The kingdom of God - Part 3B - Birds in the tree and corruption in the Church

SERMON TOPIC: The kingdom of God - Part 3B - Birds in the tree and corruption in the Church

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 6 January 2008


Sermon synopsis: Jesus taught 7 consecutive parables in Matthew 13 about the kingdom. The third parable of 'The Mustard Seed' covers the period from approximately 300 - 600 AD or the 'State Church' where we see exponential growth once the Roman Emperor Constantine is converted. However there is a sinister aspect to the birds in the tree.

We look at religious intolerance and conversion by coercion.
What were the problems introduced by the allegorical method of interpretation?
Is Mary a perpetual virgin?
Should priests be celibate, wear distinctive clothing and have titles like “Father”?
Should we pray to Mary and the saints?
Is Rome the supreme church?
What about the primacy of Peter and apostolic succession?
What is the difference between Episcopal, Presbyterian and Congregational forms of church government?
Augustine said there are 3 ways in which sin is forgiven i.e. by baptism, prayer & penance. Is that correct?

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The 7 parables of the kingdom - Part 3B


The Sower

The kingdom is sown and experiences rapid growth – the enemy seeks to steal the seed or destroy the crop through persecution.


The Wheat and Weeds

The enemy sows a counterfeit seed. Persecution intensifies.


The Mustard Seed

Exponential growth of the kingdom, but the enemy infiltrates from within.






The Sower

AD 30 – 100

Apostolic Church


The Wheat and Weeds

AD 100 – 300

Persecuted Church


The Mustard Seed

AD 300 – 600

State Church (Constantine)

The 3rd kingdom age – The mustard seed

The birds of the air come and perch in its branches.



As we saw last time, the birds nesting in the tree must not be interpreted in a positive light. In the parable of the sower, the birds represent Satan and his minions. The Church became corrupt, and the birds—which symbolize Satan and his emissaries—found lodging in its organization.

In this study we’ll cover:

Religious intolerance

Allegorical interpretation


Development of Mariology


Prayer to images

Prayer to Angels & Saints

Not all of these heresies were necessarily unanimously held by everyone at this stage, but they do trace their roots back to this period.

In some cases we only see the excesses in the Middle Ages, but the roots of the corruption started here, sometimes even seemingly innocently.


Primacy of Peter & Apostolic Succession

Church governance

Priestly dress

Penance & good works

In Theodosius’ Edict of 380, Christianity was made the preferred State religion.

It is our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans…

Along with this came legalization of ‘retribution’ against heretics.

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians.1 The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative…

1 Here we also find the formal endorsement of the name “Catholic” for orthodox Christians. ‘Catholic’ is derived, through Latin, from the Greek adjective καθολικός, meaning ‘general’ or ‘universal’. It was originally simply used to distinguish between the orthodox church and heretical movements.

Religious intolerance

Theodosius I

Heretical doctrines could be believed, but not propagated.

All heresies are forbidden by both divine and imperial laws and shall forever cease. If any profane man by his punishable teachings should weaken the concept of God, he shall have the right to know such noxious doctrines only for himself but shall not reveal them to others to their hurt.” (379)

Churches had to be surrendered by Arian heretics to those holding to the Nicene creed (i.e. belief in the Trinity & deity of Jesus).

We command that all churches shall immediately be surrendered to those bishops who confess that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one majesty and virtue, of the same glory… All, he ever, who dissent from the communion of the faith of those who have been expressly mentioned in this special enumeration shall be expelled from their churches as manifest heretics and hereafter shall be altogether denied the right and power to obtain churches, in order that the priesthood of the true Nicene faith may remain pure… (381)

Religious intolerance: heretics

Sadly the once persecuted Church turns into a persecuting church. It saw itself as combating heresy, false religion and evil. By becoming a ‘state religion’, the state could legislate and enforce religious obedience. Thus persecution was often initiated from the ‘Christian’ Roman Emperor’s (particularly Justinian) rather than the church itself, and there were many cases when Christians protested these actions.

Around 380 Priscillian, Bishop of Avila in Spain, taught a Manichaean-Gnostic doctrine influenced by magic and astrology. He was executed by Imperial order, the first heretic to be executed by a Christian power.

In 536 Paul, patriarch of Alexandria brutalized the Monophysites. 1 He set out to remove heretical bishops and was opposed by the deacon Psoes, whom Rhodon, the Augustal Prefect, had arrested and tortured.

1 Monophysitism is the Christological position that Christ has only one nature (divine), as opposed to the orthodox Chalcedonian position which holds that Christ has two natures, one divine and one human.

Religious intolerance: heretics

Three problems resulted from these anti-heretical laws.

The treatment of heretics was not always in the spirit of Christ.

Not all ultimately affected by these laws were heretics:

In 409, Marcellinus of Carthage, Emperor Honorius’ secretary of state, decreed the Donatists 1 heretical and demanded that they give up their churches. They were so harshly persecuted by the Roman authorities that even Augustine (their chief critic) protested.

Justinian (527-65) persecuted the Montanists,2 greatly reducing their numbers. Their final persecution occurred in 722.

Regrettably these laws would set a legal precedent for the persecution of those trying to reform the church later in the Middle Ages.

1 The primary disagreement between Donatists and the rest of the church was over the treatment of those who renounced their faith during the Diocletian persecution (303–305). The rest of the Church was more forgiving of these people, but the Donatists refused to accept the authority of priests and bishops who had fallen away from the faith during the persecution.

2 Many have drawn parallels between Montanism and Pentecostalism. The most widely known Montanist was undoubtedly Tertullian, who was a prominent Latin church writer who converted to Montanism.

Religious intolerance: heretics

Judaism was tolerated by Roman Christian law.

It is sufficiently established that the sect of the Jews is forbidden by no law. (393)

Jewish priests were still exempt from public service.

If any persons with complete devotion should dedicate themselves to the synagogues of the Jews as patriarchs and priests… they shall continue to be exempt from all compulsory public services… (330)

The property rights of synagogues were protected, and assemblies gathered therein were legal.

If it should appear that any places are frequented by conventides of the Jews and are called by the name of synagogues, no one shall dare to violate or to occupy and retain such places, since all persons must retain their own property in undisturbed right… (341)

Hence We are gravely disturbed that their assemblies have been forbidden in certain places… restrain with proper severity the excesses of those persons who, in the name of the Christian religion, presume to commit certain unlawful acts and attempt to destroy and to despoil the synagogues. (393)

Religious intolerance: Judaism

The Sabbath was recognized and had to be respected.

Moreover, since indeed ancient custom and practice have preserved for the aforesaid Jewish people the consecrated day of the Sabbath, We also decree that it shall be forbidden that any man of the aforesaid faith should be constrained by any summons on that day, under the pretext of public or private business, since all the remaining time appears sufficient to satisfy the public laws, and since it is most worthy of the moderation of Our time that the privileges granted should not be violated… (412)

Religious intolerance: Judaism

However there were some restrictions placed on Jews.

Sacrifices were abolished.

Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished. (341)

Jews could no longer persecute Jewish converts to Christianity.

It is Our will that Jews… shall be informed that if… any of them should dare to attempt to assail with stones or with any other kind of madness—a thing which We have learned is now being done—any person who has fled their feral sect and has resorted to the worship of God, such assailant shall be immediately delivered to the flames and burned, with all his accomplices. (315)

Mockery of Christianity was forbidden, as was the practice of some.

The governors of the provinces shall prohibit the Jews, in a certain ceremony of their festival Haman… from setting fire to and burning a simulated appearance of the holy cross, in contempt of the Christian faith… They shall maintain their own rites without contempt of the Christian law, and they shall unquestionably lose all privileges that have been permitted them heretofore unless they refrain from unlawful acts (408).

Religious intolerance: Judaism

Despite the fact that Judaism was tolerated, friction often existed and manifested itself in violence between Christians and Jews.

In 388 a bishop was accused of instigating the burning of the synagogue in Callinicum, and Emperor Theodosius was preparing to order the bishop to rebuild it. Ambrose, Bishop of Milan (340-397) wrote to the Emperor discouraging him from taking this step. Part of his argument is that Jews had caused several Christian basilicas to be burnt during the reign of Julian the Apostate, yet had never been asked to make reparation. (What happened to “return good for evil”?)

There also appears to have been a lot of religious provocation from unbelieving Jews towards Christians. Socrates relates:

At a place named Inmestar… the Jews were amusing themselves… at length impelled by drunkenness they were guilty of scoffing at Christians and even Christ himself; and in derision of the cross … they seized a Christian boy, and having bound him to a cross, began to laugh and sneer at him … they scourged the child until he died under their hands. This conduct occasioned a sharp conflict between them and the Christians; and as soon as the emperors were informed of the circumstance, they issued orders to the governor of the province to find out and punish the delinquents.

Religious intolerance: Judaism

In many cases of intolerance towards Jews, it is notable that Gregory I, the bishop of Rome (590-604), protested.

In 591 Gregory criticized the bishops of Arles and Marseilles for allowing the forced baptism of Jews in Provence.

After a synagogue in Caraglio, northern Italy, had been desecrated in 599, Gregory wrote to insist that the Jews be compensated for their loss.

Writing in 602 to Paschasius bishop of Naples, in response to a complaint by Jews of disruption in the celebration of their religious festivals, Gregory says, “For of what use is this, when… it avails nothing toward their faith and conversion?...One must act, therefore, in such a way that… they might desire to follow us rather than to fly from us...Rather let them enjoy their lawful liberty to observe and to celebrate their festivities, as they have enjoyed this up until now.” 1

1 Synan

Gregory I

Religious intolerance: Judaism

In 4th & 5th century Alexandria (Egypt), Christians, Jews and Pagans all lived together and there were violent clashes between these groups. 1

Some of the tensions were triggered by a slaughter of Christians at the hands of Jews. After instigating the public torture of the monk Hierax by the city governor, Orestes, the Jews lured Christians into the streets at night by claiming that a church was on fire.

… the Christians on hearing their cry came forth quite ignorant of the treachery of the Jews… the Jews arose and wickedly massacred the Christians and shed the blood of many, guiltless though they were. 2

The Jews were supported by Orestes, so the Christians appealed to the bishop Cyril for assistance. Then a very unchristian response ensued:

… the Christians mustered all together and went and marched in wrath to the synagogues of the Jews and took possession of them, and purified them and converted them into churches… And as for the Jewish assassins they expelled them from the city, and pillaged all their possessions and drove them forth wholly despoiled, and Orestes the prefect was unable to render them any help. 2

1 The city had long been known for it’s violent and volatile politics. Socrates claimed that there was no people who loved a fight more than those of Alexandria. 2 John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103 (c. 7th / 8th century)

Religious intolerance: Judaism

The contemporary 5th century Greek church historian, Socrates of Constantinople, notes that the source of the friction between Orestes and Cyril was due to the increasing power the bishops exercised.

Now Orestes had long regarded with jealousy the growing power of the bishops, because they encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities appointed by the emperor… 1

1 Socrates - Ecclesiastical History (Book VII)

Religious intolerance: Pagans

Cyril, bishop of Alexandria

Because of the trouble in the city, 500 monks came down from Nitria to defend the patriarch Cyril. In a disturbance which arose, Orestes was wounded in the head by a stone thrown by a monk named Ammonius. The prefect had Ammonius tortured to death.

Cyril attempted to make a martyr of Ammonius, but Socrates relates that he was unsuccessful because of the more sensible Christians in the city.

But the more sober-minded, although Christians, did not accept Cyril's prejudiced estimate of him; for they well knew that he had suffered the punishment due to his rashness, and that he had not lost his life under the torture because he would not deny Christ.1

1 Socrates - Ecclesiastical History (Book VII)

Religious intolerance: Pagans

Hypatia of Alexandria was a female pagan, neo-Platonist philosopher.

Socrates speaks highly of her, saying that she “made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time” and that “all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more.”

John, Bishop of Nikiu, makes derogatory statements about her though, calling her “a pagan… devoted at all times to magic” who “beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles.” He goes on to say that Orestes, “the governor of the city honored her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic. And he ceased attending church as had been his custom.” 1

1 John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103

Religious intolerance: Pagans

Hypatia b. 355(?) - d. 415

The Alexandrian Christians suspected Hypatia of having an adverse influence on Orestes. This suspicion led to her subsequent assassination. Socrates writes the following of her brutal murder.

