by Richard Bennett
As Pope Francis moves onto the world stage, many people are wondering how he will be generally accepted. The pleasant aura of John Paul II still lingers for many, while the shortcomings of Benedict XVI still color the current scene. More importantly, given the Pope’s exalted position in the world, many will be asking how Pope Francis will change the Papacy. The fact remains, however, that since the early 19th century the Office of the Papacy has been set on a course of action that no individual pope will reverse. How can this be so?
Setting the Stage for the Mystery of Iniquity
In 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine moved the seat of the Imperial Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople. By that time, he had decreed Christianity the religion of the Empire in hopes that by means of its acceptance a new unifying strength could be infused into his crumbling empire. The new “state religion” was organized much like the Roman Empire’s military.
It was divided into four major districts, having a head over each. Without persecution, the simple faith of the early church had declined, so that by the fifth century, the church at Rome was no longer a fellowship of strong believers under Christ Jesus. Rather it had become part of an institution dominated by a hierarchy in which the Bishop of Rome eventually commanded the most power.
Mystery of Iniquity becomes Manifest
Scripture speaks of the “mystery of iniquity.” This particular lawlessness arose gradually within the church as the Imperial Roman Empire gave way to what became the Holy Roman Empire. The mystery of iniquity has been visible in the form of the “man of sin” for well over eight centuries. The Reformers and general population of the Holy Roman Empire in the 16th century did not recognize it, however, until the recovery of the Gospel and the Bible.
The outcome of apostasy is the “deceivableness of unrighteousness.” Such apostasy is marked by hypocrisy and deceit, while appearing righteous and holy, and is aimed at deceiving even the very elect, were that possible. For centuries, the reigning Pope has assumed to himself the titles of “Holy Father” and “Vicar of Christ,” which fulfills in the unqualified sense the definition of Antichrist given by the Apostle John: “who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son.” The Pontiff, in taking these designations to himself, denies the supremacy and honor due both the Father and the Son alone.
A further qualification of “the man of sin” is that he sits in the temple of God showing himself to be God. Since the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., it is clear from Scripture that it is true Christians who are the temple of God. They are scattered throughout the world. While the Pope calls true Christians schismatics, because they are not in “his” church, he nevertheless purports to be the head of the church of Jesus Christ on earth and parades himself about under the titles of Holy Father and Vicar of Christ.
Emperor Justinian I, more than anyone else, was the one to establish the supremacy of the Bishop of Rome in the sixth century. He did it in a formal and legal manner, bringing even things religious under the control of civil law. Le Roy Edwin Froom summarized,
“Justinian I (527-565) [was the] greatest of all the rulers of the Eastern Roman Empire … [His] great achievement was the regulation of ecclesiastical and theological matters, crowned by the imperial Decretal Letter seating the bishop of Rome in the churches as the ‘Head of all the holy churches,’ thus laying the legal foundation for papal ecclesiastical supremacy.”
Justinian’s decree did not create the Office of the Papacy but rather set a legal foundation for the acquisition of civil ruling power by the bishops of Rome. Soon the bishops of Rome desired to reign like kings. The very thing that the Lord had warned against was now transpiring, “And he said unto them, the kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them…but ye shall not be so.”
Vitalian the Bishop of Rome from 657-672 A.D., was the first to actually be addressed with the title “Pope,” when he was called in Latin, “Papa Vitalianus”; i.e., Pope Vitialian. It took time for the Pope of Rome to spread the exercise of his state-given title over the bishops of Europe and the British Isles. For example, even in northern Italy in 800 A.D., Claude, the bishop of Turin, did not recognize the bishop of Rome’s authority.
