“And upon her forehead was a name written, mystery, babylon the great, the mother of harlots and abominations of the earth.” —the Apostle John
Have you ever seriously considered the origins of the world’s largest religion?
The Roman Catholic Church is the most recognizable and illustrious religion on Earth. Worldwide, it has more than 1.2 billion followers, roughly 400,000 priests and some 221,000 parishes. Catholicism has a presence on every continent and in every nation. Tens of millions of Catholics dutifully attend services each week. Around the world, Catholic priests and authorities are invited to contribute to conversations, public and private, on religion, politics, culture, morality and virtually every other subject.
More than 5 million tourists flock to Vatican City annually. They visit to admire Michelangelo’s legendary frescoes, to attend mass in the Sistine Chapel, and in the hope of catching a glimpse of the most venerated figure on the planet: the pope.
Yet despite its global ubiquity, colossal fame, material splendor and long history, the Catholic Church is an enigma. Even to lifelong Catholics.
Each summer more than 20,000 visitors—tourists presumably interested in Catholic history—walk through the Vatican’s museums every day. But if you stood outside these museums and asked people to explain the true origins of the Catholic religion, most couldn’t give a satisfactory answer. Even most devout Catholics are unable to provide a clear, convincing explanation of the identity of their religion. Most Catholic priests and historians will stumble when asked to reconcile what they believe about their religion and its doctrines with what the Bible teaches. Very few can clearly explain when Catholicism came into existence, where the religion began, who its earliest forefathers were, or the origins of its major practices.
The Catholic religion is the most famous Christian religion on Earth, yet it is shrouded in mystery.
Isn’t that remarkable? No institution, government or religion has shaped European history—which comprises a significant chunk of Western civilization—more than the Roman Catholic Church. As historian Thomas Woods wrote, “Western civilization owes far more to the Catholic Church than most people—Catholics included—often realize. The church, in fact, built Western civilization” (How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization).
It is inaccurate to imply that the Catholic Church is solely responsible for building Western civilization. The influence of English-speaking civilization, which had a distinct anti-popish, anti-Catholic identity, is responsible as much as if not more than the Catholic Church. But Woods’s fundamental point is correct. Catholic leadership and teaching has had a decisive and far-reaching influence on Western religion, politics, culture, science and education, often in ways most people fail to recognize.
The Vatican has presided over the rise and fall of kings and governments, the emergence of political and ideological movements, and the discovery and colonization of new lands and peoples. The Catholic religion has influenced every facet of Western society, from art and music to science to the measurement of time to the annual holidays we celebrate. Its influence over Europe is even more extensive: It has shaped Europe’s legal systems, its educational institutions, many of its most prominent cities, its economies and even agriculture.
When it comes to religion, every Christian denomination—except one—can directly or indirectly trace its lineage back to Roman Catholicism.
The Roman Catholic Church is the most defining and influential institution in Europe’s history—yet somehow it remains a total mystery!
This chapter provides a thorough, logical explanation of the origins of the Catholic Church. Unlike most works on this subject, the Bible forms the foundation of this study. After all, the Catholic Church invokes the authority of the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ and the apostles to support its claim that it is God’s true Church. Isn’t it reasonable, then, to ask what the Bible says about the origin of this church?
‘Mystery, Babylon the Great’
We have seen how a church is pictured symbolically in Revelation 17 as a woman. In verse 4, God prophesies that this woman, or church, would have an international presence, and would come to possess incredible wealth: “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls ….” She would be unmistakable among the world’s religions. Her wealth and influence would be unmatched; she would truly be a religion to behold.
John also prophesies that this “woman” influences the “kings of the earth.” She has a habit of forming relationships with and ruling over secular governments. Verse 2 says the “inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.” She is an imperialistic religion with a habit of intertwining herself with secular governments. If you study history, only one church can consistently be described this way.
Verse 9 says this church sits atop “seven mountains.” Only one city on Earth is famously situated on “seven hills” and is home to the headquarters of a colossal religion. Verse 18 says, “And the woman which thou sawest is that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”
Only one city has historically fulfilled this criteria: Rome.
Many Bible scholars and historians agree on the identity of the woman of Revelation 17.
Matthew Henry’s commentary says, “Rome clearly appears to be meant in this chapter. Pagan Rome subdued and ruled with military power, not by art and flatteries. … [I]t is well known that by crafty and political management, with all kinds of deceit of unrighteousness, papal Rome has obtained and kept her rule over kings and nations.”
Clarke’s Commentary explains, “Therefore the 10 horns must constitute the principal strength of the Latin empire; that is to say, this empire is to be composed of the dominions of 10 monarchs independent of each other in every other sense except in their implicit obedience to the Latin [or Roman] church” (emphasis added throughout).
The Scofield Bible says, “Two ‘Babylons’ are to be distinguished in the Revelation: ecclesiastical Babylon, which is apostate Christendom, headed up under the papacy; and political Babylon, which is the beast’s confederated empire, the last form of Gentile world-dominion.”
