The religion contained in St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans and in the Gospel of John won out over Gnosticism and all the other early versions of Christianity.

How did what we now call Roman Catholic Christianity in Western Europe, along with Eastern Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe, become the world’s largest and most powerful religion?  By becoming the official state religion of the Roman Empire, which by the year 330, effectively had two capital cities – Rome and Constantinople.

It begins in the early decades after Jesus’ death, with the rising popularity of Christianity in the Hellenized cities of the Mediterranean ruled by the Roman Empire.

The Roman Emperor Constantine the Great (272-337 CE) was Emperor of Rome from 306 to 337. He converted to Christianity in the year 312, supposedly when he saw a cross in the sky near the sun during the Battle of Milvian Bridge.  But Scholars think that Constantine actually adopted his mother St. Helena’s Christianity in his youth, or that he adopted it gradually over the course of his life. 1

“I don’t think we can understand Constantine as converting to Christianity as an exclusive religion. Clearly, he covered his bases… Constantine was a consummate pragmatist and a consummate politician… It’s clear that after he converted to Christianity he was still paying attention to other deities. … But …Constantine was a remarkable supporter of Christianity.” — Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminar.  2

Dr. Bart Ehrman writes that Constantine saw Christianity as a tool for “bringing together his socially and culturally fractured empire.” Christianity has one God, who has one Son, there is one way to salvation, one church, one liturgy, one Truth, and one priesthood organized in a strict military hierarchy.  This oneness and unity could be harnessed to unify the empire. The alliance between Empire and Church would also vastly increase the wealth and power of the Church.  It was a “win-win” merger for both parties. 3

With Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, Roman money, power, and administrative efficiency were infused into the Catholic Church. Women are eliminated from any significant role in the hierarchy. Christian sects having different views of Jesus’ message (such as the Gnostics) were put down, and their various gospels were excluded from the Bible by one or more of the first seven Ecumenical Councils (meetings of the Christian Bishops) from across the Mediterranean world.

After his conversion, Constantine took on the role of patron of the Christian faith. He supported the Church financially, had an extraordinary number of basilicas built… promoted Christians to high-ranking offices,.. and endowed the church with land and other wealth. 4

The literate intelligentsia of Europe was attracted to the Church in the early Middle Ages. The priesthood achieved consistency of doctrine and established a monopoly on direct communication with God.  Since monks and priests cannot marry, there is no temptation to pass property down to biological heirs.  All Wealth resulting from the labor of priests, as particularly of monks, remains and accumulates inside the Church.  With wealth comes political power.

Between 324 and 330, Constantine built a new imperial capital at Byzantium on the Bosporus, which would be named “Constantinople,” for him. Unlike “old” Rome, the new city began to employ overtly Christian architecture, contained churches within the city walls and had no pre-existing temples from other religions. 5 …by the end of his reign, Constantine had begun to order the pillaging and tearing down of Roman temples. 6

Characteristics of Roman Catholic Christianity

As we saw in our earlier Essay, “For Jesus, the Kingdom of God was supposed to be a community of radical or unbroken equality in which individuals are in direct contact with one another and with God, unmediated by any established brokers or fixed locations.” 7

The new, winning religion-about-Jesus, Roman Catholic Christianity, is very different.  It is highly structured and personal, direct contact with Jesus and/or God is virtually eliminated.

Roman Catholic Christianity asserts the following articles of faith. Note that all the logical contradictions are simply maintained and accepted.  They are explained by the “mystery” of God, which is beyond human knowledge.

  • God is both one and three at the same time, the three being God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  • On Earth, Jesus was both a real, flesh-and-blood man and yet was God at the same time.
  • Jesus now sits at the right hand of God. He will return to Earth to judge the dead at the End of Days.
  • While it is still important to follow the Scriptural Law as it was reformulated and taught by Jesus, one can yet be forgiven from sin and enter heaven through repentance, an earnest belief in Jesus as The Son of God, and acceptance of Jesus as one’s personal Savior.

Instead, the Catholic Church says, just do these four things and you can go to heaven after death:

  • Confess your sins to a priest.
  • Be truly contrite.
  • Focus on not doing any harm (don’t commit any sins),
  • In the future, try to do good, although proactive “good works” are not essential.
  • Touch all the applicable ritual bases called the sacraments – Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Penance and Reconciliation, Anointing the Sick; and Marriage and Ordination as applicable.
  • Embrace Catholic doctrines (about the Trinity, the live-body nature of life after death, etc.),
  • And have plenty of children to continually re-populate the ranks of church membership.

Under Emperor Constantine’s patronage, the still-young Catholic Christian Church had everything it needed to grow:

  • A pageant of sensational, mysterious, and semi-scary miracles to awe and enthrall new recruits.
  • Impressive uniforms (“vestments”) for the priesthood – pure white for the Commanding General, bright red for colonels, purple for majors, and plain back for the junior officers who do all the work.)
  • A way of life for the common people that was practical and consistent with everyday biological and social imperatives.
  • An easy way to confess your sins and get a new start; while avoiding melancholy, guilt, and depression.
  • The promise of an eternal life in Heaven, after the labor and frequent pains of human life.

The Roman Catholic Church established a spiritual class system. The top class was the priesthood — the Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, and the Priests. Only priests were able to forgive sins and perform mass.  Moreover, the mass could only be read in Latin, a language reserved and preserved especially for them. The insistence on Latin also kept the text from being changed and confused over time as local languages rapidly evolved.

