In order to be a good Protestant, you must be a good anti-Catholic. I am not Catholic. I am Protestant. There are many doctrines of the Roman Catholic church that I am against, but there are many things that I appreciate about them.

Both Protestants and Roman Catholics have our lineage in the catholic church. Yes, I just said that. I am catholic, but not Roman Catholic. I’ve got some info for you: If you are a Christian, you are catholic too. This differentiation between catholic and Roman Catholic is part of a solid Protestant polemic against Roman Catholicism. It normally drives Roman Catholic apologists crazy, since it undermines their belief that they are the one true church. But it is true; Protestants are catholic Christians, but not Roman Catholic Christians. The word “catholic” was used very early to describe the church. It simply meant “universal,” describing the church’s universality. The church is not exclusive to Gentiles, Jews, Greeks, Romans, those in the East, or those in the West. The church that Christ built is universal, or “catholic.”

However, there was an institutional arm of the catholic church that eventually became known as the Roman Catholic church, complete with its own hierarchy, doctrines, and liturgical distinctives. The type of institutionalization that eventually characterized the Roman Catholic church is one of the major issues the Protestants battled against, believing that it had corrupted the catholic church to the core, even obscuring the Gospel itself. We now call it the Roman Catholic church due to its identification with the “seat of Rome.” This seat, according to the Roman Catholics, is the perpetual seat of ultimate authority that Peter passed on. It is known today as the papacy, which is the office of the Pope. The Pope sits in the seat of Rome, having the infallible authority to guide and direct the church in matters of faith and practice. He, along with the magisterium, form the institution and can, through “ordinary” or “extraordinary” means, intervene in church life and doctrine in a binding way. If a heresy arises in the church, the institution can condemn it, thus securing the faith of the church. Intervention rarely takes place (though this is debated), but this infallible safeguard  can theoretically step in at any time and protect the church from corruption.

How did this come into being? Protestants are right to point out that this institution is not biblical. If this is the truth, and this system is not biblical, how did such an institution come into being?

The answer is very complex, but let me attempt to give you a bird’s eye view by means of some charts!

Apostolic Succession

First, let’s get introduced to a concept called “apostolic succession.” This is not simply a Roman Catholic concept. As we will see, in its uncorrupted and ideal state, apostolic succession is very important for the church, Roman Catholic or not. Notice the chart. It starts with Jesus. Jesus handed his teaching over to twelve Apostles. The Apostles were authorities in the early church. When they spoke, people listened. Why? Because they were trained by Christ. They were witnesses of his death, burial, and resurrection. They carried unique authority in the establishment of the church.

So far, so good? Protestants and Catholics agree to this point. The next step is that the Apostles passed on their faith to others. Easy enough. The Apostles commissioned others to be leaders and authorities in the church. They handed over the faith to followers, like Timothy, who were approved in both their life and teaching. This created a succession of faith and teaching. They would often call this “laying on of hands.” With this “system” in place, the church maintained a safeguard against rogue expressions of the Christian faith. This is why Paul warned about commissioning people too hastily (1 Tim. 5:22).

Again, to this point both Protestants and Catholics agree. We need to pass on the faith. We need to commission others that have been approved. There needs to be accountability. However, the departure comes when we begin to define not only what this succession of authority is, but what it does. Again, we agree that it is the duty of the church to pass on the faith once for all handed to the saints (Jude 3). We agree that the church is the “pillar of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15). We also agree that all in this succession are saints and a part of the church. However, Catholics believe that in order for this succession to be valid, it has to be seen as primarily a succession in person. Protestants, on the other hand, believe that the primary issue involved it is a succession in teaching, doctrine, and practice. Therefore, Roman Catholics focus on the one to whom the succession is given, while Protestants focus on the teaching and doctrine itself, believing that the person who receives the succession is instrumental, not integral.

Therefore, in essence, for the Roman Catholic, the persons in succession define the Gospel and make up the institutional church which presides over the Gospel. Hence, Catholics have the Pope and the magisterium of bishops (as represented by the fellows in the graph that follow the apostles). For the Protestant, on the other hand, it is the other way around. Only to the degree that the person is in succession with right teaching are they in apostolic succession. A hasty “laying on of hands” is possible, and can damage both the doctrine and reputation of the church.

This is why Protestants are continually going back to the source – the Bible – for final authority (sola Scriptura) and why Roman Catholics are continually going to the institution for final authority.

But there is one more way in which the chasm is further widened between Roman Catholics and Protestants with regard to the issue of apostolic succession. For the Roman Catholic, in order for this institution to have ultimate authority, it must possess the gift of infallibility. For the Protestant, the person upon whom the hands are laid (along with the institution, which is made up of a bunch of fellas upon whom hands have been laid) is fallible. Only the Apostles’ teaching is not. For the Protestant, apostolic succession is a safeguard to the Gospel, but it must be continually tested by the Scriptures.

So both believe in “Apostolic succession” and have some similarities in their understanding and rationale for Apostolic succession.

Regula Fide

The next component which characterizes both Roman Catholics and Protestants is the idea of the regula fide (though it is much more central for Roman Catholicism). This literally means “rule of faith.” In essence, the rule of faith was the unwritten tradition which summarized the orthodox understanding which is found both in the Scriptures and the apostolic succession of the church. This is expressed through the creeds, confessions, and traditions that are passed from generation to generation. Because Scripture is the final authority, individual interpretation is not the final authority. We interpret the Bible in and with the church. When doctrine is established, it is not established with an individual, his Bible, and the Holy Spirit, but with an individual, his Bible, and the Holy Spirit who is at work both through the individual and the historic body of Christ represented through apostolic succession.

