I.                    Introduction

A.                Defined as “that branch of Christendom which ‘recognizes the bishop of Rome as pope, vicar of Christ on earth, and the visible head of the church’”. (F.E. Mayer, p.25)

B.                 Name

1.                  “Vulgarly” called the Catholic church.

2.                  Properly designated as the Roman church.

C.                “Catholic”

1.                  Shows claim to be the One Holy Christian Church.

2.                  The only Christian church, outside of which there is no salvation.


II.                 General History

A.                Great Schism of 1054

1.                  Before this, there was only one visible church (but differing “schools”).

2.                  Dispute (discussed before) included:

a.                   Images.

b.                  Supremacy of Roman bishop.

c.                   Filoque Controversy.

B.                 Claims

1.                  History back to Peter, with Peter being 1 st Bishop of Rome, therefore first pope.

2.                  However, consider Mt 16:13-19.

a.                   Peter: Gk “Petros”: masc. of the fem. “petra”.

(1)               “petros” always means a stone, i.e. “a large stone, a piece or fragment of a rock such as a man might throw.” (Spiros Zodhiates, p. 1154).

(2)               note the “might be thrown or easily moved.”

b.                  rock: Gk “petra”: a projecting rock, cliff; a mass of rock; illustrates a sure foundation, immovable.

c.                   Mt 18:1,17,18.

3.                  Bishop of Rome.

a.                   Was never recognized by Eastern Greek Church as supreme.

b.                  Not recognized in Western Latin Church as the supreme authority until 7 th century.

c.                   Rise in power.

(1)               a process over time.

(2)               Augustine (AD 354-430) gave it its defense later.

(3)               disputed time frame, but approximately from AD 500 to AD 1200.

(4)               ca AD 1200, papacy became the power seen today.

(a)                hierarchical tendencies apparent early on.

(b)               Gregory the Great (d. AD 604), the “father of medieval Papacy” viewed the church as a temporal state in which hierarchy controls all areas of human life and embodied claim of supremacy of Roman bishop in their dogma.

(c)                Gregory VII (1077) pronounced hierarchical claims in their most complete form.

(d)               Boniface VIII (1302), in the bull Unam sanctum, claimed pope to be the source of all spiritual and secular authority.

(e)                Pius IX (1870), in the bull Pastor aeternus, explicitly demands unconditional obedience to the pope’s pronouncements ex cathedra (“from the seat”).

C.                Political Voids[1]

1.                  Fall of Rome in AD 410.

2.                  Europe ravaged by successive invaders.

3.                  Avoided anarchy.

4.                  Supported:

a.                   Education.

b.                  Art.

c.                   Charity.

d.                  i.e. learning and culture.


III.               Chief Characteristics

A.                Dominant characteristic: unconditional obedience to the hierarchy and through them to the pope.

B.                 The “most dogmatic and at the same time the least doctrinal church” (F.E. Mayer, p. 38)

1.                  Extremely dogmatic on certain theological matters.

2.                  Yet, very tolerant at times.

3.                  Creates an enigma.

4.                  “Extremely difficult to determine, with any degree of certainty, the exact position of Rome on many significant points of doctrine.” (F.E. Mayer, p. 35)

C.                The formal principle of its theology (i.e. the “source and norm of its doctrines.”)

1.                  Has three sources of doctrine:

a.                   The Holy Scripture, and

b.                  Divine Tradition

c.                   Reason (per F.E. Mayer, p. 40)

2.                  The Holy Scripture

a.                   Includes the Apocrypha, uses to support, e.g.:

(1)               Expiatory power of good works (Tob. 4:11f)

(2)               Meritorious sacrifices and prayer for the dead. (2 Macc. 12:44ff)

(3)               Remember: New Testament writers never use them as they do canonical books of Old Testament.

b.                  Official Bible is the Latin Vulgate (of St. Jerome), not the original Hebrew and Greek.

(1)               Vulgate contains some false translations.

(2)               e.g. Ge 3:15 – Lat. V. “she shall bruise thy head”.

c.                   But:

(1)               The church has authority over the Scriptures.

(2)               The Bible has none over the church.

d.                  Rome has never issued an absolute prohibition of Bible reading by laity.

(1)               But restricts and qualifies recent encouragement.

(2)               Says that the reading of approved Bibles is not necessary.

(3)               Have regulated the private use of Bibles.


3.                  Traditions

a.                   The writings of the Fathers and pronouncements of the church through the centuries.

b.                  States that church is infallible.

c.                   States that all doctrines deposited in one shrine of the church and were implicitly held since death of the last apostle.

d.                  Deny that creating “new” doctrines and forbids teaching any new doctrine.

e.                   Yet has certainly promulgated many new doctrines.

f.                    Is really only the granting of an unlimited reign in promulgating new doctrines.