The Papacy Grows Strong via Civil Power
From the fourth century through the eighth century, much of the growth of papal power was acquired in trade-offs with kings throughout what had been the old Imperial Roman Empire. To be sure, in these centuries there was evangelism with the true Gospel throughout the area. However, the pagan religion of those still heathen was not so different from the religion of the Pope, which was more easily accepted than the Gospel. Then, too, in the eighth century, when the Pope needed defending against the Saracens and the Lombards, the French kings provided it and presented the Pope with ruling title to the cities they had won. As a reward, in 800 A.D., Pope Leo III famously crowned Charlemagne Emperor and Augustus. Thus began the Holy Roman Empire, ever in turmoil over issues of the legal limits of jurisdiction of each sovereign: the Pope on one hand, and the Emperor on the other. These issues could not be solved except throughout the actual course of history.
In 1203 as head of the state religion, the Pope Innocent III began through its courts of Inquisition mandatory subjection to its unbiblical doctrines enforced by the civil state. This papal killing machine worked tirelessly for six hundred years, standing at least on par with the largest bloodbaths that Stalin, Mao Tse Tung, Pol Pot, and other 20th century dictators managed to inflict on humanity. Thus the form of the mystery of iniquity, the state-ordained Roman Catholic Church with its Office of the Papacy, grew in strength and civil power throughout the Dark and Middle Ages. It had amassed to itself wealth, property, and influence through the Inquisition and other cruel, unethical, totally unbiblical means, including murder and wholesale theft.
The Reformation Brings the Rise of the Modern Era
In 1547, the Church of Rome went fully apostate at the Council of Trent when it formally declared,
If anyone shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified: let him be anathema [cursed].
From the sixth century until the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the mystery of iniquity had acquired great political power and earthly wealth. Nevertheless, the murderous Inquisition of the Papacy was unable to stop the spread of the Reformation throughout northern Europe, England, Scotland, and the Scandinavian countries. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, thousands of Bible believers were unmercifully persecuted. Providentially, many were able to flee to the new land of America, a country born out of the Reformation.
In 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia ended the Thirty Years’ War between the Catholic Church and the Lutheran and Calvinistic princes. The Reformation first of all had restored the absolute authority of God’s written Word, the Bible. Then with the widespread recovery of the Gospel of grace, and the Bible being made available in the ordinary languages of the people, the forms of civil government were bound to change because the religion of many people had changed. Thus, it was agreed that each nation was to be sovereign; there was to be no Holy Roman Empire to which sovereign nations bowed. With that idea manifested in force by treaty, the Modern Era began. Clearly, such a monumental change as the destruction of the Holy Roman Empire might have signaled the end of the Roman Catholic Church. However, the mystery of iniquity, the heart and soul of the Papacy, was not so easily finished.
Mystery of Iniquity’s Transition into a Modern Nation State
In 1798, after the removal of Pope Pius VI from his throne by a staff general of Napoleon’s army, it appeared that the Papacy as an institution of the collapsed Holy Roman Empire might also be at an end. That was not the case. Rather, throughout the nineteenth century, the Papacy was reorganizing. True, it had lost its power in the civil arena, having now no official civil status over the modern nation states. However, it still had its visible institutional structure, infrastructure, and Jesuits; its religious rituals, false gospel, and traditions; its clergy and laity. All these remained in place; oiled and functioning.
Externally, the Papacy lost no time in attacking England, which had produced so many strong and staunch Puritans in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. In the nineteenth century, England was still in the forefront of sending forth many Evangelical missionaries to far corners of the earth. Thus, in 1844, the Papacy launched the Oxford Movement through John Henry Newman to bring the Church of England back under its thumb. The strategy was to gradually remove by stealth the teaching of the Gospel and the great doctrines of faith from the Bible. These were to be replaced with rituals and personal testimonials. If the Papacy could accomplish this, England could again be a Catholic country.
Internally, to strengthen the hold on ordinary Catholics, the Papacy in 1854 declared Mary to have been immaculately conceived. With their elevated Mary, the Papacy had manufactured an alternate but “visible” figurehead to which the Catholic faithful could be united in prayer. The attention of the faithful was thus deflected away from the “invisible” Lord Jesus Christ and His Written Word. Without these, their attention naturally focused on the visible image in front of them as the center of their prayers.
