I stumbled across this—I hesitate to use the word—documentary from CNN about the bishop of Rome, called, Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History.
I have heard late night pundits and comedians repeatedly bashing CNN for their lack of serious journalism, and since I do not watch CNN, I had no reference on which to judge these claims; until now. The complete lack of any unbiased reporting came shining through in this puff piece that presents nothing but self-aggrandizing Vatican propaganda and rhetoric about itself.
This presentation was so one-sidedly slanted in favor of the Church’s self-proclaimed supremacy, that it made me think if the Vatican was a person, it would be Donald Trump: “I am tremendous, just absolutely tremendous. Look at all things I take credit for. My detractors? Fake news, fake news!”
I lost count of the consummate lies, and blatant lies of omission, within the first few minutes. For the sake of brevity—and this is still going to be too long—I will focus on a few major misrepresentations that occurred within just the first twenty minutes, going into detail on why each is wrong.
The show begins with the Church’s claim to primacy, based on its ties to Simon Peter, compounding fabrications and half-truths with the outright lie about how other cities were, from the start, subordinate to Rome. They even go so far as to display graphics showing all ties leading to Rome, if you will pardon the paraphrasing.
“What began with one apostle, has become 1.2 billion followers under one man.”
“World’s first pope…”
“Because Rome is the capital and the center of the empire, the bishop of Rome becomes the leader of the other bishops.”
I will break down why Peter was not the first bishop of Rome, and how the Vatican has perpetuated this lie for centuries as the foundation of their primacy.
Deconstruction #1: The Vatican stakes its claim from the verse in Matthew 16:17-19, highlighted in bold:
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he ordered his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.
As the renowned biblical scholar, Geza Vermes, pointed out in The Authentic Gospel of Jesus:
“The promise made to Simon, known as Peter, is the only passage in the Gospels where Jesus speaks of establishing a church. Also, whereas Peter is regularly depicted as the senior member or leader of the inner circle of Jesus, it is here alone that he is presented as the foundation stone of the community which was created by Jesus…
… The episode of Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ is contained in all three Synoptic Gospels, but his appointment to be the rock does not figure in either Mark or Luke. Their silence on something as important as Peter’s nomination as head of the [church] strongly intimates that Matthew 16:17-19 must be a secondary accretion. The lack of any mention of the church in the other Gospels, including John, also points in the same direction. In short, the words about Peter’s promotion should be credited not to Jesus, but to Matthew or his editor in AD 80 or later.”
A further clue for scholars that this passage was a secondary insertion, is that verses 17-19 break up the flow of the surrounding text. Reading verses 15-16 and 20, non-bold, it becomes clear that these verses flow together without the clumsy addition of the foundation of a church.
Deconstruction #2: There was no Church, nor any leader, in Rome until the second century.
As Professor Bart Ehrman stated in Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene:
“We have two writings from Christians who actually resided in Rome. Both attest to a situation in which the Roman church was not under the leadership of a single individual, the bishop…
… It was only with the passage of time that the Christian churches developed the hierarchical structures that came to characterize their organization by the end of the second century…. Eventually these churches would band together to make common cause. And when they did so, they appointed leaders who would be in charge of all the communities found throughout the city. But this was a development that did not transpire until the middle of the second century. Peter, in short, could not have been the first bishop of the church of Rome, because the Roman church did not have anyone as its bishop until about a hundred years after Peter’s death.”
Deconstruction #3: Rome was not the head of all other bishoprics.
Firstly, Christianity—at least what it morphed into—has always been a creation of the Greek world, not the Romans. Paul was a Roman citizen, and he preached extensively throughout the Greek-speaking, eastern half of the empire, as evidenced by the epistles he penned to the communities in Corinth, Galatia, and Thessaly. Additionally, Antioch (Turkey) and Alexandria (Egypt) were the leading centers of the Christian world, not Rome, until they were conquered by the Muslims in the seventh century.
