I quote from three secular history textbooks to show that the teachings of the Catholic Church have historical justification. Whether or not God decreed the specifically Catholic teachings is another question and is beyond the scope of this article.

I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.

I emphasize two themes:

  1. The doctrine, practice, and structure of the early church.
  2. The contradictions and unintended side-effects of the Protestant Reformation.

Church-State Relations | Baptism | Eucharist and the Mass | Church Hierarchy | Luther's Contradictions | Sola Scriptura | Mixed Motives | Protestant Quirks | The Church is Catholic | Catholic Virtues | Science and the Church | References

Jesus established the church as the "pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). The apostles and early church fathers played their proper role as they formulated true doctrine, determined the canon of scripture, discerned God's moral law, and evangelized the world.

The Catholic Church of today continues this legacy as it shines the light of the gospel of Christ on the world but, sadly, over the centuries, has made errors, and has had at times a dark side.

   Why I Became Catholic | The New Testament Church

Church-State Relations

Critics of Catholicism often object to the rise of political power of the church. They seem to believe that the church should have rejected her good fortune of becoming legal. But how could Christians have rejected this? Should Christians have forced people to continue to hate them and to persecute them?

Constantine and his successors . . . ruled religious life with an iron hand and consistently looked on the church as little more than a department of the state. Such political assumption of spiritual power involved the emperor directly in the church's affairs, even to the point of playing the theologian and imposing conciliar solutions on its doctrinal quarrels. (The Western Heritage, page 210)

Protestants argue that the church should have never accepted rule by the state. But we need to consider how this occurred and the church's reaction to it.

The church councils called by the emperor were valid because the bishops in union with the pope made the decrees. Only when church councils are not ratified by the pope are the councils invalid (according to Catholic teaching).

The victory of Constantine and his emergence as sole ruler of the empire changed the condition of Christianity from a precariously tolerated sect to the religion favored by the emperor. This put it on the path to becoming the official and only legal religion in the empire. (The Western Heritage, page 179)

Suppose that Christianity became fashionable once again in our modern post-Christian world and that laws were adopted which made Christianity and Christian moral principles not only legal but preferred. Wouldn't Christians consider this to be a major victory for the cause of Christ? I doubt if Christians would object to it. Yet this is what happened back then. Christianity went from being persecuted to tolerated and even favored.

The bishops of Rome [popes], however, never accepted such intervention and opposed it in every way they could. (The Western Heritage, page 210)

The early church was plagued by persecution. Once the church became legally accepted, it was plagued by secular control. Note that the popes were the only church leaders who opposed this. They were ultimately successful.

The doctrine of papal primacy . . . raised the Roman pontiff to an unassailable supremacy within the church when it came to defining . . . church doctrine. (The Western Heritage, page 210)

The church should be in charge of determining her doctrine, not the secular rulers.

This strong mystical orientation toward the next world may also have permitted the Eastern patriarchs to submit more passively than western popes could ever do to royal intervention in church affairs. (The Western Heritage, page 211)

There was no Bible-based Protestant church to take a stand against the encroachment upon the church by the secular rulers. There was only the eastern and western churches. And of these, only the western (the Catholic) church took a stand against it.

Zwingli looked to the state to supervise the church. "A church without the magistrate is mutilated and incomplete," he declared. (Western Civilization, page 376)

Having the state rule the church can have no good result. Yet the Protestant Reformers allowed the state to rule the church.

The Reformation came to be closely identified in the minds of its supporters with what we today might call states' rights or local control. (The Western Heritage, page 354)

The Protestant Reformation was not strictly a religious movement. It was also a political movement. The reformers wanted freedom from the control of the Catholic Church in favor of control by the rulers of their state. I would think that it would be preferable to have a centralized church which controlled Christianity for the whole world rather than having the state run the church.

There is . . . evidence to suggest that people who felt pushed around and bullied by either local or distant authority—a guild by an autocratic local government, an entire city or region by a powerful prince or king—often perceived an ally in the Protestant movement, at least initially. Social and political experience thus coalesced with the larger religious issues in both town and country. . . . When Martin Luther and his comrades wrote, preached, and sang about a priesthood of all believers, scorned the authority of ecclesiastical landlords, and ridiculed papal laws as arbitrary human inventions, they touched political as well as religious nerves. (The Western Heritage, page 355)

It is interesting that the Protestant Reformers allowed the state to rule the church.


Baptism by water removed original sin and permitted participation in the community and its activities. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

Many Protestant denominations teach that baptism is merely a symbol. However, the early apostolic church did not teach this. A reading of the early church fathers provides ample evidence that the early church believed that baptism remitted sins and was necessary for salvation. Upon what basis can Bible-only Protestants claim that their doctrine of baptism is correct when the apostolic church believed and practiced otherwise especially since the scripture supports the early view?

Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins. (Acts 2:38)

Note also in this passage that the church is an institution which people join via the rite of baptism. The early church did not think of itself as merely the invisible collection of all believers.

Eucharist and the Mass

The central ritual was a common meal called the agape, or "love feast," followed by the ceremony of the Eucharist, or "thanksgiving," a celebration of the Lord's Supper in which unleavened bread was eaten and unfermented wine was drunk. There were also prayers, hymns, or readings from the Gospels. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

The church service of the early church was the Mass with the Eucharist. Many Protestant denominations have rejected this in favor of a sermon-based church service. They often claim that this was the practice of the early church because the scripture teaches it. But the writings of the early church fathers makes it clear that the early church practiced the mass.

The Catholic Church no longer practices the agape love feast but the mass consists of scripture readings, prayers, hymns, and the Eucharist just as in the early church.

The practice of the Lord's Supper . . . led to rumors that Christians practiced horrible crimes, such as the ritualistic murder of children. (Western Civilization, page 173)

Why would the practice of the Lord's Supper be associated with such things unless Christians themselves believed and taught that they were consuming the literal body and blood of Christ?

The alarming doctrine of the actual presence of Jesus' body in the Eucharist was distorted into an accusation of cannibalism. (The Western Heritage, page 170)

The early church believed in the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist. This was well before the doctrine of the Trinity was developed and before the canon of scripture was established. The reason the early church believed and practiced this is because that is what was taught by the apostles.

Church Hierarchy

One reason the church needed a more formal organization was the problem of heresy. As Christianity developed and spread, contradictory interpretations of important doctrines emerged. Heresy came to be viewed as a teaching different from the official catholic or universal beliefs of the church. (Western Civilization, page 179)

In order to combat the teachings of heretics, someone stronger and more authoritative needed to represent and defend the true doctrines. Thus, the bishops became stronger in their role as teachers and defenders of the faith.

Christians needed to know which teachers to believe and which to reject. This required an "official" ordination process in which only orthodox teachers and leaders could become bishops. If bishops later became heretical, there needed to be a way of removing them.

These procedures were certainly not perfect, but without them the church might very well be Arian today — after all, the Arian heresy gripped much of the church for over a century. It was finally stamped out by decree of Pope Damasus in his approval of the First Council of Constantinople (381).

Imagine the faith life of a Christian during this time when heresy was rampant. How comforting it would have been to know that your bishop was teaching orthodoxy.

Once a strong church hierarchy was established would there ever be a cause to dismantle it? A common Protestant claim is that there should never have been a strong church hierarchy in the first place so it is good that the reformers abolished it. But without it how would the church ever have developed doctrines such as the Trinity or determined the canon of scripture? Without a strong church hierarchy the cornerstones of Christianity could not have been established just as there is no universal agreement among Protestant denominations about Eschatology (for example).

The future of Christianity depended on its communities' finding an organization that would preserve unity within the group and help protect it against enemies outside. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

Protestants often dispute this conclusion by claiming that Christianity would have survived even with no organizational structure; that the "gates of hell" would not prevail against the church (Matthew 16:18). Certainly I agree that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, but Matthew 16:18 says nothing about how God will accomplish it except that the church would be built upon the rock of Peter and his confession of faith. In order for Christianity to survive there needed to be doctrinal purity and it was the bishops who defined and defended this.

At first, the churches had little formal organization. Soon, it appears, affairs were placed in the hands of boards of presbyters, or "elders," and deacons.... (The Western Heritage, page 169)

Notice that the church developed her organizational structure during apostolic times. There is no reason to assume that this development must abruptly stop after the last apostle died.

Some Protestants claim that their denomination is organized just like the apostolic church. But which version of the apostolic church? There were at least three forms of this: (1) Everyone had everything in common and an apostle ruled the community, (2) a board of elders (priests and bishops) ordained by an apostle or a representative of an apostle ruled the local church, (3) a strong bishop ruled a group of local churches.

Only the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches have apostolic ordination just like in the apostolic church. Each new Protestant denomination begins with the founder ordaining himself or herself (no denomination ordains someone to start a splinter group). And there is no succession of these kind of ordinations. However, as I discuss elsewhere, apostolic succession of ordination does not guarantee orthodoxy.

