The Rise of the Papacy

In the previous article it was shown that the Waldenses and their rule of faith go back at least to the fourth century, and their beliefs are derived from those of the apostles. Now we will trace the history of the church and see that there came a dividing of ways and two distinct paths are evident. One path leads into the wilderness church while the other brings us to the papacy which persecuted that church (Waldenses, Albigenses, et. al.).

“The spread of Christianity during the first three centuries was rapid and extensive. The main causes that contributed to this were the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the Roman world, the fidelity and zeal of the preachers of the Gospel, and the heroic deaths of the martyrs. It was the success of Christianity that first set limits to its progress. It had received a terrible blow, it is true, under Diocletian. This, which was the most terrible of all the early persecutions, had, in the belief of the pagans, utterly exterminated the ‘Christian superstition.’ So far from this, it had but afforded the Gospel an opportunity of giving to the world a mightier proof of its divinity.” History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 3 by J. A. Wylie.


Great Beginnings in History


Throughout history there are evidences of great beginnings followed by the great majority giving into terrible apostasy. Great leaders under the guidance of God appeared, bringing a renewal of faith and obedience among God’s professed people only to be followed by the majority going back into gross wickedness. Examples are: Noah and his warning of a coming flood and call for repentance, see Patriarchs and Prophets, 95; Moses and his leading Israel out of Egypt toward the Promised Land, see Hebrews 3; and finally Christ and His call for Israel to repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand, see John 6. In all three of these experiences there came a time when the great majority turned away from truth into rebellion against the God of heaven. The Lord has always had a remnant to serve Him. His purposes have, and are, moving steadily forward, although, the great majority have many times gone into such deep apostasy that it appeared that the progress to truth was halted or even reversed.

Christ established the early church with His apostles. The purity of that church was maintained as long as they lived. However the beginnings of apostasy were evident in Paul’s day. “The apostle Paul, in his second letter to the Thessalonians, foretold the great apostasy which would result in the establishment of the papal power. He declared that the day of Christ should not come, ‘except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.’ And furthermore, the apostle warns his brethren that ‘the mystery of iniquity doth already work.’ 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 4, 7. Even at that early date he saw, creeping into the church, errors that would prepare the way for the development of the papacy.” The Great Controversy, 49.


Lamp of Truth Burns Dimly


“All through, from the fifth to the fifteenth century, the Lamp of Truth burned dimly in the sanctuary of Christendom. Its flame often sank low, and appeared about to expire, yet never did it wholly go out. God remembered His covenant with the light, and set bounds to the darkness. Not only had this heaven-kindled lamp its period of waxing and waning, like those luminaries that God has placed on high, but like them, too, it had its appointed circuit to accomplish. Now it was on the cities of Northern Italy that its light was seen to fall; and now its rays illumined the plains of southern France. Now it shone along the course of the Danube and the Moldau, or tinted the pale shores of England, or shed its glory upon the Scottish Hebrides. Now it was on the summits of the Alps that it was seen to burn, spreading a gracious morning on the mountain-tops, and giving promise of the sure approach of day. And then, anon, it would bury itself in the deep valleys of piedmont, and seek shelter from the furious tempests of persecution behind the great rocks and the eternal snows of the everlasting hills.” The History of Protestantism, 3.


Corruption Creeps In


Corruption made marked and rapid progress in the early church, beginning with the fourth century. The Bible was being taken away from the people and, as the true light, which was a sure guarantee of liberty, began to fade, the clergy exercised more and more authority over the church members. “Little by little, at first in stealth and silence, and then more openly as it increased in strength and gained control of the minds of men, ‘the mystery of iniquity’ carried forward its deceptive and blasphemous work. Almost imperceptibly the customs of heathenism found their way into the Christian church. The spirit of compromise and conformity was restrained for a time by the fierce persecutions which the church endured under paganism. But as persecution ceased, and Christianity entered the courts and palaces of kings, she laid aside the humble simplicity of Christ and His apostles for the pomp and pride of pagan priests and rulers; and in place of the requirements of God, she substituted human theories and traditions.” The Great Controversy, 49. Canons of councils were set up in place of the infallible Rule of Faith. The clergy took upon themselves titles of dignity and extended their authority into the realm of temporal matters. Often the minister was asked to arbitrate in disputes between members of the church.