4.                  Reason

a.                   Teach that reason and revelation:

(1)               are both divine gifts.

(2)               can therefore never be at variance with each other.

b.                  Reason taught to be:

(1)               competent up to a certain point.

(2)               also competent to determine where its competence ends.

c.                   Theology based on reason appeals to man.

(1)               natural man.

(2)               Law.

d.                  They expressly deny that a Christian can attain to absolute assurance in matters of faith.

5.                  Final analysis of its formal principle.

a.                   sola ecclesia.

b.                  sola papa.

D.                The Material Principle (the central theological idea).

1.                  Though many teachings appear mutually exclusive, has a central thought which controls the entire system.

2.                  Summary:

a.                   Man’s soul comes directly from God.

b.                  Therefore, is good and strives for reunion with God.

c.                   Which is realized in the beatific vision of God.

d.                  Man’s body is subject to sin and is alienated from God.

e.                   Therefore man must be progressively justified (i.e. be made just).

f.                    This result is effected when through the sacraments man enters into the “state of grace” and observes the commandments which the Teaching Office, i.e. the hierarchy, imposes upon the “faithful”.

3.                  An extreme form of legalism (“work righteousness”) (F.E. Mayer, p. 47)


IV.              Confessional (Doctrinal) Standards


A.                Fall into three definite categories.

1.                  These adopted by both Eastern and Western church before the schism, i.e.

a.                   The Three Ecumenical Creeds.

b.                  The decisions of the seven ecumenical councils (see Lesson 4, IV C).

2.                  Those accepted by all Roman Catholics prior to 1870 (i.e. the decrees of the ten councils from 1123 until 1563).

3.                  Those decrees accepted by all Romanists who subscribe to the absolutistic powers of the papacy.

B.                 The Decrees and Decisions of the Roman Church Councils.

1.                  The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-1563)

a.                   The first Roman confessional statement to codify the doctrines of medieval theology.

b.                  Pronounced anathemas against Lutherans on justification.

c.                   Did not resolve differences between Dominicans and Franciscans re:

(1)               sin and grace.

(2)               Mary’s immaculate conception.

(3)               papal supremacy.

2.                  The Tridentine Profession, a/k/a Creed of Pius IV (1564)

a.                   Contains summary of specific doctrines.

b.                  Declares the Roman church to the mother and mistress of all churches.

c.                   Demands of the ecclesia docens (Latin “teaching church”, i.e. the Teaching Office) the oath of allegiance to the pope.

d.                  Converts are required to subscribe to it.

3.                  The authorized catechisms

a.                   Catechismus Romanus (1556)

b.                  Baltimore Catechism (1885)

c.                   Dutch Catechism (1967)

d.                  Catholic Catechism (1976)

4.                  Canon Law

a.                   “the body of laws and regulations made and adopted by ecclesiastical authority for the government of the Christian Church and its members.” (F.E. Mayer, p. 36)

b.                  Revised and changes published from time to time.

5.                  The many bulls (pronouncements), decrees, and encyclicals.

a.                   By councils, and in modern times, by the popes.

b.                  Are binding.

c.                   Include:

(1)               Unam sanctam (1302) by Boniface VIII; declares submission to papacy in all spiritual and secular matters necessary to salvation.

(2)               Unigentus Dei Filius (1713) by Clement XI, commits the Roman church to an antievangelical position.

(3)               Ineffabilis Deus (1854) by Pius IX declares Mary’s immaculate conception (free of original sin).

(4)               The encyclical Quanta cura and the Syllabus (1864) by Pius IX declare as heresies, modern secularism and Protestantism, e.g. Communism, socialism, Bible societies, contemporary liberalism.

(5)               The Vatican Decrees of 1870, includes the Pastor aeternus  which declares papal infallibility.

(6)               Aeterni Patris (1879) by Leo XIII, recommending restoration of Thomistic theology.

(7)               Rerum novarum (1891) by Leo XIII declaring that problem of capital and labor cannot be solved unless voice of the church is heeded.

(8)               Providentissimus Deus (1893) by Leo XIII re: study of the Scriptures.

(9)               Quadragesimo anns (1931) by Pius XI re: principles of reconstructing the social order.

(10)           Munificentissimus Deus (1950), the Apostolic Constitution by which Mary declared to have been assumed into heaven bodily.

[1] Handbook of Denominations in the United States, New 10th Ed., Frank S. Mead, revised by Samuel S. Hill, © 1985, 1990, 1995 by Abingdon Press, p. 268


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