Some will find it hard to accept that the woman in Revelation 17 is the Roman Catholic Church. But it wasn’t all that long ago that this truth was widely accepted, even by biblical scholars—some of whom were Catholic.
The Apostle John wrote the book of Revelation in the first century, long before the term Catholic, which means universal, came into existence. If we are to discover the origins of the Catholic Church in the Bible, we cannot search for the term Catholic. We must search for it using the name given to it by God. What does God call the “woman” of Revelation 17? Verse 5 reveals the answer—and, emblazoned on her forehead, it couldn’t be more explicit:
“And upon her forehead was a name written, Mystery, Babylon the Great ….” (Isn’t it interesting that John, as early as the first century, prophesied that this religion would be a mystery? “Mystery” is part of this woman’s name!)
Consider the biblical name of the church discussed in Revelation 17: Babylon the Great. Babylon literally means confusion, which is an apt description of this religion and its doctrines. The term Babylon also refers to the city of ancient Babylon. God inspired the use of this term to describe the world-dominating religion discussed in Revelation 17 for a reason: The Catholic Church, including many of its teachings, traces its heritage all the way back to ancient Babylon.
That is where we must now visit.
Genesis 8:4 says that after the rains of the great Flood stopped and the waters receded, the ark in which Noah and his family resided “came to rest on the mountains of Ararat” (English Standard Version). These mountains are located in eastern Turkey. Following the Flood, Noah and his growing family—the seed of post-Flood humanity—migrated eastward into the “land of Shinar,” which means the “country of the two rivers,” referring to the Tigris and the Euphrates. Shinar is another name for the region of Babylonia.
The epicenter of post-Flood human civilization was the region of Babylon, the capital of which was the city of Babylon, which sits beside the Euphrates River. It is to this city that nearly all of this world’s nations—and religions (with one exception)—can trace their earliest beginnings. For more information about this ancient civilization, request a free copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages.
The history of ancient Babylon is covered in Genesis 10 and 11. The Bible doesn’t furnish many details, but those it does give are profound and enlightening. Many individuals are listed in these chapters, but one man in particular is given a comparatively detailed biography. He is described as having a “mighty” influence over ancient Babylonian civilization. He was the king of Babylon. His name was Nimrod, which in Hebrew means rebellious and lawless.
Nimrod was the son of Cush, and thus a great-grandson of Noah. Genesis 10:8 says Nimrod emerged as a powerful leader in his day and that he “began to be a mighty one in the earth.” Biblical record shows that Nimrod promised people protection from dangerous wild animals. This protection mostly came in the form of walled cities, the first of which was Babylon. It didn’t take Nimrod long to establish total control over the people. Ensconced within his city, and dependent on him for survival, the people effectively belonged to Nimrod.
Thus Babylon, the capital of Mesopotamia and seat of human civilization, came to reflect Nimrod’s character and ambition—morally, politically and religiously.
What was Nimrod’s character? The words “mighty one” in Genesis 10:8 are translated from a Hebrew word that connotes a tyrant. Verse 9 records that he was a “mighty hunter before the Lord”; the Hebrew word translated before should more accurately be translated as against. Nimrod was a tyrant whose primary motivation in life was working against God. Nimrod constructed the city of Babylon and established the entire Babylonian kingdom—which included most of the world’s population at the time—in an act of rebellion against God!
Nimrod set himself up as the supreme, infallible religious authority. He put himself before God. To his followers, Nimrod was God!
This explains why, in the Bible, Babylon is generally synonymous with rebellion and lawlessness.
Genesis 11 records Nimrod’s construction of the city of Babylon. His motive for building this city is noteworthy. Verse 4 records that it was an attempt to “make us a name”—to gain eminence and renown. Neither God nor His servant Noah had authorized Babylon’s construction. Moreover, the fact that the people constructed a tower “whose top may reach unto heaven” shows that the people knew they were disobeying God. Nimrod and his rebellious followers remembered the Flood—which was punishment for mankind’s rebellion—and were building a gigantic tower to try to escape another flood that might come as a result of their wickedness.
Babylon’s construction represented an attempt by Nimrod and the people to separate themselves from God—and to counterfeit the work God was performing through Noah.
Babylon was the headquarters of Nimrod’s campaign to oppose God. As Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, it was Nimrod who “started the great organized worldly apostasy from God that has dominated this world until now” (The Plain Truth About Christmas). Together with his wife, Semiramis (who was also his mother), Nimrod concocted, then imposed on his followers, his own system of finance, politics and education.
Nimrod exalted himself as the religious leader of the people. He established himself as the chief spiritual authority in place of God and God’s servant Noah. As the priest of Babylon, and in league with Semiramis, Nimrod conceived the Babylonian mystery religion, which included a multitude of pagan religious doctrines and practices. Today many of the practices and symbols associated with Christmas and Easter, for example, can be traced back to ancient Babylon. (For proof, read Alexander Hislop’s book The Two Babylons, available in bookstores.)
