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Rev. Stewart is pastor of the Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Previous article in this series: November 1, 2008, p. 55.

Images from Rome’s Political History

The Roman Church’s rise in, and exercise of, political power through the ages has been detailed in many books and could rightly merit a Standard Bearer article or two. For our purposes, though, we shall just mention some of the most outstanding instances and images, before moving on to Rome’s current policies.

* Pope Leo I’s saving the city of Rome from Attila the Hun by his last-ditch mediation (452).

* the Donation of Constantine, a forged Roman imperial edict (c. 752-767), granting Pope Sylvester I (314-335) and his successors dominion over lands in Judea, Greece, Asia, Thrace, and Africa, as well as in the city of Rome, Italy and the entire Western Roman Empire, thus justifying the Papal States (754-1870).

* Pope Leo III’s crowning of Charlemagne on Christmas Day (800).

* Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV standing for three days bareheaded in the snow doing penance before Pope Gregory VII in the castle at Canossa (1077).

* the crusades—the nine main ones against the Muslims in the Middle East (1095-1272) and others against the pagans in the Baltic, the Mongols in the east, the Ottomans in the Balkans, etc.

* the only English pope, Pope Adrian IV, giving Ireland to the Norman King of England, Henry II, in order to gain “Peter’s pence” from the Irish (1155).

* Pope Innocent III’s excommunicating King John of England (1209), placing the country under an interdict (1207-1213), and threatening England with a crusade led by Philip Augustus of France (1213).

* the Inquisition, classified by historians as the Medieval Inquisition (1184-1230s), the Spanish Inquisition (1478-1834), the Portuguese Inquisition (1536-1821), and the Roman Inquisition (1542-1860).

* papal bulls (1481, 1493, and 1506) dividing newly discovered lands to the west and south between Spain and Portugal.

* the papal deposition of King Henry VIII (1535) and Queen Elizabeth I (1570) and the absolving of all allegiance owed them by their subjects. Z the persecution of the Waldensians (around the Alpine regions), Lollards (England), Hussites (Bohemia), and Protestants (Europe and around the world).

* the Counter-Reformation (1560-1648), which was especially ‘successful’ under the Roman Catholic Austrian Habsburgs in central and eastern Europe.

* the rise in political power of the Jesuits; their suppression in Portugal, France, the Two Sicilies, Parma, and the Spanish Empire by 1767; and their subsequent restoration.¹

* papal compromise with Hitler and Mussolini around World War II (1939-1945), including the genocide perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Ushtasi in Croatia and the Vatican “ratlines” through which they smuggled war-criminals out of Europe, often to South America.²

The dictum of nineteenth-century English Roman Catholic his torian Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt; absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is well-known. What is not so well-known is that he was referring to the power of popes and kings (in that order). The above list merely points to, and is far from exhaustive in dealing with, Rome’s pride, greed, lies, intrigue, manipulation, torture, war, genocide, abuse of the keys of the kingdom, and persecution of God’s people.³

Rome’s Political Positions Today

Rome’s “updating” (Italian: aggiornamento) of her declared political policy—a euphemistic “development” according to her apologists; “contradiction” would be more accurate—should not be seen as ending her political activities or aspirations. Jesuit Thomas J. Reese summarizes some of the Vatican’s political positions and gives examples of its power:

Papal teachings on birth control and abortion have demographic and environmental effects that are widely condemned by those supporting population control and “reproductive freedom,” and widely endorsed by conservatives espousing “family values.” Vatican diplomats successfully opposed the inclusion of abortion rights language in a UN document at the 1994 Cairo conference on population and development. Papal opposition to the Persian Gulf war angered some and pleased others. Vatican opposition to economic sanctions against Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Cuba has gone against American foreign policy goals. Vatican views on arms control, Third World debt, capitalism, religious freedom, and refugees are an integral part of the international discourse in which the Catholic church is a unique participant. The impact of papal actions on the world has led practically every nation except China and Vietnam to exchange ambassadors with the Holy See. Catholic and non-Catholic nations alike believe it is in their self-interest to have representation in the Vatican. And when popes speak at the United Nations, it is an event of major international importance.4

The Church of Rome loudly proclaims the sanctity of human life and human rights, as if everyone is ignorant of its long, bloody history (cf. Rev. 17:6).

The Vatican is opposed to birth control and abortion.5 Yet current Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, and other Roman Catholic politicians in the US and elsewhere who promote abortion are allowed to come to the mass and are not effectively disciplined.

At the other end of earthly, human life, the Roman Church opposes euthanasia and suicide, yet it is (basically) against capital punishment (contrast Gen. 9:6 and Rom. 13:4).6

Concerning the origin of life, Rome believes theistic evolution and so does not support teaching creationism or even intelligent design as an alternative to evolutionism in state schools. In Roman Catholic schools, evolution is taught in science classes and theistic evolution in religion classes.7 Rome has not only embraced Galileo’s heliocentrism—another about turn—but also Darwin’s theory of single-cell organisms becoming apes becoming humans. Billions of years after the “big bang” and evolution from the first life forms, a pre-human became a man when the Creator immediately created his soul and he became able to think of God. One can easily imagine the sort of fancy footwork required to “fit” this with the opening chapters of Genesis and the rest of the Bible—akin to that in Boniface VIII’s Unam Sanctam (1302), which argues for papal, political primacy from the Bible!8

The Holy See is against homosexuality, though supposedly celibate Roman Catholic priests are, to say the least, in a profession in which the incidence of sodomy and paedophilia has long ranked among the highest. Former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair passed a raft of pro-homosexual legislation, all the while preparing himself for conversion to Rome after he left office. He was received in the Roman Church without any word of penitence. Despite initial, loud opposition to new civil laws giving homosexuals the right of adopting children in the UK, the largest Roman Catholic adoption agency in England and Wales has now decided to allow homosexuals to adopt.