For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously 1 reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles. After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them.2

Although there is no evidence to directly implicate the bishop Cyril in the event, Socrates rightfully condemns these actions as unchristian:

This affair brought not the least disgrace, not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort.2

1 i.e. in a false & slanderous manner 2 Socrates - Ecclesiastical History (Book VII)

Religious intolerance: Pagans

And by the 6th century:

Forced baptisms – in 528 the emperor Justinian (527-65) commanded all pagans to receive baptism within 3 months.

In 530 Justinian conducted a persecution of pagans in Constantinople. The property of many of the accused was confiscated.

In 545 emperor Justinian suppressed the Manichaeans. He attempted to convert those who had been arrested, but they remained firm in their beliefs. They were then tortured and killed; their bodies were buried at sea, and their property confiscated.

Justinian & Theodora

Religious intolerance: Pagans

In 549 John of Ephesus denounced a group of senators, grammarians, sophists, lawyers and physicians. They were accused of paganism, tortured, whipped, and imprisoned.

In 559 the pagans in Constantinople were ridiculed and marched in a mock procession. Their books were burned.

In 579 the governor of Edessa, Anatolios, was condemned to death for commissioning a portrait of Apollo (under the guise of being a portrait of Christ) to worship secretly.

From the 1st to early 4th century, the Church was persecuted. After becoming a “State Church”, sadly the tables are turned.

Granted the persecutions were not on the same scale, or equal in cruelty to the pagan persecution of the Church, but this practice was in stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus and his apostles.

Religious intolerance: Pagans

Augustine is charged with giving the policy of heretic persecution his personal approval and for supplying the theological justification. In a letter to the Donatist priest Vincentius in 408, Augustine explains his reasons for changing his view, “For originally my opinion was, that no one should be coerced into the unity of Christ, that we must act only by words, fight only by arguments, and prevail by force of reason, lest we should have those whom we knew as avowed heretics feigning themselves to be Catholics. But this opinion of mine was overcome not by the words of those who controverted it, but by the conclusive instances to which they could point. For, in the first place, there was set over against my opinion my own town, which, although it was once wholly on the side of Donatus, was brought over to the Catholic unity by [fear of the imperial edicts… Could I therefore maintain opposition to my colleagues, and by resisting them stand in the way of such conquests of the Lord, and prevent the sheep of Christ which were wandering on your mountains and hills… from being gathered into the fold of peace, in which there is one flock and one Shepherd?”

Thus, for Augustine, the use of force is not wrong per se. His initial objection was that it was imprudent and might result in false Catholics. When, in practice, not only did this not occur but whole blocks of Donatists eagerly embraced Catholicism, his objections were overcome.

In effect, he argues that the ends justify the means.

Justification For Persecution of heretics

He also endorses State legislation against heretics by saying, “… let the kings of the earth serve Christ by making laws for Him and for His cause.”

In the same letter, Augustine offers this theological defense to Vincentius’ objections, “You are of opinion that no one should be compelled to follow righteousness; and yet you read that the householder said to his servants, “Whomsoever ye shall find, Compel Them To Come In.” 1 … Whatever therefore the true and rightful Mother does, even when something severe and bitter is felt by her children at her hands, she is not rendering evil for evil, but is applying the benefit of discipline to counteract the evil of sin, not with the hatred which seeks to harm, but with the love which seeks to heal. When good and bad do the same actions and suffer the same afflictions, they are to be distinguished not by what they do or suffer, but by the causes of each: e.g. Pharaoh oppressed the people of God by hard bondage; Moses afflicted the same people by severe correction when they were guilty of impiety: their actions were alike; but they were not alike in the motive of regard to the people’s welfare - the one being inflated by the lust of power, the other inflamed by love.”

1 See Luke 14:23. The phrase “Compel Them To Come In”, amazingly generous in the context of Jesus’ parable and amazingly dangerous used out of context by Augustine, to justify persecution of heretics.

Religious intolerance


In fairness to Augustine, the following facts bear mention, which seem to indicate that he may have underestimated the severity of the State response.

Two years later, Augustine wrote to Donatus, a Roman proconsul responsible for enforcing imperial edicts against the Donatists. Firstly, Augustine explicitly rejects execution of heretics; in fact, he would rather risk death himself than expose one of his opponents to the risk of execution. Secondly, he recognizes that no good is done when a man is compelled by force to join the Church.

In 412, Augustine continues to call for leniency in sentencing against the Donatists, as seen in this letter to Marcellinus:

As to the punishment of these men, I beseech you to make it something less severe than sentence of death, although they have, by their own confession, been guilty of such grievous crimes.

Religious intolerance

Does the NT teach that we should spread the gospel through force? No! The enemies of Christianity are reached when:

We love them (our enemies) & show mercy.

Luke 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them… (Then) you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

They see the love Christians have for other Christians.

John 13:35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

We live exemplary lives despite being slandered.

1 Pet 2:12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

We share our faith with ‘gentleness & respect’ (Not torture & coercion).

1 Pet 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

Conversion by Coercion?

In the NT, there is no record of religiously condoned physical violence by Christians against non-Christians or Christians, which could be used as a precedent for Christian persecution of other groups.

Christians are not even to take other professing Christians to court, but to settle these matters in the church (1 Cor 6). Naturally this excludes a death sentence for anything.

Obviously having a supposed state church complicates matters because:

The state courts are presumably deemed to be Christian courts,

The state has the power to enforce a death sentence.

Church discipline in the NT comprises of admonishing in the church, or expelling people from the church, not persecution or killing. (1 Cor 5)

Paul writes to the carnal (worldly) Corinthian church, “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.” (1 Cor 6:7-8)

We do not convert by the sword, and Christianity should not be embraced for political or social advantage. Jesus should be sought for His own sake.

Conversion by Coercion?

Despite the prevailing spirit of this age, the bishop of Rome, Gregory I, must be commended for grasping what the true spirit of Christianity should be towards the unconverted. Writing concerning the Jews, he says:

For it is necessary to gather those who are at odds with the Christian religion the unity of faith by meekness, by kindness, by admonishing, by persuading, lest these… should be repelled by threats and terrors. They ought, therefore, to come together to hear from you the Word of God in a kindly frame of mind, rather than stricken with dread, result of a harshness that goes beyond due limits. 1

To Pascasius, Bishop of Naples: Those who, with sincere intent, desire to lead people outside the Christian religion to the correct faith, ought to make the effort by means of what is pleasant, not with what is harsh, lest opposition drive afar the mind of men whom reasoning… could have attracted. Those who act otherwise… demonstrate that they are concerned with their own enterprises, rather than with those of God! 2

1 Synan, The Popes and the Jews in the Middle Ages

2 The Apostolic See and the Jews, Documents: 492-1404; Simonsohn, Shlomo

Conversion by Coercion?

This is a warning from history that Postmillennialists and Dominionists should heed. They are looking to establishing Jesus’ literal kingdom on earth before He comes, by a Christian ‘takeover’ of government.

As we can see there was a period when the state was controlled by the Church and this resulted (at least ultimately) in cases of abuse of power and was eventually an impediment to the reform of the Church.

Does this mean that Christians should go to the other extreme and ignore politics & never get involved in government?

“The price good men pay for indifference to public affairs is to be ruled by evil men.” - Plato (427-347 BC)

Religious intolerance

Corruption – Allegorical interpretation

In the 3rd century the Alexandrian Origen popularized the allegorical approach to interpreting Scripture, combining Christianity with the philosophy of the Greek philosopher Plato.1

Like Origen before him, Augustine (354-430 AD) also interpreted scripture allegorically. The Bible, he believed, had been veiled by God in order to exercise those seeking Him.

Amongst other things, this led to the rise of Amillennialism and the misidentification of the ‘sons of God’ in Genesis 6.

1 In the 6th century Origen was declared an arch-heretic by the Western church. He taught the preexistence of souls (although he rejected reincarnation), universal salvation and a hierarchical concept of the Trinity. These teachings were declared ‘anathema’ by a local council in Constantinople 545, and then an ecumenical council (Fifth Ecumenical Council) pronounced ‘15 anathemas’ against Origen in 553.

Origen (185-254)

B’nai Elohim & Nephilim

Up until the late 4th century the early church correctly identified the ‘sons of God’ (B’nai Elohim) of Genesis 6 as angels.

In the 3rd century Julius Africanus introduced the theory that the ‘sons of God’ simply referred to the descendants of Seth.

This allegorical reading of Genesis 6 was popularized by Augustine in his 5th century book ‘The City of God’. He rejected the concept of fallen angels having committed fornication with women and interpreted this passage to mean that the male offspring of Adam through Seth were “the sons of God”, and the female offspring of Adam through Cain were “the daughters of men”. According to him, the problem was that the family of Seth had interbred with the family of Cain, intermingling the bloodlines and corrupting the pure religion.

This allegorical interpretation in favour of the literal reading has become the predominant one among most modern biblical scholars, even among some who claim to oppose the allegorical method. This will be the subject of a separate study.

According to Eusebius, it was to remove any hint of scandal as he taught young women, that Origen (in the 3rd century) castrated himself, literally following Matt 19:12, “… there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (KJV).

For someone who popularized allegorical interpretation, it seems unfortunate that Origen chose to interpret this passage very literally.

He later regarded his action as ill-advised. In his Commentary on Matthew he writes disparagingly of those who take Matt 19:12 literally, and calls such an action an ‘outrage’.

The Greek word ‘eunouchos’ in it’s primary sense means “to castrate”. However it also has a secondary meaning, “abstaining from marriage (like a eunuch)”. Thus the NIV renders this as “others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.”

As Scripture must be interpreted in the light of all other Scripture, it must be remembered that no other Scripture advocates actual castration. In fact in Lev 21:20 Aaron is instructed that no eunuch (even through natural deformity) could offer sacrifices.

Corruption - celibacy

Eusebius of Caesarea

John Wesley notes on Matt 19:12 “There are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake - Happy they! who have abstained from marriage (though without condemning or despising it) that they might walk more closely with God!

In the 4th century (325) the Council of Nicaea,2 called by Constantine, was the first Ecumenical 3 council of the early Christian Church, and resulted in the first uniform Christian doctrine, called the Nicene Creed.

During the council, a motion was raised for mandatory celibacy among the clergy. But Pophanatrus - himself a celibate monk - objected, saying that “marriage and married intercourse are of themselves honorable and undefiled”, and his words prevailed.

The council agreed on 20 new church laws. One of these was the prohibition of self-castration (possibly prompted by Origen’s actions).

The Council of Gangra 4 resolved, “If anyone shall condemn marriage, let him be anathema” and “If anyone of those who are living a virgin life for the Lord’s sake should treat the married arrogantly, let him be anathema.”

2 Held in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day Iznik in Turkey). 3 i.e. general 4 Between 325-381.

Corruption - celibacy

Institutional Christian monasticism seems to have begun in the deserts of 4th century Egypt.

In 314 an Egyptian named Pachomius left the Roman Army this year and joined the hermit Palemon near Tabennisi on the east bank of the Nile, near Thebes. He built the first monastic enclosure and formulated a rule for daily work and prayer. By the time of his death in 346, Pachomius had founded 11 monasteries with more than 7000 monks and nuns.

Some attribute this to the immense changes in the church brought about by Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity. Christianity became fashionable and this led to compromise and a decline in Christian standards. Monasticism might have been a reaction to this, in an attempt to maintain purity and holiness.

With monasticism came the idea that celibacy was preferable to marriage.

Corruption - celibacy

Two other champions of the celibacy cause were Jerome and Augustine.

The celibate Jerome believed that sex was only justified for procreation, “Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?” 1

Then he took this procreation versus pleasure attitude to its logical conclusion, “He who is too ardent a lover of his own wife is an adulterer.”

Augustine, who had been extremely promiscuous before his conversion,2 was slightly more lenient and left some room for indulgence, ”It is one thing to lie together with the sole will of generating: this has no fault. It is another to seek the pleasure of flesh in lying, although within the limits of marriage, this has venial 3 fault.”

1 Against Jovinian (AD 393) 2 Augustine writes in his “Confessions” that before his conversion to Christianity he would pray, “Lord give me chastity, but not yet”. 3 A venial sin is a “forgivable” sin as contrasted with the more serious “mortal” sin.

Corruption - celibacy

Jerome (342-419)

The excesses in these doctrines are again the influence of Greek philosophy which viewed all matter and flesh as morally suspect. Jerome and Augustine may also have been influenced by Origen as well.