By the second century C.E. [A.D.], as their numbers grew, the Christians of each city tended to accept the authority and leadership of bishops. . . . The power and almost monarchical authority of the bishops were soon enhanced by the doctrine of Apostolic Succession, which asserted that the powers that Jesus had given his original disciples were passed on from bishop to bishop by ordination. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

The strong, hierarchical organization of bishops running the church was in full force long before the doctrine of the Trinity was developed and long before there was a canon of scripture (list of inspired books).

Note that this occurred shortly after the books of the New Testament were finished being written. Some anti-Catholic Protestants claim that the church went bad very early but if it went bad this early then how can we trust the doctrinal formulations of this same church? If these bishops were wrong about the way in which they structured the church how can we trust that they formulated doctrines correctly? Or how can we be certain that they selected the correct books to be in the canon of scripture?

The bishops kept in touch with one another, maintained communications between different Christian communities, and prevented doctrinal and sectarian splintering, which would have destroyed Christian unity. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

The unity of the church is very important. The Protestant Reformation fractured this unity by creating new doctrines and by abandoning doctrines and practices which had been in place since the early centuries of the church. It was councils of bishops which preserved true doctrine and which preserved the unity of the church.

After a time they [the bishops] began the practice of coming together in councils to settle difficult questions, to establish orthodox opinion, and even to expel as heretics those who would not accept it. It is unlikely that Christianity could have survived the travails of its early years without such strong internal organization and government. (The Western Heritage, page 169)

Christianity has survived as an organization for a very long time just as Judaism has. We should expect Christianity to be organized in a similar manner as Judaism. Many Protestants claim that the church should not have much in common with Judaism because it is a new covenant.

Division within the Christian Church may have been an even greater threat to its existence than persecution from outside. The great majority of Christians never accepted complex, intellectualized opinions, but held to what even then were traditional, simple, conservative beliefs. This body of majority opinion, considered to be universal, or "catholic," was enshrined by the church that came to be called Catholic. The Catholic Church's doctrines were deemed orthodox, that is, "holding the right opinions," whereas those holding contrary opinions were heretics. (The Western Heritage, page 170)

Note that there was a Catholic Church very early. Many Protestant anti-Catholics claim that the Catholic Church did not appear until sometime in the Middle Ages, but this is incorrect.

It was necessary to have strong leadership and a strong church hierarchy to determine true doctrine and to prevent heresy from infiltrating the church.

One of the simple, conservative beliefs held by these early Christians was the Eucharist. Another was that baptism results in remission of sins.

The Catholic Church which had correct, true doctrine from the very beginning. (But subsequent changes were not always apostolic.)

By the end of the second century . . . the loose structure of the apostolic church had given way to an organized body with recognized leaders able to define its faith and to exclude those who did not accept it. Whatever the shortcomings of this development, there can be little doubt that it provided the clarity, unity, and discipline needed for survival. (The Western Heritage, page 171)

Protestants who claim that the church is merely the invisible body of Christ and nothing more often make light of the need for any organization to be organized. In fact, many of these Protestant denominations themselves have a strong organizational structure. Why would the early church (the Catholic Church) not have the same needs?

Theological disputes foreshadowed the need for some form of ecclesiastical authority to resolve them. One solution was provided by Clement of Rome (d. c.90), who furthered the doctrine of the apostolic succession. Christian leaders had authority if they could trace their appointment to one of the twelve apostles, or to the apostles' recognized successors. Clement himself, who was probably third in line to St. Peter as 'bishop' of Rome, based his own claim on the text 'Thou art Peter, and on this rock I shall build my church'. . . . Here already was the essence of the Roman Catholic tradition. (Europe, page 203)

The very early church was already structured just as the modern Roman Catholic Church is.

The founder of every new Protestant Denomination is "self-ordained." What denomination would ordain someone to found a schismatic denomination?

The growth of the clergy—as a separate estate from the laity—seems to have been a gradual matter. The offices of Episcopos or 'bishop' as a communal leader, and of diaconus or 'deacon', preceded that of the presbyter or 'priest' with exclusive sacerdotal functions. (Europe, page 203-4)

The offices of bishop, priest, and deacon were fully operational before the doctrine of the Trinity was developed and before the canon of scripture was determined. The authority of the bishops was already established in the early 100's.

Luther's Contradictions

In this section I address the Protestant Reformation in general.

Luther's heroic stand at Worms was once viewed as a step in the development of religious freedom, but that interpretation overlooked an important consideration. Though Luther clearly placed his conscience above the authority of the church, he also believed that he had arrived at the truth, from which others were not allowed to deviate. . . . Emperor Charles . . . gave his opinion that "a single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for 1,000 years must be wrong." (Western Civilization, page 370)

Luther considered his interpretation of scripture to be correct and expected everyone else to agree with him.