Nimrod was eventually killed by Noah’s son Shem. But the false and rebellious political and religious system he created did not die with him. It thrived, thanks to the work of Semiramis. With her son dead, as Hislop explains, Semiramis convinced her followers that Nimrod now lived as an immortal spirit being. In death, Nimrod was worshiped as a god. He became known as the messiah. Together, Semiramis and Nimrod—the original mother and child duo—became chief objects of worship in ancient Babylon.
The doctrines of the immortal soul and mother-child worship—to name only two Catholic teachings—can be traced directly back to Nimrod and Babylon.
By the time he died, Nimrod’s false system was entrenched in mankind. One cannot overstate what Nimrod and Semiramis achieved in Babylon. It was from this rebellious civilization that all other civilizations emerged. The Bible clearly records the confusion of the languages and the dispersion of the various peoples from the region of Babylon (Genesis 11). As the various races and peoples dispersed, they took with them the beliefs and practices of the Babylonian mystery religion, many of which remained ingrained—though they were often altered—in the new religions developed by the various races.
“Semiramis was actually the founder of much of the world’s pagan religions, worshiping false gods,” Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages. Many mainstream symbols and holidays, even Christian doctrines and practices, still in common use today can be traced back to the Babylonian mystery religion. Christmas and the Christmas tree, Easter, Sunday worship, the trinity, the “sacred” mother-child relationship—these beliefs and practices are all rooted in ancient Babylon.
The Bible is clear that the name Babylon is synonymous with Nimrod, his act of rebellion, and his post-Flood establishment of the Babylonian mystery religion. In Revelation 17:5, when God associates this “woman,” or church, with Nimrod and ancient Babylon, He is showing us that this religion is the offspring of the Babylonian mystery religion, a continuation of the pagan religious system created by Nimrod in blatant rebellion against God.
There are similarities in doctrines and practices between the Babylonian mystery religion and the Catholic religion. But this could be coincidence, unless there is something to directly connect ancient Babylon to the Roman Catholic Church.
That key piece of evidence exists and is, yet again, clearly revealed in the Bible.
Mystery Religion Relocates
The events described in 2 Kings 17 take place about 720 years before the time of Christ. By the eighth century b.c. the nation of Israel had split in two. The 10-tribed kingdom of Israel existed in Samaria, a region north of Jerusalem that encompasses parts of modern Lebanon and Syria. The kingdom of Judah existed in the south with Jerusalem as its capital.
2 Kings 17 recalls God’s punishment on the 10-tribed nation of Israel for rejecting His law. “For so it was, that the children of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God,” verse 7 says. Under the leadership of the Ephraimite king, Jeroboam, Israel was embracing pagan gods, erecting heathen statues, and disobeying God’s command to keep the Sabbath. God had warned them extensively through a series of prophets. But the people remained staunch in their rebellion.
In the late eighth century b.c., God punished the Israelites by having the Assyrians, a cruel and war-loving people from the region of Mesopotamia, invade Samaria. “Then the king of Assyria came up throughout all the land, and went up to Samaria, and besieged it three years” (verse 5). This besiegement and invasion occurred between 721 and 718 b.c.
Now notice: “In the ninth year of Hoshea the king of Assyria took Samaria, and carried Israel away into Assyria …” (verse 6). The Israelites were picked up and relocated. (To learn where they went, request a copy of Herbert W. Armstrong’s book The United States and Britain in Prophecy, and we will send it to you at no cost.)
After the Assyrians removed the Israelites from their towns and cities, they did not leave Samaria uninhabited. The Bible records that “the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah [near Babylon] … and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof” (verse 24).
This explains the perpetuation of Nimrod’s Babylonian mystery religion.
At this moment, around 718 b.c., tens of thousands of Babylonians, perhaps more—people steeped in the teachings and practices of Nimrod’s Babylonian mystery religion—were planted in the region of Samaria. The Babylonians and the false religion of Nimrod and Semiramis became entrenched there.
It was in Samaria, roughly 750 years after this transplant, that the Catholic Church was formally created. And, as we might expect, this history too was recorded in the Bible.
The Catholic Church Is Born
Acts 8 explains how the Babylonian mystery religion was institutionalized, how many of its pagan practices were blended with doctrines counterfeited from those taught by Christ and the disciples, and how false “Christianity” was born. When it comes to the origins of Christianity and the Roman Catholic Church, Acts 8 is the key that unlocks it all.
The chapter opens with Philip, a faithful deacon in the true Church of God, journeying to the region of Samaria where he “preached the gospel” to the residents of the city of Samaria. Philip’s work there was a huge success. The Bible records that many Samaritans “with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake” (verse 6). Miraculous healings occurred. Many of the evil spirits, or demons, that filled this region were purged as a result of the presence of the true gospel. A large number of Samaritans were awed by the truth of God and especially the miracles, and “there was great joy in that city” (verses 7-8). This is a beautiful picture: the truth of God transforming an entire city and region.
