Pontifex Maximus: Pagan High Priest to Roman Catholic Pope Part 3
Copyright 1994 - 2018 Bill's Bible Basics

Authored By  :
Bill Kochman

Published On :
May 19, 2012

Last Updated :
May 19, 2012

Origin Of The Christian Faith, Disciples Were First Called Christians In Antioch, Bible Is The Constitution Of God's Kingdom And Carries Legal Weight, God Gave Us The Name Of Christians During First Century, No Need For A New Name In 380 AD, Trinitarians Define Their Own Kind Of Christianity, False Worldly Militant Religion Based Upon Persecution Fear Intimidation And Pain, Convert Or Else, Warning To Arians Mithraists And Other Non-Catholic Heretics, A God To Fear And Nuns With Paddles, Sad Refrains Of "The One True Faith", False Doctrine Of Apostolic Succession, Our Authority Comes From God Alone, Roman Catholic Traditions Regarding Peter Being First Bishop Of Rome, Silly Apocryphal Acts Of Peter, Peter's Crucifixion, Peter's Warning Regarding Filthy Lucre And Being Lords Over God's Flocks, Claudius Kicks Jews Out Of Rome, Every Nation And Government Has A Leader, One Of The Emperor's Titles Was Pontifex Maximus Or The Greatest Pontiff, College of Pontiffs Was Priesthood Of Rome's Pagan Religion, Pontifex Maximus Absorbed Into Office Of Emperor, Caesaropapism And Emperor's Control Over Popes, The Pontifex Maximus Title Is Dropped By Christian Emperors, Pontifex Is Transferred To Bishop's Office, Catholic Popes Begin Using The Pontifex Maximus Title, Creation Of College Of Cardinals, From Pagan Titles And Functions To Roman Catholic Titles And Functions, Centuries Of Christianizing Pagan Beliefs And Practices By The RCC, Verses Regarding God's True Church And The Kingdom Within, Closing Remarks, More Reading Sources

Now, let me ask you a simple question. If I were to ask you where your Christian faith originated, and how you received the name of "Christian", how would you respond? If you are even the least bit knowledgeable of your faith, you would no doubt mention the Bible; and more specifically, the Gospels which provide us with an account of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ and the Apostles. If you really know your Bible, you might even point me to the following verse that is found in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Acts:

"And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch."
Acts 11:26, KJV

The previous verse clearly informs us that our predecessors were first given the name of "Christians" in Antioch during the First Century. Given what we know about the Books of the New Testament, we can conclude that Luke must have written the above verse sometime during the first half of the First Century, as he travelled about with the Apostle Paul during the early years of his ministry. Just as in 380 AD the Edict of Thessalonica was recognized and accepted by the people of the Roman Empire as a legal, enforceable document, in similar fashion, we Christians recognize the Bible as a trustworthy, legal and Divinely Inspired set of Books which was given to us by our Creator by way of dozens of different writers over a period which spanned many centuries.

As I have often said, the Bible is the Constitution of our Kingdom. In other words, we respect the Bible, just as the Romans respected the edicts of their emperors. The Bible carries legal weight for us, just as the emperors' edicts carried legal weight for Roman citizens.

So the question is this: If God, through His inspired Word, saw fit to give us the name of "Christians" during the first half of the First Century, why was there any need for a human government to come along almost three hundred and fifty years later, and assign us the new name of "Catholic Christians"? Is there something wrong with the original name that is found in Acts chapter eleven? I think not! It perfectly defines us as the followers of Jesus Christ. In my view, to add anything to it is to make us followers of something else; that is, it makes us the followers of the doctrines of men.

In other words, there was no need -- at least not in the eyes of Bible-believing Christians -- to invent a new name for our faith. The only reason why the need even arose in 380 AD is because the Trinitarians wanted to define their own kind of Christianity -- Nicene Christianity or Catholic Christianity -- which would be based on the doctrines which they deemed acceptable, and which the emperors authorized them to promote throughout the empire, thus making their beliefs universal, or catholic.

