeals or disputes outside of Africa or from the Roman See.
The actual hijacking of Christendom by the bishops of Rome, then, did not take place in the first 500 years after Christ. In truth, it hasn’t really taken place at all, because the eastern branch of Christendom has never accepted Rome’s self-assumed primacy. For the beginning of the successful takeover of the western branch of Christianity – the Latin churches – we must move to the very middle of the FIFTH CENTURY, to the episcopate of Leo 1 (Leo the Great), bishop of Rome AD 440-461. He assumed the title, “Primate of All Bishops,” and for validation of his theft obtained the endorsement of Western Roman Emperor Valentinian III. Wonderful! A self-styled “Vicar of Christ” seeking – not the approval of God – but the approval of a secular entity to be the “Vicar of Christ.”
Leo intimidated a lot of people by his various claims, one of which was, “Lord of the Whole Church,” but when he declared that resisting his absolute authority would condemn a soul to the fires of hell, the delegates to the AD 451 Council of Chalcedon put their collective feet down. Leo was denied his endorsement, and at the end of the fifth century, there still was no pope and no papacy. What amazes about all this is how the Vatican has been able to obliterate the actual early Church history, successfully replacing it with the fairytales of “apostolic succession” and an “unbroken chain of popes” stretching all the way back to Peter.
The first bishop of Rome to wield the kind of power for which the papacy is now known, was Gregory 1 (Gregory the Great) whose 14-year episcopate began in the very last decade of the SIXTH CENTURY – AD 590-604. But this man was adamantly opposed to the very papal office that the Vatican insists he occupied as the 64th successor to the Apostle Peter. In a letter to Maurice, the Emperor, Gregory had this to say:
“I confidently affirm that who so calls himself, or desires to be called Universal Priest, (Pontifex Maximus), in his pride goes before anti-Christ……St. Peter is not called Universal Apostle ….Far from CHRISTIAN (not Catholic) hearts be that blasphemous name.”
To the bishop of Antioch in another letter, Gregory wrote that the title of Universal (Catholic) Bishop was:
“profane, superstitious, haughty, and invented by the first apostate.”
No matter that Gregory I refused such a signal honor, and believed that anyone claiming to be universal (katholikos) bishop would in fact be Anti-Christ. A successor, Boniface III, AD 607-8, coerced the Emperor, Phocas, to confer upon him that very title of Universal Bishop, papa, or pope, of all Christendom. The eastern churches refused to submit to his self-assumed authority, however, so Boniface and all his successors have had to settle for a partial monarchy ruling only the western churches. Historically, then Rome’s claims of a papacy begun with Peter and stretching down the annals of time to the present are proven falsehoods.
And, even after Boniface III succeeded in gaining for bishops of Rome the coveted title of papa, there was stubborn resistance to their claimed authority lasting into the ninth century. Then, in the episcopate of Nicholas I (Nicholas the Great), bishop of Rome AD 858-867, documents known today as the pseudo-Isidorean Decretals appeared on the stage of history. Contained in this fortuitous discovery were letters allegedly written by “popes” prior to Nicaea (AD 325) and from Clement 1 to Miltiades. All are blatant forgeries! (They had to be, for there were no popes and no papacy in that time frame.)
Also included in the collection were letters of popes from Sylvester 1 (4th century) to Gregory II (8th century) in which are more than 40 falsifications. But the most pope-friendly inclusion in the decretals was a document entitled, “The Donation of Constantine.” Thought to be authentic for 600 years, and used successfully by bishops of Rome as grounds for their claims to primacy, it actually contained the ultimate proof that popes and the papacy are NOT DIVINELY ORDAINED, but are simply another invention of mere mortals.
On the one hand, Rome teaches that Christ ordained Peter as the head of His Church, the rock on which it was founded, and the first pope. But for 600 years – from the ninth to the fifteenth century, the Donation of Constantine was invoked as the historical event granting to bishops of Rome ecclesiastical authority over all of Christendom and its episcopates, and temporal power over Rome and the entire Western Roman Empire.
Allegedly donated by Constantine the Great to Sylvester 1, bishop of Rome AD 314-335, it was used by Nicholas I to dispel opposition to popes and the papacy, and history shows that, from the ninth century to the present, bishops of Rome have been unopposed as exclusive occupants of the office of pope. In AD 1054, Leo IX tried to use the Donation of Constantine to secure control of the eastern as well as the western churches. The patriarch of Constantinople suggested Leo should mind his own business, and the split of the eastern (Orthodox) churches from Rome became permanent thereafter.
The Donation of Constantine was shown to be a deliberate forgery in AD 1440 by Lorenzo Valla, but not before the Vatican had used it to permanently secure its position of primacy over the entire western church, and to exercise nearly absolute control over kings and nations for 500 years as well. What is most interesting about this forged document and Rome’s use of it, is the secular source from which Rome allegedly derived its ecclesiastical and temporal power – its papacy. Where in history do we find Constantine invested with the power and authority to appoint a monarch over the Church of the living God? Isn’t the use of the Donation of Constantine by numerous popes eloquent proof that popes and the papacy are frauds, not initiated by Christ, but founded on the forged documents of men greedy for power?