The idea of the regula fide is organic, but was articulated through events and controversy in history. When someone in the church would propose an interpretation of the Bible, his or her interpretation was tested against the Scripture itself and against how Christians have always interpreted Scripture. So, for instance, if someone came to the church and began to teach that Christ was created, not eternal, this doctrine would be tested first according to the Scripture. Then it would be tested according to the regula fide by asking the question, “What has the church always taught about Christ?” So, not only does the Bible deny that Christ is a created being, but the church, having its teachings handed down since the time of the Apostles, has always interpreted the Bible as teaching that Christ is eternal as the Father is eternal. We find evidence of this through the early church fathers and the great Creeds of the church.

Again, so far so good. Roman Catholics and Protestants agree. Where we part ways is when we begin to define the authority of this unwritten tradition called the regula fide. The Roman Catholic church believes that this tradition is infallible. Protestants believe that it is only infallible to the degree that it rightly represents the Scriptures. Therefore, the regula fide, while serving as a safeguard for doctrine, needs a safeguard itself.

Both of these ideas, apostolic succession and the regula fide, have the same goal for both Protestants and Roman Catholics: to protect the faith once for all handed to the saints. However, the Roman Catholic church, having all the right intentions, believes that these safeguards must be infallible in order to be effective.

The Rise of Rome

This is where history takes an interesting and definitive turn. It is not unlike our desire to protect our children. There are two extremes. One extreme locks the children up in the house and thows away the key in order to protect them from all harm (like I am tempted to do!). Nothing wrong with the intentions here. The other extreme lets their children run wild, believing they have to learn the ways of the world in order to learn to protect themselves. Again, intentions good. As the church began to face more and more dangers, as doctrine was continually manipulated, as teachings that did not fall in line with Scripture or the church’s historic interpretation of Scripture were put forth, the church began to institutionalize itself. In other words, we brought all the children in the house and locked the door. This is what it looked like:

Now we have a shut door. Behind that shut door is both the Bible and the regula fide (unwritten tradition). Guarding the door is a representative of the now-institutionalized church. This representative is a successor of the Apostles. In the Roman Catholic system, the ultimate guard is the Pope (the successor of Peter). He holds the keys to the door. The Scripture is infallible. The regula fide is infallible. And, now, the representative guard is infallible. The people on the outside must go through him (the institution) in order to access the doctrines of the church.

But notice (and this is important), while the institution of the church was protecting both the Bible and the regula fide (unwritten tradition), the regula fide was also protecting the Bible. So there were two layers of authority standing between the people and the Bible.

While we Protestants would begin to protest here, we still understand why this situation arose. Who of us does not understand and sympathize with the mentality to bring all the kids in the house and lock the door? Yes, it may be wrong. Yes, it may be extreme. Yes, it may lack faith in God. But it makes sense.

Where things really go wrong is when infallibility is invoked upon the guardian. To say that he is right is one thing. To say that he is infallibly right, in order to curtail any rebellion, is another.

Once the church is institutionalized in such a way, understandable or not, corruption of its most fundamental beliefs becomes a serious danger. And this is the turn the church took in the later middle ages. Here is another chart (!):

The regula fide, because it is unwritten, is easy to abuse. The Scripture is not. And this is what happened in church history. The institution of the church (now quickly on its way to becoming the Roman Catholic church) began to expand on the regula fide, moving it from a summary of the essentials to requirements of non-essentials (notice the chart). Everything from liturgy to doctrine were added. What started as a small confession of Christian doctrine, as represented by the likes of the Nicene Creed (325) and the Statement of Chalcedon (451), became full catechisms, with infallible requirements of doctrines and practices that fell well outside of the regula fide and far outside the bounds of Scripture itself.  Now included in this unwritten tradition were non-essential doctrines concerning the mother of Jesus, celibacy in the priesthood, how one is to break the bread in the Lord’s supper, and a thousand other things. The unwritten traditions that were meant to preserve the essence of the Christian faith had developed to such a degree that one could not even see the Christian faith. The essence, which was important before, took on a secondary status to the authority of the institution. In the midst of this, the Gospel began to be obscured to such a degree that a major reformation was needed.


I think that we can all understand and empathize with the rise of Rome. While I seriously disagree with the “lock the doors, don’t let the kids out, and mom and dad are infallible” approach, I know why it happened. In fact, being a chapter in the history of the catholic church, it is a part of my history. However, in the Reformation, the door was unlocked, the regula fide was minimized (not abandoned), and apostolic succession became no longer a guarantee of infallibility, but a responsibility that must continually be submitted to the Scripture.

That is it. The rise of Rome in a nutshell.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    67 replies to "The Rise of Rome in a Nutshell"

    • TDC

      I think this is a well thought out description of the Protestant view. If my intuition is correct, you will soon be flooded with comments arguing about all this stuff.

      But before that happens I have to ask about what you said here…

      “The regula fide, being unwritten, is easy to abuse. The Scripture is not.”

      Are you sure about that?

      Could you clarify for me? Scripture seems to be incredibly easy to abuse. Harold Camping seems to be a good example here.

    • C Michael Patton

      TDC, good question. What I mean is that it is easy to add to and take away from. While there is a definite canon of Scripture accepted by the church, there is no definite canon of the regula fide. It is much like it is today when you ask for a “canon” of the infallible statements of the Pope. You really can’t get one. Just a bunch of opinions.

    • Andrew

      Mr. Patton, I notice a similarity between the burgeoning growth of absolute authoritative doctrinal statements (your “Requirements of Non-Essentials”) and the burgeoning growth of absolute authoritative morals (man-made) of the Pharisaical variety.

      Do you think it fair to say that the absolute “Requirements of Non-Essentials” is a “Doctrinal” version of Pharisaism?

      If it is, do you believe that we Protestants can do the same with our own Confessions of Faith?

