The “Mary” of Rome is Really the Madonna of Babylon

The “Mary” of Rome is Really the Madonna of Babylon

by W.E. Vine

In an article originally entitled “The Origin and Rise of Ecclesiasticism and the Papal System”, W.E. Vine traces the development of the hierarchical clerical system that pertains in Christendom. He proves that Rome (the Vatican, the Papacy etc.) became the seat of Babylonian abominations via Pergamos, and explains how pagan ceremonies, customs, and rituals, Babylonian in origin, came to be adapted and adopted by the “Church”. For his treatment of “Mary worship”, see his 5th chapter below.

1. Church Ministry and the Ecclesiastical System

Our first object in the following pages is briefly to consider the divine provision for that part of the constitution of the churches which relates to their spiritual care as developed in the churches themselves, and the influences which were largely responsible for a departure from the New Testament pattern and teaching. The departure was so pronounced that in post-apostolic times Christendom soon presented, and has ever since presented, something widely different from that which is set forth in the New Testament.

The question arises whether what is therein revealed was intended to be complete and permanent, or simply introductory and subject to modification. Either the Scriptures, God-breathed and divinely preserved, give us a full revelation of the mind of God for our instruction, or we are left to the notions and propaganda and dictates of men, with all the bias of their natural ideas and inclinations; in other words, we are left to be the subjects of ecclesiastical tyranny and of misguided human tradition. The Scriptures themselves testify to their completeness and finality, as a Divine revelation. “The faith,” the body of Scripture doctrine, was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). That “once for all” is a plain statement. A confirmatory intimation is provided in the Apostle Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to guard the good deposit of the truth and to commit what he had received to faithful men that they might in their turn be able to teach others the same (1 Tim 1:13, 2:12). No fresh article of faith was to be revealed. What had been taught must be handed on from generation to generation without addition, diminution or modification.

In church matters, as in other respects, the teaching of the New Testament is complete as a revelation of the will of God. While no ecclesiastical code, no list of doctrines, no formal set of regulations were issued, what is presented in the Word of God is uniform and consistent throughout, in matters both of doctrine and of practice, and has been proved sufficient under all conditions, however varied they may be, whether from the racial or any other point of view.

In connection with the spiritual gifts provided by the Lord as the head of the Church for the discharge of the responsibilities of the care of the churches, a comparison of the various passages relating to the appointment of men for such service makes sufficiently clear what was the divine intention. It is necessary to distinguish between the ministry of missionaries on behalf of the churches and the ministry of those bishops or elders who were raised up from within the churches themselves to discharge the requisite functions therein. The churches were formed as the result of missionary activity, and the missionaries exercised a temporary care over them, both by visitation and correspondence, but the spiritual care of the churches was also developed from within them.

In the earliest development of the work of the gospel, the church at Antioch, for instance, was cared for by the ministry of several men apart altogether from apostolic jurisdiction (Acts 13:1-3). Again, when churches had been formed in other places, the Apostles “appointed for them elders in every church” (14:23). It is clear that this was not an ecclesiastical ordination in the generally accepted sense of the word, but an appointment of men who had already been raised up by the Spirit of God and qualified to attend to the spiritual welfare of the churches with which they were identified, and who had already shown by their spiritual work that they were fitted for public recognition. The phraseology indicates, too, that the responsibility of such recognition was enjoined upon the churches. Another point of importance lies in the plurality expressed in the phrase “elders in every church”. So again in the case of Ephesus, the Apostle Paul sends for “the elders of the church”, and in his admonitions to them he states that the Holy Spirit has made them “bishops (overseers) to feed (or rather to tend, i.e., to act as shepherds, or pastors over) the church of God” (Acts 20:28). A number of bishops over one local church is significant. Yet this is what is consistently presented throughout the Acts and the Epistles as the divine design for the exercise of spiritual care in the churches.

That they were viewed not only as elders and bishops but also as pastors, is indicated by the fact that the Apostle speaks of the church under their care as a flock. They are represented in a three-fold capacity. As elders they were men of mature experience in the things of God. As bishops they exercised spiritual oversight over the local church. As pastors they were to give heed to the flock. They had no single ecclesiastic over them. They were jointly responsible for the care of the church. So with the church at Philippi. Paul’s epistle is addressed to the saints there “with the bishops (margin ‘overseers’) and deacons”. To the church in Thessalonica he says, “But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you (obviously the ministry of overseers or bishops); and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess 5:12-13). In the churches in the island of Crete, where matters had fallen into disorder, Titus was left to rectify the evil by appointing as elders men who were manifested as fitted to act as bishops (Titus 1:5-9), a plurality in each church, “elders in every city.”

The conclusion is inevitable. The divine intention was for a number of men to act in the capacity of bishops in every church.

This being so the question arises, what influences produced an ecclesiastical system so widely divergent from the divine pattern as that which had come into being by the third and fourth centuries, and has since continued? For though the Reformation effected a partial return to the teachings of the New Testament, and especially in regard to the fundamentals of the faith, yet the conformity to the Scriptural arrangements was far from complete, and the system of ecclesiasticism has continued largely to characterise the various sects of Protestantism.

One of the dominant influences in the process of departure from the divinely appointed constitution of the churches, was that of Judaism. Its antagonistic energies were as widespread as the gospel itself. “There are many unruly men, vain talkers and deceivers,” says the Apostle, “especially they of the circumcision” (Titus 1:10). This subversive influence was not confined to matters of doctrine, its tendency was towards a reversion to Jewish ritual and the synagogal mode of worship, to those pre-pentecostal forms which were largely the outcome of mere human tradition. How different this was from that dependence upon the presence and guidance of the Spirit of God which characterised the worship meetings of the churches, consequent upon the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, is significantly intimated in the Apostle’s warning to the Philippian church, “Beware of the concision, for we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God” (Phil 3:3).

The inception of another influence towards the establishment of the humanly devised ecclesiastical system developed after apostolic times, is traceable in the New Testament. “I wrote somewhat unto the church,” says the Apostle John, “but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the pre-eminence among them, receiveth us not…neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and them that would he forbiddeth and casteth them out of the church” (3 John 10). There is ever a tendency for the man of strong character to dominate his fellows. Rivalry produces the despotism of the strongest. Peter warns the elders against lording it over the charge allotted to them (1 Peter 5:3).

