by Dr Pence Dacus
(Church History Correspondence Course)


  • Introduction
  • The Struggle for Power
  • Catholicism Becomes the State Church of the Empire
  • The Creation of the Holy Roman Empire
  • Student Instructions

  • Introduction

    With the final changes in the organization, a distinction between clergy and the laity, and the introduction of innovations into the worship service, the apostacy was complete. What the world saw after the fourth century A.D. was something quite different from the simple Christianity of the first century. Our study today will be concerned with continued expansion of Catholicism as it became the greatest secularized, religio-political organization the world has ever known. We will watch the struggle for power which culminated in the first full-fledged pope. Then, we will see Catholicism become the state church of the empire. Finally, we will observe the creation of the Holy Roman Empire with the Catholic church at the zenith of its power.

    The Struggle for Power

    * The creation of the office of pope was a long and bitterly contested matter.
    * By the fourth century, the patriarchs were established in the four great capitols of the Roman empire: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria and Antioch. The Jerusalem bishop was recognized in an honorary capacity only. Before Constantinople was founded, the order of importance was Rome, Alexandria and Antioch. Later, Constantinople was in second place. The council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D., declared Constantinople to have equal rank with Rome. Leo the Great, bishop of Rome, violently protested but to no avail.
    * For several centuries, the Roman bishop was not recognized as superior to others. Many Italian bishops refused to recognize him. North African bishops claimed supreme authority in their area.
    * Many early religious leaders denied the primacy of the Roman bishop. Ambroze of Milan (397 A.D.) said, No, to Roman authority. Jerome (419A.D.) said all bishops were equal. Augustine (430 A.D.) denied that the church was built on Peter--thus the entire structure crumbles on the testimony of one of their saints.
    * Some historians consider Leo the Great (440-461 A.D.) to be the first pope in the present day sense of the term. Bishop Siricius, (4th century A.D.), first used the term "pope" as a title. "But the first pope, in the proper sense of the word, is Leo I, who justly bears the title of the Great in the history of the Latin hierarchy" (Schaff, III:315). "He was animated with the unwavering conviction that the Lord himself had committed to him, as the successor of Peter, the care of the whole church" (Schaff, III:317).
    * Other historians consider Boniface III, in 606 A.D., as the first pope in the genuine sense. In the 6th century, Rome and Constantinople were two rival powers for control. In 588, John the Faster, Bishop of Constantinople, claimed the title -- Universal Patriarch, or pope. He was the first to make the claim. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome (590-604 A.D.) reacted bitterly to John's claim, accusing him of being the Antichrist. But, only a few years later, (606 A.D.), Boniface III had Phocas, the emperor, crown him as the pope, wresting the title away from the Bishop of Constantinople. Hence, the thing Gregory fought so bitterly, was assumed by the very man who succeeded him -- Boniface III, and those who followed him.

    Catholicism Becomes the State Church of the Empire

    The arrival of Constantine to position of Roman Emperor brought wide-sweeping changes in favor of Christianity -- 306 A.D.
    * In 313, Constantine issued an Edict of Toleration at Milan, granting freedom of all religions. He enacted many laws favourable to Christianity.
    * He called the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D., introducing the idea of setting up a written creed to which all would adhere.
    * Constantine exercised great control over the church. He convened councils, instituted and deposed bishops, and acted as universal temporal bishop though he himself was unbaptized at the time.
    * He made Christianity the state religion of Rome. "The Christianizing of the state amounted in a great measure to the paganizing and secularizing of the church" (Schaff, III:93).
    * Constantine was not baptized until just before his death. Many scholars feel that his "conversion" (not in the true sense) was a political expedient.
    * Emperor Theodosius (378-395 A.D.) introduced still another dimension -- he made membership in the church compulsory. These forced conversions filled the churches with unregenerate people. Furthermore, he tried to forcibly suppress other religions and condemned idol worship. Under his command heathen temples were torn down and there was much blood shed. (Halley, p. 867). Thus, in the fourth century, the persecuted church of three centuries becomes the persecutor. How strangely different this organization was to the religion of Christ.

    The Creation of the Holy Roman Empire

    The Holy Roman Empire, a Church-State Combine, was the Work of Charlemagne

    Charlemagne was crowned emperor by Pope Leo III on December 25, 800, in return for Charlemagne's recognition of the pope's temporal power over the papal states. He had a burning desire to establish a Holy Roman Empire, with the church and government having universal dominion. He "did not hesitate to take strong ground in the matter of image worship against popes and councils. He appointed bishops and abbots with the utmost freedom" (Newman, 1:440). This second great union of the church and state instilled even more temporal power into the Catholic Church. The popes became very powerful and prominent men as a result.

    The Catholic Church Became Increasingly Involved in a Political as well as a Spiritual Rulership

    Hilderbrand (Pope Gregory VII), in 1073, "allowed nothing to stand in the way of the realization of his ideal of universal papal dominion in spiritual and secular things" (Newman 1:503)

    * He demanded of William the Conqueror to "yield unto me unconditional obedience" (Newman 1:506). Many popes later dominated kings.
    * He claimed the right "to give and to take away empires, kingdoms, principalities... and all manner of human rights and properties" (Newman, 1:508). All popes claim this power.
    * He said that "civil rulers occupy their positions only by virtue of the approval of the vicar of Christ (the pope); that "all secular rulers and ecclesiastical rulers must submit themselves absolutely to his authority; and if a civil authority resisted the pope, he could replace him with a faithful Catholic" (Newman, 1:508-509). Modern popes claim the same thing.
    * In 1198 (under Innocent III), the papacy reached the heighth of its power, and kept it until 1303 (under Boniface VIII). (Schaff, IV:258).

