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 Chapter 5

The Medieval Reign of the Papacy



THE early Christian church greatly suffered at the hands of the pagan world. All of Christ’s apostles, except John, suffered the death of martyrdom. At the hand of the diabolical Nero, myriads of innocent Christians were martyred. With varying intensity, later emperors plundered the ranks of the servants of Christ. The words of Jesus were indeed fulfilled.

Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me. (John 15:20, 21)

No doubt the apostles recalled other words of Jesus which rang in their ears.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matthew 5:11, 12).

Christians were torched, beheaded, thrown to wild animals, and suffered all sorts of cruel and brutal punishments for their refusal to pay homage to pagan gods. These refusals were often interpreted as treason against the emperor. Some models of courage come down to us today. Perhaps few examples are more moving than that of the unwavering loyalty of Bishop Polycarp in the second century. As a young man, Polycarp had known the aged apostle John. At the age of 86, in 155, he was hunted down like a wild animal and eventually captured. Before the assembled multitudes, he was asked to renounce his loyalty to Christ by paying respect to the pagan deities. His unwavering faith was passed down to generations through his words, "Eighty and six years have I served Him [Christ], and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I speak evil of my King who saved me?" That day the aged leader laid down his life, a testimony that he "was faithful unto death." (Revelation 2:10) No doubt for him Christ has reserved the "crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge" will give him at His Second Coming. (2 Timothy 4:8)

Unquestionably, the persecution reached its fiercest dimensions during the ten-year period that commenced during the reign of Emperor Diocletian. This persecution was foretold in prophecy concerning the church of Smyrna as recorded in Revelation 2. The church of Smyrna represented the second period of church history, from the end of the apostolic period (a.d. 100) to the end of the Diocletian persecution (a.d. 313).

Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer: behold, the devil shall cast some of you into prison, that ye may be tried; and ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. (Revelation 2:10)

The ten days of the prophecy symbolize the ten years of persecution (a.d. 303–313). Though Diocletian abdicated his emperorship in 305, his successor, the ruthless Caesar Galerius, intensified the persecution. On February 23, 303, Diocletian, though married to a Christian, ordered all Christian churches closed, all Scriptures and liturgical books burned, and all Christians placed outside the law of the land. Many Christians were butchered when two mysterious fires destroyed a Roman palace in Nicomedia. Christians were ordered to sacrifice to pagan gods under pain of death if they did not. The tortures were terrible, especially in Egypt, Syria, Tyre, and Palestine.

What Satan was not able to accomplish through persecution, he was able to achieve through the fallible support of Roman rulers. While the Christian church found that it could stand strong when persecuted, it totally failed to meet the test of fidelity when popularity was heaped upon it. In 312, toward the end of the Diocletian persecution, Constantine, then a pagan, marched on Rome. As emperor, Constantine soon saw the political advisability of seeking the loyalty of Christians, and published the Edict of Toleration, which granted religious freedom to Christians. Constantine exempted the clergy from municipal duties and military service, freed Christian slaves, and legalized bequests to the church. The joy of Christians knew no bounds.

It is not clear when Constantine’s allegiance to Christianity began. Even though his mother became an ardent Christian, he always supported some of the best teachers of paganism. It is evident that he claimed Christianity well before his deathbed "baptism."

Constantine’s acceptance of Christianity was the first step toward the union of church and state, a pattern that was later to characterize the persecution of the Papacy against dissenters. The exercise of state authority was shortly evidenced. In 326, Constantine mandated the observance of Sunday throughout the Roman Empire. Because the majority of his officers were still pagans, he enjoined Sunday worship, not as the Lord’s day, but as the day of the sun; thus he sought to bind his pagan and Christian subjects together. This step, more than any other, led the Catholic Church to reject God’s Sabbath, and replace it with the pagan day of worship. Later in that century, the Council of Laodicea (about a.d. 365) admonished Christians to rest on Sunday, in memory of the resurrection; thus, step by step, the Sabbath (unwaveringly upheld by the Scriptures and the apostles of Jesus) was slowly replaced by the pagan day of worship.

The efforts of the bishop of Rome were not well received. Even by the end of the fourth century (except in Rome and Alexandria), the majority of Christians favored the keeping of the seventh-day Sabbath. Satan was subtly working to turn men and women away from the day which alone signifies man’s loyalty to the sovereignty of Christ.

The famous Ambrose, bishop of Milan, under whom Augustine trained in the late fourth century, was a Sabbathkeeper; however, he records that, when he traveled to Rome, he worshiped with the Romans on Sunday. Because of this policy, it was he who originated the saying, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." It became popular before the fourth century to honor Christ on both the seventh and first days of the week. One was usually treated as the fast day, and the other as the feast day.