The monks and nuns were a second class, unable to hear confession, forgive sins, or perform the mystery of communion.

All the people in the first two classes were required to remain celibate.  Priests, monks, and nuns took vows of celibacy, because their “carnal” needs were to be supplanted by the more ethereal and holy satisfactions of their supposed “closer” relationship with God.

The lowest and largest class was the Catholic laity – the general populace.  Yes, they worked on the land and in the trades, but their primary duty was to give birth to more Catholics.  The over-arching purpose of all their lives was “to glorify God.”

Practically, since all churchly lands belonged to the priestly hierarchy (or to holy orders of celibate monks and nuns), and since the priestly hierarchy had no (legitimate) biological heirs, none of them could pass wealth along to their children. Over the centuries, this served to concentrate wealth (and power) in the hands of the church itself.

The post-Constantine, Catholic Religion About Jesus is actually more practical than the Religion Taught by Jesus in a very important respect.  The rituals and life practices prescribed by the Catholic Church allow followers to forget about trying to emulate Jesus’ saintly life of love, voluntary poverty, and radical sharing.  Instead, the common people are free to farm, work at trades, fight in wars, and have children… just in case the “Second Coming” may not happen until hundreds of thousands of years in the future!   This was, and still is, a Strength of Roman Catholic Christianity. 

However, these Strengths become Shortcomings in a more modern age when the people want to read, talk about, and share religion among themselves as co-equals in a congregation. And besides, all the Roman Catholic Bibles were in Latin. These shortcomings (along with substantial financial and moral corruption in the Roman Catholic organization) lead to the Protestant Reformation, as we discuss later in this Essay.

The Earthly Power of the Roman Catholic Church

The bigger a religion gets, the more like a government it becomes, with interests in land, money, political power, government, and politics, and also participations in trade, war, and spying.  At least, that has been true for the religions of the West, including Roman Catholicism.

Worldly Powers Come with Worldly Dangers:

— Danger of popularization & sensationalization;
— Danger of corruption (doctrinal, financial, political)
— Danger of bureaucratization and institutional paralysis;
— Danger of autocratic command & control;
— Danger of fragmentation;
— Danger of pursuit of wealth (cravenness, materialism);
— Danger of ossification;
— Danger of trivialization (e.g., the Book of Revelation, or the Mormon creation story);
— Danger of failure to evolve to meet needs of the people.
— Danger of being hijacked by political or societal forces.

Any religion or social movement can fall prey to one or more of these dangers.  Note that these dangers can conflict with each other.  If you over-control a movement, you get calcification & bureaucracy.  But if you under-control it, you can get fragmentation and dissolution.

Over the centuries, the Roman Catholic Church would fall prey to nearly all ten of these Worldly Dangers, as we shall see.

Note:  The word “Catholic” means a wide variety of things; all-embracing.  Synonyms: universal, diverse, diversified, wide, broad, broad-based, eclectic, liberal, latitudinarian.  But through usage, it has also come denote the specific Catholic Church headed by the Pope in the Vatican City of Rome.

Popularization – The Strategy of Simplification

Early Roman Catholic Christianity was made easier for the masses to believe, and easier for church leaders to govern, by decreasing the amount of spiritual work and amends-making its followers had to do to “get to heaven.”  Bible study was replaced study or memorization of a short “catechism” and repetition of an even shorter “creed.”

The hard work of self-examination, personality transformation, and charitable works was replaced by simply repenting and believing that Christ is the Son of God. Catholic people were (and still are) allowed to wipe their life-slates clean, and start over, if they made a sincere confession to a priest and performed the penance that one’s priest prescribed.

For centuries, the Catholic laity was not allowed to study the Bible. They had to rely on their priests as intermediaries between them and God. Catechisms and creeds also get around the fact that much of Jesus’ preaching was, and still is, confusing and unclear, as we discussed in our last Essay.

Classic Christian Creeds

The Apostles’ Creed, one of two famous creeds in the Christian faith, is all about swearing to the divinity of Christ, and not at all about swearing to what Christ had to say.

In late October of 312 CE, Emperor Constantine convened the Christian bishops to meet in Nicaea, near Constantinople. While the palace there was under the close “protection” of the imperial guard, Constantine commanded the bishops to erase any major theological disagreements between them.  8

They did so, and went on to develop a short creed, which all Catholics were expected to recite during various gathering and ceremonies.

Creeds are simplified, easy-to-remember summaries of key beliefs.  They are meant to be recited by worshipers, and thereby remembered and ingrained.  Creeds are one of several codifications and simplifications, including the catechism, the doxology, fixed ritual prayers, and fixed ritual blessings such as “last rights.”  All of these serve to make a religion understandable to common people and to provide uniformity in belief and practice.  In all these documents the church stresses the Religion about Jesus, and neglects teaching the Religion Taught by Jesus.

Historically, there are three principal Creed’s, all of them similar:

  • Apostles’ Creed 120-250 BCE
  • Creed of Nicaea – 325.
  • Nicene Creed (somewhat modifying the Creed of Nicea) – 381 BCE

Amazingly, The Apostles’ Creed, quoted below, contains nothing of Jesus’ moral teachings (nor does the Nicene Creed of 381):

The Apostles’ Creed (Most likely from the 4th Century. In use since the 8th Century)

“I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary; suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell: the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen.”

The longer but highly similar Nicene Creed (as amended at the Council of Constantinople in 381) can easily be found and read online.