In 386, the monk Jovinian was condemned for heresy in Rome, in part for saying that “virgins, widows, and married women, who have been once passed through the layer of Christ… are of equal merit” and “there is one reward in the kingdom of heaven for all who have kept their baptismal vow.” Jovinian was denounced as a demon by Jerome, who countered with a tract denigrating marriage to such an extent that even Augustine thought he went too far.

Thus by the 5th century there was a preference towards celibacy of priests in the Western (Catholic) Church. However this only became mandatory in the 11th century.

Priests in the Eastern (Orthodox) Church may be ordained after marriage; they may not marry once ordained to the priesthood.

In both the Catholic and Orthodox churches, bishops must be unmarried.

Corruption - celibacy

Using our hermeneutical approach of reading Scripture in immediate context, and in context of the whole Scripture, let’s reexamine these doctrines which arose in this period, and which ultimately led to compulsory celibacy of the ‘priesthood’.1

Augustine considered sex to be tainted and the vehicle for passing on original sin. He also believed that Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden was sexual. Once again, due to a flawed hermeneutical approach to Scripture he allegorized Genesis 3 and held that the account used symbolic language, and that the “forbidden fruit” actually represented sex.

If the forbidden fruit was sex, why would God explicitly say to Adam and Eve, “Be fruitful and multiply,” (Gen 1:28) and then when they obeyed, punish them for it?

1 I use this term as it’s understood in churches with Episcopal forms of governance. The NT teaches the priesthood of all believers. (1 Pet 2:5)

Celibacy – The Biblical perspective

Q: Does the Bible teach, that ‘priests’ or overseers (bishops) should be celibate?

A: Paul writes, “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” (1 Cor 9:5)

Peter (Cephas), who is falsely claimed as the Roman church’s first ‘pope’ (i.e. head of the Church) was married. In the gospels we also read of Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law (Matt 8:14).

James (Jesus’ brother) led the church in Jerusalem and he was married (along with Jesus’ other brothers).

The ‘other apostles’ are all cited as having a ‘believing wife’.

1 Tim 3:2 Now the overseer 1 must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife…

Titus 1:6 An elder 2 must be blameless, the husband of but one wife…

1 ‘episkopos’ - traditionally rendered as ‘bishop’ 2 ‘presbuteros’ - used interchangeably with ‘episkopos’ or overseer (bishop) in Titus

Celibacy – The Biblical perspective

Q: Does the Bible teach, as Jerome and Augustine held, that even sex within marriage is bad, unless used explicitly for procreation?

A: Paul writes, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Cor 7:3-5)

Thus Paul mentions the only legitimate spiritual reason for a husband and wife to abstain from sexual contact with each other is to devote themselves to prayer (i.e. in a denial of the flesh, like a fast).

However, he qualifies that this must be by: (a) mutual consent and (b) for a limited period only. The implication here is that God gives “self-control” as a temporary gift to those devoting a period to prayer, and once this purpose has been accomplished, a couple must continue to fulfill their natural, physical marital obligations. Failure to do so will enable Satan to exploit one’s natural lack of self-control.

Is sex within marriage evil?

Prolonged physical separation between husband and wife should, therefore, never be a norm for a Christian couple. It’s no coincidence when the Bible mentions that the apostles brought their wives along in the course of their ministries. (1 Cor 9:5)

Is sex within marriage evil?

Matt 19:9-12 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “… some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus’ comments about those renouncing marriage have nothing to do with sex being ‘evil’. In the context, he’s talking about divorce. The disciples are concerned about the stringent requirements for divorce and remark that this is good reason not to get married. Jesus corrects them by saying that the only legitimate, Scriptural reason to remain single is “because of the kingdom of heaven”.

This is effectively the same reason Paul cites i.e. for singleness of purpose in a ministry, not because of the evils of sex, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided… I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” (1 Cor 7:32-35).

Is sex within marriage evil?

We saw how as a rule the apostles were married. Jesus and Paul are the only 2 notable celibates in the NT.

Monasticism was also unknown in Christianity until the early 4th century.

Paul expressed a personal preference for celibacy, but admitted there was no “command from the Lord” on the matter. Widows were treated with special respect, but those under the age of 60 were encouraged to remarry and bear children.

1 Tim 5:14 So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.

Celibacy – The Biblical perspective

The apostle Paul

Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that remaining unmarried:

should only be for the sake of devoting oneself to the kingdom of God,

is a God-given gift to some only.

Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given … others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it. (Matt 19:11-12)

I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Cor 7:7)

This supernatural gifting from God enables a single person “not to burn with passion” or in simpler terms, not to be ‘taken up or overcome’ with the normal sexual desires inherent in every man and woman.

1 Cor 7:8-9 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

1 Cor 7:2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

Celibacy – The Biblical perspective

It must also be remembered that Paul uses the relationship between a husband and wife to typify the relationship that exists between Christ and the Church.

Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

Celibacy – The Biblical perspective

The idea that Mary was a virgin not only before, but also after the birth of Jesus, came from a 2nd century apocryphal work, the ‘Protoevangelium of James’.

In the 3rd century, Origen in his Commentary on Matthew, agrees with the Protoevangelium on this issue, “But some say, basing it on a tradition in … ‘The Book of James,’ that the brethren of Jesus were sons of Joseph by a former wife, whom he married before Mary. Now those who say so wish to preserve the honour of Mary in virginity to the end…”

Perpetual virginity of Mary

Is the Protoevangelium reliable?

The first mention of this book is by Origen in the early 3rd century.

The book is believed to have been written in the 2nd century. Yet the author falsely claims to be James the Just, a son of Joseph from a prior marriage, and thus a step-brother of Jesus.

The book is further inaccurate by claiming Mary’s father as Joachim when we know from Luke’s genealogy that it was actually Heli.

It also claims that Mary hid Jesus in a feeding trough to spare him from the massacre of the Bethlehem babies by Herod. We know from Matthew (2:13-15) that Joseph had been forewarned of this event by an angel and had already escaped with Mary and Jesus to Egypt.

The book alleges that Herod was also hunting down the baby John the Baptist (why?) and that a mountain split to hide him and Elizabeth.

Then it mixes up John’s father, Zechariah, with Zechariah the son of Berekiah (Zech 1:1) and claims that he was killed by Herod in front of the altar, presumably based on Jesus’ reference to the martyrdom of the OT prophet Zechariah in Matthew 23:35.

Perpetual virginity of Mary

Even though the Catholic church condemned this apocryphal literature so early as the Decrees of Gelasius 1; many of the fabrications in it—such as the names of the parents of Mary, Joachim and Anna, the birth of Mary in a cave, her education in the temple, and her mock marriage with the aged Joseph—passed into the Catholic tradition. 2

In the 2nd / 3rd century, Tertullian denied the perpetual virginity of Mary, as the act of childbirth would render her no longer a virgin.

She bore which did bear: and if as a virgin she conceived, in her child-bearing she became a wife. For she became a wife by that same law of the opened body… 3

Yet by the 4th century, the false and extra-biblical doctrine of perpetual virginity became widespread, being held by Athanasius, Epiphanius, Didymus, Basil, Hilary, Ambrose, Augustine & others.

1 AD 495 2 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church” 3 De Carne Christi (On The Flesh Of Christ)

Perpetual virginity of Mary

Why was it necessary to embellish what was already the miraculous virgin birth?

The rise of monasticism supplied the development of Mariology a further motive in the enhanced estimate of virginity, without which no true holiness could be conceived. Hence the virginity of Mary, which is unquestioned for the part of her life before the birth of Christ, came to be extended to her whole life, and her marriage with the aged Joseph to be regarded as … only a nominal marriage. 1

As celibacy was starting to be considered as spiritually ‘superior’ to marriage it was useful having Mary in the ranks. Jerome went so far as to say that Joseph was a virgin too, “You [Helvidius] say that Mary did not remain a virgin. As for myself, I claim that Joseph himself was a virgin, through Mary, so that a virgin Son might be born of a virginal wedlock.” 2

1 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church” 2 Against Helvidius: The Perpetual Virginity of Mary (AD 383)

Perpetual virginity of Mary

Yet this extra-biblical belief was still not unanimous at this time.

Epiphanius, in his seventy-eighth Heresy, combats the advocates of the opposite view in Arabia toward the end of the 4th century (367), as heretics under the title of Antidikomarianites, opposers of the dignity of Mary, i.e. of her perpetual virginity. 1

Helvidius maintained that the mention in the Gospels of the ‘sisters’ and ‘brothers’ of Jesus proved that Mary had subsequent children, and supported his opinion by the writings of Tertullian and Victorinus.

Jovinian taught that childbirth ended Mary’s virginity.

Scripture alone can be used to settle these issues though, and not the opinions of early Church fathers or apocryphal works.

The use of the word ‘until’ in Matthew 1:24-25 implies that Mary and Joseph had customary marital relations afterward.

“… Joseph … took Mary home as his wife. But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son.”

1 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”

Perpetual virginity: Biblical perspective

Jesus had 4 brothers (who are named) and at least 2 sisters. At his hometown the people asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? Aren’t all his sisters with us?” (Matt 13:54-56)

The Scriptures make numerous references to Jesus’ brothers accompanying Mary.

Matt 12:46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him.

John 2:12 After this he went down to Capernaum with his mother and brothers and his disciples. There they stayed for a few days.

John 7:2-3 But when the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do.

Acts 1:14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

Paul also calls James “the Lord’s brother”.

Gal 1:19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

Perpetual virginity: Biblical perspective

To support his bizarre claim of Mary and Joseph being virgins, Jerome concocted the theory that Jesus’ brothers were actually his cousins. He argued that the word translated ‘brother’ could be rendered as ‘cousin’.

However, the Greek text uses the word ‘adelphoi’ which is clearly brother, not cousin, which would be ‘anepsioi’.

The argument that Joseph had children from a previous relationship, besides being drawn from an apocryphal source, has other problems.

Matthew 2:14 (Joseph) got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt…

If Joseph had other children before Jesus was born, why did he take only Mary and Jesus to Egypt?

Perpetual virginity: Biblical perspective

The first instance of the formal invocation of Mary occurs in the prayers of Ephraim Syrus (379), addressed to Mary and the saints…1

The first more certain example appears in Gregory Nazianzen (389), who, in his eulogy on Cyprian, relates of Justina that she besought the Virgin Mary to protect her threatened virginity…1

Justinian I (r. 527 -565), in a law, implored her intercession with God for the restoration of the Roman empire…1

His general, Narses, like the knights in the Middle Ages, was unwilling to go into battle till he had secured her protection.1

1 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”. Schaff was a Swiss-born, German-educated theologian and a historian of the church, who, after his education, lived and taught in the U.S.

Prayer to Mary

Phillip Schaff: (1819–1893)

Proponents of prayer to Mary argue that that do not actually prayer TO her. They simply ask her to intercede to Christ on their behalf. They defend this by pointing out that Mary seemingly interceded to Jesus in John 2, to get him involved in the wine shortage crisis at the wedding in Cana, when initially he seems reluctant.

John 2:3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” 4 “Dear woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Once again let’s look at a Scriptural perspective on this:

In John 2, no-one requested Mary’s involvement. She took it upon herself.

The fact that Mary did this while she was alive, in no way implies that she is able to do this once she has died.

Prayer to Mary

A major problem with ‘prayer’ or ‘requests for intercession on our behalf’ to Mary is simply that the Bible teaches that only God is omnipresent. Even if Mary could hear prayers addressed to her, she could only hear one at a time, and thus most requests would simply remain unheard.

The death blow for this heresy is the fact that the NT contains no instruction to request Mary to mediate on our behalf. In fact, the opposite is true; Paul explicitly tells us that we have only one mediator:

1 Tim 2:5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…

Prayer to Mary: Biblical perspective

Thank you for praying to Mary. Your prayer is very important to us.

Unfortunately all our operators are busy.

Please hold and we’ll attend to you shortly.

Dear Mary …

Elizabeth told Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” 1 and Mary sang, “From now on all generations will call me blessed.” 2

But when people tried to give Mary special honour and pre-eminence because she was His mother, Jesus corrected them.

Luke 11:27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” 28 He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

Whoever does the Father’s will is His ‘mother’, brother & sister.

Matt 12:46 While Jesus was still talking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to him. 47 Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” 48 He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” 49 Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. 50 For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” 1 Luke 1:32 2 Luke 1:48

Mary: Biblical perspective

Augustine originated or endorsed many of the errors that later became Catholic doctrine. He was extremely influential and influenced the predominant doctrine of the church for a millennium.

He believed in purgatory, infant baptism, baptismal regeneration, transubstantiation, the perpetual virginity of Mary, superstition about relics, praying to saints, Amillennialism and salvation only in the Catholic church.