Then we are introduced to a certain Samaritan, a powerful man who controlled the minds of many of the people there. “But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great” (verse 9; Revised Standard Version). Like Nimrod, this individual, a magic-practicing sorcerer, considered himself “somebody great.”
This was Simon Magus, or “Simon the sorcerer.”
Simon was the religious leader of the Samaritans, a people who originally came from Babylon. He was steeped in the Babylonian mystery religion. He “bewitched the people of Samaria” with the pagan doctrines and practices of ancient Babylon. This man was heavily influenced by demons and relied on them to empower his religion. Simon’s control over the people was so strong, his pagan religion so virulent, that “all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God” (verse 10). Simon the sorcerer had established himself as the unquestioned, infallible spiritual leader of the Samaritans. Many actually believed Simon Magus was God in the flesh.
For an egotistical tyrant like Magus, the arrival of the gospel of God was a serious threat.
At first, Simon considered the arrival of Philip and the true Church in the region as an opportunity. Read it yourself: Acts 8 says Simon listened to the gospel Philip preached and watched the miracles of God, and was enthralled and inspired. Magus was amazed and perplexed as to how this deacon was able to perform such mighty miracles as healing the sick. As he witnessed Philip, his vanity was aroused, his imagination awakened, and his mind began to turn.
Mr. Armstrong surmised Magus’s thoughts brilliantly: “[Simon Magus] knew that all pagan religions were controlled by kings or heads of state. Their religions were used to hold a grip over the people and to keep the rulers in power. Whoever controlled the religion in a country also controlled the government. Simon saw in Christ an opportunity to head up a universal religion—he saw visions of ruling the world, if only he could lead out in a universal religion that would sweep into all countries. He had to do something, or see his followers all turn Christian” (member letter, Feb. 21, 1974).
During his campaign, Philip baptized many Samaritans, including Simon Magus (verse 13). After baptism, Simon “continued with Philip,” following the deacon around, studying and learning, and wondering in amazement at the “miracles and signs which were done.” Thus, Simon grew familiar with the teachings and doctrines of the true Church.
Philip was only a deacon and was not vested with the spiritual authority to lay hands on the newly baptized and pray that they receive the Holy Spirit. Although he had baptized hundreds of Samaritans by plunging them under water, not one of them had had hands laid on him by an ordained minister. This is why the apostles Peter and John, upon hearing of the success of Philip’s work, set out for Samaria (verses 14-16). When the apostles arrived, they immediately set about laying hands on those who had been baptized and praying that God would give each a measure of His Holy Spirit (verse 17).
Imagine the scene. Simon Magus was in line waiting for Peter to lay hands on him. As he waited and watched, he marveled at how “through [the] laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy [Spirit] was given” (verse 18). His vanity welled and his imagination ran wild. Finally, the moment arrived for Magus to be given the Holy Spirit. He stepped before the Apostle Peter, giddy with excitement and bursting with ambition. But what he did next derailed the ceremony—and turned the tide of Western civilization.
“And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy [Spirit] was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy [Spirit]” (verses 18-19). This man tried to buy God’s Holy Spirit and the ability to give it to others!
Isn’t it interesting that Simon Magus attempted to purchase a spiritual favor from God? Can you think of an institution that grew incredibly wealthy by selling spiritual favors? (see “Selling Spiritual Favors,” page 88).
Immediately a red flag went up in Peter’s mind. Something wasn’t right with the man standing before him. God’s true Church would never sell spiritual favors. A man who wanted to be baptized for the right reasons would understand that. Sensing Simon Magus’s evil, selfish motives, the apostle delivered a blistering reprimand: “Thy money perish with thee …. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God” (verses 20-21).
Simon’s attempt to receive the Spirit of God was thwarted. This man never became a member of God’s true Church. Simon Magus’s ambition was frustrated by God’s apostle. What would this sorcerer do now?
False Christianity Is Born
What happened next is crucial. Instead of simply rejecting Simon and his money and moving to the next convert, Peter took the time to deliver a strong prophetic warning to Simon Magus. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness …,” he stated. “For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23). Bitterness means extreme wickedness, bitter hatred, or the capability to produce bitter fruit.
Remember, Simon Magus was already a powerful religious leader in Samaria. He was rooted in the practices and teachings of the Babylonian mystery religion, under demonic influence, and a master at deceiving people. Peter was cognizant of Simon’s abilities, as well as his extreme vanity and ambition, and knew he was capable of producing bitter fruit. Peter knew this man was a threat to the true Church.
Lange’s Commentary explains, “Peter’s words, literally, mean: ‘I regard you as a man whose influence will be like that of bitter gall [poison] and a bond of unrighteousness [lawlessness], or, as a man who has reached such a state.’”