Secondly, the bishop of Rome did not rise in importance until after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, due to the power vacuum created in the wake of this upheaval, when Gelasius donned the red shoes and asserted his claim to primacy, and reasserted by Gregory the Great another hundred years later. The revisionist history of Rome as the center of the Christian world is nothing but a delusional fantasy, spawned from the shifting socio-political realities in the Eastern and Western spheres of the sixth and seventh centuries. One could be considered impolite for so impudently pointing out that Rome came rather late to the party, so many hundreds of years after the time of Jesus and Simon Peter.
Thirdly, all the major Ecumenical Councils of the fourth and fifth centuries—predating the serendipitous elevation of the bishops of Rome by almost 200 years—were held in Greek cities, and leading to the next major lies presented as fact.
Fast-forwarding 300 years, and glossing over all the inconvenient truths listed above, the show jumps to Constantine the Great and his impacts on Christianity.
“One of his first official acts as the first Christian emperor of Rome is to issue the Edict of Milan. This not only makes Christianity legal, but favored.”
Deconstruction #4: This is just flat-out wrong. The Edict of Milan, despite the claims of the Church, did not make Christianity favored, nor the established religion of the empire; it merely extended Christians protection from being persecuted. Christianity did not become the official state religion for another 67 years, under Theodosius.
“Constantine, by legalizing Christianity, opened up a space where the bishop of Rome could become a permanent fixture on both the spiritual and political scene.”
Deconstruction #5: As already pointed out above, this is just more revisionist history, with absolutely zero basis in reality. The Greek-speaking half of Christendom was the center of authority, and it would remain so for another 300 years. Constantine’s edict has nothing whatsoever to do with strengthening Rome’s clout; indeed, he moved the capital to Constantinople.
“The hierarchy of clergy under bishops who reported to the bishop of Rome had been working well; but, now with Constantinople acting as a second capital, there is a second bishop who believes that he should be in charge.”
Deconstruction #6: From Constantinople, a further 12 years after issuing the Edict of Milan, Constantine called the first major Ecumenical Council, the Council of Nicaea, in 325. Continuing to refute the Vatican’s penchant for playing fast and loose with the truth, this Council amply demonstrates just how unimportant Rome, and the Latin churches, were in the grand scheme. Of the roughly 300 bishops who attended, only 5 were from Latin-speaking, western churches, and, strangely, counter to the Vatican’s self-appointed status as the big man on campus, the bishop of Rome was not one of them.
“Constantine gives Romans a political and financial incentive to convert to Christianity. He gives Christians tax breaks and makes churches tax exempt.”
Deconstruction #7: In a brazen lie of omission, or at least a bending of the truth that would impress a yoga master, the fact that Constantine bribed the dissenting bishops at the Council of Nicaea with tax breaks was completely overlooked.
Gregory of Nazianzus, Archbishop of Constantinople, also known as Gregory the Theologian, a Cappadocian Father and a Doctor of the Church, commenting on the subsequent turmoil in the post-Council years, remarked:
“The pretext was souls, but in fact it was desire for control, control, I hesitate to say it, of taxes and contributions which have the whole world in miserable confusion.”
And the biggest bald-faced lie:
“As Rome falls, and Constantinople flourishes, much of the Church’s terminology becomes Greek instead of Latin.”
As pointed out in Deconstruction #3, the Church had always been dominated by the Greeks from its earliest days. This statement also completely ignores the fact that all four Gospels were written in Greek. Where the producers came up with this perception of the Roman Church as poor victims of an unfortunate change in circumstance, to have made such a ridiculously stupid and easily refutable claim, is beyond me. Many of the words still in use today, ecclesia, presbyter, etc., are Greek terms, and started out that way, they did not shift from Latin after the transfer of power to Constantinople.
Keeping up with this pattern of omitting inconvenient facts, the show also completely jumped over the schism which has kept the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches separate since 1054. This break—doctrinal, temporal, and spiritual—further cemented Rome’s unchallenged rise to preeminence in the West, and has allowed them to control the narrative, and spin their own legend, ever since.
Here endeth the sermon.