And yet many Calvinist Protestants embrace him as their own. This is because he taught the total bondage of the will and arbitrary predestination (i.e. unconditional election). Both of these were later adapted and developed by John Calvin, who by his own admission borrowed these ideas from Augustine.

Although the monk, John Cassian, did not enter into direct controversy with Augustine over the doctrine of arbitrary predestination and irresistible grace, he is regarded by some as the leader of those in southern Gaul who considered the doctrine excessive.

Contrary to Augustine, Cassian believed that man’s will is not dead but only sick, and thus emphasized the need for God’s grace along with man’s free will to choose or reject salvation.

Corruption - predestination

Cassian saw in the doctrine of Augustine an element of fatalism. Against Augustine, Cassian held that predestination is in the light of God’s foreknowledge:

Rom 8:29-30 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.,

Cassian held that those who perish do so against God’s will.

2 Pet 3:9 The Lord is … patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.

Reformers like John Calvin and Martin Luther (who was an Augustinian monk) went back 1000 years to Augustine in order to escape the heresies that had crept in during the Middle Ages. It would have been better if they had returned 1500 years to the apostolic age and thus escaped other errors as well (including infant baptism, Amillennialism, etc).

Predestination: Biblical perspective

We also find in this period the rise of the veneration of, and prayer to angels and dead saints.

In the first three centuries the veneration of the martyrs in general restricted itself to the thankful remembrance of their virtues and the celebration of the day of their death as the day of their heavenly birth. This celebration usually took place at their graves.1

So the church of Smyrna annually commemorated its bishop Polycarp, and valued his bones more than gold and gems, though with the express distinction: “Christ we worship as the Son of God; the martyrs we love and honor as disciples and successors of the Lord, on account of their insurpassable love to their King and Master, as also, we wish to be their companions and fellow disciples.” 1

Here we find this veneration as yet in its innocent simplicity.1

But in the Nicene age it advanced to a formal invocation of the saints as our patrons, intercessors or mediators before God, and degenerated into a form of refined polytheism and idolatry. 1

1 Philip Schaff's “History of the Christian Church”

Corruption – Angels & saints

The saints came into the place of the demigods… As once temples and altars to the heroes, so now churches and chapels came to be built over the graves of the martyrs, and consecrated to their names (or more precisely to God through them). People laid in them, as they used to do in the temple of Aesculapius, the sick that they might be healed, and hung in them, as in the temples of the gods, sacred gifts of silver and gold.1

Ambrose of Milan says, “May Peter, who so successfully weeps for himself, weep also for us, and turn upon us the friendly look of Christ. The angels, who are appointed to guard us, must be invoked for us; the martyrs, to whose intercession we have claim by the pledge of their bodies, must be invoked.” 1

1 Philip Schaff's “History of the Christian Church”

Corruption – Angels & saints

Ambrose of Milan

Augustine writes, “At the Lord’s table we do not commemorate martyrs in the same way that we do others who rest in peace so as to pray for them, but rather that they may pray for us that we may follow in their footsteps.” 1

Once again this practice was not without opposition:

The Spanish presbyter Vigilantius, in the fifth century, called the worshippers of martyrs and relics, ashes-worshippers and idolaters, and taught that, according to the Scriptures, the living only should pray with and for each other. 2

Jerome disputes the opinion of Vigilantius, that we should pray for one another in this life only, and that the dead do not hear our prayers… He thinks that their prayers are much more effectual in heaven than they were upon earth. 2

1 Homilies on John-AD 416 2 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”

Corruption – Angels & saints

Were martyrs actually worshipped and was this idolatrous?

Augustine asserts that the church indeed celebrates the memory of the martyrs with religious solemnity, to be stirred up to imitate them, united with their merits, and supported by their prayers, but it offers sacrifice and dedicates altars to God alone. 1

He already makes the distinction between latreiva, or adoration due to God alone, and the invocatio (douleiva) of the saints, and firmly repels the charge of idolatry, which the Manichaean Faustus brought against the catholic Christians when he said: “Ye have changed the idols into martyrs, whom ye worship with the like prayers…” 1

But in spite of all these distinctions and cautions, which must be expected from a man like Augustine, and acknowledged to be a wholesome restraint against excesses, we cannot but see in the martyr-worship, as it was actually practiced, a new form of the hero-worship of the pagans.1

Nor can we wonder in the least. For the great mass of the Christian people came, in fact, fresh from polytheism, without thorough conversion, and could not divest themselves of their old notions and customs at a stroke. 1

1 Philip Schaff's “History of the Christian Church”

Corruption – Angels & saints

The Bible gives absolutely no indication that the dead ‘saints’ can hear our prayers.

Again we note that only God is omnipresent so even if dead saints could hear prayers addressed to them, they couldn’t hear more than one at a time.

These were problems that even Augustine acknowledged, where: “… he declares… his inability to solve the difficult question of the way in which the dead can be made acquainted with our wishes and prayers.” 1

1 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”

Prayer to saints: Biblical perspective

Thank you for praying to St. Christopher. Unfortunately all our operators are busy.

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Dear St. Christopher…

Earlier we noted that “there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” (1 Tim 2:5)

There is no one else that can mediate with God for us. If Jesus is the ONE mediator BETWEEN GOD AND MEN, that indicates Mary and saints cannot be mediators or even sub-mediators of our prayer requests to God.

Furthermore, the Bible tells us that Jesus Christ Himself is interceding for us before the Father, “Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them” (Heb 7:25). With Jesus Himself interceding for us, why would we need Mary, angels or the saints to intercede for us? Who would God listen to more closely than His Son?

Romans 8:26-27 describes the Holy Spirit interceding for us. With the 2nd and 3rd members of the Trinity already interceding for us before the Father in Heaven, what possible need could there be to have Mary, angels or the saints interceding for us?

Prayer to saints: Biblical perspective

Catholics argue that praying to Mary and the saints is no different than asking someone here on earth to pray for you. Let us examine that claim.

The Biblical precedent

Paul asks other Christians to pray for him in Ephesians 6:19. Many Scriptures describe believers praying for one another.

Nowhere does the Bible mention anyone asking for someone in heaven to pray for them. Nowhere does the Bible describe anyone in heaven praying for anyone on earth.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray, He taught them to address the Father directly, “Our Father in heaven” (Luke 11:1-2) Thus the Biblical precedent, as instructed by Jesus, is to pray to the Father.

Whenever the Bible mentions speaking with the dead, it is in the context of necromancy – an activity the Bible strongly condemns (Lev 20:27; Deut 18:10-13). The only instance when a dead ‘saint’ is spoken to is Samuel (1 Sam 28:7-19), when Saul consulted a witch.

It is plainly clear that praying to Mary or the saints is completely different from asking someone here on earth to pray for you. One has a strong Biblical basis, the other has no Biblical basis whatsoever.

Prayer to saints: Biblical perspective

Premillennialism was the predominant view in the 1st to 3rd century church.

Augustine abandoned Premillennialism and is often referred to as the ‘Father of Amillennialism’ and popularized this view in his book, De Civitate Dei (‘The City of God’).

This famous Bishop of Hippo interpreted Mark 3:27 to be a present binding of Satan throughout the church age.

He was the first to identify the Catholic Church with the kingdom of God. For him, the millennial rule of Christ was taking place in and through the church, including its sacraments and offices.

Augustine wrote: “The saints reign with Christ during the same thousand years, understood in the same way, that is, of the time of his first coming…Therefore, the church even now is the kingdom of Christ, and the kingdom of heaven. Accordingly, even now His saints reign with Him.”

Augustine’s Amillennialism soon became the accepted view of the church. It became so accepted that the Council of Ephesus (431) condemned the Premillennial view as superstitious.

Corruption – Amillennialism

Part of the rationale behind praying to saints seems to be the influence of Amillennialism, and the belief that the dead saints were reigning now with Christ in heaven, rather than in a future earthly millennial reign.

If the saints are reigning with Christ now, it may seem ‘reasonable’ to get them involved in the answering prayers? This seems to be Augustine’s perspective when he “calls the saints our intercessors, yet under Christ, the proper and highest Intercessor… In a memorial discourse on Stephen, he imagines that martyr, and … Paul who stoned him, to be present, and begs them for their intercessions with the Lord with whom they reign.” 1

Later in the Middle Ages “…the council of Trent… does not prescribe the invocation of the saints, but confines itself to approving it as ‘good and useful’ (not as necessary) on the ground of their reigning with Christ in heaven and their intercession for us…” 1

1 Philip Schaff’s “History of the Christian Church”

Corruption – Amillennialism

As we saw in the previous study, certain bishops of Rome (like Callistus & Stephen in the 3rd C) had made claims of supremacy that were not accepted elsewhere.

Hippolytus exposed Callistus as an unscrupulous character who became the bishop of Rome (217 to 222). Callistus was the first to makes claims for special importance of the Roman bishop and awarded himself the title ‘Pontifex Maximus’ which was the title of the Emperor as High Priest of the pagan religion of Rome.

On the attempt by the Roman bishop to gain dominance over other bishops, Tertullian wrote that “the church is the spiritual assembly of spiritual men, not a conclave of bishops.”

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome


Later Cyprian, bishop of Carthage quarreled with the bishop of Rome, Stephen (254-257). Stephen acted arrogantly against all who differed from him - even assuming to lay down the law to the churches in Asia.

Stephen ‘excommunicated’ Firmilian, bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, together with his congregation, because they rebaptised those who came from heretical fringe churches. Cyprian stood out against such action because he asserted the absolute independence of other regional churches, and their right to resist the encroachments of Rome.

Cyprian had the support of Firmilian who, in a letter to him in 256 AD wrote, “I am justly indignant at this so open and manifest folly of Stephen who thus glories about the place of his episcopate, and maintains that he holds the succession of Peter.”

Writing in the name of 80 bishops, Cyprian declares quite clearly: “None of us regards himself as the Bishop of Bishops or seeks by tyrannical threats to compel his colleagues to obey him.”

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

Early representation of Cyprian

Pope means “Papa” or “Father.” Initially it applied to all Western bishops. About 500 AD it began to be restricted to the Bishop of Rome. For 500 years the Bishops of Rome were NOT popes.

Early Roman Bishops attempted to influence and control other bishops, but with no significant effect.

Silvester I (314-335) was Bishop of Rome at the time of Constantine. Constantine regarded himself as head of the church, calling and presiding over the Council of Nicaea (AD 325). The Bishops of Alexandria and Antioch were accorded full jurisdiction over their provinces, as was the Roman Bishop over his, without even a hint that they were subject to Rome.

In 341 Eastern bishops met in Antioch. Julius’ letter from the recent council at Rome was considered. The Eastern bishops denied that Rome had a right to judge decisions reached in the East.

Damascus (304-384) wrote that Rome was the “first see of the apostle Peter”. He addressed his fellow bishops for the first time as ‘sons’, instead of the traditional ‘brothers’.

In 367 the Western Roman emperor Valentinian I (364-75) gave the bishop of Rome the right to judge cases against other bishops.

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

In 382 a council meeting at Rome stated that Roman primacy is not founded on synodical decisions, but on the promise of Christ to Peter. It asserted a hierarchy: the prime see is at Rome, the second at Alexandria, and the third at Antioch.

In 384 Siricius (384-99) became bishop of Rome. He was the first Roman bishop to use the title ‘pope’. Siricius claimed that “the care of all the churches” was “committed to him.” and threatened sanctions against those who disobeyed him.

By the end of the 4th century the churches and bishops had come to be largely dominated from 5 primary centers: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria. These Bishops had come to be called Patriarchs, of equal authority, each in control of their own province. After the division of the Empire (395 AD), Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexander came to acknowledge the leadership of Constantinople. Subsequently, the struggle between Constantinople and Rome began.

This struggle remains to this day: it is the root of the current bloodshed in the Croatia-Bosnian conflict in the region of Yugoslavia today. Siricius (395-398), Bishop of Rome, in his lust for worldly power claimed universal jurisdiction over the church. But unfortunately for him, in his day the Empire divided (395) into two separate empires, East and West.

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

In 401 Innocent I (401-17) became bishop of Rome. He wrote to the African churches that “it has been decreed by a divine, not a human authority, that whatever action is taken in any of the provinces, however distant or remote, it should not be brought to a conclusion before it comes to the knowledge of this see, so that every decision may be affirmed by our authority.”

