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Roman Catholics

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

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or members of the church of Rome, otherwise called papists, from the pope being considered by them as the supreme head of the universal church, the successor of St. Peter, and the fountain of theological truth and ecclesiastical honours. He keeps his court in great state at the palace of the Vatican, and is attended by seventy cardinals as his privy counsellors, in imitation of the seventy disciples of our Lord. The pope's authority in other kingdoms, is merely spiritual, but in Italy he is a temporal sovereign, Louis XVIII and the allies having, in 1814, restored him to his throne, and to those temporalities of which he was deprived by Buonaparte and the French revolution. On resuming his government, Pope Pius VII soon restored the order of Jesuits and the inquisition; so that the Roman Catholic religion is now reinstated in its ancient splendour and authority. The principal dogmas of this religion are as follows:

1. That St. Peter was deputed by Christ to be his vicar, and the head of the catholic church; and that the bishops of Rome, being his successors, have the same apostolical authority; for our Saviour declares, in Matthew 16:18 , "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church;" by which rock they understand St. Peter himself, as the name signifies, and not his confession, as the Protestants explain it. And a succession in the church being now supposed necessary under the New Testament, as Aaron had his succession under the old dispensation, which was a figure of the new, this succession can now, they contend, be shown only in the chair of St. Peter at Rome, where it is asserted he presided twenty-five years previous to his death; therefore, the bishops of Rome are his true successors.

2. That the Roman Catholic church is the mother and mistress of all churches, and cannot possibly err in matters of faith; for the church has the promise of the Spirit of God to lead it into all truth, John 16:13; "and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Matthew 16:18 . Christ also, who is himself the truth, has promised to the pastors and teachers of the church to be with them "always, even to the end of the world,"

Matthew 28:20 . "It is from the testimony and authority of the church, therefore," say they, "that we receive the Scriptures as the word of God."

3. That the Scriptures thus received on the authority of the church are not sufficient to our faith without apostolical traditions, which are of equal authority with the Scriptures; for St. Peter assures us, that in St. Paul's epistles there "are some things hard to be understood, which they who are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction," 2 Peter 3:16 . We are directed by St. Paul to "stand fast, and hold the traditions which we have been taught, whether by word or by epistle," 2 Thessalonians 2:15 .

4. That seven sacraments were instituted by Jesus Christ, namely, baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, orders, and matrimony; and that they confer grace. To prove that confirmation, or imposition of hands, is a sacrament, they quote Acts 8:17 : "They," the Apostles, "laid their hands on them," believers, "and they received the Holy Ghost." Penance is a sacrament in which the sins we commit after baptism, duly repented of, and confessed to a priest, are forgiven; and which they think was instituted by Christ himself when he breathed upon his Apostles after his resurrection, and said, "Receive ye the Holy Ghost; whose sins ye remit, are remitted; and whose sins ye retain, are retained," John 20:23 . In favour of extreme unction, or anointing the sick with oil, they argue from James 1:14-15 , which is thus rendered in the Vulgate: "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil," &c. The sacrament of holy orders is inferred from 1 Timothy 4:14 : "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on the hands of the presbytery," or priesthood, as they render it. That marriage is a sacrament, they think evident from Ephesians 5:32 : "This is a great mystery," representing the mystical union of Christ and his church. "Matrimony," say they, "is here the sign of a holy thing, and therefore it is a sacrament." Notwithstanding this, they enjoin celibacy upon the clergy, because they do not think it proper that those who, by their office and function, ought to be wholly devoted to God, should be diverted from those duties by the distractions of a married life, 1 Corinthians 7:32-33 .