Again, those who promulgate some form of error naturally seek to gain and retain their ascendancy over their followers. There is an intimation of this in the marginal reading of 2 John 9, where the Apostle warns readers against the one who “taketh the lead and abideth not in the teaching of Christ.” (The R.V. gives the true sense here.) The early centuries produced a considerable crop of heresiarchs. There is something suggestive, too, in the word Nicolaitans (‘the subduers of the people’), who are the subjects of the Lord’s denunciations in Rev 2:6 and 15.

Carnal ambition, then, and lust of power, coupled with the other influences to which we have referred, were potent factors in bringing about a condition of things far removed from the pattern for the churches set forth in the New Testament. Another factor was the schismatic spirit by which church members associated themselves under party leaders. This development took place early and was particularly in evidence in Corinth. Of the many evils in the church there, this receives the first notice by the Apostle Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians. The trouble did not cease. Years after the Apostle’s death, Clement writes to them about the quarrels still existent among them “from a weak partiality for one or two persons.” Such evils were by no means confined to Corinth.

Gradually there developed a system by which ministerial functions became vested in a single ecclesiastic over each church. Churches appointed their own presbyters by vote. This was a distinct departure from the teachings of the Apostles, who first recognised and taught the churches to recognise the prerogatives and operations of the Spirit of God in raising up such spiritual gifts.

For the remedy of disorders and abuses in doctrine and practice, resort was had, not to humiliation and confession and conformity to apostolic teaching and to the Scriptures, in dependence on the Spirit of God, but to the convening of church synods and the establishment of a clerical caste on an extended scale, In the second century the bishop became distinct from the elder, and exercised authority over churches in a district with the assistance of the presbyters, which were appointed by him, each over a church. The appointment of higher ecclesiastical orders followed. The history of the various church councils in the early centuries and the decrees which were issued therefrom is well known.

2. The Development of the System

“I have this against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love.” This was the Lord’s remonstrance against the church at Ephesus, and it is indicative of the general trend of things at the close of the times of apostolic testimony. Clerisy did not attain to its full organisation till the fourth century, but its growth, fostered by causes already referred to, was likewise considerably due to the spirit of indifference to the truth which characterised the churches generally after the times of the Apostles. The existence of that state of things is clear not only in the Lord’s protest to the Ephesian church but in the messages to most of the churches in Asia. Ministerialism was able to mature easily amidst a decline from the faith, a failure to give ear to what the Spirit said to the churches. Instead of spiritual progress there was a declension from the very first.

They were thus ready to listen to the specious appeals both of the Judaisers and of those prominent teachers, or “Fathers”, as they were later called, the successors of the Apostles, who supported and fostered, by tongue and pen, the clerical organisation. Jewish teachers boldly advocated that Christianity was simply an outgrowth from Judaism, whereas in point of fact it was a complete substitute for it, as distinct as the new creation from the old. In the entire disregard of the teaching of the Apostles, and consequent upon the unscriptural distinction between bishops and elders, an official priestly order arose, and priestly offices were multiplied. How the spirit of clericalism was fostered is exhibited, for instance, in the epistles of Ignatius, who in earlier years had been under the instruction of the Apostle John. Writing in 109 the church at Ephesus he says, “We ought to look upon the bishop even as we do upon the Lord Himself.” In his epistle to the church at Tralles (also in Asia) he says, “Whereas ye are subject to your bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live, not after the manner of men but according to Jesus Christ.” In his epistle to the Magnesians he says, “I exhort you that ye study to do all things in a Divine concord; your bishops presiding in the place of God; your presbyters in the place of the council of the Apostles”, and then to the church in Philadelphia, “Give diligence to be established in the doctrine of our Lord and the Apostles, together with your most worthy bishop, and the well-woven spiritual crown of your presbytery.”

Such extravagant utterances, notwithstanding the early teaching which Ignatius received, afford no ground for the supposition that they represented what the Apostle taught, for they are entirely contrary to the teaching of the New Testament. They serve only to show how rapidly the churches departed from apostolic instructions and principles. The rapidity is not surprising after what is recorded in Chapters 2 and 3 of the Apocalypse. It is noteworthy that the Apostles nowhere commended the people of God to their successors; rather they invariably gave warning concerning such, and commended the saints to God and the Word of His grace.

How gross, too, was the failure to recognise the prerogatives of the Spirit of God! According to apostolic teaching “there are diversities of gifts but the same Spirit”; “to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit to profit withal. For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit.” All gifts are wrought by ‘the one and the same Spirit, dividing to each one severally even as the Spirit wills’ (1 Cor 12:4-11). Further, oral ministry in the church, instead of being confined on any given occasion to one individual, was open for the leading of the Spirit of God, so that it might be exercised by one and another of those to whom He had imparted spiritual gifts for the edification of the church (1 Cor 14:29-33). So in the Epistle to the Ephesians, “unto each one of us was the grace given, according to the measure of the gift of Christ”, who gave “some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of ministering, unto the building up of the body of Christ.” This exercise of the variety of gifts in the Church, instead of being a temporary arrangement for apostolic times, was to continue “till we all (that is, the whole Church, the body of Christ) attain unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a full grown man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph 4:7-13).

What room could there be in a clerical system, moulded according to the traditions and ambitions of men, for the recognition of, and obedience to, this teaching? Clericalism could only be counteractive to such unity. Unity was to be maintained, not framed. Ecclesiastical despotism has sought to enforce it, and, whatever measure of success such methods have outwardly achieved, they have sooner or later tended towards disintegration, and must meet with divine disapproval and judgment. The remedy for human failure and for the abuse of divine principles is not the substitution of methods adopted by human devisings, or of means employed to suit human ideas of what is advisable. Departure from the Word of God calls for a return to it. Failure calls for humiliation, confession and repentance. The Head of the Church who gave His instructions to His Apostles, and through their instrumentality left them on record for us in the New Testament Scriptures, gave therein a body of truth and principles adapted to every age, generation and condition. The pattern is complete, and exhibits the Divine wisdom in every part. Human tampering has only marred it in its working.