Leo I (440-461) asserted authority over other bishops, claiming that the bishop of Rome is the successor to the Apostle Peter. Some historians regard him as the first pope. The east was beset with controversies; the west, under weak emperors, was breaking up before the barbarians. He obtained from Emperor Valentinian III imperial recognition for his claim as Primate of All Bishops (445). In 452 he persuaded Attila the Hun to spare the city of Rome. In 455 he induced Genseric the Vandal to have mercy on the city. His reputation was made. He declared himself Lord of the Whole Church, advocated exclusive universal papacy, proclaimed that resistance to his authority was a sure path to Hell, and advocated the death penalty for heresy.

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

However, the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), composed of bishops from all over world, gave the Patriarch of Constantinople equal prerogatives with the Bishop of Rome.

In 454 Hilary, bishop of Arles, asserted that the church of Gaul was independent of Rome. The Western emperor Valentinian III told Aetius, the provincial governor, “if any bishop summoned to trial before the bishop of Rome shall neglect to come,” he was to force him.

Fall of Rome - Simplicius (468-483) was the Roman “Pope” when the Western Empire came to an end (476). Free of civil authority, the fragmented kingdoms of the barbarians left ample opportunity for individual advantageous alliances, and the Pope became the most commanding figure in the West.

Yet still in 527 in one of his edicts, Emperor Justinian (527-565) referred to the patriarch of Constantinople as “the head of all other churches”.

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

In the 5th century, Socrates writes the following of the bishops of Rome indicating that they were very political, were entangled in secular affairs and were intolerant of groups like the Novatians. 1

And this Celestinus took away the churches from the Novatians at Rome also, and obliged Rusticula their bishop to hold his meetings secretly in private houses. Until this time the Novatians had flourished exceedingly in Rome, possessing many churches there, which were attended by large congregations. But envy attacked them also, as soon as the Roman episcopate… extended itself beyond the limits of ecclesiastical jurisdiction, and degenerated into its present state of secular domination. For thenceforth the bishops would not suffer even those who agreed with them in matters of faith to enjoy the privilege of assembling in peace… The bishops of Constantinople kept themselves free from this [sort of conduct]; inasmuch as in addition to tolerating them and permitting them to hold their assemblies within the city, as I have already stated, they treated them with every mark of Christian regard. 2

1 Novatian in the 3rd century opposed the readmission to the church of those who had sacrificed to pagan gods to avoid persecution. 2 Ecclesiastical History

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome


Even as late as 590 AD, Gregory, bishop of Rome (590-604) protested, as his predecessor Pelagius II had done, against the title of universal bishop,

He strongly renounced any suggestion that he was a ‘universal Bishop’ and objected when John, patriarch of Constantinople, called himself the Ecumenical Patriarch. In a letter to the Emperor, Gregory says, “I confidently affirm that whoever calls himself Universal Bishop is the precursor of Antichrist.” 1

Gregory called himself the “servant of the servants of God.”

He writes to John, the Patriarch of Constantinople: “None of my predecessors has consented to bear this profane title, for when a Patriarch adopts for himself the title of ‘universal’ the title of Patriarch suffers discredit. No Christian, then, has the desire to adopt a title that would cause discredit to his brethren.”

1 He was referring to this verse: “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” (2 Thess 2:3-4)

The exception of Gregory

Gregory likens anyone who claims to be ‘universal bishop’ to Lucifer, who attempted to raise his throne above the throne of God (Isaiah 14):

It is very difficult to hear patiently that one who is our brother and fellow bishop should alone be called bishop, while all others are despised. But in this pride of his, what else is intimated but that the days of Antichrist are already near? For he is imitating him who, despising the company of angels, attempted to ascend to the pinnacle of greatness.

In a letter to John of Constantinople, Gregory does not acknowledge any man (including Peter) as having been universal head of the church.

Certainly Peter… Paul, Andrew, John, - what were they but heads of particular communities? And yet all were members under one Head. 1

He informs John that no-one who had desired that title was ‘truly holy’:

…to what extent you swell within yourself in desiring to be called by that name by which no one presumed to be called who was truly holy. 1

1 Book IV, Epistle XXVI

The exception of Gregory

Sadly, a few years after Gregory’s death, Boniface III accepted from the Byzantine Emperor Phocas (r. 602-610) the title which had been so obnoxious to his humble predecessor.

In 606 AD Sabinian, the bishop of Rome died and was replaced by Boniface. Phocas wrote to Boniface and through imperial decree of the Roman government, proclaimed him as the “Head of all the Churches” and “Universal Bishop”. Phocas thus transferred this title from Constantinople to Rome.

Thus the historical record is clear:

Most early Roman bishops did not claim authority over the entire church.

When some made this claim, it was always contested.

The ultimate decision to elevate the Roman bishop, came from an Emperor, not from Scriptural authority.

Thus by the beginning of the 7th century Catholicism was formally born in its final evolved form, but the Eastern (Orthodox) church still never accepted Rome’s claims and finally split fellowship with Rome in 1054 AD.

Corruption: Supremacy of Rome

… the doctrine of Apostolic Succession… maintains that the Christian Church today is the spiritual successor to the original body of believers in Christ, composed of the Apostles. Virtually all Christian denominations consider Apostolic Succession important in some fashion, although their definitions of the concept may vary. In pre-Protestant Reformation Churches (Assyrian Church of the East, Oriental Orthodoxy, Eastern Orthodox Church, Roman Catholic Church), Apostolic Succession is claimed as having been passed through unbroken lines of bishops beginning with the original Apostles. The Catholic Church has traditionally been the most vocal in claiming unique legitimacy in terms of Apostolic Succession based on the assertion that Saint Peter, believed to be the rightful leader of the Church, was the first Bishop of Rome. 1

1 Wikipedia

Corruption – Apostolic succession

This doctrine holds that Peter was made the head of the church by Jesus, was the rock the church was built on, was given the keys of the kingdom, and ultimately was the head of the Roman church (or first pope)

Augustine identified Peter as the Rock.

“They are wretched indeed, because they do not recognize in Peter the rock and they refuse to believe that the keys of heaven, lost from their own hands, have been given to the Church.” 1

The primacy of Peter was then ‘extended’ through ‘apostolic succession’ to have been inherited by future bishops of Rome. Augustine claimed the authority for the Catholic church over the Dontatists by alleging that the bishops of Rome could be traced back to Peter.

“For if the lineal succession of bishops is to be taken into account, with how much more certainty and benefit to the Church do we reckon back till we reach Peter himself, to whom, as bearing in a figure the whole Church, the Lord said: ‘Upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it !’ The successor of Peter was Linus, and his successors in unbroken continuity were these:… 2

1 Christian Combat, 31:33(AD 397) 2 To Generosus, Epistle 53:2(AD 400)

Corruption – Primacy of Peter

Matt 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” (NASB)

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

In the Greek there is a play on words, “you art Peter (petros), and upon this rock (petra) I will build my church.”

Peter - petros (πετρος): singular masculine - meaning a single stone.

Rock - petra (πετρα): singular feminine - meaning a rock, or cliff.

While the Papal church insists that Peter is the rock, many Protestants (although not all) hold one of two alternate views about the rock (which is the foundation of the church) based on an interpretation of this passage in the light of the entire Scripture.

Paul says that “no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 3:11) He also applies the term ‘petra’ to Christ “for they were drinking from a spiritual rock (petra) which followed them; and the rock (petra) was Christ.” (1 Cor 10:4)

In the context, Peter has just made a confession of faith in Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is the essence of the NT teaching that the foundation of Christian society, the church, is this belief that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God”. It is therefore Peter’s confession of faith in Christ that Jesus pronounces as the ‘rock’ upon which he will found his church.

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

What many aren’t aware of, is that Augustine changed his mind on the interpretation of this passage and later identified Christ as the Rock:

“[In my first book against Donatus] I mentioned somewhere with reference to the apostle Peter that ‘the Church is founded upon him as upon a rock.’ … But I realize that I have since frequently explained the words of our Lord: ‘Thou art Peter and upon this rock I will build my church’, to the effect that they should be understood as referring to him Peter confessed when he said: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God’, and as meaning that Peter having been named after this rock, figured the person of the Church, which is built upon this rock and has received the keys of the kingdom of heaven. 2 For what was said to him was not ‘Thou art rock’, but ‘Thou art Peter’. But the rock was Christ, having confessed whom (even as the whole Church confesses) Simon was named Peter. Which of these interpretations is more likely to be correct, let the reader choose.” 1

1 Retractations, 1:21 (AD 427) 2 Using his allegorical interpretation method, he suggests Peter symbolizes the entire church. He also says the whole church, not just Peter, received the ‘keys’.

The problem of Augustine

At the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), where the issues surrounding Gentile converts were discussed, Peter was present and spoke but James (Jesus’ brother) appears to be ‘chairing’ the proceedings.

After Peter speaks and makes his opinion clear,1 the matter is not considered ‘closed’ because Peter is the supposed ‘head of the church’.

James subsequently closes the discussion and it is his summary 2 that forms the essence of the letter that is subsequently drafted.

1 Acts 15:10-11 “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

2 Acts 15:19-20 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

Early Church tradition places James as head of the Jerusalem church. Yet we know from Paul that Peter, John and James were residing in Jerusalem.

Gal 1:18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother.

Paul names all 3 of these apostles as ‘pillars’, listing James first.

Gal 2:9 James, Peter and John, those reputed to be pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship…

In Gal 2:11-21 Paul rebukes Peter. Who ever heard of a ‘pope’ getting publicly rebuked and straightened out by a subordinate? Lucky for Paul that Peter didn’t lose his cool and excommunicate him!

Who does the Bible teach is the head of the church?

Eph 5:23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.

Col 1:18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

The Bile teaches that Jesus is the cornerstone and all the apostles (NT writings) and prophets (OT writings) are our foundation.

Eph 2:19-21 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

In other words, the Scripture and not tradition is our foundation.

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

Writing to elders, Peter humbly calls himself a “fellow elder” and does not claim any preeminence:

1 Pet 5:5 To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed.

Reading the writings of later popes, they go on and on concerning their authority over all the bishops and all the churches. Peter explicitly cautions against autocratic and dictatorial leadership, something that would plague the church in later years.

1 Pet 5:2-3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers A —not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

A episkopeo

Primacy of Peter: Biblical perspective

We know from Scripture that Paul went to Rome. However previously Paul wrote the book of Romans to an already established church.

Who founded the church at Rome?

Not Peter, or why would Paul snub him when he spends a chapter in his epistle to the Romans (16) greeting people? Paul also never once mentions Peter in his many epistles he wrote while imprisoned at Rome.

Possibly those who had been saved at Pentecost, where there were “visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism)” (Acts 2:10-11)

In any event there was no central church in Rome, but multiple ‘home churches’. Paul instructs the Christians in general at Rome to “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my fellow workers… Greet also the church that meets at their house.” (Rom 16:3-4)

Some believe that Peter’s reference to writing from Babylon (1 Pet 5:13) was a allusion to Rome. If so this must have been shortly before his death and after most of the Pauline epistles. His remark in 1 Pet 4:12 to “the painful trial you are suffering” could be a reference to the persecution of Nero.

Peter, Roman bishop? Biblical perspective

There is strong unanimous early church history that both Paul and Peter were martyred in Rome by Nero.1

Irenaeus, who is normally reliable, records that “… Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church.” 2

However Irenaeus recorded that Linus was the first overseer (bishop) of Rome, “The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy.” 3

1 To cite but one, Hippolytus (2nd & 3rd C) writes, “Peter … was afterwards crucified by Nero in Rome with his head downward, as he had himself desired to suffer in that manner.”

2 Against Heresies (2nd C)

3 2 Tim 4:21

Peter, Roman bishop? External evidence

Most Protestant Churches deny that the apostolicity of the Church rests on an unbroken episcopacy.

There are 3 requirements for apostleship:

They were chosen directly by Jesus.

Mark 3:13-14 Jesus … appointed twelve—designating them apostles…


Paul says, “The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you…” (2 Cor 12:12)

Acts 4:12 The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people.

They witnessed the resurrected Christ.

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” (Act 4:33)

Paul defends his apostleship by saying, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Cor 9:1)

Apostolic succession: Biblical perspective

Anyone claiming ‘apostolic succession’ should have these signs marking their ministry. Those claiming apostleship must be tested against this yardstick:

Rev 2:2 I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false.

Those supporting apostolic succession claim that:

Jesus effectively gave his apostles a ‘blank check’ to run his church, by giving them the ‘keys of the kingdom’ (Matt 16:19).