In The True History of God’s True Church, Gerald Flurry says, “Peter’s rebuke of Simon was a grave prophetic warning. … Acts 8:23 contains the seed of the prophecy in Revelation 17 about what that false church does on this Earth!”
After being exposed and strongly corrected by the leader of the true religion of God, Simon Magus was at a crossroads. Facing the possibility of losing many of his followers, Magus “had to do something, or see his followers all turn Christian,” Mr. Armstrong wrote (op cit). Rather than accept failure, Magus resorted to Plan B: If he couldn’t become a member of the true Church established by Christ, then he would simply create his own brand of Christianity.
After he was denied the Holy Spirit and entrance into God’s true Church, Simon Magus devoted the rest of his life to creating his own counterfeit Christianity!
What did this new religion look like? What city did Simon use as his headquarters? How large did his counterfeit religion become—did it grow into the universal religion he hoped and dreamed it would be?
And, as Simon’s religion grew in size and power, what happened to the true Church—the one established by Christ, and to which Philip, Peter and John belonged?
A New ‘Christianity’ Born
In creating his own religion, Simon Magus did not receive revelation from God, and he didn’t bother searching God’s Word for truth and doctrine. So where did his teachings and practices come from?
First, he retained some of the practices, ideas and symbols of his own Babylonian mystery religion. But in order to hold his followers, many of whom had witnessed God’s true religion, he claimed to be an apostle of the true religion that Philip had brought. He counterfeited much of the truth taught by the true Church—stealing and then perverting it. Remember, he had followed Philip for days learning and studying the gospel.
“He appropriated the name of Christ,” explained Mr. Armstrong. “He changed the name of his Babylonian religion to ‘Christianity.’ He offered free grace—forgiveness of sins—which no religion had ever offered. But he turned grace into license (Jude 4); he did away with God’s law” (ibid).
Here is what the New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language states about Simon Magus: “Rebuked by Peter, he begged him to intercede with God on his behalf, and appears no more in Acts. Later literature showed him reappearing in Rome in the time of Claudius in a new movement of his own, curiously combining Christian and pagan elements, and in which he figured as God.” That is a powerful quote from Webster’s, a secular source.
This truth will surely come as a surprise to most readers: Mainstream Christianity today—which grew either directly or indirectly out of Catholicism—is an outgrowth of the religion of Simon Magus.
Of course, the Catholic Church vehemently rejects this history. Catholic history recognizes Simon Magus, but says that he was an apostate, a false Christian, and certainly not a man who was ever affiliated with the Catholic religion. The Catholic Church recognizes events recorded in Acts 8—but it inverts the history and teaches that the Catholic religion was the one Magus was trying to infiltrate, and that Philip and Peter were members of the Catholic Church.
How can we know who is right? Is the Catholic Church indeed the true Church of the New Testament—the religion Philip, Peter and John belonged to and that Magus attempted to infiltrate? Or is the Catholic Church the institution conceived by Simon Magus after he was rejected entrance into the true Church?
Finding the correct answer is not difficult. All we have to do is study the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church. If those doctrines and practices align with the doctrines taught in the Bible and taught by Peter and the other apostles of the New Testament, then indeed the Catholic Church is the true Church. But if the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church cannot be found in the Bible and were not practiced by Jesus Christ and the first-century apostles, then clearly it received those false doctrines from someone else.
Go ahead: Look at some of the major doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, and then take out your Bible and see if they were taught and practiced by Jesus, Peter and the true Church. Search the Scriptures for evidence of the divine mother-son relationship, the immortal soul, Catholic confession, the trinity, Sunday worship, Easter and Christmas—all fundamental Catholic doctrines.
Not one is endorsed in the Bible or was practiced by Peter and the apostles.
If these “Christian” beliefs are not in the Bible, then where did they come from?
Further study will prove the link between these false teachings and those promoted by Simon Magus. Adolf von Harnack, a German theologian and historian, wrote that Simon “proclaimed a doctrine in which the Jewish faith [referring to the religion of biblical Israel, given to that nation by God Himself and recorded in the Old Testament] was strangely and grotesquely mixed with Babylonian myths, together with some Greek additions. The mysterious worship … in consequence of the widened horizon and the deepening religious feeling, finally the wild syncretism [that is, blending together of religious beliefs], whose aim, however, was a universal religion, all contributed to gain adherents for Simon” (The History of Dogma, Vol. 1).
This prominent theologian recognizes that Simon Magus created a false Christianity that was a blend of ancient Israel’s laws, Babylonian customs, and doctrines stolen from the true Church and perverted to suit his own ambitions. Can you?
A ‘Lost Century’
After rebranding and renaming his Babylonian mystery religion and successfully counterfeiting the religion of Peter and John, Simon Magus began a regional and eventually global campaign to market his brand of Christianity. “Before the end of the first century, his new universal (Catholic) religion had gained great strides,” Mr. Armstrong wrote (op cit).