In an endeavor to make the biblical Sabbath unpopular, Rome tried to enforce Sabbath as the fast day. But well into the fifth century, Augustine expressed his displeasure that most of the churches around him kept the Sabbath as the feast day and as their primary day of worship. Of course, this ambivalence of worship days led to the two-day weekend, with a concept that they were both holy days (holidays). Step by determined step, Sunday was enforced on the people as the special day of worship. And as illiteracy and ignorance developed during the Middle Ages, it became increasingly easier for church leaders to enforce their beliefs and to destroy truth.

In spite of the increasingly ruthless attempts to enforce Sunday observance, the majority of Christians, in the first six centuries of the Christian Era, kept Sabbath in accordance with the fourth Commandment. In the churches of Asia, including Syria, India, and the Nestorian churches as far away as Siberia and China, the majority of members kept Saturday as the Sabbath. Even Spain kept the Sabbath until the seventh century, as did England. In the areas of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, Christians steadfastly observed the seventh-day Sabbath until the twelfth century. Even the declaration of Pope Gregory the Great, in a.d. 603, in which he proclaimed that the antichrist would keep Saturday as Sabbath, did not influence vast segments of Christians who were loyal to the Sabbath.

In both England and Scotland, it took the marriage of the rulers to Roman Catholic princesses to bring about the introduction of papal Sunday worship, and ensure its acceptance by the populace. In England, Osway, the most powerful king of England during that time, was the king of Northumbria. He married a Roman Catholic princess. The queen worked with her priestly confessor, Wilfred, who had been well-schooled for four years in Rome, to unsettle the king. To the delight of Wilfred, King Osway called the Council of Whitby on the east coast of York, in 664, to settle the issue. The godly Celtic leader, Caedmon, in Northumbria, answered every falsehood that was presented by Wilfred. But the king, weakened by his marriage, succumbed to the argument that the bishop of Rome was the successor of Peter; therefore, doctrine must be based upon the dictates of the Roman bishop.

The Sabbathkeeping Celtic church of Scotland continued to thrive, albeit often under military attack, until the rule of Malcolm III in the eleventh century. Malcolm himself had been compromised by his education in Roman Catholic England as a young man. There he studied with Prince Edward, who later became the king of England, and was called the Confessor. It was his fascination with Margaret, daughter of a former English royal family, that spelled the doom of Sabbathkeepers in Scotland. Margaret was brought up in Roman Catholic-dominated Hungary, and had purposed to be a nun; however, Malcolm successfully pleaded with her to be his queen. With great zeal, she set about the task of taking over the Celtic church.

Columba had brought Christianity to Scotland, and established a missionary training school on the western island of Iona five centuries earlier. Failing to discredit the memory of this revered Irish missionary, Queen Margaret turned her attention to the church itself. She was soon effectively discrediting the Celtic church. The queen was supported by her husband, the weak Malcolm III, to call a council which initiated policies that rapidly suppressed Sabbathkeeping in Scotland. The Scottish church was also forced to accept other Roman Catholic religious forms, including the papal form of keeping Easter. She so effectively educated her children that her son, the next king of Scotland, was fully Roman Catholic in his beliefs and edicts.

In every century, God’s sovereignty was acknowledged by Sabbathkeepers. Many Waldensians, both in Lombardy (Italy) and Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), were Sabbathkeepers. The Welsh were faithful Sabbathkeepers until the first Roman bishop was seated in 1115. During the twelfth century, Sabbathkeepers were also to be found in England, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Bulgaria, and Holland. There were Sabbathkeepers right up to the time of the Reformation in most of these countries. Before the Reformation, reports came from Bohemia (Czechoslovakia), Norway, Russia, Sweden, Liechtenstein, Finland, and Switzerland of Sabbathkeeping citizens.

Many Sabbathkeepers were severely tortured and martyred. Two of the best know Sabbatarian martyrs of the Reformation period were Oswald Glait and John James. Glait was a Central European who traveled from place to place preaching the Sabbath truth. He was eventually captured. After a little more than a year in prison, soldiers bound him hand and foot, dragged him through the city, and threw him into the Danube River.