In Acts 1, the apostles led by Peter, ‘elected’ another apostle, Matthias, to ‘succeed’ Judas.

Apostolic succession: Biblical perspective

The counter-claim is:

Peter made it clear that a requirement for apostleship was, “Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22)

Others feel that the apostles were out of line by choosing Matthias.

Jesus had just told them to “wait for the gift my Father promised… in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:4-5). The Holy Spirit had not yet been given and this might have been impetuous of Peter to propose this.

Matthias is never again mentioned in Scripture.

Paul seems to have been the replacement apostle chosen by God:

Gal 1:1 Paul, an apostle—sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father

1 Tim 1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope

Apostolic succession: Biblical perspective

The giving of the keys of the kingdom is also seen to be an endorsement of what has been decided in heaven, rather than dictated by the apostles.

KJV – “And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…”

The NIV footnote indicates that “will be bound” can also be translated “will have been bound”.

Young’s Literal Translation – “and I will give to thee the keys of the reign of the heavens, and whatever thou mayest bind upon the earth shall be having been bound in the heavens, and whatever thou mayest loose upon the earth shall be having been loosed in the heavens.”

Both Matthew 16:19 and 18:18 use an unusual Greek verbal construction (a periphrastic future perfect). It is best translated by the NASB, “Whatever you shall bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 1

Thus the binding and loosing by God in heaven precedes the binding and loosing on earth by the church. The church’s action on earth reflects God’s judgment in heaven. The church follows God, not the other way around. 1 Grudem W, Systematic Theology, Zondervan, 1994

Apostolic succession: Biblical perspective

Corruption: Church government

Constantine put pressure on churches to unite in doctrine. It may have been his religious conviction, politically motivated or both. This led to the rise of what was called the ‘universal’ (i.e. catholic) church.

At this time church governance became more and more centralized & hierarchical. The progression of church governance from the apostolic times was as follows:

Leadership by council of elders / overseers (bishops) and deacons – 1st century

Single bishops over churches

Metropolitan bishops over multiple bishops in cities (Alexandria, Constantinople, Rome, Antioch) – 4th century

Patriarchal bishops over geographical regions e.g. Italy

Universal bishop or ‘pope’ – 7th century

Bronze statue of Constantine I in York, England, near the spot where he was proclaimed a co-Emperor in 306

The Evolution of Ecclesiastical Offices

From the simplicity of the biblical deacon and presbyter (elder or overseer), churches have added additional offices including sub-deacons, readers, acolytes, bishops, patriarchs, primates, metropolitans, archbishops, cardinals, vicars, popes and pastors.

Bishops became distinguished from presbyters e.g. in 252 AD the Roman bishop had 46 presbyters.

Bishops became subdivided even among themselves. Bishops in the country were held to be inferior to bishops in the city.

In capital cities with more than one bishop, one among their number became the head bishop. Thus, in Alexandria, 12 bishops convened to elect one bishop from among their number.

In the 4th century the office of Metropolitan was recognized as being superior to the office of bishop.

The Evolution of Ecclesiastical Offices

The dangers of this growing hierarchical system were:

It increased the gap between clergy and laity.

It promoted authoritarianism.

The church got sidetracked from it’s mission by dabbling in politics.

It was easier for Satan to infiltrate as he simply targeted the top structure.

There are 3 forms of Church government:

Episcopal 1 – This are based on the concept of church governance by a hierarchy of bishops. Examples of Episcopalians are churches of Catholic or Orthodox lineage, the Anglican Church,2 many Lutheran churches, and some Methodist churches.

Presbyterian - a method of church governance typified by the rule of assemblies of presbyters, or elders. Each local church is governed by a body of elected elders usually called the session. Groups of local churches are governed by a higher assembly of elders known as the presbytery; presbyteries can be grouped into a synod, and synods nationwide often join together in a general assembly. Specific roles in church services are reserved for a pastor known as a teaching elder. Examples here are the Reformed and Presbyterian churches.

1 Episcopal in principle means “of bishops”, from the Latin for bishop, ‘episcopus’ which was transliterated from the ancient Greek ‘episkopos’ (επίσκοπος). 2 Episcopal Church is an alternative term for a church of the Anglican Communion, i.e. the Church of England. 3 From ‘presbuteros’ Greek for ‘elder’

Corruption: Church government

Congregationalism - a system of church governance in which every local church congregation is independent or “autonomous”. Congregationalism forbids ministers from ruling their local churches by themselves. Not only does the minister serve by the approval of the congregation, but committees further constrain the pastor from exercising power without consent by either the particular committee, or the entire congregation. The other officers are called deacons and elders. The understanding of ministry in these churches generally follows a “priesthood of all believers” model where all Christians have ministry roles within the church, but God calls certain people to be pastors. Examples are churches known by the “Congregationalist” name that descended from the Anglo-American Puritan movement of the 17th century, the Baptist churches, Pentecostal churches, and most of the groups brought about by the Anabaptist movement in Germany that immigrated to the U.S. in the late 18th century (particularly the Amish, Hutterites, Mennonites, Brethren churches). More recent generations have witnessed also a growing number of non-denominational churches, which are most often Congregationalist in their governance.

Corruption: Church government

Bishop was loosely transliterated from the Greek ‘episkopos’ (επίσκοπος) and simply meant ‘overseer’. In the 1st century ‘episkopos’ (bishop or overseer) and ‘presbuteros’ (presbyter or elder) were used interchangeably, e.g. Titus 1:5 & 7, where both words refer to the same office.

Only afterwards when hierarchical systems developed in the church did the idea of the office of a bishop as superior to the elder arise.

Even Jerome documents in 492 AD, that overseers and elders are the same office, and that local churches had more than one. In spite of the practice of the day Jerome admits, during the age of the 5 patriarchs, that local churches were governed by a plurality of elders.

“The elder is identical with the bishop, and before parties had so multiplied under diabolical influence, the Churches were governed (meaning each Church) by a council of elders.” 1

Tyndale (c. 1494 – 1536) was the first to contend that the Greek NT did not support the traditional Roman Catholic readings. In using words like ‘Overseer’ rather than ‘Bishop’ and ‘Elder’ rather than ‘Priest’, Tyndale reformed the doctrine of the Church.

1 Jerome (347-420) In “Epistle Titus”

Church government: Biblical perspective

To further distinguish between the priests and laity, priests began to assume distinctive robes.

Formal priesthood was an OT practice. The NT teaches the priesthood of all believers:

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father (Rev 1:5-6)

1 Pet 2:9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood…

Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ attempts to draw attention to their ‘holiness’ by their dress, “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues” (Matt 23:5-6)

Church government: Biblical perspective

Priests became known by distinctive titles like ‘Father’ or ‘patriarch’. This was something Jesus criticized the Pharisees for doing. He also gave us explicit instructions not to give each other religious titles like ‘master’, ‘father’ or ‘teacher’ (or ‘pastor’ for that matter) as these are titles which are applicable to God alone. ‘Pope’ comes from Latin ‘papa’ or ‘father’.

… they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’ But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. (Matt 23:7-10)

Jesus immediately adds this caution, which seems to have been forgotten by those in the church striving for these titles he forbade, “The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matt 23:11-12)

The title ‘Holy Father’ applied to the pope today, is used only once in Scripture (John 17:11) where Jesus uses it to address the Father.

Church government: Biblical perspective

The terms ‘pastor’, ‘prophet’ and ‘apostle’ are references to ministries and not titles. They are never used in this way in the NT. In the original languages they simply referred to the following ministries:

Apostle: From Greek ‘apostolos’ – “someone sent out” as a messenger.

Pastor: From the Latin word ‘pastor’ which means ‘shepherd’.

Elder (bishop): overseer

As for imitating the worldly political leaders in their power mongering, Jesus explicitly instructed his disciples not to do this. This was prompted by James and John seeking preeminence above the other disciples.

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave— just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…” Matt 20:25-28

Church government: Biblical perspective

Some sins were held to cause the loss of salvation and were thus ‘mortal’ or deadly sins, then less serious sins were merely ‘venial’ or ‘forgivable’ sins. A venial sin did not result in a complete separation from God and eternal damnation in hell.

In principle this is correct. 1 John 5:16 says, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death.”

However the church began arbitrarily defining mortal and venial sins. Jesus only referred to one unforgivable sin and that was blasphemy against the Spirit.

Matt 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.” … 31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

While people still debate the definition of “blasphemy against the Spirit”, the context of the passage above indicates that it is attributing the work of the Holy Spirit to Satan.

Classification of sin

Not only were mortal and venial sins defined without assistance from the Scripture, the unbiblical penance was ‘introduced’ for more serious sins.

Each venial sin that one committed added to the penance that one must do. A venial sin could be left unconfessed, but penance left undone during life converted to punishment in purgatory.1

In the 6th century, the Penitentials were developed in Ireland. These were a detailed list of sins and corresponding penances.

Augustine said “Baptism was instituted for all sins.2 For light sins, without which we cannot live, prayer was instituted… But do not commit those sins on account of which you would have to be separated from the body of Christ. Perish the thought! For those whom you see doing penance have committed crimes, either adultery or some other enormities. That is why they are doing penance. If their sins were light, daily prayer would suffice to blot them out…” 3

Penance equates to a gospel of works, but our salvation is “not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:9)

1 Unscriptural - as per our last study 2 i.e. baptismal regeneration - dealt with in our last study. 3 Sermon to Catechumens on the Creed 7:15, 8:16 (AD 395)

Penance: Biblical perspective

Augustine said, “… there are three ways in which sins are forgiven: in baptisms, in prayer, and in the greater humility of penance.”

Baptisms: NO – baptism is an external sign of what has already taken place inside the heart. It’s the repentance, not the baptism that results in forgiveness. As Peter said, “Repent and be baptized… for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)

Penance: NO – you cannot earn forgiveness.

Prayer: YES – although not the prayer itself, but prayer resulting from a repentant heart, which has also forgiven others.

1 John 5:16 “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life.

1 John 1:9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors… For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Matt 6:12-15)

Penance: Biblical perspective

The rise of monasticism with it’s celibacy and other acts of asceticism were somewhat of a return to salvation by works. Amongst other things they would practice the following things to ‘punish’ the flesh:





Simple clothing

Living in isolation

Extended periods of silence

For example in 390 Symeon the Stylite was born. He lived on top of a column at the monastery in Telanissos in Syria. His imitator, Daniel (409-493), lived for 37 years atop a column near Constantinople.

Penance & good works

Ambrose states the following about the martyrs which I consider both heretical and blasphemous, “They who have washed away their sins by their own blood, may pray for our sins.” 1

Heretical – how can you wash away your sin with your own blood?

He goes on to say, “For they are martyrs of God, our high priests, spectators of our life and our acts. We need not blush to use them as intercessors for our weakness; for they also knew the infirmity of the body when they gained the victory over it.” 1

The NT uses the terms ‘high priest’ and ‘intercessor’ of Jesus alone.

Heb 9:11-14 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, a he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made… He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption… How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death…

1 Philip Schaff's “History of the Christian Church”

Penance & good works

Whose blood washes away our sins?

Rev 1:5 To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.

Acts 20:28 Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.

Eph 1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins…

Heb 10:19 … we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…

Heb 13:12 And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.

1 John 1:7 … the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

Rev 5:8-9 … the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb… And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Salvation: Biblical perspective

1 Pet 1:18-19 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

Rev 7:14 … they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.

Q: Can penance, baptism, living an ascetic life, or even martyrdom wash away your sins?

A: In agreement with the Scriptures above, the hymn-writer penned, “What can was away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Rom 5:6-10 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…

Salvation: Biblical perspective


Appendix 1: The 20 canons 1 of the Council of Nicaea

Appendix 1: The 20 canons of the Council of Nicaea

Appendix 2: Socrates of Constantinople, excerpt from his Ecclesiastical History

Appendix 3: Excerpt on Hypatia from John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103

Appendix 4 - The Theodosian Code

1. prohibition of self-castration; 2. establishment of a minimum term for catechumen;2 3. prohibition of the presence in the house of a cleric of a younger woman who might bring him under suspicion; 4. ordination of a bishop in the presence of at least three provincial bishops and confirmation by the metropolitan; 5. provision for two provincial synods 3 to be held annually; 6. exceptional authority acknowledged for the patriarchs of Alexandria and Rome, for their respective regions; 7. recognition of the honorary rights of the see of Jerusalem; 8. provision for agreement with the Novatianists; 4

1 Church Laws

2 One receiving instruction in the principles of Christianity with a view to baptism.

3 A synod is a council of a church, convened to decide an issue of doctrine, administration or application.

4 The Novatianists following Novatius, or Novatian, held a strict view that refused readmission to communion of lapsi, those baptized Christians who had denied their faith or performed the formalities of a ritual sacrifice to the pagan gods, under the pressures of the persecution sanctioned by Emperor Decius, in AD 250.

