Popedom: From Its Inception to the Demise of Pope John Paul II (Part I)

Because of the fascination of the world with the office of the Pope and his power, and because of current discussions regarding who will be the next Pope, it is important to study the topic historically and in the light of Biblical truth. Part I is an overview of the history of the Papacy from its inception to the demise of the present Pope. Part II is a biblical analysis of the basis on which the Office of the Papacy claims to be the Rock of Matthew 16:18.

Part I: An Overview of the History of the Papacy

Early church at Rome

By Richard Bennett

The church at Rome was in the beginning a community of brothers and sisters, guided by a few of the brothers. The four Gospels and letters of the Apostles settled the great questions of doctrine. A pompous title and position of one man lording it over the others did not exist, as such is forbidden by the Holy Scriptures. The lives of the believers and the doctrine taught were in accord with the Lord’s words, “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren.1 The Scriptures, however, warned that from the midst of the brotherhood would arise a power that would attempt to destroy the Gospel and the simple brotherhood of believers. This was nowhere more graphically fulfilled than in the rise of the Office of the Papacy out of the church that had been established in Rome.

Gradual rise of Papal Rome

The respect enjoyed by the various Christian elders in the second century was roughly proportionate to the rank of the city in which they resided. At that time, Rome was the largest, richest, most powerful city in the world, the queen of the Imperial Roman Empire. If Rome was the queen of cities, why should she not be the one to have a bishop to be the king of bishops? Thus, even when pagan Rome fell to the barbarian nations, some of the political esteem that she had won from the nations of the earth remained. The Barbarian overthrow of the Western Roman Empire was succeeded by the gradual rise of Papal Rome. Gradually, bishops from different parts of the empire, seeing themselves as above ordinary elders, yielded to the bishops of Rome some portion of the honor similar to that which the world gives to a prince. From this approbation, the Bishops of Rome began to demand submission as the third, fourth, and fifth centuries passed. In these centuries also, as the true Gospel was watered down, there came in its place the growth of ritualism in the churches, in which true worship of God and the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit was replaced by ceremonialism and idolatry. Pagan practices took on a veneer of Christianity. The clergy-laity division of the people of God became the accepted base. This further devolved into a hierarchy of the ruling clergy. By the end of the fifth century, the early ministers of the Gospel, who had taught the Scripture, had become replaced by a sacrificing priesthood in which the priest presumed to mediate between God and men. The church was no more the fellowship of believers under Christ Jesus, but rather an institution dominated by a hierarchy, with the most powerful individual being the Bishop of Rome.2

Bishop of Rome becomes the Pope

The power of the Bishop of Rome ascended as the imperial power of the Emperor declined. Edicts of the Emperor Theodosius II and of Valentinian III proclaimed the Roman bishop “as Rector of the whole Church.” The Emperor Justinian, who was living in the East in Constantinople, in the sixth century published a similar decree. These proclamations did not create the office of the Pope but from the sixth century there was such advancement of power and prestige that from that time the title of “Pope” began to fit the one who was Bishop of Rome.3

Fraudulent documents aid rise of Papacy

It was not until the middle of the eight century that serious contentions were made claiming the transfer of power and authority from the Emperor Constantine to the Bishop of Rome. The Donation of Constantine was purported to be the legal document in which the Emperor Constantine donated to Sylvester, the Bishop of Rome (314-335), much of his property and invested him with great spiritual power and authority. The vastness and splendor of the inheritance allegedly given by Constantine to Sylvester in the spurious document is seen the following quotation from the manuscript,

We attribute to the See of Peter all the dignity, all the glory, all the authority of the imperial power. Furthermore, we give to Sylvester and to his successors our palace of the Lateran, which is incontestably the finest palace on the earth; we give him our crown, our miter, our diadem, and all our imperial vestments; we transfer to him the imperial dignity. We bestow on the holy Pontiff in free gift the city of Rome, and all the western cities of Italy. To cede precedence to him, we divest ourselves of our authority over all those provinces, and we withdraw from Rome, transferring the seat of our empire to Byzantium; inasmuch as it is not proper that an earthly emperor should preserve the least authority, where God hath established the head of his religion.4

The Donation of Constantine was probably forged a little before A.D. 754. Of it, Wylie says,

