Denominations: Catholic Church (Part 1)

The word ‘denomination’ and related words are used in different ways.  The word ‘denominate’ means “to give a name to” (  The word ‘denominator,’ in mathematics, is used of “the part of the fraction that is below the line that functions as the divisor of the numerator” (ibid).  It has to do with division.  The word ‘denomination,’ in measurements, refers to “a value or size… especially: the value of a particular coin or bill” (ibid).  The word denomination, in religion, commonly to refer to “a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices” (ibid).  Generally speaking, a denomination is considered to be an organization which is “larger than an individual congregation, but smaller than the whole body of Christ (ed. Terry Hightower, Denominationalism Versus the Bible, Shenandoah Lectures, p. 27).  David Roper adds, “Denominational scholars and theologians now see a sharp difference between a denomination and a sect: where ‘denomination’ describes a group which is but a part of the whole, the word ‘sect’ is understood to represent a religious group which claims that it represents the whole church of Christ” (ibid, p. 29).  The Roman Catholic Church has considered themselves a part of the denominational world since Vatican II, 1962. 

We consider, at this time, the Roman Catholic Church.  The term Catholic means “universal” or “according to the whole.”  It began to be used in the second century (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 149; Frank Mead, Handbook of Denominations, p. 216).  The church, in a sense, is designed to be universal.  “The term, however, was soon applied to doctrine and organization that received the approval of the majority of the bishops” (Mattox). By Roman Catholic we mean the world organization that is led by the bishop of Rome [not Eastern Catholic, Anglo Catholic, or Old Catholic (a term used by some scholars for the pre-council early church cf. Mattox)]. 

Please keep this in mind.  The aim of this series is not to provide a thorough refutation of beliefs and practices found in a denomination.  Instead, the aim of this series is primarily to reveal the history and beliefs and practices of various denominations. 

The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest branch of Christendom.  It numbers about 1.3 billion members worldwide, as of 2018 (Vatican Publishes New Statistics 2020/03/26,  The distribution in 2013 was: 41.3% Latin American; 23.7% Europe; 15.2% Africa; 11.7%; Asia; 7.3% North America; 0.8% Oceania (How Many Roman Catholics Are There in the World?, March 14, 2013,  The two countries with the largest numbers of Roman Catholics are Brazil and Mexico (The Global Catholic Population, February 13, 2013,  There are about 71 million Catholics in the U.S.A., making it the fourth largest country by membership (Countries With The Largest Roman Catholic Populations by Kasia Jurczak, July 27, 2018,, bonus – the Philippines is listed third, and Italy fifth). In the U.S., the states with the highest percentage of Catholics are: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico ( The states with the most Catholics are: California, New York, Texas, and Illinois (, 2010).


1.  Development of 5 Patriarch

In the early church, the term elder (presbyter) and bishop (overseer) were used interchangeably (Acts 20:17 cf. 20:28; Titus 1:5 cf. 1:7).  Paul and Barnabas’ appointed a plurality of men to serve as elders or bishops in every church (Acts 14:23).

However, change soon came.  In the second century, some began to elevate a bishop over elders in a local church.  Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 107) is the first known to make this distinction (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, p. 174-f). 

In the fourth century, certain metropolitan bishops began to oversee other bishops in a province.  Next, “The logical thing to do was to set a few ‘presiding archbishops’ over several provinces.  Thus, by 381, the church had secured its five ‘patriarchs.’  They were the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, p. 37).  It is important to understand that not all accepted this oversight (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 293).

2.  Universal Bishop

Two patriarchs emerged as especially powerful.  The bishop of Rome in the west, and the bishop of Constantinople in the east.  Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were all considered a part of the east.   

Rome and Constantinople became rivals for power.  (a. Leo I, bishop of Rome (440-461),  argued for Roman supremacy on the basis of Apostolic succession (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 139).  (b) John IV (a.k.a. John the Faster), bishop of Constantinople (582-595), claimed the title of Universal Bishop (Mattox, p. 139; Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, Volume 4, p. 219).  (c) Gregory I, bishop of Rome (590-604), “was so provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption of his Eastern rival, and strained every nerve to procure a revocation of that title.  He characterized it as a foolish, proud, profane, wicked, pestiferous, blasphemous, and diabolical usurpation and compared him who used it to Lucifer” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 220).  He went so far as to declare, that whoever calls himself Universal Priest, or desires to be so called, was the forerunner of Antichrist” (ibid).  F.W. Mattox says of Gregory, “At the close of his reign the theory of the primacy of Peter and the Roman bishop as his successor and universal head of the church was well established” (Mattox, p. 140).  Schaff says, “he was inconsistent in disclaiming the name yet claiming the thing itself” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 225).  (d) Boniface III, bishop of Rome (606-607), assumed the title “Universal Bishop” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 230).  [Note: The term “pope” (father) was used long before this in the west for bishops (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 290, 300).  It became the exclusive prerogative of Roman bishops by Gregory VII (Hildebrand) in the eleventh century (George Klingman, Church History For Busy People, p. 22)]. 

3.  Date

It is difficult to assign an exact date to the start of the Roman Catholic Church.  What we know as the papacy developed over time.  Britannica says, “The major elements of what appeared later as Catholic structure and Catholic belief cannot be clearly perceived before the 2nd century” (Britannica © 1979, vol. 15, p. 986).  Again, under the subtitle The Middle Ages (313-1517), “During this period Roman Catholicism developed hierarchical structure that endured largely unchallenged until the reformation” (ibid, p. 987).  Some say that Leo I was the first real Pope, as we think of such.  Philip Schaff says, “The first Pope in the proper sense of the word is Leo I (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 315); Also, Mattox, p. 140).  Others have suggested that Boniface III was the first real Pope since it was he who began to wear the title Universal Bishop (George Klingman, Church History For Busy People, p. 22; Also, Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says About the Catholic Church, p. 19).

4.  History According to Them

It is well known that “Roman Catholicism claims continuity with the church of the New Testament” (Britannica, p. 986).  It is also claimed that Peter was the first Pope and that apostolic succession has continued to today, 266 Popes in their list to this point (   

Claims and proof are two different things.  Where is the proof that Peter was the first Pope?  Where is the proof of apostolic succession?  (Notice that I did not say historical connection.  Historical connection does not prove apostolic succession).

One thing is clear, the Roman Catholic Church looks very different today than the church that I read of in the Bible.  The Roman Catholic Church has: Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Laity.  I do not find this organizational structure in the scriptures.  Remember that scripture “thoroughly equips us for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

About Bryan Hodge

I am a minister and missionary to numerous countries around the world.
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