Further, Pope Pius IX was highly instrumental in bringing about the declaration of “papal infallibility.” With remarkable ingenuity, against not only the Scriptural absurdity of the concept, but also in spite of the historical fact of popes declared heretical by the same Roman Catholic Church, this was made doctrine at Vatican Council I in 1870. This doctrine consolidated in the hands of the reigning pope dictatorial powers heretofore unknown within the Catholic Church. Succeeding popes reestablished the Papacy internally by reorganizing Roman Catholic law into the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
Vatican Achieves Civil Status in the Modern Era
The apparent mortal wound of 1798 was healed in 1929, when, under Mussolini, the Vatican was again recognized as a sovereign civil power, known as the Holy See, where Vatican City is seated geographically within the city of Rome that encompasses all seven hills. The concordat with Mussolini was only the beginning of many civil concordats, one of the most infamous being that between Pope Pius XII and Adolf Hitler. Thus, the Papacy had consolidated its power from within by the 1917 Code of Canon Law and from without by legal concordats with various nations. Consequently, the Vatican has a growing civil power with which to be reckoned—for it has its own faithful living within most sovereign nations around the world while its civil agreements with the same nations allow the Catholic Church to teach the faith to its people. This is a double cord of power. The individual Catholic fearing for his salvation, and laden with his first allegiance being to “Holy Mother Church,” becomes a pliable pawn in the hand of the Papacy.
Mystery of Iniquity Makes Strategic Change
Vatican Council II (1962-1965) formally declared the Papacy’s strategic change of tactics regarding the reunification of Protestants under Catholicism, along with incorporating other faiths under its rule. Therefore, the Council moved from a position of “separation from other religions” to one of an all-encompassing ecumenism, not only with the religions of the world, but also with Bible believers in particular. “Separated brethren” was the new term for these Bible believers who previously were called heretics. Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism previously called pagan religions were now accepted as religions that contain, “what is true and holy.” This new approach was established by the Roman Catholic Church to win the world to herself, primarily by means of dialogue. The Council formulated its rules and goals of dialogue, which are carefully spelled out in her post-Conciliar Document No. 42, on ecumenism. It states that, “dialogue is not an end in itself … it is not just an academic discussion.” Rather, “ecumenical dialogue…serves to transform modes of thought and behavior and the daily life of those [non-Catholic] communities. In this way, it aims at preparing the way for their unity of faith in the bosom of a Church one and visible.”
Unlike the Body of Christ, whose unity is in Jesus Christ, the unity for which the Roman Church strives is an outward, visible unity, and one that will be enforceable through civil law – as her “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church” spells out by means of many deceptive words.
The Pope’s official position is that “ecumenical encounter is not merely an individual work, but also a task of the Roman Church, which takes precedence over all individual opinions.” The Papacy expects this process of dialogue to take time. The Roman Catholic Church’s aim of bringing “all Christian churches” under her authority is her clearly stated goal. She says, “…little by little, as the obstacles to perfect ecclesial communion are overcome, all Christians will be gathered, in a common celebration of the Eucharist [the Mass] into that unity of the one and only Church…This unity, we believe, dwells in the Catholic Church as something we can never lose.”
Pope John Paul II, while initially having been thought to be liberal and modern, further consolidated the dictatorial powers afforded him by the 1917 Code of Canon Law and by his purported infallibility, bequeathed him by Vatican Council I. This he did by revising the 1917 Code, making it even more conservative than it had been, and he was careful to appoint new bishops in line with his centralized way of thinking.