In it Constantine is made to speak in the Latin of the eighth century, and to address Bishop Sylvester as ‘Prince of the Apostles, Vicar of Christ’. During more than 600 years Rome impressively cited this deed of gift, inserted it in her codes, permitted none to question its genuineness, and burned those who refused to believe in it. The first dawn of light in the sixteenth century sufficed to discover the cheat. In the following century another document of a like extraordinary character was given to the world. We refer to the Decretals of Isidore. These were concocted about the year 845. They professed to be a collection of the letters, rescripts, and bulls of the early pastors of the Church of Rome…The writer, who professed to be living in the first century, painted the Church of Rome in the magnificence which she attained only in the ninth, and made the pastors of the first age speak in the pompous words of the Popes of the Middle Ages. Abounding in absurdities, contradiction, and anachronisms, it affords a measure of the intelligence of the age that accepted it as authentic…It became the foundation of the canon law, and continues to be so, although there is not now a Popish writer who does not acknowledge it to be a piece of imposture.5

As early as 865, Pope Nicholas drew from these forgeries a way to demand submission from bishops and princes. The arrogance of the popes grew from this time onward. Popes became intoxicated with their own pride; some in their teens and twenties lost their senses in drunken immorality.6 The infamous women of history, Theodora and Marozia, for many years governed the papal throne. That unholy See, pretending to rise above the majesty of kings and bishops, was sunk in the dregs of sin. Theodora and Marozia installed and deposed at their pleasure those who sat in the pretended chair of St. Peter. For two centuries, the Papacy was one wild arena of disorders as the most powerful families of Italy disputed and fought over it like a possession.

Lusts of the mind

The year 1073 was a turning point from the centuries of gross immorality. Rigorous discipline filled the papacy. Reaching above the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of papal minds began to clutch at the things of God. Pope Gregory VII, the noted Hildebrand, ambitious beyond all who had preceded him, took to himself the idea that the reign of the Pope was but another name for the reign of God. He resolved never to rest until he had subjected all authority and power, both spiritual and temporal, to the “chair of Peter”. Hildebrand’s successors continued his project, and strove by trickery, by arms, by crusades and by anathemas, to place the world under the scepter of the papal throne. For two centuries from the time of Hildebrand’s reign, the papacy increased in power and glory, and was maintained by thousands of destroyed lives, many deposed kings and princes, many sacked cities, and many fields deluged with blood.

Popes Innocent III (1216) and Boniface VIII (1303) put the final touches to Papal triumph in spiritual and temporal power. Seventy-five popes, one after another, from Pope Innocent Pope Pius VII, approved of torture, murder, and burning at the stake, and the confiscation of property of believers in the horrific centuries of the Inquisition.7 Many of those slain were true Bible believers.

The most ghastly abomination of all was the system of torture. The accounts of its cold-blooded operations make one shudder at the capacity of human beings for cruelty. And it was decreed and regulated by the Popes who claim to represent Christ on earth. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV solemnly authorized it. Confirmatory or regulatory decrees about it were issued by Alexander IV, Clement IV, Urban IV and Clement V.8

The Papacy had become “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.9 No other kingdom or power has ever drunken so deeply of this blood as had Papal Rome. Thus as streams are traced to the fountain, so is the Papacy traced to the prophecies of Scripture, which correctly interprets the Papacy. This is “the same horn [that] made war with the saints, and prevailed against them.10And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.11

The Papacy and Modern Times

A partial list of the successes of the Papacy under Roman Catholic dictators in twentieth century includes: Adolf Hitler in Germany, 1933-1945; Benito Mussolini in Italy, 1922-1943; Francisco Franco in Spain, 1936-1975; Antonio Salazar in Portugal, 1932-1968; Juan Peron in Argentina, 1946-1955; Ante Pavelic in Croatia, 1941-1945; and Engelbert Dollfuss and Kurt von Schuschnigg in Austria, 1932-1934. The Vatican’s legal agreement with those nations is well known; few, however, see the Nazism of Germany and the Fascism of Italy, Spain, Portugal, Croatia, and Latin America as consequences of the Papacy’s economic and social teachings, and legal agreements between the Vatican and these nations.12 The Crusades and the 605 years of the Inquisition have stopped, but the power of the Papacy to influence and to control governments, social, economic, political life and the destinies of peoples, has continued.