    • C Michael Patton

      Andrew. Absolutely. It doctrinal protection which become doctrinal legalism.

    • Andrew

      The question then becomes: where is that point between protection and legalism? It seems to me to be something difficult to get a handle on, as it seems to fall somewhere on a continuum, with two distinct poles. The poles are obvious, but that point perhaps is not.

    • C Michael Patton

      Andrew, you are very wise. I forsee in you the force of a Jedi.

    • Bryant King

      You may be right in theory- I plan on reading the thread and considering it, but, in practice at least, many independent Protestant churches have erected their own local pope in the pulpit. Such men will direct their congregation to excommunicate men who dared to disagree with them on non-essential matters which they claim to hold the keys to. So much of the Protestant church has become what it claimed to be protesting with a man (often with his name permanently affixed to the sign in front of the church and his name on the deed of the building) holding the keys to interpretation of Scripture and regula fide. As a Baptist and Calvinist who has watched the failing of churches, I am now looking questioningly at Rome and wondering, “What would Luther do?” This is a rabbit trail to your point, but not completely tangential. I do appreciate the explanation. It helps me grasp some of the concepts.

      Bryant King

    • bossmanham

      I hope Michael doesn’t mind me hawking my blog here, but I’ve posted a conversation we had on his Facebook post about this post (did you follow that, lol?) here.

    • Carl

      It is interesting how history can repeat itself. While reading the article I kept seeing parallels to the Jewish Fathers (Pharisaism) in the method of their ever-expansion of requirements of non-essentials. I learned at an early age that Satan can’t destroy the church but he can corrupt it. The same tool he used with the Jewish Fathers he is using with the Roman Catholic church.

    • Paul Davis


      That’s a well stated irenic position, worthy of Olson status! 🙂

      Just a couple of quick comments, from the writing of the church fathers it becomes obvious that they certainly held Peter and a chain of apostolic successors as important to the protection of the Gospel and the stability of the Church.

      And being Catholic now, converting from the baptist faith I agree with the non-essentials being added onto the essentials as John describes. However, that being said, Luthers comment about plowboys with bibles being Popes has not worked out the way I think he intended. I would argue that many (certainly not all) Protestants have pushed Paul into the same position as the papacy and magisterium. I know from experience that some reformers have pushed Calvin into that role, whether they admit or not.

      I have found the orthopraxy of the CC, and the stability of the Papacy to be very good things for my faith.



    • Brandon

      Great post! I’ve always struggled with understanding how the Roman Catholic Church came to believe what it does. I’ve often thought, it seems as though they intentionally set out to contradict scripture. Now I can see there was a method to the madness:-) In the beginning, their intentions were good.

      I’d say most of us would have probably taken the same steps.

      Thankfully God loves us in spite of our foolishness!

    • Alfredo

      “What started as a small confession of Christian doctrine as represented by the likes of the Nicene Creed (325) and the Statement of Chalcedon (451) became full catechisms with infallible requirements of doctrines and practices that fell well outside of the original regula fide and far outside the bounds of Scripture itself.”

      Well, how about we *look* at what these councils have to say. For instance, after discussing the heretical positions, the Nicene Creed declares: “…all that so say, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematizes them.” The Catholic and Apostolic Church has authority to anathematize those who deny the Council’s doctrines.

      Here’s how Chalcedon describes the Pope: “the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the Apostle, who is the *rock and foundation of the Catholic Church*, and the *foundation of the orthodox…

    • Alfredo

      Here are the sources:

      Now, I can see a Protestant saying there was an apostasy in the first century maybe. But I can in no way see a Protestant giving a history lesson where the liturgy (see St. Justin Martyr), authority of the Church, and the Pope (see the Councils which you claim help your position) were developed in the dark ages or something. If you’re going to make these claims you’re going to have to reconcile this with what the early Church fathers and Ecumenical Councils say.

    • Ana

      “I am catholic, not not Roman Catholic.”

      That can be misleading. There are members of the Roman Catholic Church that can say the exact same thing — they are called Eastern Rite Catholics.

      The West knows the Roman or Latin Rite, of the Catholic Church. I’m a Latin Rite Catholic. However, there are also the Eastern Rites (e.g. Byzantine, Chaldean, etc), less familiar to the west (though Eastern Rite parishes do exist here). The rites are the liturgical traditions, which have their cultural and geographical backgrounds.

      However, the Eastern Rite Catholics (not to be confused with the Eastern Orthodox, which are in schism with Rome, though they do have valid Holy Orders and thus Sacraments) are in are in full communion with Rome.

      They are full members of the Catholic Church centered in Rome, the visible Church, headed by the Pope, though they are not Roman *Rite* Catholics.

    • John Bugay

      Hi Michael, this is a nice post. Thanks for bringing issues of Roman Catholicism to people’s minds.

      In your third paragraph, you mentioned an “institutional” arm of the universal church. As I read more about this, what’s happening is that the church is adopting wholesale the ancient Roman culture, and making it the norm. That’s why the Easterners couldn’t tolerate them in the first millennium, and that’s primarily what the Reformers sought to try to remove from their understanding of “what is the church?”

      A danger in our day comes when Protestants find themselves with some nostalgia about “the early church,” and then they mistakenly look to Rome as a guide to early church beliefs.

      What people get when they look to Rome is not the early teaching of the church, but they end up adopting ancient Roman culture, warts and deities and all.

    • Carrie

      I think that we can all understand and empathize with the rise of Rome.

      Hi Michael,

      I have 2 questions for you if you have time to answer.

      1) Can you exclude the possibility that the “rise of Rome” could have been orchestrated by the enemy to subvert the faith?

      2) At what point of unscriptural development would you lose your empathy? Are you empathic towards the Marian doctrines or the salvation treadmill

    • Steve Martin

      I’m one Protestant (Lutheran) who doesn’t buy into Apostolic succession.