The hundred years between a.d. 70 and 170 was a critical period in the history both of God’s true Church and of the one founded by Simon Magus. However, the record of that time is extremely sparse. “It’s like a curtain had been rung down on that stage of history,” Mr. Armstrong explained. “When that curtain lifts, a hundred years later, we see a ‘Christian church’ professing Christ, administering grace, but otherwise almost the very antithesis of the Church of Christ’s apostles a hundred years before.” What history does plainly show is that the Christianity of the late second century was very different from that of the original Christian Church.
Here is how Mr. Armstrong explained this phenomenon in his book The Incredible Human Potential: “[T]his Simon appropriated the name of Christ, calling his Babylonian mystery religion ‘Christianity.’ Satan moved this man and used him as his instrument to persecute and all but destroy the true Church of God. Before the end of the first century—probably by a.d. 70—he managed to suppress the message Christ had brought from God.
“There ensued ‘the lost century’ in the history of the true Church of God. There was a well-organized conspiracy to blot out all record of Church history during that period. A hundred years later, history reveals a ‘Christianity’ utterly unlike the Church Christ founded.”
Historians agree with Mr. Armstrong’s assessment. Edward Gibbon wrote in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, “The scanty … materials of ecclesiastical history seldom enable us to dispel the cloud that hangs over the first age of the church.” And in his book The Story of the Christian Church, Jesse Lyman Hurlbut wrote, “For 50 years after St. Paul’s life a curtain hangs over the Church, through which we strive vainly to look; and when at last it rises about a.d. 120 with the writings of the earliest church fathers we find a church in many aspects very different from that in the days of St. Peter and St. Paul.”
Thus, even secular historians recognize that the mainstream Christianity of the second century was different from that of the first-century Church—the Christianity established by Christ and taught by the apostles. They see that the main Christian Church of the second century was not the Church founded by Jesus Christ. It was different because it was not the true Church, but a different, counterfeit Christian religion.
The New Testament is full of evidence of this false Christianity emerging in the first century. For example, when the Apostle Paul wrote to his congregation in Galatia, stating, “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel,” he was lamenting the loss of members to Simon Magus’s “Christian” church (Galatians 1:6).
Paul delivered a similar warning to the Corinthians: “But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. For if he that cometh preacheth another Jesus, whom we have not preached, or if ye receive another spirit, which ye have not received, or another gospel, which ye have not accepted, ye might well bear with him.” About Magus’s ministers, Paul wrote, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 13-14).
The New Testament contains many such passages in which the apostles warned the true Church about Simon Magus and his deceptions. As Mr. Armstrong explained: “After a.d. 33, as the work of this Simon the sorcerer spread, the opposition to the true Church became Gentile [centered in Rome]. The writings of Paul, as well as 1 and 2 Peter, of James, of 1, 2 and 3 John and Jude show the Gentile opposition was primarily aimed against the law of God” (The Plain Truth About Healing).
Peter the First Pope?
The Catholic Church teaches that the Apostle Peter was the first pope. The Petrine doctrine, which establishes the primacy of the pope, is a fundamental Catholic teaching. According to Catholic tradition, Peter moved to Rome around the same time that Simon Magus did, during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius (a.d. 41-54).
According to the third-century Roman historian Eusebius, Simon Magus lived in Antioch for a while before traveling to Rome. Catholic historians Justin Martyr and Irenaeus also record that Simon journeyed to Rome and gained great influence with Claudius. Catholic history says that the Apostle Peter, the leader of the true Church (Matthew 16:18), battled Simon Magus in Rome until Peter eventually destroyed Magus and augmented the Catholic Church as the sole religion of Rome.
As reasonable as this version of events may sound, it has a major flaw: The Bible does not mention even once that the Apostle Peter ever performed a work in Rome. In fact, plenty of evidence proves Peter never performed a work in Rome.
First, Christ’s commission to Peter, outlined in Galatians 2:7, says that the chief apostle’s work was to the Jews, not to Gentiles. Rome did not have many Jews. Second, in Romans 15:18, the Apostle Paul told the Gentile Romans that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, not Peter. Third, Romans 1:11 shows that Paul, not Peter, founded the church in Rome. Fourth, in Romans 16, Paul greets 28 individuals in Rome by name, and he doesn’t mention Peter. (How rude of Paul to blatantly ignore Peter, the chief apostle.) Fifth, the Bible clearly indicates that Peter spent his early ministry in Jerusalem. This is logical, considering Peter was the chief apostle and would have worked out of headquarters, which was in Jerusalem.
Search high and low and you will never find a jot of evidence that the Apostle Peter ever performed a great work in Rome. So if Simon Peter did not do the work of the Church there, then who did? Who is the “St. Peter” that Catholics believe established the “Christian” church in that ancient city? Who was the first pope?
It was, in truth, the Gentile Samaritan with a long record of selling himself as “some great one”— Simon Magus.
