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The Evolution of Catholicism
A timeline showing the introduction of non-biblical doctrines and practices

Many beliefs and traditions presently found in Catholicism cannot be traced to the doctrinal base of the original church, as recorded in the book of Acts and the Epistles. In many cases, they cannot be found in the earliest form of Catholicism itself. Instead, there has been a progressive development of rituals, practices, and doctrines over hundreds of years. Consider the following time chart.

Timeline / Evolution of Non-Biblical Catholic Doctrines

398 – Prayers for the dead (Augustine)
325 – Only bishops and priests can conduct communion (First Council of Nicaea)
364 – Sunday Sabbath (Council of Laodicea / after Constantine’s decree in 321)
418 – Infant baptism regenerates (Council of Carthage)
553 – Mary’s ever-virgin state (Fifth Ecumenical Council in Constantinople)
600 – Confession to a priest (public confession transitioned to private in 600s)
993 – Canonization of first saint (St. Ulrich by Pope John XV)
1095 – Indulgences (Pope Urban II offered indulgences to certain persons who fought in or funded the Crusades)
1139 – Celibacy of priests (Second Lateran Council)
1208 – The Rosary (Dominic claimed to receive a revelation from Mary)
1215 – Clerical clothing required for church leaders (Fourth Lateran Council)
1215 – Transubstantiation (Fourth Lateran Council / approved word “transubstantiation” describing communion)
1438 – Purgatory (this concept first proposed by Pope Gregory in 596)
1545 – Tradition equal with the Bible (Council of Trent / 1545-63)
1570 – Tridentine Mass (Traditional Latin Mass)
1854 – Immaculate Conception declared to be church dogma (Infallible decree by Pope Pius IX)
1870 – Papal infallibility (First Vatican Council / 1869-70)
1950 – Assumption of Mary declared to be church dogma (Infallible decree by Pope Pius XII)
1954 – Mary, Queen of heaven (Encyclical by Pope Pius XII)
1962 – The Mass can be presented in modern languages (Vatican II Council / 1962-1965)
1992 – Catechism published codifying many of the above beliefs

Some of these dates are debatable because a particular concept may have been partially or generally embraced for a season (even hundreds of years) before being officially recognized by the church as a rule of faith. Also, some writers, historians, or resources may offer slightly different date estimates. Furthermore, some of these doctrines were matters of disagreement for centuries. However, the primary purpose in sharing these dates is to reveal the stunning truth that all the above beliefs and practices, though absorbed into the Catholic belief system over hundreds of years, are non-biblical (something I believe I prove sufficiently in my book, The Beliefs of the Catholic Church). How did this doctrinal degeneration happen and why do devoted Catholics who sincerely love God feel such a shift away from biblical authority is acceptable?

The Three-legged Stool of Catholicism

There is a simple answer to the dual question just posed. The reason for this descent into approved, though false and non-biblical doctrines is something called “The Three-legged Stool of Catholicism” (Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the Magisterium). Just as the legs of a stool are of equal length and equal importance for upholding the seat, so these three aspects of Catholicism are of equal authority and equal importance in the upholding this belief system that boasts 1.3 billion adherents worldwide.

Leg #1: Sacred Scripture

The Catholic Canon of Scripture (73 books total / 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books) was not completely compiled and ratified until the Council of Rome in the year 382 A.D. (The word “canon” means a measuring line, rule, or principle.) The Protestant Bible emerged much later, during the time of the Reformation. It contains all the 27 New Testament books of the Catholic Bible and 39 of the Old Testament books. Excluded from the Old Testament are seven books commonly referred to as “The Apocrypha” (meaning to hide away). Martin Luther did this because he and other reformers did not consider them to be inspired on the same level. However, this negative assessment did not begin with them; it goes back much further in time. “Early church fathers like Athanasias, Melito, Origen, and Cyril of Jerusalem spoke against the canonicity of much or all of the apocrypha, but the most weighty opposition was the fourth century Catholic scholar Jerome.” 1 However, none of the excluded books are essential to salvation. The few references in the Apocrypha that supposedly lend support to Catholic doctrines like praying to the saints and Purgatory, when subjected to proper exegesis, quickly unravel. 2