      Our authority is derived from the Word, alone.

      The historic episcpacy is just another way to keep man’s foot in the door, and make us less free in Christ.

      My 2 cents.

    • VMonk


      Great job in boiling things down to the basic issues at hand in the different views and the graphics are helpful.

      In my study of church history I mostly agree with how you present the different issues, but I think in the context of Church History this would better be fleshed out. While I don’t expect that in a blog entry trying to be simple, I think citing some examples would be helpful in a larger entry or paper.

      My theory or what I can see from my reading of Church history is that the institutionalization of the eventual Roman Catholic church was born out of three things: The first was the tradition that may have come from some of the more Jewish strain of early Christian church that structured the meetings after the diaspora synagogue’s outside of Jerusalem. The second is the dispersion of Christians due to the early Roman persecution which forced the small meetings to look toward a Bishop having authority for control. Finally, the Roman Constantine…

    • VMonk

      Also on an afterthought with your corresponding comments with Andrew above, did the Fundamentalist element of the Evangelical/Protestant church put forth Non-Essentials as essentials to try to protect the Christian faith and in a sense put an extra barrier like the Pope and regula fide? Just a thought, but not meaning to take a tangent.

    • Ana

      “Our authority is derived from the Word, alone.”

      – According to what or whom?

      The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is self- refuting because the Bible itself does not teach that its texts are the ONLY or FINAL (note the emphasis) authority/ rule of faith. Not only that, the Bible itself does not tell us its texts form the canon. Guess what decided that…

      I presume by “Word” you mean the Bible (though the word of God is certainly not limited to text, and the Bible didn’t exist until another 3 centuries after the apostles. Jesus (God) taught his disciples and told them to make more disciples, and pass on his teachings. This is oral, apostlic, tradition, what Catholics call Sacred Tradition.

      Matt 28:19-20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

    • Ana

      (and Christ is indeed with the Church always because he gave it the wonderful gift of the Eucharist, which he himself instituted at the Last Supper.)

      But anyways, back to where I left off.

      The apostles passed on the faith. Yet, not everything that was passed on, was taught by Jesus while he was still on earth. Rather, the Church would be guided into those truths.

      John 16: 12-14 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

    • Ana

      And of the things that Jesus did, which the apostles saw and heard, not all of it is revealed to us in inspired writing.

      John 21:24-25 “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.”

      Not only is Sola Scriptura unscriptural (in that it is not taught in Sacred Scripture), it is contrary to Sacred Scripture.

      2 Thess 2:15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.

      1 Cor 11:2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.

    • Ana

      2 John 1:12 “I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete”

      Now, there is a passage that Protestants appeal to, to support Sola Scripture, so I’ll address it.

      2 Tim 3:16-17 “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. ”

      – Paul does not tell Timothy that Scripture ALONE or ONLY Scripture is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, …”
      – The New Testament canon did not yet exist. So by “Scripture” Paul was referring to the Old Testament
      (so to appeal to this verse as support of Sola Scriptura, would be to suggest that the Old Testament “alone” is our authority. Surely you don’t want to go down that path … )

    • Ana

      – Timothy was a half-Jew (Acts 16: 1-2 ) and a disciple, later a bishop, and as such a teacher himself ,so it was very fitting for Paul to say these words to him
      – In the very previous verses (2 Tim 3:14-15) Paul says…

      “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

      Notice Paul doesn’t tell Timothy to persevere, “because you have known the holy Scriptures and they alone are sufficient and authoritative, and so they’re all you need for the faith.”


      Paul tells him that in addition to persevering because of what he’s learned by the holy Scriptures (the Hebrew Scriptures), he should persevere because of who his teachers have been.

      Authority outside the written Word.

      Phew, ok. Finished. (multiple posts due to character…

    • ~The History Buff~

      Recently I’ve been into early church history. I read some things that decimate the hope that roman catholics and plain catholic aren’t the same thing.

      “You cannot then deny that you know that upon Peter first in the city of Rome was bestowed the episcopal cathedra, on which he sat, the head of all the apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas), that, in this one cathedra, unity should be preserved by all. Neither do the apostles proceed individually on their own, and anyone who would [presume to] set up another chair in opposition to that single chair would, by that very fact, be a schismatic and a sinner. . . . Recall, then, the origins of your chair, those of you who wish to claim for yourselves the title of holy Church”
      [Schism of the Donatists 2:2 (c. A.D. 367) -ST. OPTATUS OF MILEVIS]

    • John Metz

      Michael, you may have touched the “third rail” even though ever so gently! Good post.

      One contribution to the rise of hierarchy was made by Irenaeus who contended that the bishop and the elder were different with the bishop being higher than the elder. Then the bishop was set over more than one church. From this, the tradition of hierarchy developed, a good example of how tradition can nullify the Word of God in practice.

    • C Michael Patton

      Some people are posting multiple posts and not abiding by the character limit. The rules say that there is only one post at a time. These posts are not approved by default. Please limit your characters so you can get your comments in one post.

    • Constantine

      Hey Alfredo,

      Even before the Councils you cite, there was no evidence of a pope, or papacy as can be easily seen from these RC sources:

      The papacy did not come into existence at the same time as the church. In the words of John Henry Cardinal Newman, “While Apostles were on earth, there was the display neither of Bishop nor Pope.” Peter was not a bishop in Rome. There were no bishops in Rome for at least a hundred years after the death of Christ. The very term “pope” (papa, daddy) was not reserved for the bishop of Rome until the fifth century – before then it was used of any bishop (S. 89). ….
      Wills, Garry

      Or more recently….

      “Peter was a figure of central importance among the disciples of the Lord…Nevertheless, the terms primacy…and jurisdiction…are probably best avoided when describing Peter’s role in the New Testament. They are postbiblical, indeed, canonical, terms.”