Emperor Charles makes a good observation. How is it that someone a thousand years after the main Christian doctrines and practices were established can suddenly determine that it was all wrong. To think that this is sensible requires some sort of idea that the church went bad. Naturally, most Protestant denominations have some sort of view about how and when the church went bad.

Luther reacted quickly and vehemently against the peasants. In his pamphlet, Against the Robbing and Murdering Hordes of Peasants, he called upon the German princes to "stab, smite, and slay" the stupid and stubborn peasantry. . . . Although convinced that he himself was compelled by the word of God to rebel against church authority, he did not believe in a social revolution. To Luther, the state and its rulers were ordained by God, who had given them the authority to maintain the peace and order necessary for the spread of the Gospel. . . . Luther found himself ever more dependent on state authorities for the growth and maintenance of his reformed church. (Western Civilization, page 371)

Luther advocated extreme violence against the peasants.

Luther considered his interpretation of scripture to be correct and expected everyone else to agree with him.

Luther allowed the state to control the church. This is odd considering that one of his objections to the Catholic Church was that the church had too much power.

Though Luther thus considered the true church to be an invisible one, the difficulties of actually creating a reformed church led him to believe that a visible, organized church was needed. Since the Catholic ecclesiastical hierarchy had been scrapped, Luther came to rely increasingly on the princes or state authorities to organize and guide the new Lutheran reformed churches. He had little choice. By the sixteenth century, secular authorities in Germany as elsewhere were already playing an important role in church affairs. By 1530, in the German states that had converted to Lutheranism, both princes and city councils appointed officials who visited churches in their territories and regulated matters of worship. The Lutheran churches in Germany (and later in Scandinavia) quickly became territorial or state churches in which the state supervised and disciplined church members. (Western Civilization, page 371-2)

Thus, even Luther could not reverse the inevitable formation of political power structures in the church. He discovered why the Catholic Church had formed these power structures in the first place. But by allowing to state to control the churches, Luther initiated a trend which later allowed for secularism to permeate society. By diluting the political power of the Catholic Church, Luther and the other "reformers" paved the way for our modern, anti-christian, secular world. Only the restraining influence of the Catholic Church was powerful enough to combat secularism.

It's ironic that all Protestant Denominations have some sort of visible, institutional presence, even those that consider the church to be invisible rather than institutional.

It was just a matter of time before the secular rulers began to have different opinions about what the church should be like and the church leaders were powerless to stop them. Only the Catholic Church had developed sufficient power to restrain the secular governments, but the Protestant Reformation diluted that power and allowed secular governments to control and ultimately eradicate Christianity.

He [Luther] was inordinately rude and bad-tempered. His language was often unrepeatable. (Europe, page 484)

I would expect that the founder of an important Christian movement should exhibit the characteristics of saintliness.

Sola Scriptura

[The Protestant Reformation] raised the question of how to determine what constituted the correct interpretation of the Bible. The inability to agree on this issue led not only to theological confrontations but also to bloody warfare as each Christian group was unwilling to admit that it could be wrong. (Western Civilization, page 375)

Certainly God would have provided an infallible interpretation authority such as that of the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church. (The early Church of the first several centuries performed this role; after the key foundations of Christianity were developed, this role was no longer needed.) Without that there is no hope of ever having a unified church with unified doctrine because everyone will come up with their own interpretations which contradict the interpretations of others. Those who are very zealous or have other political agendas will even go to war over this.

In the early church the foundational Christian doctrines such as the Trinity and the Canon of scripture were determined by the orthodox bishops in union with the pope, not by each person interpreting the Bible for himself. What basis do we have for thinking that 1,500 years later this procedure is no longer valid? (Corrections: (1) The pope was not very involved with all this. (2) The papacy lost sight of its original charter.)

The need to combat heretics, however, compelled the orthodox to formulate their own views more clearly and firmly. By the end of the second century C.E. [A.D.], an orthodox canon had been shaped that included the Old Testament, the Gospels, and the Epistles of Paul, among other writings. The process of creating a standard set of holy books was not completed for at least two more centuries, but a vitally important start had been made. The orthodox declared the Catholic Church itself to be the depository of Christian teaching and the bishops to be its receivers. They also drew up creeds, or brief statements of faith to which true Christians should adhere. (The Western Heritage, page 170)

How can there be a doctrine of Sola Scripture unless there is first a canon of scripture? Therefore, the doctrine of Sola Scriptura simply did not exist in the early church. In fact, it did not appear until Wycliffe in the 1,300's A.D. Why should we accept a doctrine that the apostles themselves didn't believe and didn't pass on to the church?

Notice that it was the doctrinal definitions of the bishops which were binding on Christians, not the scripture. In fact, the only time most Christians heard the scriptures was when they were read during weekly mass.