Like another Hildebrand, John Paul II was determined to build, by both Church and civil law, the structure by which the Papacy can again wield might and authority among the nations at the appropriate time. This same Pope John Paul II was adamant in his efforts to update the laws of the Roman Catholic Church. Since the days of Hildebrand, popes have seen the necessity of making iron-like, inflexible church laws before attempting to control their subjects, and those not Catholic, by compulsion if necessary. In 1983, John Paul II’s revision of the 1917 Code of Canon Law added to the Roman Catholic laws. For example, “The Church has an innate and proper right to coerce offending members of the Christian faithful by means of penal sanctions.” Examination of these laws shows them to be even more absolute and totalitarian than those of the past. If one rejects submission of his intellect and will to the Pope, or rejects some doctrines of the Papacy, by church law he can be severely punished. For example, Canon 1312 Para 2 states, “The law can establish other expiatory penalties which deprive a believer of some spiritual or temporal good and are consistent with the supernatural end of the Church.”
Mystery of Iniquity: Power Player in the Post-Modern Era
The Roman Catholic Church is not content to rule only over her own faithful. Rather, now with the dawn of the Post-Modern era, globalism is the manifesting idea of the day, a day for which the Papacy throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries has been preparing. The “Compendium of Social Doctrine of the [Catholic] Church,” which began to be collected by the end of the nineteenth century under Pope Leo, is a catalog of Catholic law. It lays out the Papal ideas and strategies for restructuring the current civil political world and extends the application of its laws and dictates to all individuals worldwide. For instance, it states that all human individuals worldwide are part of “the common good.” Everybody has a share in the common good and everybody has something to contribute to the common good. The rallying cry of the Compendium is for “fairness, equality, social justice, economic justice, etc.,” which defined by them means that everyone must participate in sharing what he has with whomever the state says he must, regardless of whether or not one agrees with this view. For a while, those who maintain such backward and recalcitrant attitudes will be tolerated; then individuals will be coerced into taking part.
Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI called for a new governmental structure to rule over the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN). This new governmental body, conferring among themselves, is to hand down laws and dictates which the nation states of the UN would then enforce – in other words, a new sovereign world empire in which the nation states are simply to enforce the laws and dictates of a higher, unelected body. All goods, resources, and property of any kind would be subject to management by the UN and the nations. In a word, the Papacy wants a totally centralized world government, one in which the Roman Catholic Church will be the moral and juridical authority. To that end, the Roman Church has been increasingly bold in infusing into national and international public forums her agenda for restructuring the civil secular world. Regardless of the type of persona Pope Francis displays, he will not change this central objective of the Papacy.
The Compendium is constantly being updated as information is gathered, collated, and taught to individual lay Catholics. Most Catholics have not recognized the agenda that is behind the change in what they are being taught. Yet, it is the specific duty of all lay Catholics to change the thinking within their societies to align with the Papal understanding of church and civil government. In the fifty years since Vatican Council II, dutiful lay Catholics in every walk of life have been quite successful at rolling Catholic social doctrine like a new Trojan horse into all sorts of religious, political, and social groups. The Evangelical church, for the most part, has felt honored to receive such a prize.
For at least seventy years, Catholic social doctrine has been mainstreamed into the political arena. Witness the buzzwords of today, coined not by Muslims, Hindus or Buddhists, but by the Roman Catholic Church: phrases such as “redistribution of wealth,” “social justice,” “economic justice,” “dignity of the human person,” “the common good,” “fairness,” and the “right to life, food, clothing, shelter, rest, medical care, education, and employment.” Catholic social doctrine is pushed worldwide by individual Catholics and Catholic groups, as the latest addenda to what the Papacy says are included in evangelization. The Papacy says this is the particular duty of the Catholic laity. Thus, the “mystery of iniquity,” made manifest in the institution of the Roman Catholic Church and its Office of the Papacy, has for the last century been moving effectively into the civil governmental sphere, everywhere pressing its own unbiblical ideas into the public forum. These ideas are to be formulated into ruinous and unjust laws to the enslavement of those living under them. Utopianism, socialism, communism, totalitarianism are children of the Papacy’s doctrine and practice. These ungodly ideas are found in the Compendium as integral parts of Roman Catholic social doctrine.