The figure of Jesus in these creeds is a mythical or heavenly figure, whose connection with the sage from Nazareth is limited… Nothing between his birth and death, i.e., nothing Jesus said appears to be essential to his mission or to the faith of the church.

In other words, there is nothing in these creeds about believing in what Jesus taught, only about Jesus’ divinity and magical powers. Jesus has been replaced with Christ.  “This conception was undoubtedly derived from the view espoused by the apostle Paul, who did not know the historical Jesus.  For Paul, the Christ was to be understood as a dying/rising lord, … of the type he knew from Hellenistic mystery religions. In Paul’s theological scheme, Jesus the man played no essential role.”  9

Note: The Practice of Continuing Creation has something similar to a creed. It is our statement of The Principles We Hold True.” (So that the reader can make comparisons, our document includes copies of Christianity’s “Apostles’ Creed,” the Unitarian Universalists’ “Seven Principles and Six Sources,” and Reverend Michael Dowd’s “Eco-Credo.”)

The Catholic Religion says that if you believe Jesus is the Son of God who will return to Earth and usher all his followers (alive and dead) into heaven; and if you go through several ritual sacraments including baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, Confession & Penance, Anointing the Sick or Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, and Matrimony, and Last Rites, then you will in fact get to go to Heaven.

Protestant Denominations are, in varying degrees, less formal, less ritualistic; and they call for more Bible study, free-form prayer, and inward searching.

To reinforce the certainty of a magical journey up to heaven, and to prove Jesus’ supernatural power, believers are told that a number of miraculous events happened during Jesus’ life.  These include Jesus’ immaculate conception, his feats of healing, rising from the dead, and appearance after death.

The Official Books (The Canon) of the New Testament

While the Creeds were being written, important Christian theologians and bishops met in a series of conventions to decide which of the many “gospels” were worthy enough to be included in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.

Many different Jesus movements formed in the decades after Jesus’ death, and a number had their own gospels and large libraries of literature that are still available to us today.  Among these documents were the substantial writings of The Gnostics.

What we now know of as the New Testament is a very small selection of “books” put together by the Catholic Church in the 4th century.  This selection gained power thru the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine to Christianity.  After that, other early writing about Jesus were actively suppressed, and much of their literature was lost for centuries. 10

The Choice of Latin Only for the Bible and the Mass

For centuries, the texts of the New Testament were kept only in the dead language of Latin. This was a strategy to keep them pure. Christians spoke scores, perhaps hundreds of languages and dialects.  If the church had allowed the Gospels to be translated into so many languages, it would have led to mistranslations and doctrinal differences, especially over the time span of hundreds of years.  Besides, there was minimal intellectual discourse outside Greek and Latin, at least until the latter Middle Ages.

Of course, keeping the sacred texts in Latin also gave the Catholic priesthood a “monopoly on reading and understanding,” and thereby centralized, disciplined power over dispensation of the religion.  Thus, the early choice of “Latin Only” can be seen as a strategy of both simplification and preservation.

The Book of Revelation

The New Testament’s apocalyptic Book of Revelation, a.k.a. The Apocalypse of John, has been attributed to John the Apostle, one of the 12 disciples, but historically thought to be written by an unknown author between CE 81 and 96.  The Book of Revelation is a fantastic nightmare of frightening myths. Its inclusion in the New Testament clearly shows the political motivations of the Ecumenical Councils that selected the books for inclusion. Apparently, they needed a scary horror-show to be the “stick,” to go along with Jesus’ own “carrot” message.

We Agents of Continuing Creation say:  in future editions of the Bible, the entire Book of Revelation should be lined through to indicate its macabre insanity.  Or just leave it out altogether.

Catholic Monastic Life – Calm, Devotion, and Prayer

With the hierarchical structure of the priesthood in place for cultivating the faith of the general populace, the Roman Catholic Church, in a stroke of genius, created side-pocket organizations for the people who actually did want to follow the Religion of love and charity taught by Jesus. The men could become monks, and the women could become nuns.

The monastic, ascetic path is present in nearly all great religions.  It is a prime example of the alternative of the withdrawal response to social and economic stress. Examples include the Essenes in Judaism, Buddhist monks and nuns, Hindu yogis, even the Amish and Mennonites, in their own practical, American way.  As we’ve said elsewhere, we Agents of Continuing Creation support the choice of contemplative life… for the minority of People who find it attractive. The main thrust of our Way is to construct, discover, and create.

The monastic traditions allow people who want to follow Jesus’ communal doctrine of radical sharing and living without possessions to do so. For the most part, these people have been asked to live apart from the general populace, so that main-line people would not come to question the worth of their own lives in comparison to the lives of the Jesus-emulators.

The ascetic (simple and self-denying) lifestyle of the Essenes living in the first century set an example Jesus own lifestyle, and for the Christian monks and nuns. The word “monastic” derives from the Greek word “monos,” meaning alone, and the earliest Christian monks did live alone, as hermits. The first Christian monastery, the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, was built in 346 C.E. in Egypt.  The Benedictine Order was founded at Monte Casino in Italy in 529.  (See Wikipedia:

Note: To capture one aspect, one tenor, of monastic life, go online and listen to a chorus of contemporary monks (or nuns perform a Gregorian Chant.

The status of monks as apart from secular life (at least theoretically) also served a social function. Monasteries became a place for second sons to live in celibacy so that the entire family estate would go to the first son and not split all the sons (and/or daughters).