The scripture was not completed until almost 400 A.D. Thus, it was impossible for there to be a doctrine of Sola Scripture until then. The Christians before then had no choice but to accept the teachings of the Catholic Church — there was no other source of information. (But by the medieval era, the Church had changed in many ways.)

The same bishops who developed the canon of scripture also taught the Eucharist and that baptism was necessary for salvation. How can we trust them to get the canon of scripture right but get the other "Catholic" doctrines wrong?

It is the Catholic Church (the early Catholic Church, not the medieval Catholic Church) which is the repository of the faith, not the "scriptures alone." Certainly the scriptures are a key part of the deposit of the faith and they are inspired and inerrant.

The disputes between Christians and Gnostics revealed the need for a recognized canon of scripture. Which of the holy writings were God-given, and which were merely man-made. This question preoccupied Christians at the turn of the second and third centuries, though the definitive statement was not made until the Festal Letter of Athanasius in 367. (Europe, page 200)

There was no Bible for the first 334 years of the church — this is about one-sixth of the time the church has been in existence. There cannot be a doctrine of sola scriptura without the Bible. Why would the doctrine of sola scriptura suddenly appear in 367 A.D.?

The list of books includes the so-called apocrypha, as does the Septuagint and the first edition of the King James Version.

Why would the list of Athanasius be authoritative? If he is an authority on the canon of scripture then we should accept his views on other things as well. He was, of course, very Catholic in his views because the church of his day was Catholic. Although Athanasius was the first to construct the correct list of books in the Bible, it was not until this list was later ratified by the popes that the canon of scripture was finalized. Later, the Protestant reformers changed this list (not everyone agrees that the ratification by the pope was the defining moment.)

Mixed Motives

By removing the Catholic church—a rival for authority in their town—the secular authorities enhanced their own power. (Western Civilization, page 376)

The motives of those supporting the Protestant Reformation were not always in the best interests of Christianity.

Lollards were especially prominent among the groups that had something tangible to gain from the confiscation of clerical properties. (The Western Heritage, page 310)

Followers of Wycliffe believed that they had the right to confiscate land that belonged to the church. This is thievery.

Like the urban magistrates, the German princes quickly recognized the political and economic opportunities offered them by the demise of the Roman Catholic Church in their regions. (The Western Heritage, page 360)

The Protestant Reformation provided an opportunity for the rulers to seize large tracts of land that had been owned by the Catholic Church.

Protestant Quirks

The best-known heresy of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was Catharism. The Cathars were also called Albigensians after the city of Albi. . . . They believed in a dualist system of good and evil. Things of the spirit were good because they were created by a God of light; things of the world were evil because they were created by Satan, the prince of darkness. (Western Civilization, page 154)

I mention this group of heretics because some anti-Catholic Protestants claim that these were the "true" believers of the time. The Cathars and Albigensians are mentioned in "Foxes Book of Martyrs" as the true Christians who were oppressed and persecuted by the Catholic Church.

The Ecclesiastical Ordinances created a special body for enforcing moral discipline. Consisting of five pastors and twelve elders, the Consistory functioned as a court to oversee moral life, daily behavior, and doctrinal orthodoxy of Genevans and to admonish and correct deviants. As its power increased, the Consistory went from "fraternal corrections" to the use of public penance and excommunication. More serious cases could be turned over to the city council for punishments greater than excommunication. During Calvin's last years, stricter laws against blasphemy were enacted and enforced with banishment and public whippings. (Western Civilization, page 383-4)

Protestants who object to the Catholic inquisition should also object to Calvin's Geneva.

Genevan Calvinism and Catholicism as revived by the Council of Trent were two equally dogmatic, aggressive, and irreconcilable church systems. Calvinists may have looked like "new papists" to critics when they dominated cities like Geneva. (The Western Heritage, page 390)

The Protestant Reformation didn't correct the so-called political abuses of the Catholic Church. That is because it is not abusive for the church to be involved in politics — we humans are political creatures and our religious life must have a political, organizational component.

Wycliffe argued that the clergy "ought to be content with food and clothing." Wycliffe also maintained that personal merit, not rank and office, was the only basis of religious authority. . . . Wycliffe was accused of the ancient heresy of Donatism—the teaching that the efficacy of the church's sacraments did not lie in their true performance, but also depended on the moral character of the clergy who administered them. (The Western Heritage, page 310)

Many Protestants think that Wycliffe was a Protestant but he, in fact, lived 150 years before the Protestant Reformation. Even though regarded as a hero by many, he held views which no Protestant today would accept.

