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Post  Post subject: New Article on the Catholic Church  |  Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2012 3:09 am
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What comes to mind when people think of the Pope seated in his royal chair? Catholics revere him as,
“The Holy Father.”
Others have less flattering views.
For many, the manner in which the pope dresses brings to mind pagan origins. One thing is clear: Christ’s Apostles did not dress like that! And, they certainly didn’t have church services which approach anything that we see in the Catholic Church today! So, where did all this religious pomp come from? In this study we trace the Roman Catholic Church’s beginnings back to the Imperial cult of ancient Rome.
Different Religious Mindsets:
There was a vast difference in how Christianity developed throughout Israel in the First Century with how Christianity developed throughout Rome in the Fourth Century. For example, during the time of Constantine, people in Rome had a much different religious mindset than their neighbors in Israel. Instead of understanding Christianity as a fulfillment to Old Testament law, as many of the Jews did, Romans viewed Christianity as a refinement to their established pagan religion.
Envision millions of families throughout the Roman Empire who had fervently believed in and practiced paganism for several generations; then, the day came when Christianity completely replaced paganism. That is what some teachers would have us to believe; yet, let’s be realistic. Evidence points to pagan tradition still thriving in Rome years after the Roman Church was established.

A Short History of Rome:
During pagan times Roman Emperors once stood as,
“… the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman State.”
Considered the first Emperor of the Roman Empire, Emperor Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC until his death in 14 AD. Legend has it that a god in the guise of a serpent visited Augustus’ mother in the temple of Apollo nine months before Augustus was born. Standing as chief priest over Rome’s pagan cults Augustus held the title, pontifex maximus, which is the same title bestowed upon the current Pope.
Augustus instituted a program consisting of building new pagan temples and restoring Rome’s old religion. Laws instituted to promote pagan worship were supposedly issued for the sake of humanity. People were persuaded to worship Rome’s gods for the good of mankind. It was taught that the powerful gods of nature (Janus, Jupiter, Juno, Mars, and Vesta) had to be appeased to keep calamities such as earthquakes, drought, and famine from afflicting people. If any man refused to reverence the gods, he was allegedly putting the whole Empire in jeopardy, for it was thought that well-pleased gods protected Rome.
Merely for his own pleasure Caius Caligula had inno¬cent people tortured while he was entertaining. He was the first Roman Emperor who insisted on being a god in his lifetime. Emperors before him had been pronounced gods after death, but Caligula had statues of himself placed in Jewish synagogues, and since he considered himself a god, he demanded that the Jews worship his image. His image would also have been placed in the Jerusalem temple if he hadn’t been assassinated before that order could be carried out.
Emperor Nero ruled from 54 to 68 A.D.
“He became infamous for his personal debaucheries and extravagances.”
Domitian, the younger brother of Titus, was elected emperor in the year 81 A.D. He demanded that his officers and staff call him dominus et dues, which in English translates as “Lord and God.” These mortal men were gods in their own minds. They would not tolerate other gods standing in a place of eminence before them.
Christians were a real problem, because they refused to worship the pagan gods of Rome. Emperor Domitian arrested some Christians who would not revere his divinity. They were condemned to death and subsequently executed. It’s rather ironic that the charge of atheism was hung upon these faithful believers.
In A.D. 250 under Emperor Decius, a new law was drafted: all those who offended the gods would be arrested. But, if the accused Christians would publicly pay homage to Rome’s gods by pouring out wine before them and renouncing their Christianity, then all charges would be dropped and they would be set free. Decius is¬sued an edict ordering everyone to perform public acts of worship. Anyone refusing was put to death. Certificates of conformity were issued to the superintendent of sacrifices at the time of sacrifice. This registration avowed worship in the state-approved cults.
The final and most severe Christian persecution came from Emperor Diocletian, who along with Maximian in the west co-ruled Rome. Christian persecution under Emperor Diocletian — 284 A.D. to 305 A.D. — resulted in the deaths of 3,000 to 3,500 Christians, and the torture, imprisonment, or dislocation of many more. However, it became evident that Chris¬tianity was not going away. Finally an Edict of Toleration was issued by Emperor Galerius which brought an end to the “Great Persecution” instituted by Diocletian.

Constantine Takes the Throne:
After Diocletian retired, Constantine was appointed Caesar; then he was promoted to position as Augustus. However, certain leaders attempted to demote Constantine back to Caesar. In the ensuing struggle for the throne, Constantine and his legions fought against Maximian. The occupying forces of Massilia surrendered and Maximian either committed suicide or was executed. Constantine then marched on to Rome to battle his opponent Maxentius.
Legend has it that the night before the battle Constantine either had a dream or a vision in which he saw the sign of Christ over the Sun, which prompted him to have his soldiers paint the symbol on their shields. The supposed vision assured Constantine that using the sign of Christ he would conquer the opposing forces; even though the majority of his own warriors were pagan.
When Constantine and his army invaded Rome,
Constantine's opponent Maxentius, together with thousands of his soldiers, drowned in the Tiber river, during the Battle at the Milvian Bridge, as the bridge of boats Maxentius’ army was retreating over collapsed. As the story goes the victory gave Constantine convincing proof that the God of the Christians helped him defeat his enemies, and out of gratitude, Constantine issued the Edict of Milan which made Christianity legal.

