We concluded our preceding article with the observation that the bishop of Rome began to occupy the leading position in the whole church, and that this was not difficult to understand. Various circumstances united to bring this to pass. It is now our purpose to trace this amazing phenomenon, the rise and development of the papacy, as set forth by Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian church. However, before we begin with this a few general observations may be in order which will throw considerable light upon this amazing development. 

It is understandable that the bishops of big churches in the large cities should be regarded as of higher rank than the bishops of smaller churches. These bishops of the larger churches came to be called metropolitan bishops. In the course of time the churches of five of the cities came to be regarded as having very special importance. These cities were Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome. The bishops in these cities came to be called patriarchs. And it happened that the bishop of Rome gradually began to have more influence than the other four. 

The church in Jerusalem was naturally held in high esteem. In Jerusalem Christ had been crucified, had risen again, and had ascended to heaven. In Jerusalem the Holy Spirit had been poured out into the church on pentecost. Jerusalem was, historically, the beginning of the church of God as it developed in the new dispensation. It was the mother church. And the mother church is always held in high esteem. 

The case of the church at Antioch was entirely different. In Antioch the followers of Jesus were first called Christians. There, as well as in Jerusalem, Paul had labored. There the work of missions among the gentiles had its beginning. Antioch is known as the first missionary church. Hence, the church at Antioch occupied a tremendously important position as far as its relation to the gentiles is concerned. It is the mother church of a multitude of churches in Asia Minor and in Greece. It had many notable bishops, and it had also become the seat of an important school of theological thought. Besides, next to Alexandria Antioch was the largest and most important city in the East, and the third city in size and importance in the entire Roman empire. It is not difficult to understand why the patriarch of Antioch should be regarded with tremendously high esteem. 

The church at Alexandria also occupied an important position. It could not claim apostolic origin. However, tradition relates that the evangelist, Mark, was active in its founding. Besides, it was the second largest city in the empire, the greatest seat of learning and culture, and for centuries far more splendid than Rome itself. There, too, flourished a famous theological school, in which origin, the greatest scholar of the church up to that time, had taught. Hence, Alexandria’s position and background enable us to understand the strategic importance of its bishop or patriarch. 

Another church which was held in high esteem was the church in Constantinople. This city had been founded as a Greek colony. Constantine the Great, the first “Christian” emperor, head changed his residence from Rome to this city. This explains why the town was renamed in his honor and called Constantinople, it previously having been known as Byzantium. Constantinople owed its importance solely to the fact that in it was located the residence of the emperor. However, this constituted a sufficient reason why its bishop should occupy a commanding position in the church. 

Last, but hardly least, is Rome. Rome was the first city in the empire. Not only is it true that Paul had labored there, but tradition has it that the church at Rome was founded by the apostle Peter (this tradition is unfounded). To that apostle, it is claimed, Christ had entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and Peter had transmitted the power of the keys of the Kingdom to the bishop of Rome. In almost every controversy the churches, in the east, as well as in the west, had appealed to the bishop of Rome. In the great controversies about the person and nature of Christ, orthodoxy had gained the victory because of the influence of the West under the leadership of the bishop of Rome. Jerusalem was no longer a leader among the churches, and its voice bore no weight in the controversies. There was always the keenest rivalry between the patriarchs of Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople for supremacy, and none of them was willing to acknowledge the supremacy of the bishop of Rome. However, in their struggle for supremacy they often sought the support of the bishop of Rome. The same Council of Chalcedon which permanently crippled the power of the patriarch of Alexandria, adopted a canon which declared the patriarch of Constantinople to be of the same dignity as the bishop at Rome. This proves indeed that the bishop of Rome was not viewed as the supreme bishop. In fact, we may say that against the canon of the Council of Chalcedon, which declared the patriarch of Constantinople to be of equal dignity with the bishop of Rome, Pope Leo I vainly protested. This Leo I died in 461. Is it not remarkable that, at this late date, he should protest in vain? The Roman Catholic Church can derive little comfort from this. 

We know, I am sure, the Scriptural claims which the Roman Catholic Church advances in support of the papacy. The belief grew that the church at Rome had been founded by the apostle Peter. Had not Christ said to him: “Feed My sheep, feed My lambs”? Had the apostle, therefore, not been put in charge of the entire flock? Moreover, to Peter had been entrusted the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Consequently, that Peter was first in importance among the apostles was generally believed at that time, and the idea grew that the bishops of Rome were the successors of Peter, who was fabled to have been the first pope. 