One of the motives entertained by Ignatius in his injunctions to the churches was the prevention of division, but the end does not justify the means. Nothing can successfully replace the instructions of the Word of God. Clericalism is Judaism adapted by human device to a faith from which it is essentially different, and to which it is radically opposed. The era of the Christian faith is the era of a priesthood, not selective as under the Mosaic economy, but co-extensive with membership of the Church; an era to be characterised by the exercise of the Holy Spirit’s power in developing gifts in the churches according to His own will. To interfere with this was presumptuous audacity. It paved the way for that Papal travesty of the Divine pattern which has stamped its impress upon Christendom.

The context of the command “Quench not the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19) shows that it was directed against prevention or obstruction, on the part of any in the church, of the Holy Spirit’s power and work in other members. The precepts contained in the passage in that Epistle relate to the responsibilities of the believers on the occasions when they were assembled as a church. “The peace, order, and edification of the saints were evidence of the ministry of the Spirit among them, 1 Cor 14:26, 32, 33, 40, but if, through ignorance of His ways, or through failure to recognize, or refusal to submit to, them, or through impatience with the ignorance or self-will of others, the Spirit were quenched, these happy results would be absent. For there was always the danger that the impulses of the flesh might usurp the place of the energy of the Spirit in the assembly, and the endeavour to restrain this evil by natural means would have the effect of hindering His ministry also. Apparently, then, this injunction was intended to warn believers against the substitution of a mechanical order for the restraints of the Spirit.”

How wide is the divergence from the instructions given by the Lord and His Apostles, when, instead of the exercise of spiritual gifts in the acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ and under the control of the Spirit of God, the authority for their appointment is relegated to others, whether king, or prelate, or people!

The remedy attempted by Ignatius and his successors did not effect a cure. False teachings abounded, heresies and divisions increased, and the carnal instrument of clericalism became only more carnal in its activities. Clericalism was like the new cart made for the ark, when King David would fain bring it to its appointed place, not according to the Divine ordinance for its conveyance, but after the manner of the Philistines (1 Chron 13). As that human device met with the disfavour of God, so must this. The day of retribution is foretold in Scripture. Let the true believer flee out of Babylon.

The humanly arranged priestly order in the churches degenerated grossly in the second and third centuries. Towards the end of the second century there are complaints of the corruption of the bishops. Their purity of motive was not fostered by the system that came into vogue, whereby officiating ministers not only received stipends but were forbidden to engage in any occupation by way of earning their living. It became their aim also to increase the membership of their congregations, without having regard to whether those who entered into church fellowship were born of God. The thoroughly unscriptural methods adopted by this audacious scheming opened the way, as we shall see, for the influence of heathen religions.

3. Steps Towards the Papal System

During the course of the second century the departure from the divine instructions given by the Apostles developed into a still more highly organised system. Regard was had to the opinions of church leaders and to matters of convenience, rather than to the Word of God and apostolic teaching. The various countries where churches had been formed were divided into ecclesiastical “provinces”, which were called dioceses. The rural churches were maintained under the supervision of city bishops, who claimed the right to appoint the various office bearers. These included an additional order of district bishops for the supervision of the sub-divisions of the provinces. Thus there came into being a distinct class of ecclesiastics between the controlling city bishops and the presbyters. They were subordinate to the former, but exercised authority over the latter.

The multiplication of offices only tended to enhance the unscriptural distinction which had arisen between officiating priests and those who were regarded as the non-priestly laity. This was nothing but Judaism foisted upon Christianity. While the New Testament speaks of elders and deacons, it contains not a hint about such an ecclesiastical caste as a set of priests acting between God and members of the churches. On the contrary, such a system is a complete contravention of the divine will. The Apostles taught that believers are constituted into a “holy priesthood to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 2:5). They are all “a royal priesthood” (v9), “a kingdom of priests” (Rev 1:6).

A further step towards the erection of the Papal structure was the establishment of church councils or synods, for each of which, naturally, a president became necessary. What gave rise to these was the increase of controversies upon matters of doctrine and discipline. Had the churches adhered from the first to the faith committed to them by the Apostles, and thus followed the teaching of the Word of God, each church acting under its own divinely appointed elders, in simple dependence upon the guidance and power of the Spirit of God, such difficulties would have found a more or less ready solution, or at least would have been confined to the particular church where trouble had arisen. Adherence to the Word of truth receives the ready aid of the Holy Spirit in instruction and correction. But matters had gone too far for any general return to the faith. Human counsels had prevailed in bringing about the single minister system, and consequently human counsels continued to guide the successive steps of declension from the will of God. Where the prerogatives of the Spirit of God are ignored one or other of two things must follow, disintegration or humanly devised systematisation, each being lawlessness in the eyes of God. Human expedients ever fail to accomplish divine purposes.

When once the clerical system had become dominant, appeals in cases of controversy were inevitably made to ecclesiastical councils, consisting of the leading clerics in the provinces. The function of president was usually discharged by the bishop of the chief city of the province, who thus received the designation of the Metropolitan Bishop, a title which eventually he retained in permanency, that is to say, apart from the functioning of any particular council. This increasing assumption of spiritual authority met with keen resistance on the part of the presbyters. Hence arose the struggle between Episcopalianism and Presbyterianism.

The process of declension from the principles of the Word of God was temporarily retarded by the series of fierce persecutions which transpired at intervals during the second and third centuries and terminated in A.D. 313. Church testimony was indeed maintained and revived, not merely in spite of, but even by means of the purifying power of Divine chastisement. “The gates of Hades” could not prevail against the Church. The bush that Moses saw was not consumed with the burning; God’s Israel still remains His people. So God’s true Church can never be extinguished. Spiritual Babylon is doomed to destruction, but never the Church of Christ.

Faithful companies of believers continued in one place or another through all the vicissitudes of those times, whether of calm or storm. But the counteracting effects of periodic persecution failed to arrest permanently the general tendency to departure along the lines which we are considering. The cessation of oppression witnessed the recrudescence of the evil. There were indeed two potent influences from which it received a mighty impetus, the one external, the other internal; the former that of Imperial patronage, the latter the desire for worldly aggrandisement. These were to one another largely as cause and effect. They combined to bring about the almost universal introduction of heathen elements and practices into the churches, which produced the corruptness of the fully developed religious system of later times.