Magus’s Religion Grows
The Bible shows that the Apostle Paul struggled to hold back the heresy of Simon Magus as it poured into the Greek world in the latter half of the first century. When Paul died, an enormous number of true Church members defected to Magus’s religion.
Meanwhile, back in Rome, the successors of Simon Magus (“St. Peter”) continued to steadily lay the foundation of his universal “Christian” empire. We know very little about Pope Clement i, a late-first-century pontiff (roughly a.d. 88-97). However, a letter from him to the church in Corinth is believed to be genuine. In this letter he asserts his authority over the church, and specifically the appointing of bishops. The writings of Irenaeus indicate Pope Sixtus (also spelled Xystus), who ruled around a.d. 120, was the first pope to observe the pagan festival of Easter instead of the Passover, which Jesus and the apostles kept.
The issue of Passover versus Easter emerged as a major point of contention between the true Church and the religion promoted by Simon Magus’s successors. Pope Sixtus and those who followed him tolerated Passover observance, though they insisted that those in Rome keep Easter.
Around a.d. 150, Pope Anicetus began leading the church in Rome. Irenaeus records that Polycarp, a disciple of John, traveled to Rome to confront Anicetus on Passover observance. Though Polycarp failed to convince the pope to change, Anicetus continued to tolerate Polycarp’s beliefs. Polycarp could do nothing to stop Anicetus’s heresy, and its prevalence grieved him greatly. Encyclopedia Britannica says, “The steady progress of the heretical movement in spite of all opposition was a cause of deep sorrow to Polycarp, so that in the last years of his life the words were constantly on his lips, ‘Oh good God, to what times hast thou spared me, that I must suffer (tolerate) such things!’”
Polycarp was martyred shortly after his confrontation with Anicetus. In the days of Polycarp’s successor, Polycrates, the disagreement grew more heated. When Victor i became pope around a.d. 190, he ended the Catholic Church’s tolerance of Passover observance. He excommunicated Polycrates, and the biblically commanded observance of Passover was steadily stamped out and replaced with the pagan Easter.
The Easter controversy demonstrated the strength of Rome’s leadership. The church established by Magus had emerged as the clear leader of the “Christian” world. During the first, second and third centuries, Magus’s successors worked hard to ensure that the church in Rome presented a united front. Dissenters were marginalized. The early popes used Rome’s location at the center of the Roman Empire to develop relationships with prominent Roman leaders and build political influence. Rome quickly became the wealthiest of the “Christian” congregations.
The Roman church used its riches to buy authority, just as Simon Magus had tried to do. Paul Johnson writes in his book A History of Christianity, “From the earliest times, [Rome] had assisted small and struggling churches with money. This was charity, but charity, increasingly, with a purpose. … The Rome congregation was rich, and became much richer during the second century. … With Roman money there went a gentle but persistent pressure to conform to Roman standards.”
By now the true Christian Church—the one established by Christ that taught the law and practiced the Sabbath and Passover—found itself increasingly isolated and persecuted. In the eyes of the Roman leaders, and almost all “Christians,” the “Christianity” of Magus was now the true church and supreme religious authority. Despite Catholicism’s distinct pagan practices, “Christians” throughout the region came to view it as the true religion.
“Many Christians did not make a clear distinction between this sun cult and their own,” writes Johnson. “They referred to Christ ‘driving His chariot across the sky’; they held their services on Sunday, knelt towards the East and had their nativity feast on 25 December, the birthday of the sun at the winter solstice” (ibid).
True Christians, those who refused to keep the pagan practices and strove to uphold the seventh-day Sabbath and the biblically commanded holy days, became targets. Rome passed laws against Christianity, but they were not often enforced against the mainstream believers. In fact, as Johnson notes, “the state tended to strengthen the orthodox elements in the church by concentrating its savagery on the antinomian elements among Christians.” In other words, smaller Christian groups that weren’t part of the larger, more “mainstream Christianity” established by Magus were persecuted.
By a.d. 250, the church at Rome had enough wealth to support a bishop and over 150 employees. It owned a large amount of gold, silver, precious ornaments, clothes and food. As time passed and Magus’s religion grew, Johnson writes that “Christianity” had “changed and had made itself a potential ally” of Rome (ibid).
As an ally of the state, the Roman Catholic Church was now in a position to start shaping and molding the Roman Empire.
Religion of the Empire
By the fourth century, Magus’s “Christianity” had positioned itself to begin to strike a lasting alliance with the Roman Empire. It did this by actually configuring itself as a religious reflection of that great political and military power that was the Roman Empire.
“Long before the fall of Rome [during the reign of Leo i] there had begun to grow up within the Roman Empire an ecclesiastical state [government], which in its constitution and its administrative system was shaping itself upon the imperial model,” wrote Philip Von Ness Myers in his authoritative work, Ancient History.
Notice that: The Catholic Church shaped itself after the Roman model.