Problems With the Story:
The story of Constantine seeing a cross or some other Christian symbol above the sun the night before the battle would be a lot more convincing if it were the only version of the story. However, it was not: Before the supposed vision in question, Constantine had claimed he experienced a similar vision of the god Apollo granting him laurel wreaths, which symbolized victory, health, and a long reign. Constantine had pictured himself in Apollo’s likeness: as a saving figure to whom would be granted
"rule of the whole world."
When Constantine first took the throne, Emperors were commonly thought to be incarnate gods. At the very least, they were thought of as having been given divine power to rule. So, the legend of an Emperor either being in Apollo’s likeness; or, having received power from one of Rome’s gods was a common theme.
“There is little reason to believe that either the dynastic connection or the divine vision, are anything other than fiction, but their proclamation strengthened Constantine's claims to legitimacy and increased his popularity among the citizens of Gaul.”
One glaring problem with Constantine’s story is that in 317 AD, which is five years after his victory over Maxentius’ army, Constantine commemorated his victory with a special coin, which depicted Sol — The Sun God — handing him an orb symbolizing Sol granting Constantine power to rule the Universe. The coin also had the inscription "SOLI INVICTO COMITI" or, in other words: "To the invincible Sun God, companion of the Emperor."
Another problem is The Arch of Constantine:
“After gaining victory in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (312 AD), a triumphal arch—the Arch of Constantine—was built (315 AD) to celebrate it; the arch is decorated with images of Victoria [the goddess of victory] and sacrifices to gods like Apollo, Diana, and Hercules, but contains no Christian symbolism.”
Some might argue that the arch did contain the Chi Rho which would become a Christian symbol; yet, at the time it was considered to be a pagan symbol,
On March 7th 321 A.D. Constantine decreed dies Solis — the day of the sun — as the official Roman day of rest. One might wonder why Constantine was honoring the Sun god on Sunday, seven years after he was supposedly led to victory by Jesus Christ? This is further evidence that the story of Constantine seeing a Christian symbol before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge is a latter invention. Also, Constantine’s coinage still carried the symbols of the sun cult until 324; which is 12 years after the battle in question.
History records that during the period in time when the Roman Church was emerging; the Roman state was sanctioning the worship of the sun god. And, it was the emperor himself who was compelling all of Rome to take part in this pagan worship.

The Emerging Catholic Church:
Emperor Constantine was the son of the Roman officer Constantius. Constantius raised Constantine in the upper class of society. Intellectuals from the schools of higher learning where Constan¬tine was educated regarded Christianity as a crude religion, in language, status, and outward appearance. It had none of the ceremonial festivities practiced by the pagans. Constantine made Christianity fashionable to the higher classes. He took the title of pontifex maximus, standing as chief priest over the pagan cults. He then brought pagan priests into the Christian Church, giving them high administrative offices.
When controversy arose over what doctrines to teach the people, an appointed council of bishops was called to define and draft creeds to which all parties would agree. Doctrinal debates that earlier may have run their course among theologians now became political issues.

Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D.:
“The Council was opened by Constantine with the greatest solemnity. The emperor waited until all the bishops had taken their seats before making his entry. He was clad in gold and covered with precious stones in the fashion of an Oriental sovereign. A chair of gold had been made ready for him, and when he had taken his place the bishops seated themselves. After he had been addressed in a hurried allocution, the emperor made an address in Latin, expressing his will that religious peace should be re-established” (Nicea, The New Catholic Encyclopedia).
The council of Nicaea drafted 20 laws ranging from, if penance should be imposed on defectors of the church, to the proper position in which Christians should pray during service. They also heavily amended the Caesarean creed. This creed was the basis for the "Nicene" creed. Once the creed was written, Emperor Constantine signed it. In addition to banishing Arius, bishop of Alexander, also known as Alexandria, who was teaching a non-orthodox view of God, the Council also banished two other bishops who refused to sign the creed.
Constantine called this council meeting for political reasons, because Christians in Rome were divided on theological issues: and, he wanted the controversy to settle down. The meeting consisted of fiercely heated debates; it lasted almost two months.
It’s interesting that out of about 1,800 bishops in the Roman Empire, only about 300 showed up for the Council of Nicaea. Perhaps the bishops who did not attend disagreed with Rome trying to take control over the Christian movement. Then, in 391 AD Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the official religion of the Roman state; but, in what form?
Traditions die hard; or in this case, re-emerge. After Christianity became the state religion, Roman’s pagan cults were absorbed into a “Universal” Church. “Universal” is what “Catholic” means. Elements from Rome’s pagan roots were reinterpreted in light of Christianity, and then blended into Rome’s established religious system. Eventually, every man, woman, and child, living in Rome was forced to convert to the Roman Church. This forced conversion brought even the most diehard pagans in.
One thing is certain: Early Christianity was different than what we see in Catholicism today. But, perhaps the most glaring difference between the church founded in Jerusalem, and the one founded in Rome, is the role of Christ’s mother.

(For more on this subject please read the next part in this series: Catholic Answers Part Two — Then Along Comes Mary)

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Rich Kelsey


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