In order to fight the Gnostics, creeds were developed and there were two types: interrogatory and declarative. The Gnostics claimed that Irenaeus, a church father who lived from 130-202 AD, said that the Apostles did not teach until they had the “perfect knowledge” that these Gnostics claim one needs in order to be enlightened. They claimed that Matthew and John were written by the Apostles themselves, and Mark reproduced the message of Peter and Luke reproduced Paul.
Irenaeus said that there was nothing Gnostic in any of them. This argument went back and forth and said if the Apostles had such “knowledge” they would have passed it on to others. In churches that had apostolic foundations, this knowledge could not be found, however. Irenaeus argued that if you went to Rome, Smyrna or Ephesus you would find nothing Gnostic. In fact, he said that every church must agree with Rome because apostolic succession has been preserved there. Irenaeus even went so far to say that the Church was the depository of true Christian doctrine. Irenaeus believed in the goodness of creation and the idea of an “incarnate logos” which is right out of Greek philosophy. He believed that the Lord’s Supper was a way to be in union with Christ, which is another pagan religious concept. He saw Christ as the head of humanity, raising his mother Mary as the “new Eve” and said obedience to Mary will “loosen” the ties of Eve’s disobedience that had man a prisoner.
In his mind, Mary was to be exalted and this idea can still be seen today. By exalting the Church, it increased the significance of any church of reputed apostolic (founded by apostles) foundation. This gave the bishops further precedence and to agree with the bishop was a necessity. This idea was not only to be found in Irenaeus, but many other leaders of the Catholic Church felt the same way. In other words, someone tells you what something is saying as far as doctrine and you must agree with it.
In Rome, a creed was used whenever someone wanted to be baptized, and it involved three questions. In time, other phrases were added to this creed to guard against heretics and this moved the creed from questions to declaring a truth the Church wanted you to agree with. The development of a canon of New Testament Scripture was also moving along during this time.
The Gospels and the letters of Paul were valued but were not considered Scripture at first. Clement of Rome quoted the Gospels and Epistles quite frequently. By the second century, the writings of the Apostles were being elevated to Scripture, with the Gospels being considered first and then eventually the rest of the apostolic writings. The whole process was completed around 400 AD.
So, what is happening is that they have gone 300 years without the Old Testament as their authority and without that, how could they interpret the New Testament and know what was being said. The struggle with Gnosticism and Montanism brought forth the Catholic Church, with its emphasis on strong bishops, creeds and a canon of Scripture. Many teachers of church history will say that “the church survived” and they give them credit for “preserving Christianity” but that is not an accurate picture. What they really ended up with is not what Yeshua taught.
This is what is wrong in churches today. They should say “these guys were wrong” and go back to the foundation found in the Scriptures. They should correct what needs to be corrected and make the crooked paths straight. Now, the Roman Empire had a particular trait, they were great “absorbers” of other cultures. That’s why they are represented by a fourth beast in Dan 7.7 and Rev 13.2. This characteristic was passed on to the Church. By 325 AD, this pattern was followed and even today, Catholicism has different rituals, practices and holidays in different countries. It absorbed from different religions certain “traits” and this predated Constantine.
When the Ptolemies controlled the Mediterranean Sea, Egyptian sailors carried the mystery religion of Isis to Italy. This went through a transformation and it had great popularity in Rome and was a rival to Christianity for awhile. The greatest influence and rival to Christianity was Mithraism, however. The Romans absorbed this cult into their pantheon and it really took hold around the second century AD. Soldiers were recruited from Mithraic strongholds and this religion was passed on through the Roman army. Wherever the soldiers went, Mithraism went and it was favored by the Emperor Diocletian and Constantine.
It is said that Mithraism “disappeared” at the end of the fourth century, but in reality, it was absorbed into what is now Christianity. Rome was growing in importance as Christianity developed. The congregation in Rome had been important since the time of Paul, and a book in the New Testament is devoted to giving these believers instruction in the Faith, but what they end up with will be a far cry from what Paul established. It is said that Paul and Peter died in Rome, but that is tradition. This was an effort to give Rome greater importance amongst all the other places and cities that were struggling for importance in Christianity. Church Fathers like Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthians, speaking for the whole Roman church and he spoke as if he was to be obeyed. The destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD ended any possibility that any leadership was coming from there. The story that the Roman church was founded by Peter and Paul was being forwarded by Irenaeus by 185 AD and even went so far as to say that every church should agree with the church in Rome.
That idea still exists today. The idea that Rome was the leader in the apostolic faith and authority was widespread. As the idea of a “monarchal bishop” developed, the prominence of the bishop of Rome grew, especially as Christianity battled with Gnosticism and Montanism. As a result, the idea of the authority of the Roman bishop gained power in the affairs of all the churches in the Empire. In Part 8, we will begin by discussing Easter, more on Tertullian and baptism.