For centuries, many cities had a Magdalene House (also called Magdalene asylums or Magdalene laundries) for prostitutes within the walls, often a pre-industrial laundry where the women and girls toiled ceaselessly with little reward. Other orders of nuns were favored by monarchs and rich families to keep and educate their maiden daughters before arranged marriage (or to hold daughters indefinitely if they proved to be “too unappealing” for marriage.)

Poverty, Chastity, Obedience… and Wealth

Ironically, many Catholic monastic orders in Europe accumulated great wealth during the Middle Ages. Since none of the monks were allowed to marry, none of the wealth they created during their lives could be passed down to sons or daughters.  Instead, the fruits of their labors stayed in the hands of the monastery and thereby increased the wealth of the Roman Catholic Church.  (See Wikipedia, Dissolution of the Monasteries.)

The monasteries also turned out to be centers of literacy, learning, and even some new technology, such as improvements in waterwheel-and-grindstone technology 11 Most of the Greek literature, philosophy, and science we still have today exists because it was preserved in medieval monasteries. 12 And many Catholic orders are devoted to charity work for hundreds of years, and that is clearly a laudable use of their members’ time and energy. 

However, the Process of Continuing Creation shows us that a life of complete retreat into introspective prayer is more like death than life.  Continuing Creation’s design for most of us is to engage the world all around us.  However, partial or periodic retreat – into meditation, contemplation, introspection, or “alone time” – are salubrious ways to regenerate our creative energies.  Older people may benefit from increased (but hardly total) retreat, to aid them in evaluation of their lives and loves, so that their wisdom may better be passed to the young people around them.

Original Sin

Original Sin, also called “ancestral sin,” is the Christian doctrine of that every person is born in a state of sin stemming from Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience to Jehovah when they consumed fruit from the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Some scholars contend that this Hebrew phrase is best understood as “the knowledge of everything,” rather than the narrower “knowledge of morality.” 13 We will stick with the traditional interpretation – moral knowledge.

Early Roman Catholic theologians including Tertullian, Cyprian, and Ambrose supported this doctrine, seeing that it was based on the New Testament teaching of Paul the Apostle (Romans 5:12–21 and 1 Corinthians 15:22) and the Old Testament verse of Psalm 51:5.

Augustine of Hippo (354-430), well-known today as “Saint Augustine,” and perhaps the foremost theologian of Christianity, formulated a rather severe interpretation of original sin that would become particularly popular among Protestant reformers, such as Martin Luther and John Calvin, who equated original sin with even thinking about or tending toward sin. Augustine affirmed that original sin persisted after baptism and it completely destroyed human-kind’s freedom to choose. 14

The biological subsystems within the Process of Continuing Creation show us that we humans are born having a mix of both good and evil; as having both traits of cooperation and competition.  Much of this duality results from the fact that we humans are naturally selected on two levels: as individuals and as members of a group or tribe, i.e.,group selection.”  15

Evolution on the individual level gives a competitive advantage to selfishness, while evolution on the group level gives a competitive advantage to sharing with others. The constant tension between the two cannot be fully resolved; it must be worked out situation by situation, precedent by precedent. That’s why law may be the best example of cultural evolution that there is.  Religion alone will never meld societies together fair and just laws are also required.

But the religious doctrine of Original Sin makes evil the fault of humans. This doctrine adds guilt and shame to our psyche, which are totally uncalled for and unproductive. On balance, the doctrine of Original Sin is likely a Shortcoming of Christianity; although when it alerts us to seriously harmful and immoral behavior in our cultures, it acts as a Strength.

Co-opting Paganism

Over the centuries, Roman Catholicism has co-opted and absorbed pagan holidays and rituals.  Jesus’ birthday, Christmas, was declared to be almost coincident with the winter solstice. Pagans living in what is now Germany celebrated the Solstice by festooning an evergreen tree with candles and exchanging gifts.  This ceremony is now part of Christianity’s Christmas.  For more information, see our Essay, “Winter Solstice, to Christmas, & Back.”

Pagan religions, being Earth-centered, often centered on a nurturing goddess – some form of Mother Earth, Mother Nature, and Gaia.  Early Christianity provided no such female deity who could provide feminine love and gentle solace to worshippers.  The Catholic Church responded by creating an entire “Cult of the Virgin Mary,” an appellation used by secularists. Catholics simply call it, “Veneration of Mary in the Catholic Church.” Catholics today have the well-known prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace….”

Family Values as Written and Preached by the Apostles

The beautiful and touching story of Jesus’ birth in a manger, attended to by a loving father and mother, is a marvelous image of family values. The presence of the wise men and the shepherds extends the love to all humanity, and the presence of the farm animals extends it to all Earth’s creatures.

But in the central mystical myth of post-Jesus Christianity, God has his own son tortured and killed. He does this to save the world from himself, i.e. from his own wrath over the sinful nature of humankind, which he supposedly created in his own image.  Despite being illogical, this story hardly sets a positive example of “family values” for humans to follow.  (John 3:16) The illogic and unreality of this central myth is a Shortcoming of Christianity.

In Paul’s letters (epistles) to various nascent Christian congregations around the Mediterranean, “Family Values” continue to get short shrift, just as they did in the Jesus’ own teachings:

  • In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul wishes that men and woman would abstain from sex, but he tells them to “come together” to avoid being tempted by Satan. Finally, after discouraging marriage for eight verses, Paul concedes that “it is better to marry than to burn.”  (1 Corinthians 7:5 and 7:9)
  • A Christian believer may either keep or divorce an unbelieving spouse. (These verses are known as the “Pauline Privilege.”) (1 Corinthians 7:12-13)
  • “Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” This verse means that the children of nonbelievers are unclean, but believers’ children are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14 )
  • “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” (Ephesians 5:22-24)

Women Have Repressed Status in Roman Catholic Christianity

In our prior Essay, Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching, we saw that the actual teachings of Jesus were fairly favorable toward women. Not so under Roman Catholicism.  Roman Christianity continues the Old Testament tradition of seeing God as purely male.  He can be a harsh, punishing Father figure, or a loving father figure, but He has no female aspects.