If the unscriptural ministerial organization was successful to some degree in preventing division, it failed to resist the soul-withering effects of worldliness. On the contrary, the priestly assumption of the clergy fostered it. The churches must forsooth rival the earthly glory of pagan religions. It would not do for the Church to suffer the contempt of the heathen. Let the churches erect ornate places of worship, temples which should at least compare favourably with heathen fanes and outstrip them if possible in worldly grandeur! Idolatrous priests had ever held favour at court and obtained the patronage of men of high rank. Let the bishops be received on equal terms, that the dignity of the Church may be maintained in the eyes of the world! Alas for the Church when it joins hands with the world! Far better the humble, saintly, Spirit-guided worship of the catacombs! Far better the deep and holy spiritual joy that springs up under the pressure of the world’s hatred! “It is enough for the disciple that he be as his Master, and the servant as his Lord” (Matt 10:25). The world rejected and persecuted Him and they would do the same to His followers. “But all these things,” He said, “they will do unto you for My Name’s sake, because they know not Him that sent Me” (John 15:21). Identification with Christ will produce the world’s contempt as long as the present age lasts. The god of this world ever stirs up its malice against those who prove faithful to the Lord. This is their glory. It carries with it the joyous certainty of eternal reward.

The skill of the evil one is unceasingly expended in attempting to allure the saints from their allegiance to the Lord, and to court the friendship of the world; so it was in the days when persecution gave place to ease and prosperity, when the hiss of the serpent was succeeded by his flattery. Association with the world always saps the spiritual vitality of the believer. Here is the testimony of Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, who lived from 200 to 258 A.D.: “Forgetting what believers did in the times of the Apostles, and what they should always be doing, Christians laboured, with insatiable desire, to increase their earthly possessions.”

But the influence of the world is traceable not merely to the changed attitude of the Emperors or of the political world under them in any given locality. Behind all this lay the beginnings of departure from the divine counsels, in the establishment of the system of clerisy and humanly devised institutions in place of that divinely appointed, simple order of “elders in every church”, a plan so admirably suited to every phase and condition of Church life and testimony.

4. Further Developments Towards the Papal System

We have noticed the combined effect upon the churches, in the third century, of the desire for worldly aggrandisement on the part of the Church leaders, and of the patronage of the Emperors, who on their part saw possibilities of unifying the elements of the State through the instrumentality of the Church. With a view to establishing his throne on a secure basis, the Emperor Constantine the Great reconstructed the official arrangements of the Imperial Government, and adjusted the constitution of the Church so as to model it approximately to that of the State. The ecclesiastical organisation of the churches, by this time so vastly different from the New Testament pattern designed for them, lent itself easily to the adaptation. To the three paramount bishops in Christendom, the bishops of Rome, Antioch and Alexandria, there was now added the bishop of Constantinople, consequent upon the transference of the Imperial residence to that city. These four patriarchs, the heads of the hierarchical system, corresponded in religious matters to the civil prætorian prefects created by Constantine. Next to these were the spiritual exarchs, each presiding over several provinces, and answering to the civil exarchs. After these came the metropolitan bishops, who governed simple provinces and ranked with the provincial civil governors. Then came the bishops, whose authority was confined to districts. Finally, the bishops of ordinary rank, whose local jurisdiction varied in extent. The presbyters, of whom we have written in previous chapters, and who were reminiscent of those elders raised up and appointed by the Spirit of God when the churches were conformed to the divine plan, were gradually deprived of all authority, and in many places were entirely suppressed.

Constantine also divided the administration of ecclesiastical affairs into two parts, the external and the internal. The external administration he himself exercised, assembling councils and presiding over them himself; he fixed the limits of episcopal provinces, and assigned judges for religious disputes. The internal administration was under the control of the Church prelates, and was given effect at the Church Councils.

The whole ecclesiastical structure, thus made to coincide with the newly arranged civil organisation of the government of the Empire, was absolutely different from what is set forth in the New Testament. Nothing could be so contradictory to the mind of the Lord. Human expediency, and not the guidance of the Spirit of God, had initiated the ecclesiastical system. One step had led to another, and the ultimate issue was a complete dissimilarity between what Christ designed and what priestcraft had devised.

It was through the instrumentality of the great Church Councils that the welding together of Paganism and Christianity was completed. The Council at Nicæa (325 A.D.), for instance, while it was convened particularly to deal with the Arian controversy, was made the occasion of introducing the worship of the Egyptian goddess Isis, under the name of the Virgin Mary. That was only one example of a general policy which we will consider in greater detail. It serves to illustrate the corrupting effects of Imperial patronage and of the worldly and political aims both of the Emperor and of the leading ecclesiastical dignitaries. was nothing more than a Paganised Christianity. Heathen customs and practices, adopted to enhance the prestige of Church officials, were disguised under colour of ecclesiastical terminology. As has been well said, “A compound religion had been manufactured, of which…Christianity furnished the nomenclature, and Paganism the doctrines and rites.” The idolatry of the Roman world, though deposed from its ancient pre-eminence, had by no means been demolished. Instead of this, its pagan nakedness had been covered with the garb of a deformed Christianity.

Carnal aims lend themselves to carnal compromises. Aspirations after political power on the part of the leaders of the Church involved the surrender of its independence, undermined its loyalty to Christ, weakened the recognition of His Lordship and raised a barrier to the understanding of His will as revealed in the Scripture.

A church that associates with the world, as if the aims and interests of both are identical, falsifies its own testimony, declines from its high and holy calling, and fails to accomplish the designs of its Lord. His twice repeated statement, “They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world” (John 17:14,16), reveals the essential contradistinction between the character and condition, the motives and aims, of the Church and those of the world. “How can two walk together except they be agreed?” Christ and the world, as it exists in this age, cannot be in agreement. Its god is Satan, who inspired its rejection of Christ and maintains its attitude of hostility towards Him. To walk hand in hand with the world is therefore to walk in separation from Christ. To walk in agreement with Christ is to cultivate an intercourse to which the spirit that characterises the motives and ways of the world is entirely foreign.

Intimately associated with the growth of clericalism and its eventual subservience to the patronage of the State, was the influence of heathen social and religious customs. As these played such a prominent part in fashioning the Papal system we must notice them more closely and trace them to their source. For the Word of God gives plain intimations of its origin and character.