      Fr. Richard P. McBrien, Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology, University of Notre…

    • Constantine


      I would hope that you would investigate the proper use of the Scripture passages you so quickly cite. It appears that you are just copying them from any one of a number of Catholic websites. These have all been dealt with thoroughly in other places.

      As to the old bromide that Scripture nowhere claims it is the final authority, one could recommend 1 Corinthians 4:6 where the Apostle Paul clearly says, “Do not go beyond what is written.” And this is not an island. Paul was an educated Jew who deduced this from the teachings of the OT, which citations will have to wait because I am running out of characters.


    • david carlson

      I love RC apologists. They are wrong, but ever so earnest. If we would just believe….. pfheh. I know to much history of the RC church for that.

      I am happy being an apostate (to Rome)

    • Ana

      Hi David,

      If you think that the “written” in that verse refers to the Bible (the canon), and that doctrine should be based strictly on it, then that very statement in 1 Cor 4:6 would have sealed the canon.

      And yet Paul goes on to write a second letter to the Corinthians and further epistles ( not to mention the epistles written by other disciples, and the gospels!).

      So to be consistent, you’d have to reject all New Testament writings that were composed after he penned those words. I doubt you would do this.

      Furthermore, if Sola Scriptura is what this passage is about, we might expect a number of commentaries to say such. Take a look at commentaries here, scrolled down ( ).

      So, what does Paul mean by not going “beyond” (some translations have “above” or “exceed”) what is “written”? Well, perhaps looking at more context might help.

    • Ana


      1 Cor 4:5-6 Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

      We’re not told what the “written” thing that Paul refers to is. One can speculate that he is referring to the Hebrew Scripture, or, to something he wrote previously, or something else entirely. Again, we’re not told. But clearly, whatever “it” is, was being misused by the Christians he’s addressing, to judge eachother.

    • John Bugay

      Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, “Do not go beyond what is written.” Then you will not take pride in one man over against another. For who makes you different from anyone else?

      Yes, popes relying on “tradition” ended up thinking of themselves as “over” everyone else. Different from everyone else.

      This is the single most harmful phenomenon in the history of Christianity.

      I’m not sure why you thought the commentaries you linked helps your cause. Gill, for example, says: “that no one of you be puffed up for one against the other; speak great swelling words of vanity, and envy, for one minister against another; when they are all one, bear the same character, are in the same office, and are jointly concerned in the same common cause of Christ and the good of immortal souls.”

      Who, historically, has been more “puffed up” against others than popes?

    • John Bugay

      Ana said: The doctrine of Sola Scriptura is self- refuting because the Bible itself does not teach that its texts are the ONLY or FINAL (note the emphasis) authority/ rule of faith.

      This comment exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of what “Sola Scriptura” is.

      Historically, it arose in a particular context, after the claims of Rome were examined and rejected. What you have left, then, is that “Scripture Alone” is the only source worthy enough to be the rule of faith for Christians.

      Here is an excellent treatment of it:

      Keith Mathison on Rejection of Roman Claims and Sola Scriptura

    • Ana


      Thank you for the link John, I will read through the essay carefully.

      Lastly, I want to comment on one more thing, a thought for Protestants (in general) to consider.

      If the problem you have is with Rome, then what do you do with the Eastern Orthodox Church (which lacks Rome, i.e. is not under the jurisidiction of the Pope,) that resulted from the Great Schism which took place about five centuries prior to the Reformation?

      The Eastern Orthodox Church is composed of autocephalous churches that are in full communion with eachother (well, actually, there is a qualification to that, but of no direct relevance here).

      The Eastern Orthodox Church practices Apostolic Succession by the laying on of hands, celebrates the seven Sacraments (referred to as the Mysteries, e.g. Mystery of reconciliation), also pray for the intercession of the saints and Mary, also pray for the dead, also accept the doctrine of the ever virginity of Mary and her Assumption into heaven…

    • C Michael Patton


      I certainly can’t speak for all Protestants, but broadly speaking the first and most glaring problem that both EO and Protestants have with RC is the issue of authority. If that is not solved or agreed upon, then the conversation stops.

      The second issue is the instrumental cause of justification, i.e. faith alone.

      Mary, praying to the dead, Tradition, holy water, apostolic succession, priests, and even the sacraments (so far as they don’t interfere with sola fide) are not really the issue. Martin Luther held to the perpetual virginity of Mary. Many protestant denom have priests and apostolic secession (at least the Anglicans) in a formal way. I believe in Apostolic Succession without the institutional implications that rose later in the church. All churches, whether they admit it or not, have tradition outside of the Scripture.

    • Ana


      likewise accepts Mary as the New Eve and Ark of the New Covenant, celebrates the Mass (which the Eastern Orthodox refer to as the Divine Liturgy), also use visuals for prayer and in the parishes (but they use icons –iconography — whereas statues are more associated with the Latins), also rejects Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide (accepts the salvation process as involving works that cooperate with faith) and accepts both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as crucial to the faith and that the latter must be interpreted in light of the former.

      There are certainly differences between the EO and the Catholic Church (both outward, internal, and theological) but there are many similarities.

      And again, they don’t have Rome.

      So what do you make of them? Are you sure “Rome” is the problem?

    • Ana

      Hi Michael,

      I’m sorry for my numerous posts (I am really bad at condensing things).

      “problem that both EO and Protestants have with RC is the issue of authority. If that is not solved or agreed upon, then the conversation stops.”

      In broad that is indeed correct. (Although, I do think for many Protestants, the doctrines themselves are the big no no s). The EOC does not accept the universal jurisdiction of the Bishhop of Rome, but rather sees that office as being one of primacy of honor. (Well, in in retrospect anyways, because of course currently, the one they view as having primacy — “First among equals” is the Patriarch of Constantinople.)