Power through law

What had looked like a mortal wound to Papal power took place in 1798.13 A general of Napoleon’s army entered the Vatican, removing Pope Pius VI from his throne; and so it was that Popedom lost its basis as a civil power. Pope Pius IX, not having territorial or civil power, sought to re-establish the Papacy. An internally important part of his design brought about the declaration of Papal infallibility. With remarkable ingenuity against not only the Scriptural absurdity of the concept, but also in spite of the historical fact of heretical popes, this was made doctrine at Vatican Council I in 1870. Further, the Papacy re-established itself internally by re-organizing Roman Catholic law into the 1917 Code of Canon Law.14 The apparent mortal wound of 1798 was to be healed in 1929 when under Mussolini, the Vatican was again recognized as a civil power and seated on all seven hills. The concordat with Mussolini was just the beginning of many civil concordats, one of the most infamous being that between Pope Pius XII and Adolf Hitler.15 The Papacy had again consolidated its power from within by the 1917 Code of Canon Law and from without by legal concordats with the various nations. Thus the Vatican, with its own citizens as part of sovereign nations across the world and with her civil agreements with the same nations, has a double cord of power. The individual Catholic, fearing for his salvation, and laden with his first allegiance being to “holy Mother Church” is a pliable pawn in the hand of the Papacy.16

The major change of direction made visible by Vatican Council II (1962-1965). That council moved from separation from other religions to false ecumenism, not only with the religions of the world, but also with Bible believers in particular. “Separated brethren” was a new term for those always considered heretics, while the pagan religions of Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism now became accepted ways to God.17 This new approach was established by the RCC to win the world to herself by means of dialogue, the rules and goal of which she has carefully spelled out in her post-Conciliar Document No. 42 on ecumenism, which states that “dialogue is not an end in itself….it is not just an academic discussion.”18 Rather, “ecumenical dialogue…serves to transform modes of thought and behavior and the daily life of those [non-Catholic] communities. In this way, it aims at preparing the way for their unity of faith in the bosom of a Church one and visible.”19

The Pope’s official position is that “ecumenical encounter is not merely an individual work, but also a task of the [RC] Church, which takes precedence over all individual opinions.20 The Papacy expects this process of dialogue to take time. The Roman Catholic Church’s stated aim of bringing all Christian churches under her authority is clearly her goal. She says,

…little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesial communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist [the Mass] into that unity of the one and only Church….This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something we can never lose.21

Pope John Paul II, while initially having been thought to be liberal and modern, consolidated further the dictatorial powers afforded him by the 1917 Code of Canon Law and by his purported infallibility, bequeathed him by Vatican Council I. This he did by revising the 1917 Code, making it even more conservative than it had been, and has been careful to appoint new bishops in line with his centralized way of thinking.

Like another Hildebrand, the present Pope is determined to build, by both Church and civil law, the structure by which the Papacy can again at the appropriate time wield might and power among the nations.22 This same Pope John Paul II has been adamant in his efforts to update the laws of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the days of Hildebrand, popes have seen the necessity of making iron and inflexible church laws before attempting to control her subjects and those not Catholic by compulsion and violence, if necessary. In 1983, John Paul II’s revision of the 1917 Code of Canon Law added to the Roman Catholic laws, for example, “The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful by means of penal sanctions.”23 Examination of these laws shows them to be even more absolute and totalitarian than those of the past. If one rejects submission of his intellect and will to the Pope, or some of the other laws of the Papacy, Canon 1371, Para. 1 states that “The following are to be punished with a just penalty: 1 a person who…teaches a doctrine condemned by the Roman Pontiff….” Canon 1312 outlines specified penalties that are to be carried out, “Para. 2. The law can establish other expiatory penalties which deprive a believer of some spiritual or temporal good and are consistent with the supernatural end of the Church.”

The perverse vindictiveness of these laws contravenes the repeated Scriptural commands to be not despotic, as are the rulers of this world. From the creation of the Papacy in the sixth century, its heart has been that of law and force. Grace and the Gospel have been superseded by decrees and coercion. A veneer of Christianity has always been upheld, yet this surface ritual religion has always repressed and persecuted true godliness. The history of the Papacy shows that unequivocally it is a power structure built on forgeries, craft, persecution, a false gospel, church law, civil power, and concordats. Nonetheless, the Papacy for most of its history has succeeded in deluding millions. Present day Catholicism continues to insist that its Papal Office is of God, and the world for the most part bows down before her shrine and her Christ, the Pontiff himself.


