The Historical Development of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism

Aug 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

In the July 2011 edition of Christianity Today there is an interview with Bishop Kallistos Ware, formerly known as Timothy Ware, who had converted to Orthodox Christianity as a young man and who wrote a rather definitive book entitled The Orthodox Church.  Since his conversion to Orthodoxy, Ware has become a monk, took the name Kallistos, became a lecturer at Oxford University and was made Metropolitan Bishop of Diokleia for Greek Orthodoxy in Great Britain.  Ware is representative of a number of evangelicals who have converted to Orthodoxy.  Among more prominent Christians who also have converted is Franky Schaeffer, the son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer.

Because of these rather well-known conversions, I am devoting this entire edition of Issues in Perspective to an analysis of Eastern Orthodoxy and its differences with Roman Catholicism.

The Origins of Roman Catholicism. The Christian church began on Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit filled the nearly 120 believers gathered in Jerusalem.  From there it spread to Judea, Samaria and then to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).  Organizationally, the church developed from a plurality of church leadership in the 1st century (e.g., Philippians 1:1), to a bishop having authority over several churches in the 2nd century, to a hierarchical structure into 3rd and 4th centuries.  By the 5th century, the church regarded the Bishop of Rome as the first among equals and the city of Rome as its geographical center.  Through church councils (e.g.,   Nicea [325] and Chalcedon [451] and others), the church reached agreement that the Bible taught God is Trinity, Jesus is God, His death is a substitutionary one and that He is coming again.  Protestant church historians generally maintain that institutionalized Roman Catholicism began with Gregory?s appointment as bishop of Rome in A.D. 590.  Though he refused the title pope, administratively, he organized the papal system of government that characterized the entire medieval period.  Thus, all the major bishoprics of the West looked to him for guidance and leadership.  He likewise standardized the liturgy and theology of the burgeoning Roman Church.  Doctrines like the veneration of Mary, purgatory, an early form of transubstantiation, and praying to departed saints found their infant pronouncements in his writings.  Gregory also promoted missionary activity among the Germanic tribes, who had conquered the Western Roman Empire.  Gregory laid the foundation for the great edifice known as Roman Catholicism.

Two other factors contributed to the growing power and prestige of the Roman bishop.  First, an early king of the Franks, Pepin the Short (741-768), granted the pope extensive land in central Italy–the Donation of Pepin–making the Catholic Church a temporal and political power in Europe.  Second, the Donation of Constantine allegedly gave power and authority to the Roman bishop when Constantine relocated his capital to the East.  It was later discovered to be a forgery.  Both, however, solidified the power of the pope.  Missionary activity throughout Europe by Boniface (672-754), Columba (521-597), Patrick (ca. 389-461) and many others brought the areas under Germanic tribal domination into the Roman Catholic fold.  The Church became a civilizing force as these tribes converted to faith and settled down.  During the medieval period of church history (600-1500), a group of theologians called the Scholastics theologically systematized the body of critical Roman Catholic doctrine.  The apex of Scholastic Theology was reached with Thomas Aquinas.  His life of scholarship forever shaped the direction of institutionalized Catholicism.  In His Summa Theologica, he gave critical support to the distinctive doctrines of the Christian faith, including the attributes of God, the resurrection and ex nihilo creation.  He also defended the veneration of Mary, the seven holy sacraments through which God conveys grace, purgatory, and the role of human merit in salvation, all distinctive Roman Catholic doctrines.  He likewise gave a philosophical defense that the communion elements at the prayer of consecration become, sacrificially, the actual body and blood of Christ (transubstantiation).  Roman Catholicism not only had a distinct hierarchical structure with clear geographical support, it now had a defining theology. PRINT PDF

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One Comment to “The Historical Development of Christianity: Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism”

  1. Justina says:

    I can’t understand why Orthodox writers sometimes refer to RC transubstantiation without qualification
    “an early form of transubstantiation.” While to us it may mean the Roman Scholastic ideas that they
    can tell when how why where the transformation of bread and wine into Christ’s Body and Blood occur,
    and rely on the priest more than The Holy Spirit to do so, nowdays no epiclesis after the words of

    and we just call it transformation and rely more on The Holy Spirit in the epiclesis after the words of

    the average reader sees “transubstantiation” as meaning the change itself, not the surrounding doctrines
    of priest as icon of Christ and doing it himself. WE ALSO believe in the change of bread and wine into
    Jesus’ Body and Blood, and St. Ignatius who died AD 107 referred to the same truth in a letter. This is
    original Christian doctrine, and in John chapter 6 Jesus speaks of eating His flesh and does not qualify
    this as being mere metaphor when people were offended and left Him.

    The last sentence sounds like Bishop Kallistos Ware doesn’t believe in the Transformation. Can it be that
    an Orthodox Bishop does not believe in this transformation?