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2.3.1 The Special Case of Roman Catholicism

The Roman Catholic is only one of the many Christian churches, but it is also the oldest and, most people will agree, the most important one not only in membership, but also in influence and recognition. All the other Christian churches must be considered as “offspring” even if many of them have cut all their links with their “parent” church.

Any proposal of a new approach to the Roman Catholic religion must take into consideration the background of its “founder”, Jesus Christ, as well as its history from its origin to now:

  • Jesus Christ, as described in the New Testament, was a Jew who founded a Jewish sect. This sect was only open to Jewish members who followed the Jewish Law. He died a Jew
  • His immediate followers, which we will describe as the Jerusalem Christians, were Jews who also followed Jesus Christ’s rules and teaching
  • It is St Paul who opened the Christian Church to non-Jewish members, with the result that it branched out of the Jewish faith to become the Universal Catholic Church that we still have today

In the first three or four centuries of the Christian era, not all the new Christians followed the same rules, doctrine, and rituals. There were many small sects but two main groups of Christians:

  • The Gnostics who believed that the way to salvation was through personal research and knowledge (gnosis). They had no use for the clergy
  • The “Literalist Christians” who accepted a strong hierarchised clergy that, in addition, was their necessary link to salvation by faith only.

The Literalist Christians finally won their battle against the Gnostics and other so-called heretics, and imposed their views on the Christian world. This was mainly due to the fact that they offered an easy way to salvation based on faith only to all people, while the Gnostic way to salvation was based on knowledge requiring work and study. Not all people had the intellectual capacity to do it. Moreover the absence of a clergy, and of any organisation, did not help the Gnostics.

Once the Gnostics had been defeated in various religious Councils of the Church, the Literalists imposed their views on all Christianity, prohibiting the Christian Gnostics to practise Christianity in their own way, destroying all the Gnostic literature, and excommunicating those who refused to join them.

The Roman Catholic Church and its clergy were all powerful for more than one thousand years until, that is, the beginning of the 16th century. During all that time, after the disappearance of the Gnostics, the Roman Catholic Church remained mainly united with the exception of the schism between the western and eastern churches.

In the 16th century a few open-minded members of the clergy could not accept anymore the authoritarian and dogmatic ways of the Catholic Church. The Reformation came out from their study of the Bible. This was not a unified movement –and it could not be-, with the result that there were many Reformed Churches from the beginning, each of them convinced that they knew the truth, and fighting between themselves to impose their views. Today there are hundred, if not thousand, of such churches and the influence of most of them is negligible. Only the few more important of these congregations have an international appeal.

The Roman Catholic Church learned to live with these competitive churches. Initially there was no contact between them, but in the last 30 to 50 years contacts have increased enormously. Today the so-called ecumenical movement makes sure that most, if not all the churches talk together, even if they do not fully collaborate yet.

Like what was said for the Christians in general:

  • The Church, its doctrine, rituals and clergy should be left as they are without any interference whatsoever by those seeking knowledge
  • The Bible –New and Old Testaments- should still be seen as representing the base of the Church doctrine and its pseudo historical justification
  •  Most Catholics will still be satisfied with their Church as it is, and will continue to base their faith on the Bible
  •  However, those members who are not intellectually happy with what the present Church is offering them must have the possibility to research the Church history to see if the past offers them something more suitable that, hopefully, will open the way to a new vision of their religion

This is, in fact, nothing new. It has always been known that Jesus Christ himself said that there were two levels –at least- in his teaching: the simplest one, taught to the majority of his followers, did not require from them anything beside faith; a more profound one, taught only to the minority of his direct followers and disciples who had acquired a certain level of knowledge and understanding from His teaching.

The starting point to approach the Roman Catholic religion is the Church with its clergy, its rituals, and its doctrine based on the Bible. The New Testament is still the basis from which to learn what this religion is all about, even if the four Gospels give a limited, contradictory, difficult to accept, and often distorted image of the life of Jesus Christ and his teaching. This is due to the fact that the writings that have been included in the Bible represent only a very limited view of what Christianity, as experienced by the early Christians, was all about. The leaders of the clergy have selected these books during the first four centuries AD among a mass of writings, all of the authors being Literalist Christians. Moreover the four Gospels included in the Bible have been written long after Jesus Christ’s death. This means that they were not written by direct witnesses but on the base of the oral tradition of the time. There are in fact the work of many authors and, in addition, they have been re-written and “corrected many times to suit the needs of the Literalist Church.

The books selected have something in common:

  • They maintain that the church and its clergy are the link between this life and salvation after death
  • They imply that the bishops, and above all the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, are the natural successors of St Peter, who is said to have been chosen by Jesus Christ himself as the first head of the Church
  • This implies a certain legitimacy to the claim that only the clergy could correctly interpret the will of God
  • They proclaim the principle of the Trinity: the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit
  • They insist that the miracles really occurred as described, that Jesus Christ resurrected in the flesh, and that he later on appeared to his closed disciples, apostles, and followers.

Many people will be satisfied with the teaching of the Church, and the easy way it offers to salvation by faith only. No special effort is required to understand the philosophy hidden behind the doctrine, and the clergy explains all that is necessary to know. The people who are happy with this approach should not look any further.

There are, however, people who are not intellectually satisfied with this simple approach and the assumptions hidden behind it:

  • The relation between Jesus Christ, a Jew during all his life, and Christianity as we know it today, cannot be clearly understood by reading the Bible only
  • Again the transition between the Jewish Christian Church that emerged after Jesus Christ’s death, and the Universal Catholic Church of St Paul is not explained in a rational way, as it should
  • An explanation of the Roman Catholic Church long standing hate of the Jews held responsible of the death of Jesus Christ, who himself was Jewish, is missing
  • The miracles taken literally are unbelievable if we take into account our present knowledge
  • The resurrection and the following apparition of Jesus in the flesh go against all our experiences
  • The distortion of the Church history during the first four centuries AD, especially the refusal to acknowledge the importance of the internal Gnostic movement, is unacceptable.

These unsatisfied members of the Church have three possibilities:

  • Leave the Church
  • Stay formally in it as a non-participant
  • Try to understand what is behind it through research in view of acquiring knowledge.

Until the end of the 19th century, alternative knowledge was not readily available to the majority of the people. We are told that this information has always existed in the archives of the Church, especially in the Vatican’s, but the access to it was limited to the highest levels of the clergy, as well as to a few trusted religious scientists. The situation changed completely during the 20th century First of all, the power of the Church gradually decreased, and the information from hidden became widely available. Some old manuscripts that escaped destruction by the Church were finally discovered in different places and their content was made public, although the Church did its best to keep it secret.