In my opinion, those wayward bishops and Church Fathers were really breaking away and deviating from the original faith, and the peaceful faith, which had been practiced and handed down by the Original Apostles and their immediate successors, and creating a very different kind of Christianity; that is, a very militant Christianity, which we know today as Roman Catholicism. As I stated earlier in this series, their kind of Christianity was more interested in power, wealth, comfort and empire-building. Their kind of religion wanted to force itself upon people by law through the Edict of Thessalonica. It did not rely on the conviction of God's Spirit working in a person's heart; it relied upon persecution, intimidation, fear, pain and the legal weight of Roman law.

As we saw in part two, just as in later centuries the Roman Catholic Church relied upon persecution, torture and murder to silence anyone who did not embrace its doctrines, the Edict of Thessalonica likewise announced that any person who rejected the doctrine of the Holy Trinity and the "Catholic Christian" faith, would be branded a heretic, and would also be subject to punishment by the Roman authorities. In other words, the clear message to all Roman citizens was "Convert or else!". Is that what Jesus and His Apostles taught us to say and do? Let me share parts of the Edict of Thessalonica with you again:

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"but as for the others . . . we decree that they shall be branded with the ignominious name of heretics, and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches . . . and in the second the punishment of our authority which in accordance with the will of Heaven we shall decide to inflict."

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Please notice carefully that this edict also plainly states "and shall not presume to give to their conventicles the name of churches". Exactly what is a conventicle? According to my computer's built-in dictionary, a conventicle refers to any "secret or unlawful religious meeting, typically of people with nonconformist views". In other words, this part of the edict appears to be directed at any Christian -- such as the Arians, who were indeed nonconformists -- who dared to engage in secret worship outside of the Roman Catholic religion which was authorized by this edict. Not only were such persons deemed heretics, but they were warned to not even refer to their gatherings as churches. Again we see that the clear message that is being conveyed by this edict is "The only true church is the Roman Catholic Church!"

It is possible that this section of the edict may have also been a warning to the adherents of the Mysteries of Mithras religion as well, being as they also gathered secretly in their underground "Mithraeum". While it is indeed true that they seem to have disappeared within a few decades of this edict being published, to my knowledge, they did not refer to their gatherings as churches. Thus, I am more inclined to believe that the warning was directed to the Arians, as well as to other Christians who refused to conform to the new state religion of Roman Catholicism.

It should be clear to you by now that this false church and false religion did not derive its power from God; and it was not founded on love for Jesus Christ or love for lost souls. Its power was derived solely from the secular power of the emperors who supported it; and it relied upon intimidation and fear to enforce its dictates. It was not, and is not, the Church that was founded by Jesus Christ and His Apostles. As I have been working on this series, I have been thinking back to my own childhood when I was raised as a Roman Catholic. As hard as I try now, I can't bring up any memories where I saw God as someone who loved me. All that has stuck with me from those earlier years is an image of nuns with paddles, and a God who I was supposed to fear. What about you?

Just as the misguided, unbelieving Jews cried out centuries earlier when they delivered Jesus to be crucified "We have no king but Caesar!", these misguided bishops and Church Fathers -- the Nicene Christians and Trinitarians of the late Fourth Century -- were also saying "We have no religion but Roman Catholicism!" They were -- and continue to remain -- fanatics and militants. In the more than sixteen hundred years which have transpired since the Edict of Thessalonica was declared, their battle cry has not changed in the least. I can testify to the fact that in their blindness, they still continue to haughtily insist that Roman Catholicism is -- in their words -- "the one true faith". I have personally had confrontations with Roman Catholic militants over this sad refrain on a few occasions during my lifetime.

If, as the Roman Catholic Church claims through their false doctrine known as Apostolic Succession, they can trace the origin of their church back to the Apostle Peter, why did it become necessary for them to suddenly become recognized and legally authorized by the Roman emperors in 380 AD? Did the supposed apostolic link to Peter somehow become broken and they had to fix it, or did it never really exist in the first place? I know what I believe.