    • C Michael Patton

      Thanks for the kind tone and conversation Ana,

      The EO rejects the living infallibility, though they do hold the Creeds in higher esteem. I have written some on this and quoted from some Protestant/Orthodox meetings showing how they are very close to Sola Scriptura since the accept a form of prima Scriptura.

      However, infallibility of the magisterium is the issue for both Protestants and EO. In this we agree and reject the seat of Peter as currently understood by Roman Catholicism.

      But, of course, I am not EO. If EO is like Bradley Nassif, an EO theologian, describes it, I have very little problems with it. However, having been in the more pop EO culture as a missionary, I tend to disagree a great deal with much of what they believe. However, theologically speaking (on paper), I believe they are closer to Protestants. Practically speaking they are more like Rome.

    • C Michael Patton

      BTW: I have written a defense of Sola Scriptura which will be published later this year here: It is the ten part series you will see.

    • John Metz

      Oops. Earlier I mis-attributed a statement by Ignatius to Irenaeus. Sorry.

    • Constantine

      Ana wrote, “If you think that the “written” in that verse refers to the Bible (the canon), and that doctrine should be based strictly on it, then that very statement in 1 Cor 4:6 would have sealed the canon.”

      Why would it have sealed the canon? Paul was merely laying down a principle to be followed by believers. The writings of the Apostles were to be the ultimate reference in matters of faith and practice. A point underscored by your first “pope”: 2 Peter 3:1; 3:15.

      Ana writes, again: “And yet Paul goes on to write a second letter to the Corinthians and further epistles”

      True. And all were written before Peter’s letter which affirmed them as Scripture.

      Ana, once more: “Furthermore, if Sola Scriptura is what this passage is about, we might expect a number of commentaries to say such.”

      Nope. That is not apostolic. The apostolic standard for epistemological certainty (Romans 3:4) cares nothing about the opinions of men.

    • Constantine

      Ana, again: “We’re not told what the “written” thing that Paul refers to is.”

      When your Mom used to tell you to “go to the store” did she always have to give you the name of the store, the address, zip code and description of the building, or did you know what she meant?

      According to this Oxford historian, there was no doubt about what Paul was referring to:

      “To begin with, Christians had the Jewish Tanakh, obsessively redirected in its reference towards their efforts to grapple with the meaning of the life and death of Jesus, and when they spoke of ‘scripture’ at the beginning of the second century CE, it is the Tanakh that they meant.

      MacCulloch, Diarmaid. Christianity: the first three thousand years. Pengiun Group; New York. 2009 P. 128

      Paul was referring to the Scriptures as understood by Christ and His Apostles.

    • TDC


      I’m no Catholic apologist, but dismissing the lack of commentary support for your interpretation of 1 Cor. 4:6 because the “opinions of men” are not the standard and then citing D. MacCulloch seems like a double standard. Could you clarify?

      And the quote isn’t even about 1 Cor. 4:6. Paul mentions the saying “do not go beyond what is written”. He doesn’t say the word MacCulloch is talking about (scripture).

      And even if he did use that word, your argument would prove to much. If Paul said “don’t go beyond scripture” and scripture meant the tanakh as MacCulloch says, Paul would be saying “don’t go beyond the tanakh”. But surely they were to accept apostolic teaching from the mouths and letters of the apostles themselves?

      John Bugay brought up an interesting way in which this verse might be used against Catholicism, but I’m curious if there are any articles written providing detailed exegesis on this verse and showing its support for sola scriptura?

    • Alfredo

      Hi Constantine. First off, this is confirming what I pointed out earlier. If Protestants are going to make up a history where Protestantism was the true doctrine of the early Church, they’re going to have to argue that after the 1st century some great apostasy took place where the whole orthodox Church became Catholic. But, either way, rather than looking at a second-hand source (of a second-hand source), we should look at the actual Fathers:

      “The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth … But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.” Clement of Rome, Pope, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, 1,59:1 (c. A.D. 96). Look it up at

      This is the bishop of Rome, St. Clement, giving orders to the church at Corinth. Whether they called him “papa” or “pope” or not is irrelevant. What’s important is the office being exercised.

    • John Bugay

      Alfredo, you have completely misread Clement.

      First, you should note that the letter is of an ancient rhetorical form known as “symbouleutic,” which means it is a letter of persuasion. It actually identifies itself as this in 58.2.

      The introduction (“the church which sojourns at…” to the “church which sojourns at…”) is evidence of this, noting equality between the two churches.

      Further, you should note that it never identifies itself as from “Clement”. It is rather from a group of presbyters who don’t identify themselves, nor do they identify anyone as “in charge”.

      In fact, the Shepherd of Hermas, Clement, rather, is specifically identified as the delivery person in Rome – it’s “his job” to deliver documents. This seems to me a much more plausible reason for the Corinthian church to believe this was a letter from “Clement”. He delivered it.

    • Alfredo

      Thanks John. At 58.2 it indeed reads, “Take our word and there will be nothing for you to regret.” Yet before this, at 57.1, the author clearly issues a command over the presbyters there. And the very first words of 59 succeeding 58, which I noted, give a fair warning as to both the authority with which he is speaking, and the punishments which will come for disobedience. 62.2 and 63 provide further support of the authority of Clement.

      As far as the author goes, this letter is one of the few letters that almost all recognize as genuinely Clement’s. *All* the known manuscripts attribute it to Clement. Not only that, it’s mentioned as being by Clement by Dionysius, Origen, Irenaeus, and Eusebius. Nobody seriously denies that the First Epistle of Clement is authentically his. In the peace of Christ.