One instance will serve to illustrate the immediate connection. From the very earliest the churches under Apostolic teaching had observed the first day of the week, for the special remembrance of the Lord. On that day they met together to partake of the Lord’s Supper. This is clear from the New Testament (see Acts 20:7) and is confirmed by post-apostolic writings long before the time of Constantine. Realising that this fact formed a radical and separative distinction between the Christian churches and the heathen, the Emperor issued an edict that the Pagans should observe the same day in honour of Apollo, the sun god. This decree in honour of the sun would serve the purpose of uniting his subjects, as it enabled the Pagans the more easily to assemble with the Christians in their churches. The day was generally to be called Sunday, and this would remove heathen prejudices. On the other hand, the ecclesiastical leaders gladly accepted the decree, inasmuch as they freely admitted the heathen into Church membership, with a view to extending the influences of the Church, under the mistaken impression that the kingdoms of this world were becoming the Kingdom of Christ.

Constantine’s enactment was not of a Sabbatarian character, it was political. It gave a civil status to the association of Church ordinances with heathen festivals. The churches were now provided with a document giving a new character to a day which they had hitherto observed simply according to apostolic teaching. A serious precedent had been adopted. Through the instrumentality of the Church, decrees were issued by the leading prelates establishing other festivals under the auspices of the State, and these were multiplied as time went on. Jewish Law was appealed to in favour of this, and so the process of departure from the Word of God continued apace. The churches had already taken up in great measure with the observance of heathen feast days. There is a stirring protest by Tertullian early in the third century against the celebration of the feast of Saturn, the winter solstice etc. “Oh, truer fidelity,” he says, “of the nations to their own religion, which claims for itself no solemnity of the Christians! They would be afraid lest they should be thought Christians. We are not afraid lest we should seem to be heathen.”

Again, December 25th was observed throughout the heathen world as the birthday of the sun god. That was one of the high festivals of the Romans, and was celebrated by the great games of the Circus. A Church imbued with worldly ambition must not, forsooth, be behind the heathen in their celebrations, and hence it must be decreed that the birth of Christ should be celebrated on the same day. Chrysostom, remarking upon the fact that on this day “the Birthday of Christ was lately fixed at Rome”, supports the procedure by the argument that, as the Pagans called that day the birthday of the Invincible One, that is, the sun god, it was reasonable for the Church to observe it, as Christ, as the Sun of Righteousness, was the Conqueror of death. December 25th was most certainly not the day on which our Lord was born. The establishment of that day in the way mentioned lent itself to such abuses that in the middle of the fifth century we find Leo the Great blaming the Christians for stumbling their weaker brethren by keeping the festival, not on account of Christ’s Birth, but on account of the rising of the new sun. But what else could be expected when the whole drift and policy of the time was by way of the combination of Christianity and Paganism?

How little heed had been given to the warnings of the Apostle Paul in reference to the departure of Israel in the former age from the Word of the Lord! They turned away from God to follow the manners and customs, and to worship the idols, of heathen nations around them. “All these things happened unto them,” says the Apostle, “by way of example, and they were written for our admonition.” Today we are furnished with a twofold solemn example, both that of Israel and that of the Church. The evil effects of the early departure of the churches from the will of the Lord as revealed through His Apostles, are being witnessed now in a special manner, in the tendency towards a revival of the apostate system, and a turning away of many under its evil influences. It becomes us to give heed to the warning to “come out from among them and be ye separate”. Surely there is a tremendous call from the Lord today to separation both from worldliness and from religious departure from the Word of God.

5. The Pagan Origin of the Papal System and Its Connection with Clericalism

We have noticed the motives and ideas which led Church leaders in the third and fourth centuries to facilitate the united worship of pagans and Christians, and to adapt heathen observances and ceremonies to those of the Church in its apostate condition. The ingenuity with which this was accomplished was extraordinary. At the back of it lay the mistaken notion that, apart altogether from repentance and regeneration through faith, the nations of the world were gradually being incorporated into the Kingdom of God. Behind all this was the subtle scheming and operation of Satan and his hosts, into whose hands the churches had played, by their substitution of human aims, arrangements and expedients for the revealed will of God in the Scriptures. We can trace the craft of the evil one in preparing the way for this corruption.

The various heathen religions which were brought into requisition to enhance the power and extend the scope of the Church, had a common origin in the primitive post-diluvian worship of nature instead of the true God. The earliest systematization of this took place under that Nimrod of whom a brief account is given in Genesis 10, the centre of whose pristine kingdom was Babel, and who sought, in establishing that city as the centre of his power, to redress the disaster of the scattering of the people from the locality, consequent upon the confounding of their language. Authentic sources of information, derived from history and discovery, show that, upon the death of Nimrod, his wife, Semiramis, inaugurated his deification as the sun-god, and, in the further systematisation of the Chaldean “Mysteries”, established the veneration of herself as the Mother of the gods. The worship of the sun-god was maintained by a large number of celibate priests, whose ordination was accompanied by the mark of the circular tonsure, the emblem of the sun. This order of priesthood spread into most of the surrounding nations. Roman historians record how when the worship of the Babylonian goddess was introduced into pagan Rome, it was established by celibate and tonsured priests. Early in the Christian era, in the Christ-dishonouring process of the amalgamation of Paganism with Christianity, the prelates of the corrupt Church system adopted these heathen customs. In Egypt in the fourth century the tonsured, celibate priests of the goddess Isis were being regarded as the ministers of Christ.

At the death of Nimrod, sun-worship received an important modification, through the ingenious and unprincipled scheming of Semiramis. Nimrod, whose death was to be celebrated by a period of mourning, must be venerated as her offspring, “the seed of the woman”, and she herself as the queen of heaven. In course of time the worship of mother and child, spreading from Babylon, became general in the heathen world with amazing rapidity, and was adopted with unbounded enthusiasm. In Egypt they were known as Isis and Osiris; in Asia Minor as Cybele and Deious, or Bacchus; in Greece as Ceres and Plutus; in Italy as Venus and Jupiter; in Syria and Palestine as Astarte and Tammuz, or Adonis.

