I’m Catholic but struggling very deeply with the legitimacy of the Church’s development over the last 2000 years: whether it is truly faithful to the Gospel, or just politics.
Reading the history of the development of papal power, especially, has really been challenging my faith. The main reason I’m skeptical about trusting The Church is the complication of history. My question is this:
**Developments: how far are they legitimate, and how far is too far? **
Here’s what I mean: when Theodosius made Catholicism the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380, the Church seems to have gone from Persecuted to Persecutor. It started destroying temples, defacing art, chopping off the hands of those who copied pagan manuscripts. Burning came later. Augustine theorized that it’s okay to imprison, torture, or potentially kill heretics. By the time of Justinian, heretics had no civil rights.
So, how far is too far? How many centuries does it take to declare something infallibly as to Morals? Can even universal bad practice be infallible?**
Secondly, as far as I can tell, as the Western Roman Empire died away, the Popes – who already held the primacy and canonical authority – gradually assumed to themselves what remained of the imagery of the Empire, and extending claimed political power into theological claims. See the forged “Donation of Constantine”.
Surrounded by Arian Goths in Italy & Spain, pagans in Britain, and a single Catholic Kingdom far away in France, there was chaos. Popes were chosen by Byzantine Emperors for 200 years, from 535 to 740, and seem to have had little “supremacy” rhetoric during that time. But I see a gradual elevation of the Papacy’s spiritual authority based on secular politics. When Charlemagne’s father granted conquered Italian territory to Rome in 752, the Popes shifted their full spiritual weight to Western politics, and within 100 years, the supremacy theology of Pope Nicholas I was in high gear.
So, was this a legitimate way for papal episcopal supremacy to become worked out, or was the resulting supremacy illegitimate because it originated in politics?
But it used to be different, didn’t it? Weren’t the first 7 Ecumenical Councils called by the Christian Emperors and nobody else? That was considered the prerequisite, not Papal approval. Even the first synod called by a Pope with the intention of having an ecumenical council (the Lateran Council, 649 AD), failed to attract enough bishops to become an Ecumenical Council
Could Charlemagne’s breaking of ecclesiastical practice have created a new faith and morals, more firmly rooted in the Papacy? Even if so, is that necessary illegitimate? How can we trust so deeply political an entity as the early/high/late Medieval Papacy not to warp things in its favour, creating a theological framework lasting to today?
**Again: developments. How far are they legitimate, and how far is too far? **
I have not found answers to these problems. If I could resolve them, I would be even happier than the day I was baptized. I’m hoping my fellow Catholics might have some ideas or thoughts.