Paul Johnson explained it this way: “In the long struggle to suppress internal division, to codify its doctrine and to expand its frontiers, Christianity had become in many striking ways a mirror image of the empire itself. … It was administered by a professional class of literates who in some ways functioned like bureaucrats and its bishops, like imperial governors, legates or prefects, had wide discretionary powers to interpret the law. It was becoming the doppelgänger of the empire. … Christianity had become a secular as well as a spiritual phenomenon” (op cit).
Now consider that powerful conclusion (by an excellent historian) in light of what the Apostle John wrote about the Catholic Church in Revelation 13: “And [it] deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do in the sight of the beast; saying to them that dwell on the earth, that they should make an image to the beast, which had the wound by a sword, and did live” (verse 14).
This prophecy is explained further in Chapter 9. As Herbert Armstrong taught, and is easily proven, the “beast” here is the Roman Empire. The Apostle John here is prophesying that the Roman Catholic Church would actually model itself, organizationally and institutionally, into the “image of the beast,” or the Roman Empire!
Revelation 17 says that this “woman,” or church, fornicates with the “kings of the earth”; in other words, this church becomes intertwined with the state. Paul Johnson writes, “Would it not be prudent for the state to recognize this welcome metamorphosis [of the church] and contract, as it were, a marriage de convenance with the ‘bride of Christ’?” (ibid).
During the second and third centuries, Simon Magus’s false “Christianity” developed and augmented its religious and spiritual identity, and expanded its membership and material assets. By the fourth century, and the arrival of a certain Roman emperor, Catholicism was mature enough to begin to be made the state religion of the Roman Empire. This emperor was Constantine.
Constantine, who ruled from a.d. 306 until his death in 337, recognized Catholicism as an ideal partner of the Roman Empire. As a devotee of the sun cult, his religion was already similar to Catholicism. Constantine’s father had also been pro-”Christian.” Constantine claimed that his conversion occurred when God intervened to help him with the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, where he secured his rulership over the Roman Empire. But he held “Christian” sympathies before that. Constantine was a megalomaniac who realized that by accepting “Christianity” he could rule a religion as well as an empire. (Constantine made sure that after his death he would be buried in a monument at the head of 12 other memorials to the apostles. He considered himself the chief.)
In 313, Constantine the Great, as he is known today, issued the Edict of Milan. This supreme ruling made tolerance of “Christianity” (that is, Magus’s “Christianity”) mandatory throughout the Roman Empire. Under this edict, the Catholic Church was allowed to own property. The emperor actively promoted “Christianity.”
In 325, Constantine presided over the Council of Nicaea. At this pivotal gathering of secular and religious leaders, Constantine presided over the establishment of the Catholic hierarchy as the official head of the church. This council formally established the trinity—a pagan teaching brought over from the Babylonian religion into false Christianity by Simon Magus—as official church doctrine. It also legally established Easter, a day named after the pagan goddess Astarte, as a Catholic holiday in place of the biblical Passover.
The reign of Emperor Constantine, and the developments of the Council of Nicaea in particular, was a major milestone for the Catholic religion. Now that it had the official backing of the mighty Roman Empire, its destiny to be a global religion was assured.
It was also a major milestone for those who disagreed with the Catholic Church. After the Council of Nicaea, the Roman Empire began to confiscate the property of any who kept the true Passover. In 347, the state began killing Catholicism’s Donatist enemies—a North African group that opposed the church’s alignment with Rome. As Johnson noted, the Roman Empire had become “the enforcement agency of Christian orthodoxy” (ibid). (By the reign of Theodosius in the fourth century, the Roman Empire had over 100 statutes preventing heresy.)
Just as John prophesied, the Catholic Church was beginning to use the Roman Empire (the “beast,” in biblical terms) to marginalize, persecute and eventually put to death those who rejected Catholic teaching.
Emperor Constantine had made Sunday a civil day of rest in 321. In 365, at the Council of Laodicea, the contention over Sunday worship was settled more formally with the enforcement of Sunday—a Babylonian day of sun worship—as the Lord’s Day [referring to Sunday] throughout the Roman Empire. The Council of Laodicea concluded: “Christians must not Judaize by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found Judaizing, let them be anathema from Christ.”
In other words, those who kept the Sabbath on Saturday were branded heretics deserving of death.
As Johnson explained, when the Catholic Church became the official religion of Rome, it soon “transformed itself from a suffering and victimized body, begging for toleration, into a coercive one, demanding monopoly” (op cit).
Backed by the Roman Empire, Catholicism quickly became the moral and spiritual compass directing the Roman Empire, which by this time stretched from the Middle East and North Africa all the way to the shores of Britain, and encompassed virtually all of Europe.
Simon Magus would have been overjoyed. His dream of a Catholic religion joining forces with secular governments to create a new, universal religion and empire was coming to fruition.
With Catholicism now concretely fixed as the official religion of the Roman Empire, the “holy” in Holy Roman Empire was in place.