9–14. provision for mild procedure against the lapsed during the persecution under Licinius; 1 15–16. prohibition of the removal of priests; 17. prohibition of usury among the clergy; 18. precedence of bishops and presbyters before deacons in receiving Holy Communion, the Eucharist; 19. declaration of the invalidity of baptism by Paulian heretics; 2 20. prohibition of kneeling during the liturgy, on Sundays and in the fifty days of Eastertide ("the Pentecost"). Standing was the normative posture for prayer at this time, as it still is among the Eastern Orthodox. (In time, Western Christianity adopted the term Pentecost to refer to the last Sunday of Eastertide, the fiftieth day.)

1 Licinius (c. 250 - 325) was the brother-in-law of Constantine and emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire from 308 to 324 (Constantine ruled only the Western Roman Empire until 324).

2 This refers to Paul of Samosata, who strongly advocated Monarchianism, which conflicts with the Trinity concept formulated in the Nicene creed. He was deposed as bishop after a Synod of Antioch, but didn't accept the deposal, and carried on living in the bishop's house.

Appendix 2: Socrates of Constantinople, excerpt from his Ecclesiastical History

Chapter 13. Conflict between the Christians and Jews at Alexandria: and breach between the Bishop Cyril and the Prefect Orestes.

About this same time it happened that the Jewish inhabitants were driven out of Alexandria by Cyril the bishop on the following account. The Alexandrian public is more delighted with tumult than any other people: and if at any time it should find a pretext, breaks forth into the most intolerable excesses; for it never ceases from its turbulence without bloodshed. It happened on the present occasion that a disturbance arose among the populace, not from a cause of any serious importance, but out of an evil that has become very popular in almost all cities, viz. a fondness for dancing exhibitions. In consequence of the Jews being disengaged from business on the Sabbath, and spending their time, not in hearing the Law, but in theatrical amusements, dancers usually collect great crowds on that day, and disorder is almost invariably produced. And although this was in some degree controlled by the governor of Alexandria, nevertheless the Jews continued opposing these measures. And although they are always hostile toward the Christians they were roused to still greater opposition against them on account of the dancers. When therefore Orestes the prefect was publishing an edict—for so they are accustomed to call public notices—in the theatre for the regulation of the shows, some of the bishop Cyril's party were present to learn the nature of the orders about to be issued. There was among them a certain Hierax, a teacher of the rudimental branches of literature, and one who was a very enthusiastic listener of the bishop Cyril's sermons, and made himself conspicuous by his forwardness in applauding. When the Jews observed this person in the theatre, they immediately cried out that he had come there for no other purpose than to excite sedition among the people.

Now Orestes had long regarded with jealousy the growing power of the bishops, because they encroached on the jurisdiction of the authorities appointed by the emperor, especially as Cyril wished to set spies over his proceedings; he therefore ordered Hierax to be seized, and publicly subjected him to the torture in the theatre. Cyril, on being informed of this, sent for the principal Jews, and threatened them with the utmost severities unless they desisted from their molestation of the Christians. The Jewish populace on hearing these menaces, instead of suppressing their violence, only became more furious, and were led to form conspiracies for the destruction of the Christians; one of these was of so desperate a character as to cause their entire expulsion from Alexandria; this I shall now describe. Having agreed that each one of them should wear a ring on his finger made of the bark of a palm branch, for the sake of mutual recognition, they determined to make a nightly attack on the Christians. They therefore sent persons into the streets to raise an outcry that the church named after Alexander was on fire. Thus many Christians on hearing this ran out, some from one direction and some from another, in great anxiety to save their church. The Jews immediately fell upon and slew them; readily distinguishing each other by their rings. At daybreak the authors of this atrocity could not be concealed: and Cyril, accompanied by an immense crowd of people, going to their synagogues—for so they call their house of prayer—took them away from them, and drove the Jews out of the city, permitting the multitude to plunder their goods. Thus the Jews who had inhabited the city from the time of Alexander the Macedonian were expelled from it, stripped of all they possessed, and dispersed some in one direction and some in another. One of them, a physician named Adamantius, fled to Atticus bishop of Constantinople, and professing Christianity, some time afterwards returned to Alexandria and fixed his residence there.

But Orestes the governor of Alexandria was filled with great indignation at these transactions, and was excessively grieved that a city of such magnitude should have been suddenly bereft of so large a portion of its population; he therefore at once communicated the whole affair to the emperor. Cyril also wrote to him, describing the outrageous conduct of the Jews; and in the meanwhile sent persons to Orestes who should mediate concerning a reconciliation: for this the people had urged him to do. And when Orestes refused to listen to friendly advances, Cyril extended toward him the book of gospels, believing that respect for religion would induce him to lay aside his resentment. When, however, even this had no pacific effect on the prefect, but he persisted in implacable hostility against the bishop, the following event afterwards occurred.

Chapter 14. The Monks of Nitria come down and raise a Sedition against the Prefect of Alexandria.

Some of the monks inhabiting the mountains of Nitria, of a very fiery disposition, whom Theophilus some time before had unjustly armed against Dioscorus and his brethren, being again transported with an ardent zeal, resolved to fight in behalf of Cyril. About five hundred of them therefore quitting their monasteries, came into the city; and meeting the prefect in his chariot, they called him a pagan idolater, and applied to him many other abusive epithets. He supposing this to be a snare laid for him by Cyril, exclaimed that he was a Christian, and had been baptized by Atticus the bishop at Constantinople.

As they gave but little heed to his protestations, and a certain one of them named Ammonius threw a stone at Orestes which struck him on the head and covered him with the blood that flowed from the wound, all the guards with a few exceptions fled, plunging into the crowd, some in one direction and some in another, fearing to be stoned to death. Meanwhile the populace of Alexandria ran to the rescue of the governor, and put the rest of the monks to flight; but having secured Ammonius they delivered him up to the prefect. He immediately put him publicly to the torture, which was inflicted with such severity that he died under the effects of it: and not long after he gave an account to the emperors of what had taken place. Cyril also on the other hand forwarded his statement of the matter to the emperor: and causing the body of Ammonius to be deposited in a certain church, he gave him the new appellation of Thaumasius, ordering him to be enrolled among the martyrs, and eulogizing his magnanimity in church as that of one who had fallen in a conflict in defence of piety. But the more sober-minded, although Christians, did not accept Cyril's prejudiced estimate of him; for they well knew that he had suffered the punishment due to his rashness, and that he had not lost his life under the torture because he would not deny Christ. And Cyril himself being conscious of this, suffered the recollection of the circumstance to be gradually obliterated by silence. But the animosity between Cyril and Orestes did not by any means subside at this point, but was kindled afresh by an occurrence similar to the preceding.

Chapter 15. Of Hypatia the Female Philosopher.

THERE WAS a woman at Alexandria named Hypatia, daughter of the philosopher Theon, who made such attainments in literature and science, as to far surpass all the philosophers of her own time. Having succeeded to the school of Plato and Plotinus, she explained the principles of philosophy to her auditors, many of whom came from a distance to receive her instructions. On account of the self-possession and ease of manner, which she had acquired in consequence of the cultivation of her mind, she not unfrequently appeared in public in presence of the magistrates. Neither did she feel abashed in going to an assembly of men. For all men on account of her extraordinary dignity and virtue admired her the more. Yet even she fell victim to the political jealousy which at that time prevailed. For as she had frequent interviews with Orestes, it was calumniously reported among the Christian populace, that it was she who prevented Orestes from being reconciled to the bishop. Some of them, therefore, hurried away by a fierce and bigoted zeal, whose ringleader was a reader named Peter, waylaid her returning home, and dragging her from her carriage, they took her to the church called Caesareum, where they completely stripped her, and then murdered her with tiles.1 After tearing her body in pieces, they took her mangled limbs to a place called Cinaron, and there burnt them. This affair brought not the least opprobrium,2 not only upon Cyril, but also upon the whole Alexandrian church. And surely nothing can be farther from the spirit of Christianity than the allowance of massacres, fights, and transactions of that sort. This happened in the month of March during Lent, in the fourth year of Cyril's episcopate, under the tenth consulate of Honorius, and the sixth of Theodosius.

1 The Greek word is ostrakois, literally ‘oystershells’, but the word was also applied to brick tiles used on the roofs of houses. 2 disgrace

Appendix 3: Excerpt on Hypatia from John, Bishop of Nikiu, from his Chronicle 84.87-103

AND IN THOSE DAYS there appeared in Alexandria a female philosopher, a pagan named Hypatia, and she was devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music, and she beguiled many people through (her) Satanic wiles. And the governor of the city honored her exceedingly; for she had beguiled him through her magic. And he ceased attending church as had been his custom. But he went once under circumstances of danger. And he not only did this, but he drew many believers to her, and he himself received the unbelievers at his house. And on a certain day when they were making merry over a theatrical exhibition connected with dancers, the governor of the city published (an edict) regarding the public exhibitions in the city of Alexandria: and all the inhabitants of the city had assembled there (in the theater). Now Cyril, who had been appointed patriarch after Theophilus, was eager to gain exact intelligence regarding this edict. And there was a man named Hierax, a Christian possessing understanding and intelligence who used to mock the pagans but was a devoted adherent of the illustrious Father the patriarch and was obedient to his monitions. He was also well versed in the Christian faith. (Now this man attended the theater to learn the nature of this edict.) But when the Jews saw him in the theater they cried out and said: "This man has not come with any good purpose, but only to provoke an uproar." And Orestes the prefect was displeased with the children of the holy church, and Hierax was seized and subjected to punishment publicly in the theater, although he was wholly guiltless. And Cyril was wroth with the governor of the city for so doing, and likewise for his putting to death an illustrious monk of the convent of Pernodj [1] named Ammonius, and other monks (also). And when the chief magistrate [2] of the city heard this, he sent word to the Jews as follows: "Cease your hostilities against the Christians." But they refused to hearken to what they heard; for they gloried in the support of the prefect who was with them, and so they added outrage to outrage and plotted a massacre through a treacherous device.

And they posted beside them at night in all the streets of the city certain men, while others cried out and said: "The church of the apostolic Athanasius is on fire: come to its succour, all ye Christians." And the Christians on hearing their cry came fourth quite ignorant of the treachery of the Jews. And when the Christians came forth, the Jews arose and wickedly massacred the Christians and shed the blood of many, guiltless though they were. And in the morning, when the surviving Christians heard of the wicked deed which the Jews had wrought, they betook themselves to the patriarch. And the Christians mustered all together and went and marched in wrath to the synagogues of the Jews and took possession of them, and purified them and converted them into churches. And one of them they named after the name of St. George. And as for the Jewish assassins they expelled them from the city, and pillaged all their possessions and drove them forth wholly despoiled, and Orestes the prefect was unable to render them any help. And thereafter a multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the magistrate -- now this Peter was a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ -- and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her seated on a (lofty) chair; and having made her descend they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her [till they brought her] through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire. And all the people surrounded the patriarch Cyril and named him "the new Theophilus"; for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city.

Appendix 4 - The Theodosian Code

In 429, Theodosius II appointed a commission to collect all of the laws since the reign of Constantine I, and create a fully formalized system of law. This plan was left unfinished, but the work of a second commission that met in Constantinople, assigned to collect all of the general legislations and bring them up to date was completed, and their collection published as the Codex Theodosianus in 438. The law code of Theodosius II, summarizing edicts promulgated since Constantine, provided a basis for the law code of Emperor Justinian I in the following century.

I, 2. IT IS Our will that all the peoples who are ruled by the administration of Our Clemency shall practice that religion which the divine Peter the Apostle transmitted to the Romans, as the religion which he introduced makes clear even unto this day. It is evident that this is the religion that is followed by the Pontiff Damasus and by Peter, Bishop of Alexandria, a man of apostolic sanctity; that is, according to the apostolic discipline and the evangelic doctrine, we shall believe in the single Deity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, under the concept of equal majesty and of the Holy Trinity.