    • […] Michael Patton gives a really good, basic primer on the differences between Protestantism and Catholocism, describing how the institutional church developed over the centuries to become the Roman Catholic Church, against which Luther et al protested: The unwritten traditions that were meant to preserve the essence of the Christian faith had developed to such a degree that one could not even see the Christian faith. The essence, which was important before, took on a secondary status to the authority of the institution. In the midst of this, the Gospel began to be obscured to such a degree that a major reformation was needed. […]

    • Ana

      As to the EO and the doctrine of papal infallibility, it is certainly true the EO reject it, it’s perhaps among the most serious disagreements between the EO and CC.

      However, as far as I’m aware, they do not reject the infallibility of the ecumenical councils, though they may use different terminology than infallibility. (Granted, the councils which they recognize as being ecumenical, does not include all the ecumenical councils of the Catholic Church, namely those held post the Great Schism).

      Scriptural consistency with the the infallibility of the ecumenical councils being, that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of the truth” and Jesus guaranteed the gates of Hades would not prevail against her. The belief being that the Holy Spirit protects the Church from erring in the doctrines she solemnly defines and binds the faithful to.

    • Ana

      Hi Constantine,

      Some things to consider:

      As TDC points out, Paul in 1 Cor 4:6 does not specify that he is referring to “Scripture”. That does not prove he isn’t, but if he is, he’d be referring to the extant Scriptures, which were the Hebrew Scriptures, for there was no complete NT canon yet to refer the faithful to). And surely he was not telling us to not go beyond what is written in the Old Testament? And surely he was not saying to not go beyond what is written in the [Old Testament + his own writings]? (Accepting the gospels would be an example of accepting that which is “beyond what is written”, at the time the words in 1 Cor 4:6 were penned).

      Furthermore, would Paul really contradict himself in his own letter? In 1 Cor 11:2 he expresses approval that people accept his teachings, just as he had passed them on to them. What teachings is he referring to? We aren’t given a transcript of what these teachings are that he passed on orally….

    • Constantine

      Hi TDC,

      I apologize for the delay.

      To your first point, I don’t think I did dismiss commentary support. (I’m trying to get used to the 1,000 character limit on this blog!) But commentaries are only secondary sources. The point I was trying to make is that Ana’s question could be answered by looking at the total of Scripture, OT and NT without commentaries.

      You wrote, “Paul mentions the saying “do not go beyond what is written”. He doesn’t say the word MacCulloch is talking about (scripture).” But my point is that to Paul, and everyone else in that era, what was “written” was the Scripture. The MacCulloch quote was merely to buttress the historical context.

      …to be continued. (This character limit is troubling….)

    • Constantine

      To TDC, (cont’d.)

      Your next point, in summary: a.) I prove too much, b.) because Paul’s writings were not contained in the Tanakh. Of course, the canon wasn’t closed as Paul was writing. And his writings were determined to be Scripture during his lifetime (2 Peter 3:15). So, we need and received Apostolic teaching in the form of the letter he continued to write. Again, taking all of Scripture as our guide, we see that this argument does not prove too much.

      Peace to you.

    • Constantine

      Hi Alfredo,

      I don’t think Protestants “make up” history. In fact, some of the greatest historians of the church have been Protestants. When Vatican I forces you, under pain of anathema, to believe things are certifiably untrue, I think it is rather the other way around.

      And thank you for mentioning Clement. He was the first adherent of the doctrine of sola fide:

      “And we, too, being called by His will in Christ Jesus, are not justified by ourselves, nor by our own wisdom, or understanding, or godliness, or works which we have wrought in holiness of heart; but by that faith through which, from the beginning, Almighty God has justified all men; to whom be glory for ever and ever.” First Epistle to the Corinthians, Ch. XXXII,


    • Constantine

      Hi Ana,

      Thank you for your thoughtful interaction and I apologize for my tardiness.

      As to your comments about Paul referring to extant Scripture please see my response to TDC above.

      As to 1 Corinthians 11, “I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you.”, how did Paul pass these things on? Yes, both orally and in writing. But he is now dead and there is no one since the death of John who fulfills the requirements of an apostle. Therefore, what Paul passed on to the Corinthians and the others we have only in writing.


    • Constantine

      To Ana, cont’d.

      Secondly, a closer look at 1 Cor 4 shows that it is the culmination of an extensive treatise from Paul about important issues to the church. In the prev. 3 chapters: the headings are “a church divided”, “Christ is God’s Power”, “God’s Wisdom revealed by the Spirit”, “the Church and its leaders”. Paul’s admonition comes under the head of “True apostleship.” So he is making his case for how to resolve the serious issue of a divided church in a very systematic way. 1 Cor 11:2 is followed, conversely by less weighty matters – a woman’s head covering, a man’s lack of, etc.

      And again, we are obligated to follow the Apostle’s teaching – whether it is delivered orally or in writing. We cannot hear him orally so we are left with the infallible Scriptures.


    • Ana

      Thanks for the response Constantine:

      You said: “And again, we are obligated to follow the Apostle’s teaching – whether it is delivered orally or in writing. We cannot hear him orally so we are left with the infallible Scriptures.”

      (emphasis mine)

      What I submit is that though the Apostles are dead, it does not follow that therefore oral apostolic tradition (itself sourced in the divine — Jesus Christ) is dead, and that we have only the Scriptures left. The recipients of apostolic teaching, had themselves the duty of passing it on. This would ensure a living apostolic tradition.

    • Ana


      Paul to Timothy:

      2 Tim 1:13 “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us” ….

      2 Tim 2: 1-2 “You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others.

    • Alfredo

      Hi Constantine. I don’t want to derail too much, since, as far as it goes, to bring up justification is simply changing the topic, and not dealing with the issues at hand.