It is my personal belief that the authority for our faith comes from God alone, and not from any man or government. We do not need man's approval in order to refer to ourselves as Christians. Neither do we require man's approval in order to preach the Gospel. This is a right and a responsibility which has been given to us by God Himself, through His Word. As the Apostle Peter and the other Apostles boldly stated almost two thousand years ago:

"Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men."
Acts 5:29, KJV

As I explain in other articles, there is absolutely no proof to be found anywhere in the Scriptures which indicates that Peter ever went to Rome, or that he became the first Bishop of Rome. Such imaginative stories are based solely on Roman Catholic tradition, as well as on questionable apocryphal works such as the "Acts of Peter". I own and have read this work; and quite frankly, I find it to be very ridiculous, not to mention unscriptural. Do you believe that Peter met Jesus on the road outside of Rome, and that Jesus told Peter that He was going to Rome in order to be crucified a second time? Well, believe it or not, but that is precisely what the "Acts of Peter" claims. Following is chapter thirty-five of the "Acts of Peter" in its entirety:

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"And as they considered these things, Xanthippe took knowledge of the counsel of her husband with Agrippa, and sent and showed Peter, that he might depart from Rome. And the rest of the brethren, together with Marcellus, besought him to depart. But Peter said unto them: Shall we be runaways, brethren? and they said to him: Nay, but that thou mayest yet be able to serve the Lord. And he obeyed the brethren's voice and went forth alone, saying: Let none of you come forth with me, but I will go forth alone, having changed the fashion of mine apparel. And as he went forth of the city, he saw the Lord entering into Rome. And when he saw him, he said: Lord, whither goest thou thus (or here)? And the Lord said unto him: I go into Rome to be crucified. And Peter said unto him: Lord, art thou (being) crucified again? He said unto him: Yea, Peter, I am (being) crucified again. And Peter came to himself: and having beheld the Lord ascending up into heaven, he returned to Rome, rejoicing, and glorifying the Lord, for that he said: I am being crucified: the which was about to befall Peter.

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It may surprise you to learn that this tome is used by some people as evidence to prove that Peter went to Rome, where he became the first Bishop of Rome, and was then crucified in Rome. With crazy stories such as the above, would you put your faith in anything that this book has to say? I rest my case.

As we learned in part one, Jesus prophesied in the Gospel of John that Peter would be crucified in his old age. While we can assume that he was crucified by the Romans -- being as crucifixion was one of their methods of implementing capital punishment -- the Bible does not inform us exactly where his martyrdom occurred. As a poor, unlearned fisherman, and as one who preached against filthy lucre -- signifying personal gain -- and who also warned the Disciples against becoming lords over God's heritage -- meaning the Lord's flocks -- I honestly and seriously doubt that Peter -- or any of the Apostles for that matter -- would have ever allowed himself to be fitted into such lavish attire as the first Bishop of Rome, as the Roman Catholics like to portray him. Consider these verses:

"The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away. Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time:"
1 Peter 5:1-6, KJV

Now please tell me; after reading the previous verses, are you given the impression that the Apostle Peter would be in any way inclined to go to Rome, and to become involved in all of the luxurious pomp and ceremony that is associated with the popes of the Roman Catholic Church? Even if the office of the bishop was much more subdued two thousand years ago -- as I believe it was -- it still does not make any sense. Let's not forget that at the time that Peter would have supposedly been the first Bishop of Rome, the city -- under Nero -- was an extremely dangerous place to be. Rome didn't like the Jews or the Christians. You may recall that under Claudius -- who preceded Nero -- the Jews were in fact kicked out of Rome, as we can see by this verse that is found in the Book of Acts:

"And found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, lately come from Italy, with his wife Priscilla; (because that Claudius had commanded all Jews to depart from Rome:) and came unto them."
Acts 18:2, KJV

Now we come to the crux of the matter, and what will be the grand finale of this series. Just as the Kingdom of Heaven is ruled by God the Father; just as the New Testament Church is headed by Jesus Christ; and just as every government in this world likewise has someone at the helm -- a president, prime minister, king or queen -- so too, the false church that was revealed in 380 AD likewise needed to have its own leader as well. The question is, exactly how did this false church obtain its head, and what was he called?