The Epistles of Peter and Timothy give the following advice regarding married women, older widows, and younger widows:

“Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as elaborate hairstyles and the wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes. Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.  For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to adorn themselves. They submitted themselves to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her lord.”  (1 Peter 3:3-6. New International Version)

“Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need.  But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family…  The widow who lives for pleasure is dead even while she lives. (1 Timothy 5:3-6)

“As for younger widows, do not put them on [a list to receive charity]. For when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry. Thus they bring judgment on themselves, because they have broken their first pledge. Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also busybodies who talk nonsense, saying things they ought not to So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.” (1 Timothy 5:11-15)

The Early Positive Portrayal of Mary Magdalene

We saw in our earlier Essay, Evaluating Jesus’ Teaching, that Jesus regarded Mary of Magdalene as an important and respected follower. The earliest post-Jesus Christian communities also held Mary Magdalene in high regard.

The Gnostics, who were eventually suppressed by the Roman Catholic Church, gave her even more importance. The Gnostics portrayed Mary of Magdalene as a visionary leader of the early movement, someone whom Jesus had loved more than he loved the other disciples. 16 (See, From Jesus To Christ – The First Christians | FRONTLINE | PBS  Web: 2 November 2009.) The Gnostic Gospel of Philip names Mary Magdalene as Jesus’ koinônos, a Greek word variously translated in contemporary versions as partner, associate, comrade, companion. 17

The Gnostic text Pistis Sophia (“unadulterated wisdom”), possibly dating as early as the 2nd century and discovered in 1773, presents a long dialog with the risen Jesus in the form of his answers to questions from his disciples, including his mother Mary, Mary Magdalene, and Martha.  In this text, the risen Jesus has spent 11 years teaching the “lower mysteries” to his disciples. Now Jesus reveals the “higher mysteries,” which are complex cosmologies and knowledge required for the soul to reach the highest divine realms. At one point, Jesus says to Mary Magdalene: “Mary, thou blessed one, whom I will perfect in all mysteries of those of the height, discourse in openness, thou, whose heart is raised to the kingdom of heaven more than all thy brethren.” 18

Later Roman Catholic Denigration of Mary Magdalene

The notion of Mary Magdalene being a former prostitute or loose woman dates to a claim by Pope Gregory I (“Gregory the Great”) made in an influential homily in/or around 591. Pope Gregory identified Magdalene with the anonymous sinner bearing the perfume in Luke’s gospel. 19 (See the Wikipedia article, Mary Magdalene.)

The seven devils removed from Mary Magdalene by Jesus (Luke 8:1-3 and 8:3) “morphed into the Seven Deadly Sins,” In subsequent religious legend, Mary’s story became conflated with that of St. Mary of Egypt, another repentant prostitute who then lived as a hermit. With that, Mary’s image was, according to Susan Haskins, author of Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, “finally settled…for nearly fourteen hundred years.” 20

The “composite” Mary Magdalene (half saint, half whore) was never accepted by the Eastern Orthodox churches, who saw only Mary the disciple, and believed that after the Resurrection she lived as a companion to the Virgin Mary.

Modern Views of Mary Magdalene

Today, Mary Magdalene is considered to be a saint by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran denominations.  In 2016, Pope Francis raised the level of liturgical memory on July 22 from “memorial” to “feast,” and for her to be referred to as the “Apostle of the apostles.” A number of Protestant churches also honor her as a heroine of the faith. 21

Mary, Mother of Jesus

People the world over have a need and a desire for the divine to be represented by a female figure.  But Mary Magdalene was not to be the source of female spirituality under the Roman Catholic Church.  Instead, the Roman Church elevates Mary, mother of Jesus, not only to sainthood, but to near God-like status in what scholars call “The “Cult of the Virgin Mary.”  See also, the “Immaculate Heart of Mary.”

Secular Popes, Ossification, and Corruption

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, a number of Popes led armies into battle, had wives and mistresses, and fathered sons. See Wikipedia’s List of Sexually Active Popes.  See also, Piers Paul Reed, “The Popes Who Waged War,” in the Catholic Herald, 8-15-2019.  During the Renaissance, in the mid-1600s, the so-called “Secular Popes” ruled over the Papal States of central Italy, in addition to ruling over the Catholic Church.

Opposition to Birth Control

The Catholic Church has long been opposed to birth control, regardless of the hardship and suffering this causes for poor families, and despite today’s clear evidence that Earth’s human population threatens to overwhelm the planet’s environment. This is an ongoing Shortcoming of Roman Catholic Christianity.

Suicide is a Mortal Sin

In Catholic Christianity, a “mortal sin” is a gravely sinful act which can lead to damnation if a person does not repent of the sin before death.  Catholic doctrine holds that it is a mortal sin to commit suicide, no matter how much pain a person may be in; no matter how hopeless the medical prognosis may be. In death by suicide, there is logically no chance for the person to repent before death. This doctrine about suicide is a Shortcoming of Roman Catholic Christianity. Every adult has the right to end his or her own life, especially when the suicide is not opposed by members of person’s immediate family.