Who decides which men have "personal merit?" Would a holy heretic qualify as a religious authority?

Most Protestants today do not consider that the sacraments have any efficacy at all, yet Wycliffe believed in the sacraments as long as they were administered by clergy of moral character.

Wycliffe accepted the authority of the orthodox doctors of the church in addition to scripture.

Protestants were more impressed by the human potential for evil than by the inclination to do good. (The Western Heritage, page 354)

As an evangelical fundamentalist Protestant I had been taught that I could not avoid sin even for a second and that all sins were equally offensive to God, even the smallest venial sin. Needless to say, this provided no incentive to attempt to live virtuously. Yet in the long sermons, the preachers hammered on us the importance of living a holy life. The Catholic view is that it is possible to avoid committing mortal sins, the sins that interfere with our salvation, and that as Christians we are obligated to try. This is a very refreshing way to live.

In its first decade, the Protestant movement suffered more from internal division than from imperial interference. By 1525, Luther had become as much an object of protest within Germany as was the Pope. . . . Like the German humanists, the German peasantry also had at first believed Luther to be an ally. . . . When the peasants revolted against their masters in 1524-1525, Luther, not surprisingly, condemned them in the strongest possible terms as "un-Christian" and urged the princes to crush their revolt without mercy. Tens of thousand of peasants (estimates run between 70,000 and 100,000) died by the time the revolt was put down. (The Western Heritage, page 360-3)

The Protestant Reformation was not a unified movement. Even today, each Protestant denomination has major differences from the others.

There were 20 times more people killed as a result of the Protestant Reformation than were ever killed by the Inquisitions.

The Protestant Reformation provided the catalyst for social revolution. The fabric of society was torn. For us today who live nearly 500 years in the future, it is easy to forget the extreme human misery and suffering that the Protestant Reformation unleashed. As an evangelical fundamentalist Protestant I was simply unaware of the history of the Protestant Reformation. Church History was a subject which was basically ignored, and when it was discussed, it was grossly misrepresented.

Theological disagreements between Luther and Zwingli over the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. Zwingli maintained a symbolic interpretation of Christ's words, "This is my body". Christ, he argued, was only spiritually, not bodily, present in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Luther, to the contrary, insisted that Christ's human nature could share the properties of his divine nature; hence, where Christ was spiritually present, he could also be bodily present. . . . Zwingli . . . feared that Luther had not broken sufficiently with medieval sacramental theology. . . . The disagreement splintered the Protestant movement theologically and politically. (The Western Heritage, page 364)

This highlights a big problem with Protestant theology. Since there is no Holy Spirit-inspired interpretation authority, each denomination is free to interpret the Bible however they choose. As a result, Protestant theology is very diverse and contradictory. This is the main reason I ultimately converted to Catholicism. As I began to notice the serious differences and contradictions between different teachers and theologians (each one claiming to have the correct interpretation) I began to wonder who to believe or why I should believe any of them. It was refreshing to find the teaching magisteriumof the Catholic Church (until I learned of the inconsistencies and contradictions — but that is off topic.)

An important point: These topics had already been decided by the time of the Protestant Reformation. There was no need for the Protestant Reformers to be reconsidering these topics.

As the Swiss cantons divided between Protestantism and Catholicism, civil wars began. (The Western Heritage, page 364)

The Protestant Reformation led to 150 years of terrible wars.

The moderate pace and seemingly low ethical results of the Lutheran and Zwinglian reformations discontented many people, among them some of the original followers of Luther and Zwingli. (The Western Heritage, page 365)

The Protestant Reformation didn't necessarily result in the moral conversion of Christians.

Because of the strong measures they [Calvin and his proponents] proposed to govern Geneva's moral life, many suspected that the reformers were intent upon creating a "new papacy." (The Western Heritage, page 366)

Many Protestant denominations are very authoritarian and dogmatic regarding their practice and belief. When I converted to Catholicism from Protestantism, I found the Catholic Church to be less repressive than the Protestant denomination to which I belonged.

They [the Protestant Reformers] succeeded by the force of the magistrate's sword. Some have argued that this willingness to resort to coercion led the reformers to compromise their principles. (The Western Heritage, page 376)

The Protestant movement allowed the state to rule the church. The Catholic Church is the only church (including the Orthodox Church) which refused to allow itself to be ruled by secular, political rulers (although the Catholic Church itself became a secular, political ruler.)

The laity themselves were also ambivalent about certain aspects of the Reformation. Over half of the original converts returned to the Catholic fold before the end of the sixteenth century. (The Western Heritage, page 378)

The Protestant Reformation didn't particularly help the laity. It merely substituted control by the Protestant church leaders instead of the Catholic church leaders.