Leg #2: Sacred Tradition

Quite often, Bible-believing Christians who critique Catholic beliefs offer the argument, “If it’s not in the Bible, it cannot be true.” The usual rebuttal from Catholics may sound like the following statement: “The early church did not have the Bible as we have it today. It was not available until the end of the fourth century. Prior to that, Christians depended heavily on oral transmission of the traditions and doctrines of the apostles. Therefore, oral tradition is still a valid way of transmitting correct doctrine to the Church.” Part of that proposed explanation is true. Consider the following verses from Paul:

             Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you. (1 Corinthians 11:2)

            Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

At the time these verses were written, the Old Testament (the First Testament) was available to some believers, but the New Testament did not exist. Therefore, Catholic theologians insist that true Christian beliefs and practices do not depend on inclusion in the Bible, because no one had a Bible when the Christian faith was first introduced into this world. Besides, the printing press was not invented until 1436 A.D., so very few people could even afford the written Word of God. Is this a valid and relevant proposition? Well, yes and no.

“Yes,” the observation about “oral tradition” being vital in the beginning is relevant and true. But the dominant response should be “No,” for the following reason. All the original, authoritative, and authentic “oral traditions” handed down from the apostles, containing important facets of the true Gospel that are worthy of preservation and dissemination, were included in that Canon of Scripture compiled in 382 A.D. So, from that point forward, no new beliefs should ever be added to the Christian worldview. Actually, no new “revelations” were needed after the apostles passed from the scene. But that has certainly not been the case, as this Timeline article and graph indicate. Unfortunately, Catholicism respects ancient Sacred Traditions in the church (developed over hundreds of years) as being just as authoritative and trustworthy as Sacred Scripture, if established and upheld by the Magisterium.

Reason #3: The Magisterium

The three legs of Catholicism are also called the three pillars of Catholicism.

The word “Magisterium” is from the Latin word magister meaning teaching. Within Catholicism, it means three related things:

(1) the authority of the Catholic Church to teach the doctrine of Christ,
(2) the authorities in the Catholic Church who together validate and declare those doctrines (the pope—who is the Bishop of Rome—as well as all the other bishops in the church, united together),
(3) the authorized teachings themselves. 3

If the Magisterium proclaims and establishes a doctrine for Catholics to believe or a tradition to practice, there is no need for a witness to exist in Sacred Scripture or for an ancient Sacred Tradition to be in place, for the three “legs” are all equal in authority. However, this logic should be rejected—especially when the new authorized teachings contradict the Word of God. Unfortunately, though, just as it was in Jesus’ day, so it is now. At one point, He rebuked the Jewish religious leaders with the convicting declaration:

“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Then the Savior dared to claim that they even made, “the Word of God of no effect” because of thetradition . . . handed down” (Mark 7:13). As it was in the apostles’ day, so it is now—both ways—with traditionalists and independently-minded seekers. Yes, history has once again repeated itself. Blind submission to established tradition often leads to spiritual malnutrition. Even so, many individuals, even leaders in the church, unquestionally go with the flow, often because of humility and sincerity—humble submission to the authority of the church and sincere devotion to God. But in many Christian denominations as well as Catholicism, there is groundswell movement in our world, a longing for the real, a willingness to question established ideas. Thank God, many individuals who love the Lord deeply are waking up and seeking God’s wisdom. Passionately desiring to be “true worshippers” and faithful “followers of Jesus,” they have decided that—



1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apocrypha#:~:text=Early%20church%20fathers%20such%20as,the%20wider%20(Greek)%20canon%2C, accessed 11/3/2023.
2 See page 133 on “Praying to the saints” (2 Maccabees 15:14-17) and page 237 on “Purgatory” (2 Maccabees 12:39-46) in The Beliefs of the Catholic Church for the refutation of these two references being supportive of Catholic doctrine.
3 For a deeper explanation, see Appendix #8 of the book, The Beliefs of the Catholic Church.

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Written by Mike Shreve