When Catholic is not Catholic

oman Catholicism asserts that it is the same church founded by the apostles. They have to assert this, for their very claim to power is an unbroken apostolic succession. Protestant historians disagree, stating that there was development in their theology that brings them to where they are today.

Interestingly, however, many Protestants (non-Catholic Christians in general) seem to accept the claim that the Roman Catholic Church has always existed. In this short two-part series in remembrance of Reformation Day, we will look at a brief outline of the historical developments of Catholic doctrine.

There are so many things we can (and probably should) look at, from a historical analysis of the so-called "unbroken succession" of popes to the sale of indulgences that helped spark the Reformation. However, for this short series, there are only five categories we’ll review: Mary, Monasticism, Papal Authority and Tradition, Views on Salvation, and Transubstantiation.

These points have been adapted from materials provided by Dr. Michael Vlach, assistant professor of theology at The Master’s Seminary.

From the first through the seventh centuries Marian devotion focuses on reverent admiration of Mary as Mother of God (Theotokos), though it is not until 431 that this becomes an official designation.

Irenaeus of Lyons (130-200) may have been the first to see Mary as the “new Eve.”

In the 2nd century, “Born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary” appears in baptismal creeds.

The 4th century saw several developments. A Greek manuscript fragment asks the “Mother of God” for protection. Some churches, including Nazareth’s Church of the Annunciation, are dedicated to Mary. Athanasius (d. 373) proposes the Virgin Mary as an example to dedicated virgins, and Ambrose (d. 397) devotes a series of writings to Mary as a model of Christian virginity.

In the early 5th century—Severian of Gabala calls the praise of Mary a daily custom. St. Nilius (d. 430) says the praise of Mary is found in every land and language. Jerome (331–420) taught the perpetual virginity of Mary. Against Nestorius, who called Mary only Christotokos—mother of Christ—the Council of Ephesus (431) affirms Mary as Theotokos—mother of God.

In the middle of the 6th century, the Feast of the Annunciation (Mar. 25) was inaugurated. Later that century, the Feast of the Nativity of Mary (Sept. 8) was also inaugurated.

In the 7th century, Eastern monks introduce the main Marian feasts to the West. The Eastern homilist Sophronius (d. 638) extols Mary’s power of intercession.

In the 8th century, the Presentation of Mary Feast was inaugurated in the East. Germanus of Constantinople (d. 733) said, “There is no one to whom the grace is given except through Mary”—the earliest explicit testimony that Mary dispenses graces to the church. He also used the title “Mediatrix” of Mary, indicating belief that Mary shared in the saving mission of Jesus, (along with Andrew of Crete [d. 740] and Tarasius [d. 807]).

In the 9th century, the title “Mediatrix” is introduced into the West through a translation by Paul the Deacon. From the 12th century on, it is applied to Mary with ever-increasing frequency until it becomes generally accepted in the Roman Catholic church in the 17th century.

This is due to Bernard of Clairvaux’s (d. 1153) work in the 12th century, where he popularizes the teaching that Mary is dispenser of grace to Christians. His statement that “God has willed that we should have nothing that did not pass through the hands of Mary” was oft-repeated in that period.

Marian devotion increasingly focused on Mary’s compassion on Calvary and, based on her assumption into heaven, her present assistance to all Christians. For instance, in the 12th century, the “Hail Mary” prayer was first used and paired with the Rosary. Thus, the 12th—13th centuries saw “The Age of the Virgin,” a sharp increase in literary and artistic treatments of Mary.

Duns Scotus (1266-1308) contributed to Roman Catholic view of the Immaculate Conception. Before Scotus, most significant theologians held that Mary was free from sin after her conception, including Bonaventure (d. 1274), Albert the Great (d. 1280), Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274). Mary is prominent in the theology of Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Scotus.

In the late 14th century, the title “co-redemptrix” first appeared in Catholic literature.

In the 15th century, meditation on the life of Mary becomes very popular. In 1477, Sixtus IV becomes the first pope to refer to the “spiritual motherhood” of Mary.

The Reformation comes in 16th century, which began the process of stripping away many of the unbiblical elements that had developed concerning Mary in the last 1500 years.

The beginnings of monasticism did not occur until the later part of the third century. Certainly, there were writings such as the Shepherd of Hermas and others that spoke of the necessity for self denial, but the beginnings of monasticism did not occur until the later part of the third century.

The stimulus: the Christianization of the Roman Empire as a result of Constantine’s conversion (312) and his Edict of Milan (313). Not all Christians were comfortable with this development. With persecution ending and a great influx of professing Christians in the empire, some of the more dedicated Christians were concerned that there was too much laxity in the church. As such, many moved into the desert to live lives as hermits, seeking God apart from the influences of the world. Others stressed, however, that Christian obedience could not be fulfilled in solitude, and the first monastic community was founded around 320.

By the fourth century, monasteries were established in the Christian east, particularly in regions of Syria and Asia Minor. Basil the Great (c. 330–379) was the most important person in the development of Eastern monasticism. Monastic communities were founded under the authority of a local bishop.

Jerome (331–420) established separate monasteries for both men and women. He strongly promoted virginity and asceticism.

The monastic ideal spread quickly. By the fifth and sixth centuries, most church leaders were monks or closely linked to monasticism. The number of monasteries grew significantly during the sixth century, and in the sixth century, Benedict of Nursia established what came to be known as the Rule of Saint Benedict which was a popular manual for monastic life.

As is possible in any community, monasteries became corrupt. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) reformed monasticism, giving it a firmer structure, and establishing a monastic military order that would defend the church and its causes. This included participation in the Crusades.

The late middle ages saw a significant shift in monastic life. Dominican and Franciscan orders became mobile, for example, seeking to preach and stimulate local revivals.

Luther would later come from an Augustinian order.

In trying to keep these posts as brief as possible, this is to be continued tomorrow.

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