He [John Calvin] also expected that the temporal power would be inspired by religious precepts, and by a desire to enforce all judgements of the Church organs. In matters of toleration, therefore, he was no more flexible than the Inquisition or Henry VIII. (Europe, page 492)

The Protestantism of earlier eras would likely horrify some modern-day Protestants.

The good Calvinist family was to abhor all forms of pleasure and frivolity—dancing, songs, drinking, gaming, flirtation, bright clothes, entertaining books, loud language, even vivacious [lively] gestures. (Europe, page 492)

Modern-day Protestants are often involved with vivacious music, entertainment, fancy clothing, and a general party spirit.

The spread of Protestantism has to be described both in socio-political as well as in geographical terms. Lutheranism appealed directly to independent-minded princes. It confirmed the legitimacy of their rule whilst maintaining the existing social order. . . . Calvinism, in contrast, coincided less with state politics than with the inclinations of particular social groups. (Europe, page 492-4)

All the various Protestant movements had a political element. Thus, it seems that Christianity always must have a political aspect. The Catholic Church agrees with this and has this political element built in to her very structure. (This does not imply that these are helpful or moral.)

The Protestants themselves were split into ever more rival factions. The scandal was so great, and the fragmentation was so widespread, that people stopped talking about Christendom, and began to talk instead about 'Europe'. (Europe, page 496)

The Protestant Reformation resulted in the decay of Christianity.

The Church is Catholic

[Section Header] The Emergence of Catholicism (The Western Heritage, page 170)

According to this book, it occurred by the end of the second century. Thus, it was the Catholic Church which determined the canon of scripture and developed foundational Christian doctrines such as the Trinity. The church has always been Catholic (but this continuity in name and structure does not imply a continuity in spiritual effectiveness or in teaching of truth).

The orthodox declared the Catholic Church itself to be the depository of Christian teaching and the bishops to be its receivers. They also drew up creeds, or brief statements of faith to which true Christians should adhere. (The Western Heritage, page 170)

Christ established the church, the Catholic Church, as the way he would pass on the gospel from generation to generation (but it lost sight of its mission over time.)

In the first century, all that was required of one to be a Christian was to be baptized, to partake of the Eucharist, and to call Jesus the Lord. By the end of the second century an orthodox Christian—that is, a member of the Catholic Church—was required to accept its creed, its canon of holy writings, and the authority of the bishops. (The Western Heritage, page 171)

Note that in the first century it was an apostle or someone ordained by an apostle who baptized and presided over the Eucharist. Later the creed was developed by the same bishops and those they ordained. The gospel message originated with Jesus and was faithfully passed-down from generation to generation by orthodox bishops.

Protestants who object to doctrinal development should consider that they themselves allow for it. For example, Protestants have interpreted the Bible and constructed statements of faith which are in words different than those in the Bible. Also, the principles of interpretation which they use are not contained within the pages of scripture — the rules of interpretation are "developments."

During this same period [by the end of the second century], the church in Rome came to have special prominence. As the center of communications and the capital of the empire, Rome had natural advantages. After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 135 C.E. [A.D.], no other city had any convincing claim to primacy in the church. Besides having the largest single congregation of Christians, Rome also benefited from the tradition that Jesus' apostles Peter and Paul were martyred there. Peter, moreover, was thought to be the first bishop of Rome. . . . By 200 C.E. [A.D.] Rome was the most important center of Christianity. Because of the city's early influence and because of the Petrine doctrine derived from the Gospel of Matthew, later bishops of Rome claimed supremacy in the Catholic Church. (The Western Heritage, page 171)

The Catholic Church began very early. Anti-Catholic Protestants often claim that the Catholic Church did not arise until the Middle Ages, but this is not the case. The Catholic Church was clearly in existence before the canon of scripture was determined and before the doctrine of the Trinity was defined. In fact, it was the Catholic Church that determined the canon of scripture and that defined the doctrine of the Trinity.

Many Protestants emphasize the importance of the Roman Empire to the Christian cause. Because of the good roads and freedom of movement, the gospel message was able to be spread quickly and easily. It was very propitious that Jesus selected that particular time period time to establish the church. But the seeds of the Catholic Church were also to be found within the Roman Empire.

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, under the influence of the church, an ideal of civilized behavior called chivalry gradually evolved. (Western Civilization, page 244)

The Catholic Church has been a civilizing influence. It has introduced high moral standards (but you wouldn't know it from observing the behavior and attitudes of various Catholic leaders over the centuries and into the present day.)