Rome’s political philosophy is (broadly speaking) right-wing on moral issues (e.g., on abortion, in-vitro fertilization, euthanasia, suicide, embryonic stem-cell research, and sodomy, though not on capital punishment and teaching creationism in the schools) but left-wing on labor, economic, environmental, and “peace” issues.

The Vatican calls for the right of all workers to a minimum wage and to organize in trade unions.9 Rome supports debt relief for poor nations, affordable housing for all, and the welfare state.10

The Roman Church declares its support for refugees.11 For instance, 30% of the (legal) refugees admitted in the US during the fiscal year that ended 30 September, 2008, came through the American Roman Catholic Migration and Refugee Services. The Holy See also defends illegal Mexican immigrants in the US, gaining thereby a greater Roman Catholic presence in the world’s most powerful nation.

The Vatican is increasingly vocal (and politically correct) on “green” issues. The Roman Church supports arms control, and hopes for, and works towards, a day when there will be no more war.12 It is against the Iraq War. One would never think from this that Rome herself started dozens of wars and that the likes of Julius II, the warrior pope, sat on the papal throne (1503-1513).

Rome’s political philosophy flows from her social teaching. Building upon the ideas of Aristotle (a Greek philosopher) and Aquinas (a medieval theologian), and stated officially, for example, in such papal encyclicals as Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (Of New Things, 1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (In the Fortieth Year [after Rerum Novarum], 1931), Roman Catholic social teaching has been instrumental in the formation of Christian democratic parties in Roman Catholic countries in Europe and Latin America.13

Roman Catholic social teaching may be summarized very briefly under a statement of its three key terms. First is the principle of “solidarity,” the essential unity of all human beings, irrespective of race, color, nationality, class, gender, etc.14 Second, there is “subsidiary,”

according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.”15

Third, the “common good” is the welfare of all, which includes the maintenance of human rights, a more equal distribution of wealth, and social justice. If you ask, “Who is to decide what the common good is in a particular instance?” or “What is that organization in which the common good is most truly obtained, solidarity most faithfully expressed, and subsidiarity best exemplified?” the answer would undoubtedly take one back to the “Holy Father” (the pope) and the “perfect society” (the one, holy, catholic, apostolic, and Roman church).16

… to be continued.

¹ The suppression of the Jesuits in the Spanish Empire at this time explains the name San Francisco in California, because this mission field was given to the Franciscans and not the out-of-favour Jesuits (cf. Hughes Oliphant Old, The Reading and Preaching of the Scriptures in the Worship of the Christian Church, vol. 5 [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999], pp. 356-357).

² This is denied by Roman Catholic apologists. See, however, e.g., Dave Hunt, A Woman Rides the Beast (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1994), pp. 264-326; John W. Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania: The Economic and Political Thought of the Roman Catholic Church (USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1999), pp. 161-173.

³ Cf. Belgic Confession 29: “As for the false church, she ascribes more power and authority to herself and her ordinances than to the Word of God, and will not submit herself to the yoke of Christ…she relieth more upon men than upon Christ; and persecutes those who live holily according to the Word of God, and rebuke her for her errors, covetousness, and idolatry. [The true and the false church] are easily known and distinguished from each other.”

4 Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), pp. 3-4.

5 These are two key factors in the modern “culture of death,” a term popularized by John Paul II (1978-2005).

6 To state Rome’s position more precisely, it holds that the death penalty should be avoided unless it is the only way to defend society from the offender in question, and that given today’s penal system such a situation requiring an execution is either rare or non-existent. Two advantages of this fine distinction is that it enables apologists to argue that they do not disagree with Thomas Aquinas (Rome’s number 1 theologian) and that the execution of Protestants and others in the past may be justified.

7 Rome claims that the Bible is inerrant when dealing with salvation, but not when it speaks on scientific or historical matters. As well as denying Scripture’s infallibility, Rome also denies its canonicity (Rome’s approval makes their 73—not 66—books canonical), sufficiency (Rome’s tradition is necessary), perspicuity (the Roman magisterium alone can interpret it aright), and authority (the Bible yields to science, Roman teaching, etc., where they clash with it).

8 Cf. “Evolution and the Roman Catholic Church” (

9 See, however, Prof. David J. Engelsma’s pamphlet against trade unions: “Labor Union Membership in the Light of Scripture” (Peace PRC, 2003).

10 From this and subsequent paragraphs, it will be evident that Roman Catholic political theory necessitates and supports big government and state interventionism: the “nanny state” (cf. Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania, pp. 81-94).

11 The bedraggled Huguenot refugees who left France for Geneva, the Netherlands, Britain, Ireland, America, etc., because of Roman Catholic persecution received little support from the Holy See.

12 Cf. the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965), in Walter M. Abbot (gen. ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (USA: The America Press, 1966), pp. 289-297.

13 Examples of Christian democratic parties include the German Christian Democratic Union (led by Konrad Adenauer, 1950-1966), the Christian Democrat Party of Chile (the most influential Christian democrat party in S. American history), the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland, and Fine Gael in the Republic of Ireland. In many countries, the Roman Catholic ethos of the Christian democratic parties has been diluted by secularization.

14 It is no accident that the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union, Solidarity, co-founded by Lech WaÅ‚Ä™sa in Roman Catholic Poland, was so named.

15 Catechism of the Catholic Church (USA: Doubleday, 1995), 1883 (pp. 512-513), quoting from Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931).

16 For further discussion and a critique of Rome’s teaching on “solidarity,” “subsidiary,” and the “common good,” see Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania, pp. 151-160.