One of Emperor Constantine I's titles was "Pontifex Maximus". He was not the first Roman emperor to carry this honorific title and neither would he be the last. However, what is of interest to us is how the meaning of this title changed, and how it was eventually transferred from the pagan emperors of Rome, to the Roman Catholic pope. Historically-speaking, the term Pontifex Maximus -- or "greatest pontiff" -- originally had absolutely nothing to do with Roman Catholicism, or with any form of our Christian faith.

The College of Pontiffs -- or Collegium Pontificum -- was the most important priesthood of ancient Rome, which was founded during the Regal period; that is, when the Roman kings ruled, prior to the arrival of the Roman Republic and then the Roman Empire. The College of Pontiffs wasn't a Christian priesthood whatsoever. Its priests served as advisers to the king; that is, the "rex". The most important position in the priesthood was the high priest who was called the Pontifex Maximus. While this position remained purely religious in nature during the early years of the Roman Republic, by the time of Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus, it had become completely politicized, and was in fact absorbed into the office of the emperor.

In short, the emperor was regarded as both the political and the religious leader of the empire. He was both emperor and Pontifex Maximus at the same time. He was also viewed as the father, or pope -- from the Greek "pappas" -- of the empire as well. This union of political and religious authority in one person has been referred to as "Caesaropapism". It meant that the emperor likewise had authority over the Church, and Constantine I possessed this power as well. It is for this reason that he was able to organized the Council of Nicaea, and also make decisions concerning ecclesiastical disputes, as were other emperors. In fact, once the emperors acquired this power, the popes could not be elected and serve without the approval of the emperor. Emperors retained this authority until the Eleventh Century.

All of the Roman emperors -- Constantine included-- continued to use the title of Pontifex Maximus up until the latter half of the Fourth Century when Emperor Gratian -- a Christian -- with the encouragement of his chief advisor, Ambrose, who was the Bishop of Milan, renounced both the office and the title of Pontifex Maximus, due to its association with the ancestral pagan religion of Rome. To reiterate, Pontifex Maximus was the title of the high priest of the College of Pontiffs, which was the most important priesthood of ancient, pagan Rome. It had absolutely nothing to do with Christianity. It was heathen in nature. The College of Pontiffs was a pagan body. That is why the Christian emperors chose to stop using it.

But then something rather unusual happened. Despite its clear pagan origin, and the fact that some Christian emperors had stopped using the title for that very reason, the office of the bishop was soon referred to as "pontifex", and the chief Bishop of Rome eventually became the new "Pontifex Maximus". According to some sources, Pope Leo I was the first to assume the title of Pontifex Maximus, while other sources claim that Gregory I was the first pope to use the title. Whatever the case may be, from those early centuries until now, the title of the high priest of the ancient pagan religion of Rome has been used as one of the various titles of the Roman Catholic pope. While this title is not included in the pope's official titles, it does appear on buildings, monuments and coins of popes of both Renaissance and modern times.

On a related note, let us now briefly discuss the College of Cardinals who, among their other duties, are responsible for selecting the next pope. As I partially explained a moment ago, up until the Eleventh Century, the emperor possessed the power to appoint the pope. However, one of the lifelong projects of Pope Gregory VII -- 1073-1085 -- was to initiate reforms within the Roman Catholic Church. Gregory's reforms included transferring some power from the emperor -- who at that time held the title of Holy Roman Emperor -- back to the church. In particular, one of his objectives was to give the church the authority to choose its own pope, instead of allowing the emperor to do it.

As the Bishop of Rome, the pope was assisted and advised by his cardinals. Originally, cardinals were only the clergy who lived in the city of Rome itself. It was not until later that the office was expanded to include all cardinals around the world. At any rate, during the Eleventh Century, and just three years after a very young Henry IV was crowned as King of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor in 1056, some of the reform minded clergy declared that selecting the pope should be the responsibility of the church alone. Thus was created the College of Cardinals, which began to meet as a college at the beginning of the Twelfth Century, and actually began to elect the new pope in the latter half of that same century.