  1. Matthew 23:8.
  2. See J. A. Wylie, The History of Protestantism, originally published in 1878 (Kilkeel, N. Ireland: Mourne Missionary Trust, 1985) Vol. I, Book I, pp. 3-14. See also J. H. Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation in the Sixteenth Century, A New Translation (New York: John B. Alden, Publisher, 1883) Book I, pp.1-34.
  3. D’Aubigne, Book I, p. 81.
  4. Quoted from copy of the document in Pope Leo’s letter in Hardouin’s Collection, Epistola I., Leonis Papoe IX; Acta Conciliorumet Epistoloe Decretales, tom. 6, pp. 934; Parisiis, 1714. The English reader will find a copy of the pretended original document in full in Historical Essay on the Power of the Popes, Vol. II, Appendix, Tr. from French, London, 1838
  5. Wylie, Vol. I, p. 29-30. See also Roman Catholic historian Ignaz Von Dollinger, The Pope and the Council, Auth. Tr. from German, 2nd ed. (London: Rivingtons, 1869) Sect. 7 “Forgeries”, pp. 94-142.
  6. Peter De Rosa, Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy (New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc., 1988) p. 47-56.
  7. De Rosa, p. 175.
  8. William Shaw Kerr, A Handbook on the Papacy (London: Marshall, Morgan & Scott Ltd., 1950) p. 239.
  9. Revelation 17:6.
  10. Daniel 7:21.
  11. Revelation 13:7.
  12. For fuller documentation of this see John W. Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania: The Economic and Political Thought of the Roman Catholic Church (Unicoi, TN 37692-0068: The Trinity Foundation,1999) ISBN: 0-940931-52-4.
  13. “Edward King, insightful in 1800 wrote about this defeat as the mortal wound or end of Pontifical Power, “THIS IS THE YEAR 1798.—And just 1260 years ago, in the very beginning of the year 538, Belisarius put an ed to the Empire, and Dominion of the Goths, at Rome…He had entered the City on the 10th of the preceding December, in triumph, in the name of Justinian, Emperor of the East: and had soon after made it tributary to him: leaving thenceforward from A.D. 538 NO POWER in Rome, that could be said to rule over the earth,_excepting the ECCLESIASTICAL PONTIFICAL POWER.” Remarks on the Signs of the Times (Philadelphia ed., 1800) pp. 18-19 in LeRoy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1950) Vol. II, p. 767.
  14. RC writer John Cornwell states, “At the turn of the century [1900], Pacelli [later Pope Pius XII]…collaborated in redrafting the Church’s laws in such a way as to grant future popes unchallenged domination from the Roman center. These laws, separated from their ancient historical and social background, were packaged in a manual known as the Code of Canon Law, published and brought into force in 1917. The code, distributed to Catholic clergy throughout the world, created the means of establishing, imposing, and sustaining a remarkable new ‘top-down’ power relationship. As papal nuncio in Munich and Berlin during the 1920s, Pacelli sought to impose the new code, state by state, on Germany….” Hitler’s Pope: The Secret History of Pius XII (New York, 10014: Viking, 1999) p. 6.
  15. Cornwell, p. 7 “In 1933 Pacelli found a successful negotiating partner for his Reich Concordat in the person of Adolf Hitler. Their treaty authorized the papacy to impose the new Church law on German Catholics and granted generous privileges to Catholic schools and the clergy. In exchange, the Catholic Church in Germany, its parliamentary political party, and its many hundreds of associations and newspapers ‘voluntarily’ withdrew, following Pacelli’s initiative, from social and political action. The abdication of German political Catholicism in 1933, negotiated and imposed from the Vatican by Pacelli with the agreement of Pope Pius XI, ensured that Nazism could rise unopposed by the most powerful Catholic community in the world…”
  16. See RC author Cornwell and Presbyterian author Robbins.
  17. No. 56, Nostra Aetate, 28 October 1965, Austin P. Flannery Vatican Council II, Ed., Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publ. Co., 1975, 1984).
  18. c, No. 42, “Reflections and Suggestions Concerning Ecumenical Dialogue”, S.P.U.C., 15 August 1975, p. 549.
  19. Flannery Vatican Council II, No. 42, pp. 540-1.
  20. Flannery Vatican Council II, No. 42, p.545.
  21. Flannery Vatican Council II, No. 42, p. 541.
  22. For more details see our article on Vatican Prepares to Control Through Civil Law.
  23. Code of Canon Law Latin-English ed. (Washington DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1983) Canon 1311.