The church meeting in Rome, as mentioned in lesson 7, grew to be of enormous size and when Constantine self proclaimed himself to be head of the church, things grew very complicated. It is difficult to follow the church in a simple chronological method. Some things were going on in Rome while others were happening elsewhere.
There was a time that the pagans referred to the Emperor as “Pope” and those leaders normally accepted it as an honor. But following Constantine and his tolerance of the Lord’s church, Gratian succeeded him. Following is a rather lengthy quote from antipas.net concerning the significant influence he had on the church.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GRATIAN CE 375 – 383 GRATIAN – gr´shn (Flavius Gratianus Augustus b. 349?) Emperor of the West, at Rome. He vigorously attacked paganism, ordered the removal of the ancient Altar Of Victory from the Senate Forum, withdrew state subsidies that funded many pagan activities, and decreed the confiscation of the treasury, jewels, revenues, and extensive properties of the vestal virgins. All this was a crucial blow to the last major groups which supported Rome’s pagan heritage.
He refused to accept the pagan religious title of all former Emperors – “Pontifex Maximus (Supreme Pontiff)” – for there was the continuing equation of Christianity with the office of Emperor, exemplified by Gratian’s rejection of the title of Pope. He permitted the pagan religious title of Pope to permanently pass down to the Bishop of Rome (Damasus I – CE 366-384), by default, when for the first time in Rome’s history a non-Emperor became a Roman Catholic Pope. (ca. CE 382)
Any suggestion by today’s Roman Catholics that the Apostle Peter was the first Pope is entirely delusional (a fable). And, the false claim that a succession of Roman Catholic Popes followed Peter is shown to be a lie by the facts of Rome’s own history. For the inconvenient, troublesome and awkward fact is that in both the Bible and throughout all of secular history there is NO! indication the Apostle Peter ever traveled outside of eretz Israel.
During a period of more than 500 years, beginning from BCE 133, all Roman Potentates – the Rulers – Consuls, Tribunes, Caesars and Emperors were the only Popes that ever existed in Rome until after Emperor Gratian refused the pagan religious title of Pope in CE 382. (antipas.net/emperors)
To briefly state the facts, the church in Rome, although heading into apostasy very swiftly, was not the Roman Catholic Church until the fourth century. Both the Bible and secular history show that, prior to the fourth century of this Common Era, what (today) is called Roman Catholicism had no part in the formation of Apostolic Christian doctrine and had no part in the establishment of any Christian church group. While Emperor Constantine decreed Christianity to be tolerated as a “Lawful” religion (Edict of Milan, CE 313), Roman Catholicism did not declare itself “Christian” until the eastern Emperor Theodosius I decreed Christianity as the new, official, state religion of Rome (Edict of De Fide Catolica, CE 380). Any pope which existed before this time was not the pope of the Lord’s church and neither has any which have existed to this day. Roman Catholicism, was from it’s conception, apostate. And although they use a Bible comprising many of the true books of the inspired writers, they have other books added which were not approved as canon at the Council of Nicea.
The first man to be given the position of Pope of the Roman Catholic Church was first given to Gregory I by the wicked emperor Phocas, in the year 604. Gregory, however, refused the title, but his second successor, Boniface III (607) assumed the title, and it has been the designation of the bishops of Rome ever since.
With the influence of Constantine and later, Theodosius, the Romanists solidified and became an official man-ruled entity of the government. Those who had opposed the apostasy were persecuted and some were being killed. The persecution of the true church of our Lord was again in full swing. In order to survive and worship properly, they became wanderers and secluded themselves in the wilderness or other places where they could avoid death.
There are numerous stories of groups and individuals who were labeled heretics and were hunted as animals. Following is a quote concerning some of this:
Thus far our history of persecution has been confined principally to the pagan world. We come now to a period when persecution, under the guise of Christianity, committed more enormities than ever disgraced the annals of paganism. Disregarding the maxims and the spirit of the Gospel, the papal Church, arming herself with the power of the sword, vexed the Church of God and wasted it for several centuries, a period most appropriately termed in history, the “dark ages.” The kings of the earth, gave their power to the “Beast,” and submitted to be trodden on by the miserable vermin that often filled the papal chair, as in the case of Henry, emperor of Germany. The storm of papal persecution first burst upon the Waldenses in France. (Foxe’s Book of Martyrs-Papal Persecutions)
The Waldenses were one of the most famous groups who tried to avoid the man-rule of the Roman Church. Papal authority having brought various innovations into the Church, and overspread the Christian world with darkness and superstition, some few, who plainly perceived the pernicious tendency of such errors, determined to show the light of the Gospel in its real purity, and to disperse those clouds which artful priests had raised about it, in order to blind the people, and obscure its real brightness. (Ibid)
Although the “heretics” were pursued and punished avidly, there seemed to always appear others somewhere, although many were very small groups. This type of persecution of the true believers continued for centuries, and in fact was so, even in England and Germany until the discovery of the western world. When many left the tyranny and settled in America to be able to worship God according to the scriptures. This lesson is, of necessity, very limited in scope. There are volumes of materials concerning the church in this period of time. We will be forced to limit drastically, the next few concluding lessons since it is impossible to cover each and every aspect.
Our next lesson will probably be basically concerning the beginning of the reformation movement.