The Crusades

Note: All the information in this Section is paraphrased from the Wikipedia article on the Crusades, retrieved 12-21-22.

“Beginning in the 7th century, Muslim rulers expanded their territories into Christian Roman/Byzantine lands, conquering Egypt and the Levant (modern Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria), and gradually taking over all of North Africa and most of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal).  In 1071, the Muslim Turks defeated the Byzantine Christian army and captured modern Turkey.

“The Christian countries of Europe responded to Islamic expansion by sending huge armies to fight for control of the holy city of Jerusalem. This effort, known as “The Crusades,” was a series of nine campaigns of religious war sanctioned by the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, fought between the years 1095 and 1187 CE. (The word “Crusade” is related to the word “Cross”.)

“During the First Crusade, Pope Urban II told the Christians that fighting the war would repay God for their sins and that if they died on a crusade they would go straight to heaven. (Not very different from what Islam promises Jihadi warriors in our modern era!)  In 1099, the Christian armies won the battle for Jerusalem.  Then, in 1187, Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, recaptured Jerusalem for Islam, ending the Third Crusade.

“During the centuries of the crusades, powerful orders of military monks were created, including the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller (which later morphed into the chivalric Knights of Malta). These orders established four fortified military duchies in the Levant (the Eastern Mediterranean).  Some of these knightly orders amassed great wealth.

“The fighting during the Crusades was fierce and cruel, with what we would today call war crimes and atrocities committed by both sides depending on the particular battle. To this day, Muslims resent the “inhuman” behavior, as they remember it, of Christian armies during the Crusades.

“The Crusades had a profound impact on Western civilization: they consolidated the collective identity of the Roman Catholic Church under papal leadership and reinforced the connection between Western Christendom, feudalism, and militarism. In this era, the Christian theologians Augustine and Thomas Aquinas (both of whom became saints) developed Roman Catholic doctrine that supports the conduct of a ‘just war.’”

“Real and imagined accounts of heroism, piety, and chivalry from the crusades fueled medieval romantic philosophy and literature, and spurred the western tradition of respectful, chivalrous treatment of women.”

Selling “Indulgences”

Through the 1500’s, the Catholic Church sold “indulgences” granting forgiveness of sins in exchange for money.

Around 1230, the Dominican priest and bishop Hugh of Saint-Cher proposed the idea of a “treasury” at the Church’s disposal, consisting of the infinite merits of Christ and the immeasurable abundance of the saints’ merits, a thesis that was demonstrated by great scholastics such as Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas and remains the basis for the theological explanation of indulgences. 22

Indulgences became increasingly popular in the Middle Ages, and the later Middle Ages saw the growth of considerable abuses. 23 With the permission of the Church, indulgences became a way for Catholic rulers to fund expensive projects, such as Crusades and cathedrals, by keeping a significant portion of the money raised from indulgences in their own hands. 24

Celibacy, the “Men Only” Priesthood, and Molestation

The Catholic insistence that only men are eligible for the priesthood, and that priests may not marry, has persisted down to the present day. This unfortunate policy resulted in the Catholic Priesthood becoming a harbor for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of active child-molesters, most of whom persisted decade after decade. Rather than being expelled, Priests were routinely shuffled from parish to parish in a heinous shell-game of crime concealment. The ongoing, long-standing tragedy was finally exposed in the 1990’s.

The Protestant Reformation

“It’s Tyndale’s New Testament, Liz.  Read it for yourself, Liz.  It’s in English!  That’s the point:  English, not Latin.  How can this be heresy?  Read it and you will see how you’ve been misled.  No mention of nuns, monks, relics.  No mention of Popes.” — Thomas Cromwell, speaking to his wife, in the acclaimed television series, Wolf Hall.)

The Protestant Reformation during the 1500’s and 1600’s was a widespread revolt against the corruption and the power of the Roman Catholic Church. Huge numbers of believers left Catholicism for new Protestant Denominations where they could read the Bible in their native languages, elect their own ministers, and seek personal relationships with God. The new denominations – e.g., Lutherans, Puritans, and Presbyterians, Methodists, etc. — eliminated the rampant fiscal and moral corruption that had infected Roman Catholicism over the centuries.

Martin Luther’s “95 Theses”

In 1517, the priest and theologian Martin Luther posted his Ninety-five Theses to the All Saints Church door in Wittenberg, Germany.  Luther’s 95 Theses are widely regarded as the initial catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

Luther’s theses protested Catholic clerical corruptions centering in the five principal categories listed below:

  • Nepotism – granting jobs, favors, or advantages to relatives and friends.
  • Simony – Selling church offices, roles, or sacred things.
  • Usury – making unethical loans that unfairly enrich the lender.
  • Pluralism – Accepting non-Catholic religious doctrines as equally valid with Catholicism.
  • Selling Indulgences – Granting full or partial absolution sins in exchange for money or influence.

In addition, the people who would soon become known as “Protestants” took issue with the following dysfunctional dogmas and traditions (which they regarded as overblown and petrified) that were being practiced in the Roman Catholic Church:

The New Protestants Opposed the Following Roman Catholic Dogmas & Traditions

  • The doctrine that all church masses, homilies, and Bibles had to be in Latin only.
  • Having to approach God only through a priest or saint as intermediary.
  • Believers having no direct access to the Bible.
  • Priestly reliance on catechisms, and creeds, and prayers by rote.
  • Telling all of one’s sins to another human being.
  • The “Slap on the wrist” penances received from many priests.
  • Having more than 10,000 saints (more intermediaries).
  • Having Guardian Angels, Mother Mary, & Holy Ghost – still more intermediaries.
  • Overblown, macabre art: for example, Jesus purple heart encircled in thorns.
  • Transubstantiation – Wine & cracker do not become Jesus’ blood & body in the mass!
  • The huge and growing wealth of the Catholic monasteries.