We command that those persons who follow this rule shall embrace the name of Catholic Christians. The rest, however, whom We adjudge demented and insane, shall sustain the infamy of heretical dogmas, their meeting places shall not receive the name of churches, and they shall be smitten first by divine vengeance and secondly by the retribution of Our own initiative, which We shall assume in accordance with the divine judgment (28 February 380).

I, 3. We command that all churches shall immediately be surrendered to those bishops who confess that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are of one majesty and virtue, of the same glory, and of one splendor; to those bishops who produce no dissonance by unholy distinction, but who affirm the concept of the Trinity by the assertion of three Persons and the unity of the Divinity… All, he ever, who dissent from the communion of the faith of those who have been expressly mentioned in this special enumeration shall be expelled from their churches as manifest heretics and hereafter shall be altogether denied the right and power to obtain churches, in order that the priesthood of the true Nicene faith may remain pure, and after the clear regulations of Our law, there shall be no opportunity for malicious subtlety (30 July 381).

I, 4. We bestow the right of assembly upon those persons who believe according to the doctrines which in the times of Constantius of sainted memory were decreed as those that would endure forever, when the priests had been called together from all the Roman world and the faith was set forth at the Council of Ariminum by these very persons who are now known to dissent, a faith which was also confirmed by the Council of Constantinople. The right of voluntary assembly shall also be open to those persons for whom We have so ordered. If those persons who suppose that the right of assembly has been granted to them alone should attempt to provoke any agitation against the regulation of Our Tranquillity, they shall know that, as authors of sedition and as disturbers of the peace of the Church, they shall also pay the penalty of high treason with their life and blood. Punishment shall no less await those persons who may attempt to supplicate Us surreptitiously and secretly, contrary to this Our regulation (23 January 386).

11,1. We have learned that clerics of the Catholic Church are being so harassed by a faction of heretics that they are being burdened by nominations and by service as tax receivers, as public custom demands, contrary to the privileges granted them. It is Our pleasure, therefore, that if Your Gravity should find any person thus harassed, another person shall be chosen as a substitute for him and that henceforward men of the aforesaid religion shall be protected from such outrages (31 October 313 ) .

11,4. Every person shall have the liberty to leave at his death any property that he wishes to the most holy and venerable council of the Catholic Church. Wills shall not become void. There is nothing which is more due to men than that the expression of their last will, after which they can no longer will anything, shall be free, and the power of choice, which does not return again, shall be unhampered (3 July 321).

II, 5. Whereas We have learned that certain ecclesiastics and others devoting their services to the Catholic sect have been compelled by men of different religions to the performance of lustral sacrifices, We decree by this sanction that, if any person should suppose that those who devote their services to the most sacred law may be forced to the ritual of an alien superstition, he shall be beaten publicly with clubs, provided that his legal status so permits. If, however, the consideration of his honorable rank protects him from such an outrage, he shall sustain the penalty of a very heavy fine, which shall be vindicated to the municipalities (25 May 323).

II, 10. In order that organizations in the service of the churches may be filled with a great multitude of people, tax exemption shall be granted to clerics and their acolytes, and they shall be protected from the exaction of compulsory public services of a menial nature. They shall by no means be subject to the tax payments of tradesmen, since it is manifest that the profits which they collect from stalls and workshops will benefit the poor. We decree also that their men who engage in trade shall be exempt from all tax payments. Likewise, the exaction of services for the maintenance of the supplementary postwagons shall cease. This indulgence We grant to their wives, children, and servants, to males and females equally, for We command that they also shall continue exempt from tax assessments (26 May 353).

II, 12. By a law of Our Clemency We prohibit bishops to be accused in the courts, lest there should be an unrestrained opportunity for fanatical spirits to accuse them, while the accusers assume that they will obtain impunity by the kindness of the bishops. Therefore, if any person should lodge any complaint, such complaint must unquestionably be examined before other bishops, in order that an opportune and suitable hearing may be arranged for the investigation of all concerned (7 October 355).

II, 16. If in any city, town, village, hamlet, or municipality, any person by a vow of the Christian faith should show to all persons the merit of exceptional and extraordinary virtue, he shall enjoy perpetual security. For it is Our will that he shall rejoice and glory always in the faith, since We are aware that Our State is sustained more by religion than by official duties and physical toil and sweat (14 February 361).

II, 23. Whatever is customary in the conduct of civil suits shall likewise be observed in ecclesiastical litigation, so that if there are any matters arising from certain dissensions and slight offenses pertaining to religious observance, they shall be heard in their own places and by the synods of their own diocese, with the exception of those matters which criminal action has established shall be heard by ordinary and extraordinary judges or by the Illustrious authorities (17 May 376).

II, 31. If any person should break forth into such sacrilege that he should invade Catholic churches and should inflict any outrage on the priests and ministers, or on the worship itself and on the place of worship, whatever occurs shall be brought to the notice of the authorities by letters of the municipal senates, magistrates, and curators, and by official reports of the apparitors who are called rural police, so that the names of those who could be recognized may be revealed. Moreover, if the offense is said to have been perpetrated by a multitude, some, if not all, can nevertheless be recognized, and by their confession the names of their accomplices may be disclosed. Thus the governor of the province shall know that the outrage of the priests and ministers of the Catholic Church, to the divine worship, and to the place of worship itself must be punished with a capital sentence against the aforesaid convicted or confessed criminals. The governor shall not wait until the bishop shall demand the avenging of his own injury, since the bishop's sanctity leaves nothing to him except the glory of forgiving. It shall be not only permissible but even laudable for all persons to prosecute as a pu' crime the atrocious outrages committee against priests and ministers and to exact punishment from such criminals (25 April 398).

II, 41. Clerics must not be accused except before bishops. Therefore, if a bishop, a priest, a deacon, or any person of inferior rank who is a minister of the Christian faith should be accused by any person whatever before the bishops, since he must not be accused elsewhere, that man, whether of lofty honor or of any other dignity, who may undertake such a laudable. type of suit, shall know that he must allege only what may be demonstrated by proofs and supported by documents. If any man, therefore, should lodge unprovable complaints about such persons, he shall understand that by the authority of this sanction he will be subject to the loss of his own reputation, and thus by the loss of his honor and the forfeiture of his status he shall learn that he will not be permitted, for the future at least, to assail with impunity the respect due to another. For, just as it is equitable that bishops, priests, deacons, and all other clerics should be removed from the venerable Church as persons attainted if the allegations against them can be proved, so that they shall be despised thereafter and bowed under the contempt of wretched humiliation and shall not have an action for slander, so it must appear to be an act of similar justice that We have ordered an appropriate punishment for assailed innocence. Bishops, therefore, must hear such cases only under the attestation of many persons and in formal proceedings (11 December 412).

IV, 2. There shall be no opportunity for any man to go out to the public and to argue about religion or to discuss it or to give any counsel. If any person hereafter, with flagrant and damnable audacity, should suppose that he may contravene any law of this kind or if he should dare to persist in his action of ruinous obstinacy, he shall be restrained with a due penalty and proper punishment (16 June 388).

V, I. The privileges that have been granted in consideration of religion must benefit only the adherents of the Catholic faith. It is Our will, moreover, that heretics and schismatics shall not only be alien from these privileges but shall also be bound and subjected to various compulsory public services ( 1 September 326).

V, 5. All heresies are forbidden by both divine and imperial laws and shall forever cease. If any profane man by his punishable teachings should weaken the concept of God, he shall have the right to know such noxious doctrines only for himself but shall not reveal them to others to their hurt (20 August 379 ).

V, 11. All persons whatsoever who are tossed about by the false doctrine of diverse heresies, namely, the Eunomians, the Arians, the Macedonians, the Pneumatomachi, the Manichaeans, the Encratites, the Apotactites, the Saccophori, and the Hydroparastatae, shall not assemble in any groups, shall not collect any multitude, shall not attract any people to themselves, shall not show any walls of private houses after the likeness of churches, and shall practice nothing publicly or privately which may be detrimental to the Catholic sanctity. Furthermore, if there should exist any person who transgresses what has been so evidently forbidden, he shall be expelled by the common agreement of all good men, and the opportunity to expel him shall be granted to all who delight in the cult and the beauty of the correct observance of religion (25 July 383).

V, 41. Although it is customary for crimes to be expiated by punishment, it is Our will, nevertheless, to correct the depraved desires of men by an admonition to repentance. Therefore, if any heretics, whether they are Donatists or Manichaeans or of any other depraved belief and sect who have congregated for profane rites, should embrace, by a simple confession, the Catholic faith and rites, which We wish to be observed by all men, even though such heretics have nourished a deep-rooted evil by long and continued meditation, to such an extent that they also seem to be subject to the laws formerly issued, nevertheless, as soon as they have confessed God by a simple expression of belief, We decree that they shall be absolved from all guilt (15 November 407).

VI, 1. We judge to be unworthy of the priesthood that bishop who repeats the sanctity of baptism by unlawful usurpation and, against the teachings of all, contaminates this act of grace by repetition (20 February 373).

VII, 4. If any persons should betray the holy faith and should profane holy baptism, they shall be segregated from the community of all men, shall be disqualified from giving testimony, and, as We have previously ordained, they shall not have testamentary capacity; they shall inherit from no person, and by no person shall they be designated as heir's. We should also have ordered them to be expelled and removed to a distance if it had not appeared to be a greater punishment to dwell among men and to lack the approval of men. 1. But never shall they return to their former status; the disgracefulness of their conduct shall not be expiated by penitence nor concealed by the shadow of any carefully devised defense or protection, since fiction and fabrication cannot protect those persons who have polluted the faith which they had vowed to God, who have betrayed the divine mystery and have gone over to profane doctrines. Help is extended to those persons who have slipped and to those who go astray, but those who are lost, that is, those who profane holy baptism, shall not be aided by any expiation through penitence, which customarily avails in other crimes (11 May 391).

VIII, 1. It is Our will that Jews and their elders and patriarchs shall be informed that if, after the issuance of this law, any of them should dare to attempt to assail with stones or with any other kind of madness—a thing which We have learned is now being done—any person who has fled their feral sect and has resorted to the worship of God, such assailant shall be immediately delivered to the flames and burned, with all his accomplices. 1. Moreover, if any person from the people should betake himself to their nefarious sect and should join their assemblies, he shall sustain with them the deserved punishments (18 October 315). VIII, 2. If any persons with complete devotion should dedicate themselves to the synagogues of the Jews as patriarchs and priests and should live in the aforementioned sect and preside over the administration of their law, they shall continue to be exempt from all compulsory public services that are incumbent on persons, as well as those that are due to the municipalities. Likewise, such persons who are now perchance decurions shall not be assigned to any duties as official escorts, since such men shall not be compelled for any reason to depart from those places in which they are. Moreover, such persons who are not decurions shall enjoy perpetual exemption from the decurionate (29 November 330).

VIII, 9. It is sufficiently established that the sect of the Jews is forbidden by no law. Hence We are gravely disturbed that their assemblies have been forbidden in certain places. Your Sublime Magnitude will, therefore, after receiving this order, restrain with proper severity the excesses of those persons who, in the name of the Christian religion, presume to commit certain unlawful acts and attempt to destroy and to despoil the synagogues (29 September 393).

VIII, 18. The governors of the provinces shall prohibit the Jews, in a certain ceremony of their festival Haman in commemoration of some former punishment, from setting fire to and burning a simulated appearance of the holy cross, in contempt of the Christian faith and with sacrilegious mind, lest they associate the sign of Our faith with their places. They shall maintain their own rites without contempt of the Christian law, and they shall unquestionably lose all privileges that have been permitted them heretofore unless they refrain from unlawful acts (29 May 408).

VIII, 20. If it should appear that any places are frequented by conventides of the Jews and are called by the name of synagogues, no one shall dare to violate or to occupy and retain such places, since all persons must retain their own property in undisturbed right, without any claim of religion or worship. Moreover, since indeed ancient custom and practice have preserved for the aforesaid Jewish people the consecrated day of the Sabbath, We also decree that it shall be forbidden that any man of the aforesaid faith should be constrained by any summons on that day, under the pretext of public or private business, since all the remaining time appears sufficient to satisfy the public laws, and since it is most worthy of the moderation of Our time that the privileges granted should not be violated, although sufficient provision appears to have been made with reference to the aforesaid matter by general constitutions of earlier Emperors (26 July 412).

X, 2. Superstition shall cease; the madness of sacrifices shall be abolished. For if any man in violation of the law of the sainted Emperor, Our father, and in violation of this command of Our Clemency, should dare to perform sacrifices, he shall suffer the infliction of a suitable punishment and the effect of an immediate sentence (341).


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