Under the civil title of Holy See, the Catholic Church has ambassadors in many nations. Declining to come under the dominion of the United Nations, she preferred to take an official place as observer rather than member. The Holy See has observer status in many other international bodies as well. Moreover, the Roman Church has a viable infrastructure in most countries of the world. Therefore, she is in an excellent position to take advantage of the burgeoning idea of globalism in every sector of life that the statists, utopians, and totalitarians intend to harness to their own ends. She, with her “fifth column” in every nation, is able to pervert the Gospel, sideline the truths taught in the Scripture as irrelevant or false, and deceptively divert Bible believers away from the love of the truth. What then is to stop her from once again making wholesale merchandise of men’s souls in deals with modern leaders of the nations to the glory of her own power?
The “mystery of iniquity” arose under the Imperial Roman Empire and survived the empire’s demise. In 537 A.D., Justinian gave the legal base for it to acquire civil power, which it did throughout the course of the next ten centuries. Its temporal power was arrested by the recovery of the Bible and the Gospel during the Reformation of the sixteenth century. It was held at bay by the Puritans of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Nevertheless, it survived the demise of the Holy Roman Empire to become a sovereign nation in the 20th century and is now set to be a major power player in the Post Modern Era.
Currently Pope Francis is the visible head of the Roman church; but the mystery of iniquity is still the power behind the throne. The mystery of iniquity is nothing less than the satanic counterfeit of the mystery of godliness. The Scripture states, “without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
The “mystery of godliness” is the great revelation of God, which had its full manifestation in the Person of the Christ of God. Thus, Scripture proclaims, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high.”
As we behold the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Father, we also behold the power, wisdom, and goodness of the Lord Jesus Christ; for as mediator, He has the nature and perfections of God in Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ alone can satisfy our hearts. There is absolutely no church system that satisfies; it is only our personal relationship with our Lord that truly satisfies. Thus, His Word expresses it, “Whom have I in heaven but thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire beside thee.” How trivial and vain are the promises of the Papal system compared to the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is revealed as the “chiefest among ten thousand.” Were it not for the recovery of the absolute authority of the Bible alone and the Gospel of grace in salvation during the Reformation of the sixteenth century, the “mystery of iniquity” might still be undetected. Contrary to this, and in spite of the mystery of iniquity being so rampantly displayed in the world today, the Holy Spirit still convicts individual men of their sin before Holy God, sends them repentance unto life in Christ Jesus. “For by grace are ye saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” The true believer is thus “accepted in the beloved, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” The frightening words of the Lord in Matthew 7:21 ought to ring in the ears of those who have spent their whole lives believing a religious system, “not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”
No person, by merely acknowledging Christ’s authority, believing in His divinity, professing faith in His perfection and in the infinite merit of His atonement, shall have any part with God in His glory, but only he who does the will of His Father. The Lord put the command to believe in a nutshell when He said, “this is the work of God, that ye believe on Him whom He hath sent.” Likewise, the Apostle Paul and Silas declared, “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” The godliness of Jesus Christ stands, so also is His call on your life. Before you the question stands, have you tasted of “the mystery of godliness”? To personally know Christ Jesus is to know the everlasting arms of the All-Holy God. Does your very heart and soul cry out to Him, “Abba, Father”? The water of life is offered to you in the abundance of grace, which far surpasses the evils of sin. Thus, the Lord’s call in Scripture says, “the Spirit and the bride say, come. And let him that heareth say, come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.”
Once a convicted sinner believes on Christ Jesus alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, as his only surety and refuge before the All-Holy God, he finds himself not only freed from his sins, but made to “reign in life … for if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Those who receive the abundant grace given by Christ are not only redeemed from the dominion of death, they live and reign with Christ as they are sanctified daily through His Word by the Holy Spirit, and by constant fellowship with Him. With Him, they shall reign forever and glorify Him for all eternity. Believe on Him alone and you will be secure in Him, “to the praise of the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved.” Then you will behold “the mystery of godliness.” “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” ¨
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