Calvinism and the Doctrine of Predestination

The French-Swiss Protestant Theologian John Calvin (1509-1564) twisted the idea of Original Sin even further with his doctrine of Predestination, which argued said that Since God is all-knowing and all-seeing, every human that is borne is “pre-destined” by God to be either saved and enter heaven, or damned and enter hell.  And so, why even try to be good?  

By the end of his career, John Calvin had achieved a complete dominance of Geneva, which made it possible for his program to fully bloom. All inhabitants had to renounce the Roman Catholic faith on penalty of expulsion from the city. Nobody could possess images, crucifixes or other articles associated with the “Roman” worship. Fasting was prohibited, together with vows, pilgrimages, prayers for the dead, and prayers in Latin. Nobody could say anything good about the pope. It was forbidden to give non-Biblical names to children. Attendance at sermons was compulsory. In addition, one had to arrive on time, remain, and pay attention. 25 (See,

The Spanish theologian Michael Servetus (1511-1553) challenged Calvin’s views on the Trinity, justification by faith, the depravity of man, and infant baptism. Based on charges preferred by Calvin, Servetus was put on trial. The trial was carried out by the civil authorities, but the accusations were all based on Servetus’s writings and theology. Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva, Switzerland. Today, he is held up as an early model and martyr within the denomination of Unitarian Universalism, a free-thinking denomination which broke away from Puritanism.

Original Sin According to Calvin

Calvin defined Original Sin as a hereditary corruption of man’s nature, which renders us worthy of God’s wrath. Our nature is not only destitute of all good, but also ceaselessly fertile in all evils. As a result of the Fall, man’s [humankind’s] will is no longer free but in bondage to “original” sin from the time of each person’s birth. Only divine grace can change the will from bad to good and perform good works in all of us. 26

Predestination According to Calvin

Since God knows all and controls all, Calvin reasoned that each newborn baby is predestined to go either Heaven or to Hell. Those predestined for Heaven are called The Elect. Those predestined for hell are the damned.

God’s Grace is given only to the elect, and His granting of grace does not depend on merit; it is a purely gratuitous grift.  Moreover, no living person can know for sure whether he or she is destined for heaven or for hell.  Followers of Continuing Creation say, “That’s logical, but ridiculous.”

According to Calvin, since we do not know who is predestined for what, we must work for the salvation of all, leaving the rest to God 27

The Book of Continuing Creation rejects the ideas of predestination, original sin, godly omniscience, and the existence of an anthropomorphic (human-like) God who cares for individual humans. These doctrines are not consistent with Nature, Reason, & Science.

The Puritans

The Puritans were English Protestants who agreed with Martin Luther and largely with John Calvin. They also felt that King Henry VIII’s new Church of England (established in 1534) had not moved far enough away from the doctrines and ceremonies of the Roman Catholic Church. The Puritans called for individual piety and “purity” of both mind and conduct.  Most felt that their individual congregations should have little if any supervisory hierarchy above their own elected ministers.

Oliver Cromwell and Puritanism

After winning the English Civil War against King Charles I, the extremist Puritan Oliver Cromwell ruled Great Britain between 1649 and 1653 as “Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.”  An intensely religious man—a self-styled Puritan Moses—he fervently believed that God was guiding his victories.  His “Rump Parliament” enacted Penal Laws against Roman Catholics and confiscated a substantial amount of their land. His measures against Catholics in Scotland and Ireland have been harshly criticized.

Other Large Protestant Denominations

In Scotland, the largest Protestant denomination were the Presbyterians, who also accepted a good deal of Calvinism. The Methodist and Baptist denominations are known for their emphasis on evangelism and on the transforming effect of the sanctification of newcomers.

The Counter-Reformation

The Spanish Inquisition

1545-1648 – The Counter-Reformation, also called The Catholic Reformation, is the grand effort made by the Roman Catholic Church to repair many of the faults revealed by the Protestant Reformation.  It included extensive anti-corruption efforts, spiritual movements, and the creation of new religious orders, including the Jesuits.

Unfortunately, the Counter-Reformation included an expansion of the “Inquisition,” (begun in the 12-th century) which “examined” suspected heretics and witches; torturing and burning a number of them at the stake.  Starting in 1480, the Spanish Inquisition worked to convert (or force the departure of) Jews and Muslims Moors from Spain.  Trials, torture, and executions between 1480 and 1530 are estimated at about 2000 people.  (See the Wikipedia article, Spanish Inquisition.)

“My Lords, I can offer you no words of comfort.  This Armada that sails against us carries in its bowels the Inquisition. God forbid it succeeds!  For then there will be no more liberty in England; of conscience or of thought. We cannot be defeated.”  — Cate Blanchett, as Queen Elizabeth I, in the film, Elizabeth, The Golden Age)

The Jesuits

In 1534, Ignatius of Loyola formed the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) – a new order of highly disciplined priests to act as “shock troops” to fight the spread of Protestantism and root out corruption in the Catholic Church.  The Jesuits also undertook difficult missions to remote and dangerous parts of the world.  Known for their intellectual command of secular disciplines, modern Jesuits have been instrumental in starting and running schools and universities.