Patterning After The World


The next step was to pattern the church organization after that of the state. Under the emperor Constantine, in the fourth century, the empire was governed by four prefects, therefore the Christian world was divided up into four dioceses over which were four patriarchs, each one governing the whole clergy in his domain. Where there had been a brotherhood now there was a hierarchy. Now there was pomp and ceremony of rank and subordination of authority and office. Now there was greatness of rank in place of the fame of learning. With the desertion of the study of the Bible came the institution of rites and ceremonies. These were multiplied to such a degree that “Augustine complained that they were ‘less tolerable than the yoke of the Jews under the law.’ ” History of Protestantism, 4. Now the Bishops of Rome began to speak with authority and demand obedience from all the churches. “This compromise between paganism and Christianity resulted in the development of the ‘man of sin’ foretold in prophecy as opposing and exalting himself above God. That gigantic system of false religion is a masterpiece of Satan’s power—a monument of his efforts to seat himself upon the throne to rule the earth according to his will.” The Great Controversy, 50. Because the spiritual condition of the Roman church was nearly extinct there was nothing to stem the tide of paganism into the church as the northern nations began to enter the empire. The fact that the high standards of true Christianity were nonexistent, the barbarians were accepted into the church just as they were. They were taught the rites and ceremonies of the apostate church and some of their pagan beliefs and practices were taken into the church. “The new tribes had changed their country, but not their superstitions.” History of Protestantism, 4.

The removal of the seat of the empire from Rome to Constantinople left a void in the city of Rome paving the way for the Bishop to take over the western seat of rule not only ecclesiastical but civil as well. By the fifth century when the western empire fell, the Bishop of Rome was substantially supreme over all bishops. By the year 606 the Roman Bishop’s pre-eminence was decreed in the imperial edict of Phocas. After the fall of the empire the Roman Bishop claimed to be the successor of Peter, the Prince of the Apostles, and the Vicar of Christ, and finally the vicar of the Most High God.


Pope Becomes Supreme


“In the eighth century there came a moment of supreme peril to Rome. At almost one and the same time she was menaced by two dangers, which threatened to sweep her out of existence, but which in their issue, contributed to strengthen her dominion. On the west the victorious Saracens, having crossed the Pyrenees and overrun the south of France, were watering their steeds at the Loire, and threatening to descend upon Italy and plant the Crescent in the room of the Cross. On the north, the Lombards who, under Albion, had established themselves in Central Italy two centuries before—had burst the barrier of the Apennines, and were brandishing their swords at the gates of Rome. They were on the point of replacing Catholic orthodoxy with their creed of Arianism.” Ibid. 10,11. By 774 these two tribes were vanquished and the territory of these tribes were ceded to the pope.

At this point in time the Pope has reached two of his objectives; bishop of bishops which he received in the seventh century and temporal sovereignty in the eighth. The final goal to be reached was the title king of kings, that is, to be supreme over all kings of the earth. This Pope Innocent III realized in the thirteenth century. The papacy was now enjoying its noon, but the noon of the papacy was the midnight not only for Christendom but also for the world. “Popery had become the world’s despot. Kings and emperors bowed to the decrees of the Roman pontiff. The destinies of men, both for time and for eternity, seemed under his control. For hundreds of years the doctrines of Rome had been extensively and implicitly received, its rites reverently performed, its festivals generally observed. Its clergy were honored and liberally sustained. Never since has the Roman Church attained to greater dignity, magnificence or power.

“But ‘the noon of the papacy was the midnight of the world.’—J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, b.1, Ch. 4. The Holy Scriptures were almost unknown, not only to the people, but

to the priests. Like the Pharisees of old, the papal leaders hated the light which would reveal their sins. God’s law, the standard of righteousness, having been removed, they exercised power without limit, and practiced vice without restraint. Fraud, avarice, and profligacy prevailed. Men shrank from no crime by which they could gain wealth or position. The palaces of popes and prelates were scenes of the vilest debauchery. Some of the reigning pontiffs were guilty of crimes so revolting that secular rulers endeavored to depose these dignitaries of the church as monsters too vile to be tolerated. For centuries Europe had made no progress in learning, arts or civilization. A moral and intellectual paralysis had fallen upon Christendom.


People Destroyed For Lack Of Knowledge


“The condition of the world under the Romish power presented a fearful and striking fulfillment of the words of the prophet Hosea: ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee . . . seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.’ ‘There is no truth, nor mercy, nor knowledge of God in the land. By swearing, and lying, and killing, and stealing, and committing adultery, they break out, and blood toucheth blood.’ Hosea 4:6, 1, 2. Such were the results of banishing the word of God.” The Great Controversy, 60. Having gained all the power that it sought, the Papacy began in a greater measure the persecutions of the followers of God’s Word in an attempt to eliminate all “heretics.” Now the leaders of the papal power could devote its energies to remove all those who would not bow to their wishes. In our perusal of this history we have been made painfully aware that “Righteousness exalteth a nation,” Proverbs 14:34, and this applies to people and institutions also. Someone has said “He who does not learn the lessons of history is bound to repeat it” and the Lord does not desire us to repeat the history of the papal church. Jesus said, “All ye are brethren.” Matthew 23:8. Unless we maintain our steadfast faith and confidence in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will fall into the same trap into which we have seen the papal church fall and repeat her history. May God help us to go forward in faith not looking back. In the next article we will delve into the activities of the papal power relating to the Waldenses and their development. The Papacy attempted to destroy this hated people and everything they stood for.