In the twelfth century, tournaments began to appear as an alternative to the socially destructive fighting that the church was increasingly trying to curb. (Western Civilization, page 244)

The Catholic Church has always been opposed to violence (except in self-defense and except when the Church leaders initiated it to suppress dissidents.)

By the twelfth century, the efforts of the church since Carolingian times to end divorce had borne much fruit. As a sacrament, marriage was intended to last for a lifetime and could not be dissolved. (Western Civilization, page 245)

The Catholic Church has very high moral standards (but you wouldn't know it from observing the behavior and attitudes of various Catholic leaders over the centuries and into the present day.)

The Apologists, from Aristides of Athens to Tertullian (155-255), clarified what ultimately became orthodox beliefs. Others . . . were revered for their defence of the faith against pagans and heretics. (Europe, page 205)

These Fathers of the Church all lived before the time that the doctrine Trinity was developed and before the canon of scripture was determined. They were all Catholic in that they wrote about Catholic doctrines such as (1) the necessity of baptism for the remittance of sins, (2) the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and (3) apostolic succession of the bishops via ordination. The early church was Catholic, not Protestant.

Catholic Virtues

The priests often deplored the harsh conditions imposed on Native Americans. . . . Priests were among the most eloquent and persuasive defenders of the rights of native peoples in the New World. (The Western Heritage, page 376)

Compare the treatment of the natives in South and Central America by the Catholic invaders with those in North America by the Protestant invaders. The general population in South and Central America have a mixed heritage because the conquerors interbred with them, but the Native Americans of North America were enslaved and transported to reservations. That being said, the Catholics mistreated and exploited people also.

When the [Catholic] archbishop of Mainz provided shelter for the Jews, a mob stormed his palace and forced him to flee. Popes also came to the Jews' defense [in the High Middle Ages] by issuing decrees ordering that Jews were not to be persecuted. (Western Civilization, page 255)

The Catholic Church has always defended the human rights of the Jews (except when they were persecuting them.)

Education in the Early Middle Ages rested primarily with the clergy, especially the monks. Although monastic schools were the centers of learning from the ninth to the early eleventh century, they were surpassed in the course of the eleventh century by cathedral schools organized by secular (nonmonastic) clergy. (Western Civilization, page 274)

It is the Catholic Church which started universities.

Science and the Church

The condemnation of Galileo by Roman Catholic authorities in 1633 is the single most famous incident of conflict between modern science and religious institutions. For centuries it was interpreted as exemplifying the forces of religion smothering scientific knowledge. More recent research has modified that picture. The condemnation of Copernicanism and of Galileo occurred at a particularly difficult moment in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. In response to Protestant emphasis on private interpretation of scripture, the Council of Trent (1545-1563) had stated that only the church itself possessed the authority to interpret the Bible. Furthermore, after the Council, the Roman Catholic Church had adopted a more literalist mode of reading the Bible in response to the Protestant emphasis on the authority of scripture. Galileo's championing of Copernicanism took place in this particular climate of opinion and practice when the Roman Catholic Church, on the one hand, could not surrender the interpretation of the Bible to a layman and, on the other, had difficulty moving beyond a literal reading of the Bible for fear of being accused by the Protestants of abandoning scripture. . . . Galileo, as a layman, had published his own views about how scripture should be interpreted to accommodate the new science. To certain Roman Catholic authorities, his actions resembled that of a Protestant who looked to himself rather than the church to understand the Bible. . . . It should be recalled that at the time there did not yet exist, even in Galileo's mind, fully satisfactory empirical evidence in support of Copernicus. . . . In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church admitted that errors had occurred, most particularly in the biblical interpretation of Pope Urban VIII's advisors. (The Western Heritage, page 469)

The false doctrines of Protestantism have an important role in this incident.

The same false doctrines about scripture alone have also resulted in the incorrect young-earth view of creation. The Catholic view does not hold this view.

Galileo's "proofs" for Copernicanism are today considered invalid.

He [Galileo] defended his findings with scathing comments on his opponents' biblical references. 'The astronomical language of the Bible', he suggested . . . was 'designed for the comprehension of the ignorant'. . . . Galileo's praise for Copernicus put Copernicus onto the Index [of forbidden books]. (Europe, page 508)

Galileo was acting as if he was a theologian and was insensitive to the church leaders and their dilemma.


Kagan, Donald; Ozment, Steven; Turner, Frank M. (2001). The Western Heritage (7th ed.). Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ

A textbook on Western Civilization.

Spielvogel, Jackson J. (2000). Western Civilization (4th ed.). Wadsworth: Belmont, CA

A textbook on Western Civilization.

Davies, Norman (1998). Europe: A History (1st Harper Perennial ed.). Harper Perennial: New York, NY

A history of Europe.