Witch Hunting and Witch Burning

Witch-hunts in Early Modern Europe and Colonial America took place between 1450 to 1750, spanning the upheavals of the Reformation, Counter-Reformation resulting in an estimated 35,000 to 50,000 executions. The last executions of people convicted as witches in Europe took place in the 18th century.  Both Catholic and Protestant leaders burned witches at the stake. 28 (See the Wikipedia article, “Witch-hunt.”)

A Final Thought

We Co-Creators see Productive work as a moral good, if that work contributes to the progress of Continuing Creation.  The progress of science; engineering; medicine; ecology; justice; relationships with family, friends, community, and society; and personal well-being. 

Millions of followers draw their spiritual sustenance from Christian denominations. In addition, Christianity has, over the centuries, provided a wealth of charity to the world’s less fortunate people.  Lastly, Catholic denominations have supported artists providing the world with magnificent cathedrals and churches, and masterpieces of music and art.  

Life is difficult, and if Christianity works for you, we have no desire to turn you away from it.  But if you seek a different path, or if you have questions, consider The Practice of Continuing Creation.


  1. Hans Pohlsander, The Emperor Constantine, 2004, Routledge, pp 38-39. ISBN 0-415-31937-4. Paperback ISBN 0-415-31938-2.
  2. “Legitimization Under Constantine,” FRONTLINE: From Jesus to Christ, April 1998, PBS. Available in print at
  3. Dr. Bart Ehrman, Ibid., p. 347.
  4. R. Gerberding and J. H. Moran Cruz, Medieval Worlds, Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004, pp. 55–56.
  5. , John Demetrius John Georgacas, “The Names of Constantinople”, Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association (The Johns Hopkins University Press), 1947, pp. 346-67. doi: 10.2307/283503. JSTOR 283503.
  6. Socrates II.13, cited by J B Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, pp. 74-5.
  7. J. D. Crossan, Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography, Ibid., p. 101.
  8.   Dominic Crossan, Ibid. P. 201.
  9. The Jesus Seminar, et. al., The Five Gospels, Ibid., pp 5-8.
  10. Burton Mack, Who Wrote the New Testament: The Making of the Christian Myth, 1989, Harper Collins, pp. 6-7.
  11. T.F. Glick, Glick, T.F. Irrigation and Society in Medieval Valencia, 1970, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, p. 178. ISBN 0-674-46675-6p.
  12. See, for example, Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, 1995, Anchor Books (Random House).
  13. Cyrus H. Gordon and Gary A. Rendsburg, The Bible and the Ancient Near East (4th ed.), 1997, W.W. Norton & Co., p. 36. ISBN 978-0-393-31689-6. See also, Nicolas Wyatt, Space and Time in the Religious Life of the Near East, 2001, A&C Black. p. 244. ISBN 978-0-567-04942-1.
  14. Kenneth M. Wilson, Augustine’s Conversion from Traditional Free Choice to “Non-free Free Will”: A Comprehensive Methodology, 2018, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck., pp. 16–18; 157–159; 269–271; and 279–285. ISBN 978-3-16-155753-8.
  15. Joan E. Strassmann, Joan E.; Robert E. Page; Gene E. Robinson; and Thomas D. Seeley, (March 2011). “Kin Selection and Eusociality,” March 2011, Nature, 471 (7339): E5–E6. Bibcode:2011Natur.471E…5S. doi:10.1038/nature09833. PMID 21430723. S2CID 205224117.
  16. Karen L. King, “Women in Ancient Christianity: The New Discoveries, 2009, Frontline: The First Christians.
  17. Antii Marjanen, The Woman Jesus Loved: Mary Magdalene in the Nag Hammadi Library and Related Documents, 1996, Brill. ISBN 9004106588.
  18. James and D.E. Desiree Hurtak, Pistis Sophia Text and Commentary, 1999, Academy for Future Science, 1999. See also, Pistis Sophia: A Gnostic Gospel, translated by G.R.S. Mead, 1991 and 2006, The Book Tree. ISBN 978-58509-268-3.
  19. Richard J. Hooper, “The Crucifixion of “Mary Magdalene: The Historical Tradition of the First Apostle and the Ancient Church’s Campaign to Suppress It,” Sanctuary, 2005 p. 81. ISBN 978-0-9746995-4-7.2005.
  20. Susan Haskins, Mary Magdalen: Myth and Metaphor, 1993, Riverhead Books, The Berkley Publishing Group.
  21. Holy See Bulletin 10/06/2016.
  22. “Catechism of the Catholic Church – IntraText”.
  23. Article on “Indulgences,” F.L. Cross, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, Oxford University Press. 2005,
  24. “The Historical Origin of Indulgences,” Library, See also, Johann Peter Kirsch, “The Reformation”. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12., Transcribed for New Advent by Marie Jutras, Robert Appleton Company
  25. See “Calvin and Geneva,” The Carrie Library, Univ. of Kansas
  26. “John Calvin,” The Institutes of the Christian Religion, II.1.8, LCC, 2 vols., trans. Ford Lewis Battles, ed. John T. McNeill, 1960, Westminster, p. 251 (p. 217 of CCEL edition).
  27. William Gilbert, Renaissance and Reformation, unpublished, 1992. A donated E-Books under Copyright.
  28. Richard M. Golden, “Satan in Europe: The Geography of Witch Hunts,” 1997, in Wolfe, Michael (ed.), Changing Identities in Early Modern France. Duke University Press. p. 234.