      But don’t forget, Clement also says, “Let us clothe ourselves with concord and humility, ever exercising self-control, standing far off from all whispering and evil-speaking, *being justified by our works*, and not our words.” (

      Also, “And thus He forewarns us: “Behold, the Lord cometh, and His reward is before His face, *to render to every man according to his work.*” (

      And more, “Blessed are we, beloved, if we keep the commandments of God in the harmony of love; *that so through love our sins may be forgiven us.*” (

      Clement believes in justification by works. Catholics agree that no *initial* justification by works is possible. Blessings.

    • Michael Snow

      Very helpful article. There are some misleading comments [both in the article and in comments here] and omissions.

      Your comment about “the infallible authority” is anachronistic as you apply it. This did not become doctrine in the RC church until the 19th Century and it only applies under stict conditions. See

      And most of us in the Protestant churches have no clue that the Roman Catholic church as a seperate denominational entity did not exixt before the Great Schism of AD 1054. You can speak about the church of Rome before then but you are not refering to the intitutioonal Roman Chatholic church as it exists today.

    • Don Kaspersen

      The problem with oral tradition is that it is easily mutated with time, translation and local tradition. All men and language groups view through their own lenses.

      Two things seem obvious: that the three branches have strong Graeco, Italic and Celto-Teutonic influence and lack any obvious Semitic component, whether looking to the scripture or modern Jewry (at least for one who was raised in predominantly Jewish neighborhoods in NYC).Peter would be a fish out of water in any of them.

      One might well ask how our traditions color scriptural interpretation rather than imagining that they are an aid to understanding. No one gains as much clarity by challenging others assumptions as one does challenging ones own and those of the ones closest to one. (No one becomes a fanatic by challenging himself).

      In an age of mass illiteracy one can see how those who were in authority in the church would say, in effect, “We’ll do the thinking for you,” but they too were subject to their own…

    • Don Kaspersen

      …but they were subject to their own limitations.

    • PeaceByJesus

      While 1Cor. 4:6 does not specify Scripture, given that Paul’s manner was to reason out of Scripture, and to prove truth claims by them, (Acts 13:17-41; 17:2; 28:23) along with miracles, (Rm. 15:19) and his unique affirmation of Scripture as wholly inspired of God (2Tim. 3:16) – this being the only transcendent material source that is thus affirmed – it is reasonable that not thinking of men “above” what it written refers to not esteeming men over what Scripture says about men (as many commentators also hold).

      Which consistently shows then as fallible creatures, whom the Lord did not have faith in. (Jn. 2:24) And to which Christ is set in contrast as the custom of the Holy Spirit is to make notable exceptions evident.

      In contrast to this is treating popes as exalted demi-gods, and attributing to Mary uniquely Divinely attributes that parallel Christ,

      And while Rome holds that it is by an act of grace that men are infallible, etc., its formulaic infallibility is above Holy…

    • Robin

      Can I first point out that the church today is a mere reflection of what I think Christ intended it to be- altho I have no idea what exactly he intended- it is going through an enriching process. for 400 years non RC christians were considered ‘lost’ and only since vatical II has there been a slight change- we are now ‘separated’ but they realise there may be some validity to non RC -Christianity. Despite what is said in public their hope is that we shall return to ‘their’ church Vatican documents and papers prove this. I can therefore disagree with your opening statement- The ReformationS (note the S) were to get Christianity back on track- I see it simply as dividing in order to grow and survive. We are now reuniting in an ecumenical way to grow and survive. Building on tradition and error the RCC is now separated and has been picking bits off the Ecumenical and the Pentecostal movements- having dug a hole they now need to find a way out of it-

    • Robin

      Sorry – just to try to clarify my use of S in Reformations. I accept and indeed use the regular term Reformation- I see there as bein a ‘reformation’ in the 7th century altho this was small and half hearted. A second occured in the 11th century when the church became superior to the state. ‘The Reformation’ which we talk of involved smaller ones- French, German,Swiss, English, Scottish etc with respective leaders- Calvin, Luther Knox et al and of course the ‘Counter-Reformation’. I am surprised (altho I am open to correction) that the post 1550 splits (Baptists- Methodists, Quakers etc) generally group themselves under the Protestant umbrella altho not the Reformation umbrella- suggesting that the Reformation did indeed come to an end with Trent and Vatican I…..

    • david carlson

      Ana (and other RC apologists)

      If your going to hold up the RC Magisterium as some type of direct connection to the apostles, and to accord the Pope some type of religous super powers, you will have to address the fact that “The popes who achieved greatness, however, were outnumbered by the corrupt, the inept, the venal, the lecherous, the ruthless, the mediocre and those who didn’t last long enough to make a mark.” to qoute the NYT. I am simply no longer willing to listen to tendacious scripture twisting while ignoring historical facts of the RC church

    • PeaceByJesus

      Such would not even Scripturally qualify to be church members, (1Cor. 5:11-15) much less successors to Peter.

      Nor does the N.T. establish that there was to be a perpetuated Petrine papacy, as the replacement for Judas was apparently to maintain the original number of foundational (Eph. 2:20) apostles, (Act 1:15-26; Rv. 21:14) with a qualification being that one have direct personal discipleship by Him, (Acts 1:21) as Paul seems to claim. (1Cor. 9:1; Gal. 1:12-17)

      Yet when the apostle James died, (Act 12:1) no successor is inferred or evident, nor plans for one for Peter.

      Moreover, apostolic authority as established by Scripturally corroboration, with its means of supernatural attestation to such. (Jn. 5:36,39; Mt. 22; Lk 24:44; Rm. 15:19; 2Cor. 12:12)

      Finally, the method for men choosing one was by the O.T. method of casting lots, which insured immediate replacement, versus up to a 3 year absence in Rome’s line and precluded politics, and making being Italian seem…

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