The Church During the Dark Ages
The Development of Papal power

extracted from

The History of the Church
Howard A. White

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|

When Rome lost her place as capital of the world by the founding of Constantinople as the capital of the Roman Empire in 325 A.D., she began to assert her right to be the capital of the church.

The five presiding bishops who lived in Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome were called "Patriarchs." The Patriarch at Rome took the title of "papa, father," afterward modified into "pope." A bitter battle for power was waged among the patriarchs. This battle finally narrowed down to a contest between the pope of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople as to which should be the head of the Church. In 588 A.D. the Patriarch of Constantinople, John the Faster, assumed the title of "Universal Bishop of the Church." This was bitterly contested by the pope of Rome. In 606 A.D., the emperor took the title of "Universal Bishop" away from John the Faster and conferred it upon Boniface III then Pope of Rome. Thus papal supremacy was formally introduced. The date, 606 A.D. really marks the beginning of what is now known as the Roman Catholic Church, in a fully organised state, with the pope of Rome as its head.


The growth of papal power was gradual. The popes took the place of the Roman emperors as the rulers of Italy and later during the time of Charlemagne assumed the power of crowning the kings of Europe. As the power of the pope increased, it met with resistance on the part of many kings and princes. Bitter controversies occurred. One of the most notable of these took place between Henry IV of Germany and Pope Gregory VII, or Hildebrand. Among other acts of discipline which he directed toward Henry’s councellors who had been guilty of simony. Henry IV, feeling keenly the threat of his own power, called together the bishops of the Holy Roman Empire and compelled them to depose Gregory as pope. The pope then exercised his power and absolved all of Henry’s subjects from allegiance to him. Since the pope had great power over the people, Henry was left without a kingdom. In order to be forgiven by the pope and reinstated as king, Henry was forced to lay aside his royal garments and make a journey over the Alps in the dead of winter and approach the pope in his palace at Canossa. After being forced to stand outside the castle for three days, with his bare feet in the snow, he was admitted into the pope’s presence on bended knees.

"Another famous instance occurred later during the time of Pope Innocent III, who deposed John as King of England for opposing the Papal authority."1

Innocent III believed that he was the "Vice-regent of God upon earth."2 He believed himself to be the successor to St. Peter and that he possessed "authority, not only over the church, but over the world."3


At this point, we raise the question as to the power that is claimed by the Pope of Rome today. Does the pope still consider himself the successor to St. Peter? Does he still believe that the authority to rule over the world in both religious and civil affairs rightfully belongs to him? Does the Catholic Church still believe that such power should be exercised by the pope, or have Catholics changed? The only fair way to answer this question is to allow Catholics to speak for themselves. Archbishop James Cardinal Gibbons states:

The Church did not die with Peter. It was destined to continue till end of time; consequently, whatever official prerogatives were conferred on Peter were not to cease at his death, but were to be handed down to his successors from generation to generation. The Church is in all ages as much in need of a Supreme Ruler as it was in the days of the Apostles. Nay, more; as the church is now more widely diffused than it was then, and is ruled by frailer men, it is more than ever in need of a central power to preserve its unity of faith and uniformity of disciple. Whatever privileges, therefore, were conferred to Peter which may be considered essential to the government of the Church are inherited by the Bishops of Rome, as successors of the Prince of the Apostles; just as the constitutional powers given to George Washington have devolved on the present incumbent of the Presidential chair.4

The January, 1946, issue of The Converted Catholic Magazine carried an article entitled "Pope Pius XII" which began as follows:

The Prompta Bibliotheca, an official Roman Catholic almanac published by the press of Propaganda Fide in Rome, in its article under "Papa," state: "The Pope is of so great dignity and so exalted that he is not a mere man, but as it were, God, and the Vicar of Christ. The Pope is of such lofty dignity that, properly speaking, he has not been established in any rank of dignity, but has been placed upon the very summit of all ranks of dignities. He is likewise the Divine Monarch and Supreme Emperor, and King of Kings. The Pope is of so great authority and power that he can modify, explain or interpret even divine laws."

Regarding the power which the pope would like to exercise over the whole would through the Catholic Church, the same issue of The Converted Catholic Magazine continued:

There is nothing incidental or accidental about the aims and activities of the Roman Catholic church. It uses expediency to gain its ultimate aims while biding its time to entrench itself in a democratic country like the United States. Pope Leo XIII set forth this expedient policy in his instructions sent to the bishops of the United States in 1888: Although on account of the extraordinary political conditions today it may happen that the Church in certain modern countries acquiesces in certain modern liberties, not because she prefers them in themselves, but because she judges it expedient that they should be permitted, she would in happier times resume her own liberty.

As to Pope Leo’s statement, The Converted Catholic Magazine offers the following comment:

The ‘liberty’ here intended is the traditional power of the Catholic Church to impose its dogmatic authority upon the entire world. Again in his encyclical Longinqua Oceani (Jan. 6, 1895), Pope Leo warned the bishops of America as follows: It is necessary to destroy the error of those who might believe, perhaps that the status of the Church in America is a desirable one, and also the error that in imitation of this sort of thing the separation of Church and State is legal and even convenient.