John James, an English Sabbatarian, was arrested Sabbath afternoon, October 19, 1661, while he was preaching. The monarchy had been restored only the previous year, and King Charles II was placed on the throne. James was charged with treason against the king. He was sentenced to be hanged. His body was cut up. His heart was flung into a fire; his head was placed on a post outside the building in which he had preached; and other parts of his body were scattered around the city as a warning to other Sabbathkeeping Christians. The Sabbath, desecrated by the Roman Catholic Church, comes to us today with a blood-bought heritage.

A number of Sabbatarian Christian churches now exist. These include the Seventh-day Adventist, Seventh Day Baptist, Worldwide Church of God,* Church of God of the Seventh Day. Most Protestant churches have unexplainably accepted the counterfeit day of worship—Sunday. Daniel predicted the Papacy’s attempt to destroy God-established laws and times.

And he [the apostate little-horn power] shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. (Daniel 7:25, emphasis added)

Only the Roman Catholic Church fulfills this prophecy. Its own boastful claims confirm that it has fulfilled this identification as the apostate little horn of Daniel, chapter 7.

It was the Catholic Church which, by the authority of Jesus Christ, has transferred this rest to the Sunday in remembrance of the resurrection of our Lord. Thus, the observance of Sunday by the Protestants is a homage they pay, in spite of themselves, to the authority of the [Catholic] church. (Louis Gaston de Segur, Plain Talk About the Protestantism of Today, 1868, p. 225)

The Catholic Church for over 1,000 years before the existence of a Protestant, by virtue of her divine mission, changed the day from Saturday to Sunday. ("The Christian Sabbath," The Catholic Mirror, 1893, p. 29)

The Sabbath was only one of the myriad of major doctrinal changes that were introduced by the Catholic Church. None are consistent with Bible truth. In his monumental book, The Two Babylons, Alexander Hislop identifies many of the pagan rites which infiltrated the Roman Catholic Church. These include image worship, the Madonna and child, Christmas, Easter, Mass, extreme unction, purgatory, prayer for the dead, relic worship, confession to priests, prayers to saints, christening, the rosary, candles, and the sign of the cross. By the Middle Ages, all these had found a firm place in Roman Catholic worship and liturgy.

Because belief and practices of the church could no longer be substantiated by the Bible, the church claimed authority beyond the Word. It claimed that Christ had instituted such authority in the church, basing this assertion upon Christ’s dialogue with Peter.

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. 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: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18, 19)

Of course, these words of Jesus, properly understood, were a play on words indicating the weakness of Peter as compared with Christ. The term rock referred to in this verse, is not referring to Peter (whose name means a rolling stone) but to Christ Himself. This fact is made clear by Paul.

And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone. (Ephesians 2:20)

Whenever the church is given primacy over the Word, the church departs from its God-given mission. The Christian church was destroyed by the acceptance of paganism under the guise of church authority.

With the abject ignorance and illiteracy of the majority of the serfs of Europe during the Middle Ages, it was a simple matter for the educated priests to keep the masses of the people in total apostasy; yet, in spite of this, great movements which upheld biblically based truths resisted the papal oppression. From the early years of Christianity, two great movements, the Celtic and the Waldensian, refused to bow the knee to Babylon worship. Both of these groups of people widely scattered the truth in Europe, and refused to acknowledge the authority of the bishop of Rome. Each sought to teach the people, in their native language, the truths of the Word of God.

Other groups who believed Bible truths later arose, including the Albigenses and the Huguenots. All reforming groups were ruthlessly persecuted. Many adherents were martyred. Without the authority of the Word, the church chose to follow the pattern of pagan Rome, using its authority to produce conformity by force. As the terrible Inquisitions were instituted, millions lost their lives rather than bow to the pagan apostasy of the church. Once in power, the church exercised the same ruthlessness against dissenters that pagan Rome had exercised against Christians when it possessed the power.

By the fifth century, the church supported the persecution of those who deviated from the Roman Catholic Church, but it had not yet supported the procedure of putting them to death. Early in the fifth century, Chrysostom advocated every attempt to suppress and silence the so-called "heretics," on the pretext that if it were not undertaken, they would influence others; yet he did not advocate the death penalty. About the same time, Augustine, bishop of Hippo, supported banishment, fines, forfeiting of property, and similar penalties for "heresy," but he did not support the death penalty against dissenters. However, about this same time, pagans began to be murdered by Christian emperors and fanatical Christian mobs. It was not long before Christians were destroying fellow Christians, again by the power and authority of the state. The total number martyred during the Middle Ages has been estimated between 50 and 120 millions. The Roman Catholic Church has never officially repented of this appalling record.