Moreover, the position of the Pope at Rome was strengthened by the course of history. Circumstances in a very remarkable way favored the growth of the papal power. The whole chain of historical events of that time seemed to lead to a gathering of authority in the bishopric at Rome. Let us briefly review these steps. 

First, the barbarians who invaded Italy had corn; under the spell of Rome. Rome finally fell in the year, 476, although it had been invaded and plundered already some sixty five years earlier. These barbarians had embraced Christianity and stood in awe of the bishops of Rome. We must bear in mind that when the emperor had been unable to protect the people from the barbarian invaders, the unarmed bishop of Rome had been able to shield them to a certain extent from the worst excesses of the barbarians. Pope Leo I had been able to restrain, in a measure at least, the fierce Attila and the wrath of the Vandal chief. Rome’s difficulties and troubles certainly served, therefore, to strengthen the position of the bishop of Rome in the eyes and esteem of the people. And we may rest assured that these bishops were not negligent in their efforts to take full advantage of this. 

Secondly, the destruction of the Roman Empire by the barbarians gave another tremendous boost to papal authority, This is not difficult to understand. There was no longer an emperor in Rome to overshadow the bishop. His competition no longer existed. The pope now stood alone. The bishop of Rome now held the most important office in the entire West. The destruction of the Empire (Rome finally fell in 476) certainly aided the bishop of Rome tremendously in his quest for power. 

Thirdly, another important factor which strengthened the position of the Pope at Rome was the work of the missionaries who were sent out from Rome. Churches were founded among many tribes in the northern part of Europe. And these missionaries were sent out from Rome. The great missionary, Boniface (he was killed in the year, 754, by the Frisians in what is now the little city of Dokkum, at the age of 73), the Apostle of Germany, had stood in very close relation to the bishop of Rome, and had carried on his mission work in his name. And it is not difficult to understand how this served to increase the strength and prestige of the bishop at Rome. A person who is convicted by God under the preaching of a certain pastor will always regard that pastor very highly. The churches which had been founded through the labors of the Roman missionaries naturally regarded with gratitude amounting to veneration the head of the church in Rome, which had sent these missionaries to them. 

Fourthly, the position of the bishop at Rome was greatly affected by the Mohammedan conquests. This series of Mohammedan conquests was finally concluded at Tours; France, in 732. Prior to this date, however, these barbarians had swept in from the East and nothing had been able to resist them. They had swept through Syria, Palestina, and Egypt, and had remov2d forever the patriarchs of Antioch, Jerusalem, and Alexandria as rivals to the bishop of Rome. This Mohanimedan conquest had swept through North Africa and removed the bishop of Carthage as a possible rival in the West to the bishop of Rome. It crossed over into Europe at the Straits of Gibraltar and swept through Spain. This mighty invader crossed the Pyrennees into France and was finally halted at Tours, France, in the year, 732. The Mohammedans finally retreated into North Africa, leaving ruin and destruction in their wake. But, removing forever the patriarchs of Jerusalem, Antioch, and Alexandria (Constantinople was the sole exception), they had greatly increased the power of the bishop of Rome. 

One more factor contributed heavily toward the establishment of the papacy. This amazing phenomenon was also aided by deceit. Documents known as the “Donation of Constantine” and the “Isidorian Dedretals” greatly aided the Pope at Rome. The former was a document, issued by Constantine the Great, in which, upon leaving Rome, he ordered all office holders in the Church to be subject to the pope and his successors upon the papal throne, and, furthermore, he also transferred to the popes the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts, and cities of Italy and of the western regions. The “Isidorian Decretals” purposed to show that all the rights claimed by the popes in the ninth century had been exercised by the popes from the earliest times. We need not discuss these documents at this time. They will be discussed, the Lord willing, when we discuss the following period of the history of doctrine. We may remark at this time that both documents are false. They have been proven to be false. Greater frauds than these documents are hardly conceivable. But, people accepted them as true for many centuries. And they certainly contributed heavily to the position of the popes in the midst of the church. The Lord willing, we purpose to trace this amazing development of the papacy in several subsequent articles as set forth by Philip Schaff in his History of the Christian church.