Nimrod’s death was celebrated yearly throughout the various countries by a period of lamentation, and to this the passage in Ezekiel refers in which the Lord is revealing to the prophet the abominations practised in Jerusalem. Brought to the door of the gate of the Lord’s house which was towards the north, he there saw “women weeping for Tammuz” (Ezek 7:14). Similarly the Egyptians wept over Osiris, and the people of Greece and Italy bewailed the death of Bacchus. There are evidences of the same practice in the ancient history of nations of the far East, as well as amongst the Indians of America and Mexico.

In the Spring season forty days of fasting were set apart previous to the actual celebration of the death, and everywhere the idea was borrowed from the custom initially instituted in the worship of the Babylonish goddess and her child. Pagans in Kurdistan observe the period up to the present time. Humboldt records a similar observance amongst the Mexicans. The forty days of fasting and lamentation were followed by a commemoration of the rebirth of the god. All this, with the heathen rites associated with it, was introduced into the churches in Christendom by the unscrupulous methods of ecclesiastical leaders. In this way the grossest corruption and superstitions spread into the Church.

What the Apostle records, in Romans 1:23-25, of the effects, in the heathen world, of exchanging the truth of God for a lie, and worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, was verified in Church history. All the revelries of the Carnival in connection with Lent thus became associated with the professed commemoration of the death and resurrection of Christ. So successfully had Satan prepared the way, for centuries previous to the Christian era, for the hideous mockery of God, the grossest travesty of the incarnation, atoning death and glorious resurrection of our Lord, and for the perversion of the truth by a corrupt and decadent Church, under the base and carnal aims of its leaders. The plans of the Adversary were laid with consummate ingenuity, all, however, under the ordering of God, whose righteous retribution falls upon man when he wilfully rejects the light.

In this way, too, the evil one prepared the way for the travesty of the blessed Trinity. Babylonish nature worship led to the veneration of Father, Mother and Child. The mother was the queen of heaven. How the people of Israel were corrupted in this respect is recorded by Jeremiah: “The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead the dough to make cakes to the queen of heaven” (Jer 7:18; see also 44:17). The worship of the mother gained precedence over that of the child. She, the favoured object of worship, was deified as well as her son, and is represented in the inscriptions of heathen nations as the one who was destined to crush the serpent’s head. She became venerable as the Alma Mater and the Virgin Mother. It is significant, for instance, that practically all the details connected with the cult of the Ephesian Diana are identical with what is known of the worship of the Babylonian goddess. In many countries she was regarded as the incarnation of the spirit of peace and love and the source of life. As the mother of the gods she became the object of almost universal worship, and everywhere her cult was associated with the utmost licentiousness.

When the corrupted form of Christianity gained ascendency over the nations, the worship of the Babylonish goddess was replaced by the worship of the Virgin Mary and her child. Pagans were taught simply to substitute Mariolatry for their accustomed object of veneration. The Madonna of Rome is really the Madonna of Babylon. Mary came to be regarded as the tabernacle of God with men, and the creature was blasphemously substituted for the Creator.

The evil one not only designed to keep the Christ of God before the eyes of Christendom as a Child, he prepared the way, too, for a gross misrepresentation of the work of the Cross. The shape and sign of the Cross, so abundantly in vogue in Christendom, was not primarily derived from the Cross of Calvary (which was probably of very different form), but from the mystic emblem of the ancient Chaldean rites and ceremonies, the evil meaning of which it is not incumbent to explain here. It served also to represent the initial letter of the god Tammuz, evidences of which are found on ancient coins. The letter was marked on the foreheads of those who were initiated in the mysteries, a ceremony accompanied by the sprinkling of water on the brow. In order to identify Tammuz with the sun a circle frequently was placed upon it, thus . By way of variety the sign was inserted in the circle, thus . The discoveries of Layard at Nineveh made clear that the sign was thus connected with sun worship. It passed into almost universal use in the heathen world. The Vestal virgins, or prophetesses of pagan Rome, suspended it as a charm from their necklaces. It was marked on the garments of the priests. The emblem was the object of worship by the pagan Celts long before the time of Christ, and there are evidences of its use in most of the heathen tribes of the ancient world. Stone crosses were erected in Mexico ages before the first Roman Catholic missionaries went there. In Egypt and other lands the emblem was regarded as the sign of life, and was supposed to have healing virtues.

It is in Egypt, indeed, that this pagan emblem seems first to have found its way into Christian churches. The bishops in that country were prominent in furthering the extensive incorporation of heathens into the Church and in the general adaptation of heathen rites, ceremonies and emblems to the Christian religion. It was specially pleasing to pagans to continue the use of their idolatrous cross or Tau emblem under the patronage of ecclesiastics and the auspices of the Church.

There is no evidence that Christ was executed on a cross of this shape. Crucifixion was frequently carried out on a tree-trunk or stake (which is the actual meaning of the word stauros). It was certainly contrary to the mind of the Lord and to apostolic teaching that anything like a crucifix should be used to commemorate the Lord’s death. When the facts are known the difference between the actual occurrence of the crucifixion of Christ and the superstitious representations and emblems of apostate Christianity, with all their foul and idolatrous origin, is startling in the extreme.

The aim, then, of God’s arch-adversary was so to obscure the facts and meaning of the work of Calvary as to keep before the world the idea of Christ either as a babe in His mother’s arms, or as a corpse on a crucifix. What was fundamental to the Christian faith in the facts of the incarnation and the death of the Lord was so perverted as to overshadow the facts of the living Christ raised and glorified, the Saviour of all who believe.

The way was paved for the admission of all these abominations into the churches by the rise and progress of the clerical system of priestcraft which we have considered in former chapters. Once men begin to depart from the truth of God they play into the hands of Satan, and open the way for all manner of evil. One step taken, others inevitably follow, unless there is an immediate return to the right ways of the Lord. More remains to be said in connection with these matters. Sufficient has already been stated to indicate the significance of the title, “Babylon the Great”, in Revelation 17:5, and what is there revealed concerning it.