    Papal Power Declined in the Later Part of the Middle Ages

    It came as a result of the failure of the Crusades, cruel oppressions of the church in such as the Inquisition, the enforcement of celibacy and its resultant immorality, and the papal office becoming the object of greedy ambition. (Newman, 1:518-520). But, for some time the Catholic Church continued to dictate to emperors, maintain a standing army to fight against her enemies, and rule over the papal states. Gradually, the church lost her territories, and her armies were defeated. Final defeat came at the hands of Guiseppi Garibaldi, Italian commander under King Victor Emmanuel, who destroyed the Catholic forces in 1859. The material domain is now limited to the Vatican. The Vatican is a territory in the city of Rome -- 108.7 acres in size. In it are: the papal palace, St. Peter's Cathedral, the Vatican library, radio station, post office, newspaper office, a railroad, a mint, and the Vatican treasury. (Miller, pp, 20-22).

    Conclusion: Thus, we have seen the rise and fall of the greatest religio-political machine in man's history. But, did it fall? It's army may have been destroyed in 1859 and it's political power taken away in 1870 (by popular vote the pope lost to the government of Italy -- final count -- 133, 648 to 1,507), but that same year, the greatest triumph yet was realized when Pope Plus IX was successful in having the Council of Trent declare the pope -- INFALLIBLE. This was the crowning blow of the ages -- eighteen centuries of preparation and with one stroke it was done. Since that date, every Catholic who is faithful must render unquestioned obedience to an alleged infallible leader, the pope.

    Christianize - make Christians of people.
    Expedient - necessity.
    paganize - make pagans of people.
    patriarch - bishops of larger provinces, only four of them.
    primacy - first.
    religio - political - means the same as church and state.
    secularize - make people worldly.
    unregenerate - unconverted.

    Halley. H.H. Bible Handbook
    Miller. Waymon D., A Survey of Church History, Miller Publishing Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, 1959.
    Newman, A.H., A Manual of Church History, Vol. 1, The American Baptist Publication Society, Chicago, 1899.
    Schaff. Phillip. History of the Christian Church.

    Student Instructions
    1. Study the lesson text carefully till you understand its meaning. Then answer the Questions to this lesson.
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    I. Put TRUE and FALSE before each of the following statements (Example: True -- At Chalcedon in 451 A.D. Constantinople was made equal with Rome.)

    1. There was no difference between the Christianity of the first century and the fourth century.

    2. When Jesus said, 'Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's, He meant that men ought to combine the church and the state into one.

    3. Constantine's coming to the position of Emperor of Rome had little effect on Christianity.

    4. According to the facts of history, the pope has always been a popular man with the people of Italy.

    5. The Roman patriarch has been considered superior to all others.

    6. John the Faster crowned Boniface III as the first pope.

    7. Constantine was a true Christian, having been baptized early in life.

    8. Charlermagne was a very weak ruler.

    9. The Roman church tried to become combined with the state in order to make herself more powerful.

    10. Some of the popes were so powerful that rulers and kings had to bow to them as their master.

    11. The Catholic church actually had an army.

    12. The Bible teaches that it is alright to make use of force in spreading the gospel.

    II. Complete the following statements by choosing the proper word or phrase. (Example: The first man to use the term "pope" as a title was: Leo I.)

    13. There were three changes in the church by the 4th century which signified that the apostacy was completed. One of the following is not among these changes.
    a distinction between clergy and laity
    church organization
    innovations in the worship services
    changes in the Bible

    14. There was a struggle for power among the Catholic bishops before 600 A.D. because:
    Christ had authorized the superiority of the Roman church
    the bishops at that time were usually jealous and power-hungry
    some of them wanted to be recognized as superior to all others
    one of these

    15. The church became more paganized under Theodosius because:
    church membership was made compulsory
    pagans suddenly became interested in the Christian religion
    Theodosius was a pagan himself
    none of these

    16. Constantine preferred Christians because:
    it was probably a political expedient
    he detested paganism
    he agreed with its teachings, especially on the necessity of baptism in order to be saved
    all of these

    17. The idea of setting up a written creed for all to follow started with:
    Boniface III

    18 The papacy was at the height of its power about:
    1000 A.D.
    1200 A.D.
    1600 A.D.
    1800 A.D.

    19. The crowning blow of the ages in the history of Roman Catholicism was:
    the establishment of the inquisition
    permitting the sale of indulgences
    adopting the doctrine of papal infallibility
    all of these

    III. Fill in the blanks with the proper word or phrase.

    20. With regard to persecutions, the church of the fourth century was the church as contrasted to the third century church one.

    21. The is a territory in the city of Roman which is the headquarters of Roman Catholicism.

    22. wanted a creed which all people must accept and follow.

    23. chief goal in life was to create a Holy Roman Empire which combined the power of the church and the state.

    IV. List two reasons for the decline of papal power.
    24. First reason:
    25. Second reason:

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