In view of the facts of history and of the official claims of the popes down through the years, it is timely, that a warning be sounded. Such a note has been well expressed in the following quotation:

Our democracy was founded upon the idea of freedom of worship and a complete separation of church and state. These two institutions have entirely different spheres and the spheres of distinction are defined by the Constitution. Any tendency to bring church and state together must be viewed with alarm on the part of all lovers of freedom. This account for the protest of many Protestants who viewed with dismay the ... move of this government to send an envoy to the Papal Court as a representative of this government. If the Catholic head is thus recognised when being only a figurehead as an earthly ruler, why not recognise every religious group in this country thus?5


It is evident to the casual student that the whole foundation of Catholicism rests upon the pope and his authority. Remove the power of the pope and Catholicism crumbles. It is further evident to the casual student that the authority of the pope rests upon the one proposition as to whether Peter was a pope. Catholic claim that Peter was the first pope and that the pope of Rome today is the successor to Peter.

Refute the erroneous claim that Peter was the first pope, and you have destroyed the authority of the pope of Rome. With his authority gone, Catholicism comes crashing down when viewed from a scriptural standpoint.

Peter was not a pope because Christ, and not Peter, is the basic foundation of the church. Jesus said to Peter, "And I also say unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it."6 To interpret this statement of Jesus to mean that He would build His church upon Peter is a mistake for two reasons: 1. It ignores the difference in the two words rendered Peter and rock.

The name ‘Peter’ here means "a stone"7 and in the masculine gender ... "Rock" here is feminine and refers to the foundation upon which Jesus built his church. "Petros" which means "a stone" is one thing, and "Petra" which means a "ledge of rock" is another. Jesus did not say nor mean to say that his church would be built upon "a stone", but upon a solid "ledge of rock".8

Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter was to be as a stone in preaching the gospel of Christ, but the church was to be built upon the bedrock foundation fact of the divinity of church. 2. To say that Christ promised to build his church upon Peter is to contradict a plain passage of scripture. Paul said: "For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."9 If Peter was the first pope, then he was the foundation upon which Christ built His church but, if Peter was the foundation of the church, then Paul was an imposter because he declared that Christ is the foundation and the only foundation upon which men can build their hopes. If Peter was the foundation of the church, to say that he must have successors is to say that a foundation succeeds a foundation under a building!

Peter was a married man,10 but popes do not marry!

Those who recognise the authority of the pope dare not rebuke him for his conduct. It is evident that Paul did not regard Peter as pope because he rebuked him without any mention of his supremacy.11

Peter would not permit men to worship him,12 but the pope of Rome expects men to bow down to him and he is addressed by his subjects as "Lord the Pope." Therefore Peter was not a pope.


While this drastic change in the organisation of the church was taking place, there gradually came into prominence a system of strange doctrines which fixed themselves in the religious practices of the day. Space will only permit brief mention of some of these false doctrines which were introduced between the second and the fourth centuries.

    1. Holy Water-said to be especially blessed and sanctified by the priest.
    2. Penance-the infliction of punishment in expiation of, sin and as evidence of one’s penitence.
    3. Latin Mass.
    4. Images of Saints and Martyrs.
    5. Extreme Unction-Annointing the body those thought to be dying.
    6. Purgatory.
    7. Instrumental Music in the Worship-This is still not used by the Greek Catholics.
    8. Transubstantiation. By prayer of hope or priest, the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper are said to be changed to the literal flesh and blood of Christ.
    9. Celibacy-the popes and priests are forbidden to marry. This doctrine was prophesied in I Tim. 4:1-3.
    10. Indulgences. "The doctrine of indulgences, or of the authoritative remission of penances by the substitution for them of prayers, benevolent gifts, or other forms of devotion and self-sacrifice, was universally accepted."13
    11. Auricular Confession-Confessing one’s sins into the ears of the priest that they may be forgiven.
    12. Sprinkling for baptism.

Thus far, in this series of lessons, we have seen how far man will go into error when he cuts loose from the New Testament pattern for the church. The world today needs to learn that we must walk by God’s word alone in religion or our worship and services becomes vain and useless. We should reject all doctrines that cannot be found in the Bible.

|The Early Church| |Apostasy in the Early Church| |Development of Papal Power| |Reformation Movement| |Rise of Denominations| |Spread of Denominations| |Restoration Movement| |A Warning|


  1. Frank Pack, Lessons in Church History (Chattanooga, 1940), 18.
  2. John McClintock and James Strong, Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Cyclopedia, eds., 12 vols. (New York, 1891), IV 591.
  3. Fisher, History Of The Christian Church, 192.
  4. James Cardinal Gibbons, Faith of Our Fathers, 94th. Revised and Enlarged Edition (Baltimore), 108.
  5. Pack, Church History, 18, 19.
  6. Matt. 16:18.
  7. John 1:42.
  8. H. Leo Boles, A Commentary On The Gospel According To Matthew (Nashville, 1926), 344, 345.
  9. 1 Cor. 3:11.
  10. Luke 4:38.
  11. Gal. 2:11-14.
  12. Acts 10:25, 26.
  13. Fisher, op. cit., 15.

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