The earliest known systematised form of nature worship, which originated in Babylon, centred, as we have observed, in the veneration of the sun. In addition to the signs and emblems previously mentioned as characterising the cult, and which were eventually adopted early in the Christian era by the apostate Church, the nature of the pagan sacrifices also bears witness to the Satanic efforts to forestall and eventually pervert the truth relating to the sacrifice of Christ and its significance. These offerings consisted of thin round cakes which were presented to the queen of heaven (originally Semiramis, the wife of Nimrod), and were accompanied by the burning of incense and the pouring out of drink offerings, idolatrous practices which, as we have noticed, spread amongst the people of Israel in the later times of their departure from God. Hence the remonstrance of Jeremiah to which reference has already been made, “the women knead the dough, to make cakes to the queen of heaven, and to pour out drink offerings unto other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger” (Jer 7:18).

When, in the fourth century of the present era, the worship of the queen of heaven passed into vogue in the churches, as the worship of the Virgin Mary, the heathen custom of the round wafer was likewise incorporated into church worship by the bishops in their various dioceses. By this means the character of the Lord’s supper, with its significant yet simple elements as instituted by Christ Himself, became perverted. The remembrance of the Lord and the commemoration of His death, observed in all its divinely appointed simplicity by the Apostles and believers in the first century, when on the first day of the week they met to break bread in fulfilment of His command, became entirely changed into a superstitious ceremony, adopted in Christendom in order to please the susceptibilities of heathen people and make it possible for them to worship under the auspices of the Church without departing from their heathen customs.

The insistence upon the roundness of the wafer had no connection with the paschal loaf of the Jews. No commandments were given to Israel as to its shape. In the heathen world the thin round cake was placed on the altar in commemoration of the sun-god. In Egypt, for instance, the wafer was presented in celebration of the sun-deity Osiris, who by his re-birth had become the life and nourishment of the souls of men. What a significant anticipatory counterfeit of the incarnation and death of Christ! The round wafer, symbol of an incarnate heathen deity as the bread of life! And this long before the actual birth of our Lord! How evidential of this heathen origin is the prayer of the Roman litany offered in the celebration of the Mass, “Bread corn of the elect, have mercy upon us.” Moreover, the ecclesiastical command requiring that those who partake of the wafer are to do so absolutely fasting, is the same injunction as was laid down in connection with the Babylonish sun-worship, and is entirely contradictory to the fact that the Lord instituted the feast of remembrance immediately the disciples had partaken of the Passover Feast.

The offering of the wafer as a bloodless sacrifice, presented in heathendom before the Christian era, and continued as a sacrifice in the degenerate churches of Christendom, is thus a travesty of the sacrifice of the Cross and not a commemoration of it.

So with the letters I.H.S., which are used in connection with the wafer and in other respects. These stood originally for the initials of the Egyptian trinity, Isis, Horus, Seb. Ecclesiastical ingenuity transferred them to the words “Iesus Hominum Salvator,” “Jesus of men the Saviour”. The motto in its latter significance is true indeed and good in itself, but its heathen connection and the motive for its adoption, namely, the incorporation of unregenerate heathen into the Church, and the Pagan use of it in connection with the sacrifice of the wafer, have degraded it. They were sad times in Church history when the sacrifice of the Mass, with all its gross superstitions, superseded the simple observance of the Lord’s Supper according to His institution, and the false teaching was promulgated that the symbols are changed at consecration into the actual body and blood of the Lord, a doctrine “repugnant to the plain words of Scripture.”

Other heathen customs were likewise incorporated. The Rosary, an instrument of extreme antiquity in pagan nations, especially among Buddhists, was adopted in the churches long before Dominic preached and popularised it. The use of wax candles, incense, images, the practice of lustrations and of processions, the wearing of vestments, the adoption of the mitre, derived from the fish-god worship of the Babylonians and Philistines (a perpendicular representation of the fish-head, and entirely to be distinguished from the Aaronic turban), and other forms of ecclesiastical ritualism, the enumeration of which would unduly burden these pages, all sprang from the same source. Priestcraft early paved the way for them all. The plea for their adoption was the recommendation of the Christian faith to the heathen by the attractive grandeur of a religion superior to their own. The favour of the Emperors, the priestly assumption and worldly aspirations of the bishops and the indifference of the laity, all contrived to obscure the true Christian faith and suppress the operations of the gospel. Church decrees usurped the authority of Holy Scripture. The Word of God was set aside for the reception of heathen observances. Forms and ceremonies supplanted the guidance and power of the Spirit of God. Ritualism superseded divine and apostolic simplicity, and superstition was substituted for faith.

Satan is ever on the alert to take advantage of the neglect of God’s Word and of deviation from His will as revealed therein. The adversary’s plans had bean skilfully laid, his idolatrous agencies in the heathen world were ready, and when once the Church ecclesiastics had opened the way for his inroads by their departure from the principles and injunctions laid down in the Scriptures, his Babylonish cult was foisted upon the churches to their utter undoing, with the result of the establishment of a false religious system which has rendered men and nations blind to the light of the gospel and the truth of God. “Babylon the Great…hath made all the nations to drink the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Rev 14:8).

6. The Climax of Clerisy

We have traced the development of the clerical system from its inception until, through its characteristic departure from the teaching of the Word of God, the way was opened for the adoption of the pagan ceremonies, customs, and ritual which were practised among the various heathen nations where Christendom had spread. We have also traced these influences to their primal source in Babylon. We then marked the further developments which led to the rise of the Papal System. It remains for us to consider the final stage by which the system became established in the Roman world.

When once, under the patronage of Constantine the Great, the Church had formed an alliance with the State, a union radically opposed to the teaching of Christ, the further course of apostasy was inevitably determined by this new relationship, and not by divine truth. Such an unscriptural union could not result in harmonious relations. The unbounded ambition of the Church prelates was ever directed towards supreme domination. This on the other hand was resisted by the efforts of the State to curtail the rights which the Church claimed. The struggle for government became intensified after the death of Constantine, which took place in the year 337. At that time considerable dissension arose among the four supreme ecclesiastical Patriarchs – those, namely, in Rome, Constantinople, Antioch and Alexandria. Indeed, the religious history of that time is largely one of the struggles of these officials each to attain to complete supremacy over the others.