So how does the College of Cardinals relate to our story as a whole? Quite simply, just as the Roman Catholic pope bears the same title -- Pontifex Maximus -- and is a parallel to the ancient high priest of pagan Rome, so too, the College of Cardinals is a parallel to the College of Pontiffs, which was the most important priesthood of pagan Rome, over whom the Pontifex Maximus presided. So once again we can see that what was once pagan in nature, has become "Christian" within the Roman Catholic Church.

As I explain more at length in other articles, this practice of "Christianizing" pagan ideas, beliefs, practices and gods and goddesses is something which the Roman Catholic Church has consistently engaged in for many centuries. We even see it happening today with the ecumenical movement, which is in fact dominated by the Roman Catholic Church.

While the information I have shared with you may seem sad, I hope that you have been led by God's Spirit in your personal understanding as you have read it. I hope that you have been able to recognize that this series is really the story of two distinct churches, one true, and the other false. While this series has highlighted the failures of the false church, and how it has succumbed to the evil ways and enticements of the false god of this world, please know that God's True Church has never ceased to exist, and continues to exist to this very day. You will not find it in the rich trappings of Rome, or in any other religion, Christian or otherwise. You will only find it exactly where Jesus and His Apostles told us to look for it; that is, in the hearts of men. Consider these verses:

"And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you."
Luke 17:20-21, KJV

"Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body. When therefore he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they believed the scripture, and the word which Jesus had said."
John 2:19-22, KJV

"Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21-24, KJV

"And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ."
1 Corinthians 10:4, KJV

"Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded. Unto you therefore which believe he is precious: but unto them which be disobedient, the stone which the builders disallowed, the same is made the head of the corner, And a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence, even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed. But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:"
1 Peter 2:5-9, KJV

"What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's."
1 Corinthians 6:19-20, KJV

"And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty."
2 Corinthians 6:16-18, KJV

"For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens."
2 Corinthians 5:1, KJV

"Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name."
Revelation 3:12, KJV

"And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it."
Revelation 21:22, KJV

In stark contrast to the previous verses which describe the True Temple and Church of God, consider the following verses which reveal God's displeasure with -- and lack of desire for -- physical buildings:

"Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest?"
Isaiah 66:1, KJV

"The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so: and what will ye do in the end thereof?"
Jeremiah 5:31, KJV

"Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these."
Jeremiah 7:4, KJV

"For Israel hath forgotten his Maker, and buildeth temples; and Judah hath multiplied fenced cities: but I will send a fire upon his cities, and it shall devour the palaces thereof."
Hosea 8:14, KJV

"Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest?"
Acts 7:48-49, KJV

"And it came to pass that night, that the word of the LORD came unto Nathan, saying, Go and tell my servant David, Thus saith the LORD, Shalt thou build me an house for me to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me an house of cedar?"
2 Samuel 7:4-7, KJV

"But will God indeed dwell on the earth? behold, the heaven and heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded?"
1 Kings 8:27, KJV

With these verses I will bring this series to a close. I hope that you have found it informative, and I pray that it has been a blessing in your life.

If you have enjoyed reading this series, please consider sharing its URL with your online friends. If you have an account with Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, etc, I would also very much appreciate if you would take the time to click on the corresponding link that is found on this page. Thanks so much, and may God bless you abundantly! For additional info, you may want to refer to the list of resources below which were also mentioned in this series, or which are related to the topics which were discussed in this series. All of them are likewise located on this very same Bill's Bible Basics website:

Civil Disobedience and Christian Persecution
Free Will and Personal Choice
Gargoyles: Satan Loves Church Buildings
God of Peace, God of War
Holy Qur'an And Islam: A Doctrine of Devils?
Killing and the Phinehas Priesthood
Killing, Murder and Military Duty
Lies and Deceptions of the Roman Catholic Church
Mary Worship, Christianity and Roman Catholicism
Peter: Faith Tried in the Fire
Revelation's Babylon the Great
Roman Catholicism, Water Baptism and the Trinity
The Children of God and Politics

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