The medieval reign of the Papacy is readily traced to the rule of Emperor Justinian. In 533, Justinian had to decide, once and for all, whether the bishop of Rome or the bishop of Constantinople was the supreme bishop. The bishop of Rome thought he was the authentic pope since his roots could be traced back to the apostle Peter. The bishop of Constantinople claimed primacy because of Constantine’s transference of the Roman Empire’s seat from Rome to Constantinople in the fourth century. Justinian decided that the bishop of Rome should be acknowledged as the supreme bishop of the church. The reigning bishop of Rome, John II, received the title of Pontifex Maximus (supreme pontiff); however, it was not until 538 that the pope could exercise the power bestowed by this title. In that year, the Ostrogoths were expelled from Rome, leaving the way open for the Papacy to exert the temporal power invested in the pope by his assumption of the title of Pontifex Maximus. By this time, Virgilius was the reigning pope. It is significant that Virgilius, who spent a good deal of his reign in exile, was the first pope who was not canonized by the church. The worldly power that he assumed in behalf of all subsequent popes, led to a sharp reduction in the number of later popes who have been canonized.

The title Pontifex Maximus had been bestowed upon Caesar Augustus (the Caesar at the time of the birth of Christ) by the senate in Rome, in appreciation for his strong and peaceful leadership of the pagan Roman Empire. More than 500 years later, this title was transferred to the pope of papal Rome; thus began the temporal as well as the ecclesiastical rulership of the Papacy. The period of 1260 years of papal domination of Europe is foretold in Scripture. This 1260-year period is dated from 538, when the pope exercised his newly found authority after the expulsion of the Ostrogoths.

The 1260-day prophecy can be found in Daniel 7:25; 12:7; Revelation 11:2, 3; 12:6, 14; 13:5. Different words and phrases are used for the time period covered, such as time, times, and the dividing of time; one thousand two hundred and three score days; and forty and two months. It must be understood that the Jewish calendar had thirty days in each month, and 360 days to the year; thus, each expression, the three and one half years and the forty-two months, consisted of 1260 days. In these prophecies, a day is symbolic of a year. The 1260 years represented the domination of the European world by the Papacy (from 538 until the pope was taken prisoner by Napoleon’s army in 1798). It was a precise fulfillment of prophecy.

Not only did the Roman Catholic Church ruthlessly persecute in Europe during this period but it also persecuted in all other parts of the world where its influence was felt. When Vasco da Gama, the Portuguese sailor, pioneered the trade routes to India via the south of Africa in 1498, the Catholic Church followed. Its attention was especially attracted to the Thomas Christians on the southwest coast of India, near Goa. Finding Sabbathkeepers there who observed a form of Christianity much closer to that of the apostolic church, the Catholic invaders soon employed the assistance of the new order of the Jesuits to help "convert" these Christians. Almost to a man, these believers resisted. To add further encouragement to the Indians to follow Catholic practices, the Inquisition was instituted. Unmerciful tortures were contrived. Those who failed to give allegiance to the servants of Rome were burned at the stake. In an especially brutal way, the executioner first dashed the blazing torches that were on poles into the faces of these hapless victims, causing excruciating agony, until their faces were burned to cinders. Next, they lighted the fagots at the feet of these faithful Christians. (B. G. Wilkinson, Truth Triumphant, Hartland Publications, Rapidan, Virginia, p. 307)

In like manner, the Portuguese pitilessly persecuted the Muslims of Java. The people were often left with only two alternatives—accept Catholicism or die. Naturally, the majority chose Catholicism; thus, at sword or gun point, many instant "Christian conversions" were made. In the New World the church was no less ruthless. In places such as Guatemala and Peru, the persecutions of the Spanish Inquisition were felt with ruthless ferocity.

To a major extent, after the fall of the Papacy in 1798, there was less papal persecution because the church no longer had the power of the state to enforce its heartless edicts. The Word of God clearly states that the restored Papacy will again become a powerful persecuting agent.

And that no man might buy or sell, save that he had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name. (Revelation 13:17)

And he had power to give life unto the image of the beast, that the image of the beast should both speak, and cause that as many as would not worship the image of the beast should be killed. (Revelation 13:15)

Once again, Catholicism, assisted by apostate Protestantism, will enforce its edicts by the arm of the civil law (see chapter 9 entitled "And All That Dwell Upon the Earth Shall Worship Him"). It will require a return to true loyalty to God’s Word and a true submission to Christ if His people are to remain faithful under such persecution. Now is the time to find the power of the indwelling Christ in order to gain victory over every wrong word and action, so that, when the ultimate test comes, we will unflinchingly remain loyal to Christ.


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