The Patriarch of Constantinople was able, through the favour of the Imperial Court,to subordinate those at Alexandria and Antioch to himself. His efforts to subdue the Roman Pontiff were unsuccessful. Various causes tended to enhance the power of the latter. Firstly, bishops and other prelates of the eastern countries, suffering from the aggression of the Patriarch at Constantinople, constantly made application to the Roman Pontiff. Secondly, the decreasing power and the indolence of the Emperors who ruled at Rome made way for the Roman prelate to extend his power in every direction; and when the Emperors ceased to reside in the city itself, their absence tended the more to enhance the prestige of the leading Church dignitary. Thirdly, the policy of the Barbarians from Northern Europe, who were advancing on the Roman territories in the West and making inroads upon Italy itself, had the same effect. The chiefs of these Northern hordes, seeing that the Roman people were now dependent almost entirely upon the Patriarch at Rome, found it their wisest plan to secure his favour. Accordingly they bestowed what honours and privileges they could upon him. Fourthly, that which especially concentrated authority in the hands of the Roman Pontiff was the successful promulgation of the idea that St. Peter was the founder of the church at Rome, and that the Roman bishops were the direct ecclesiastical descendants of that Apostle. It was asserted that St. Peter held the supremacy among the Apostles and that this position was permanently vested in his successors at Rome.

This theory, which was entirely void of foundation, was an ingenious device. Its general acceptance in the fifth century. put the ecclesiastical rivals at Constantinople on a much inferior level in the public estimation, for the only claim which these latter could make as the foundation of their authority was the Imperial patronage.

The Western prelate who was most aggressive in establishing on a secure basis the universal authority of the See of Rome was Damasus. By his murderous defeat of his rival Ursicinus in 367 A.D., he obtained unquestioned possession of the chief episcopal chair. He it was who completed the union of the Christian and heathen communities, which formed the subject of our last chapter. In the year 378 he received from the Emperor the title and office of Pontifex Maximus, a title permanently retained by the Popes.

This title had been held by the high priest of pagan Rome. Its connection with Babylonish priestcraft is significant. When Cyrus, the Persian monarch, captured Babylon in 589 B.C., the Chaldean priests (of the ancient Nimrod cult) were expelled and fled to Asia Minor. Here they found a refuge under the King of the Lydian realm, by whom they were welcomed, and at whose capital Pergamos their hierarchy was established. At this city they and their successors continued during the period of the Grecian rule, which succeeded that of the Persians. This is perhaps the point of the reference to Pergamos as “Satan’s throne” in the Epistle to the church in that town (Rev 2:13). At the death of Attalus III, the last of the Lydian kings, in 133 B.C., his kingdom, and the Babylonish priesthood with it, passed under the dominion of the Romans. From Pergamos Julius Cæsar, in the next century, removed the priests and all their paraphernalia to Rome. This he did for political reasons. Already as head of the Roman State he had accepted from the people the priestly office of Pontifex Maximus, and now, combining in himself the political and religious authority over the Republic, his ends would be well served by incorporating under his high-priesthood the Chaldean system with which he had become acquainted in the Lydian kingdom. The gorgeous ritual of the Chaldean priests would add splendour and influence to the Roman religion. Thus did Rome become the seat of the Babylonian abominations.

From the time of Damasus, Church authority at Rome was considered superior to that of the civil government. In matters of doctrine the Roman prelate was the infallible judge. All ecclesiastical appointments lay in his jurisdiction. For any individual to separate from the Church of Rome involved schism. At the beginning of the fifth century Innocent I widely extended the recognition of Roman ecclesiastical supremacy and the skill and energy of Leo the Great, who acceded to the Pontificate in 440, brought about the universal acknowledgement of the dominant authority of the Roman See. Subsequent events issued in the accession of the Popes to temporal power.

From small beginnings of departure from the principles of apostolic teaching concerning the churches, there had developed by gradual stages a system the existence of which is utterly contrary to the Word of God. The structure was reared on an unscriptural basis. With those who reared it lies responsibility for the admission into the Church of a host of evils, perversions of the very essentials of the Christian faith, corrupt practices and abominations, wrought in the name and under the guise of religion.

The whole system was such a travesty of the teachings and principles laid down in the New Testament that, even after the Protestant Reformation, many of the truths of the Word of God still lay obscured under the dust heap of ecclesiasticism. That great revival opened the eyes of multitudes to many of the glaring errors which human tradition and ambitious assumption had substituted for the foundation truths of the faith. The history of Protestantism is largely a history not only of struggles against the tyranny and oppression of the Romish system, but, as the Word of God regains its authority over the heart and conscience, of gradual emancipation from the remnants of ecclesiastical domination and tradition which continue to exist even in countries where Rome does not hold sway.

Nothing but the Word of God itself, under the guidance of the Spirit of God who indicted it, can effect complete emancipation. Creeds drawn up by human arrangements, however pure and noble the motive, can never take the place of the Scriptures themselves. Only when men, in response to the strivings and guidance of the Spirit, have had resort to the Bible itself, have they found their way into that happy freedom from human tradition which adherence to the Word of God effects. The mists of error will still hang round the soul where the teaching of a church, or a sect, or a company of men, or a single individual, are adhered to instead of the holy, liberating truth of God.

In His prayer on the night of His betrayal the Lord said, “I have given them Thy Word”, and this holds good for the entire Volume of the Scriptures. His other statement is also applicable to it, “Thy Word is truth”. It remains absolute as the revelation of the will of God for all His people. The Scriptures were not provided as a partial guide, requiring additions and modifications by Church Councils and their decrees. Apostolic teaching itself is clear upon this point. The Apostles taught the churches to adhere to the truths which they had imparted to them.

The Faith which has been “once for all delivered to the saints”, is a complete cycle of divine instruction. It claims the obedience of those who would do the will of God. Only by faithfully fulfilling that which is therein revealed can we do what is pleasing to God, meet with His entire approbation here, and receive our full reward hereafter. Those who have shaken themselves free from the shackles of ecclesiastical tradition, in whatever shape or form, and have followed the light of truth as taught by Christ and His Apostles, have found therein complete satisfaction for the soul and a joyous consciousness of the fulfilment of the will of God.

These are days of confusion. There is a call to escape from the bonds of ministerialism, from even the remnants of clerical contravention of the Word of God concerning church truth, and to recognise the guidance and prerogatives of the Spirit of God, and the spiritual ministry which He provides. The source and nature of this we pointed out in the opening chapter. Our future and eternal rewards for faithfulness to God will depend upon our adherence simply and solely to the Scriptures.