5. That in the mass, or public service, there is offered unto God a true and propitiatory sacrifice for the quick and dead; and that in the sacrament of the eucharist, under the forms of bread and wine, are really and substantially present the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is a conversion made of the whole substance of the bread into his body, and of the wine into his blood, which is called transubstantiation; according to our Lord's words to his disciples, "This is my body," &c, Matthew 26:26; wherefore it becomes with them an object of adoration. Farther: it is a matter of discipline, not of doctrine, in the Roman church, that the laity receive the eucharist in one kind, that is, in bread only. This sacrifice of the mass was, they think, predicted by the Prophet Malachi, Malachi 1:11 , who says, "In every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a pure offering."

6. That there is a purgatory; and that souls kept prisoners there do receive help by the suffrages of the faithful. For it is said, in 1 Corinthians 3:15 , "If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as by fire;" which they understand of the flames of purgatory. They also believe that souls are released from purgatory by the prayers and alms which are offered for them, principally by the holy sacrifice of the mass. They call purgatory a middle state of souls, into which those enter who depart this life in God's grace; yet not without some less stains of guilt, which retard them from entering heaven, where nothing unclean can enter.

7. That the saints reigning with Christ (and especially the blessed virgin) are to be honoured and invoked; that they offer prayers unto God for us; and that their relics are to be had in veneration. These honours, however, are not divine, but relative, and redound to the divine glory, Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:4 , &c.

8. That the image of Christ, of the blessed virgin, the mother of God, and of other saints, ought to be retained in churches, and honour and veneration ought to be given unto them. And as the images of cherubims were allowed in the temples, so images should be placed in churches, and had in veneration.

9. That the power of indulgences was left by Christ to the church, and that the use of them is very beneficial to Christian people; according to Matthew 16:19 : "I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven." By indulgences they do not mean leave to commit sin, nor pardon for sins to come; but only releasing, by the power of the keys committed to the church, the debt of temporal punishment which may remain due upon account of our sins, after the sins themselves, as to their guilt and eternal punishment, have been already remitted through repentance and confession, and by virtue of the merit of Christ, and of all the saints. By their indulgences they assert that they apply to their souls the merits of Christ, and of the saints and martyrs through him.

The ceremonies of this church are numerous and splendid, as,

1. They make use of the sign of the cross in all their sacraments, to give us to understand, that they have their whole force and efficacy from the cross.

2. Sprinkling of the holy water by the priest on solemn days is used likewise by every one going in or coming out of church.

3. The ceremony of blessing bells is, by the Catholics, called christening them, because the name of some saint is ascribed to them, by virtue of whose invocation they are presented, in order that they may obtain his favour and protection.

4. They always bow at the name Jesus, (which is also done as regularly in the church of England,) and they found the practice on Php_2:10 : "That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow."

5. They keep a number of lamps and wax candles continually burning before the shrines and images of the saints.

6. They make use of incense, and have lighted candles upon the altar at the celebration of the mass.

7. The practice of washing the poor's feet, in imitation of our Lord's washing the feet of his disciples, is solemnized on Holy Thursday by all the princes of the Romish religion in Europe. The church of Rome also professes to keep the fast of Lent with great strictness, and observes a much greater number both of feasts and festivals than the church of England.

The church of Rome assumes the title of Catholic, or universal, as answering to that article in the Apostles' Creed, "I believe in the holy Catholic church." The above is perhaps a sufficient account of the Roman Catholic faith; but as the creed of Pope Plus IV, is universally admitted to be the true standard of that faith, it would be decidedly wrong to conclude without inserting it. Mr. Butler says it contains a succinct and explicit summary of the canons of the council of Trent, and was published in the form of a papal bull, in 1564. He adds, "It is received throughout the whole Roman Catholic church; every one who is admitted into that church, publicly reads and professes his assent to it." This document commences with reciting the Nicene Creed, which, as it is admitted by the Protestant church of England, and inserted in the Common Prayer Book, need not be here repeated. It then proceeds with the twelve following articles, in addition to those of the Apostles' Creed, which they also reckon twelve:

" 13. I most firmly admit and embrace apostolical and ecclesiastical traditions, and all other constitutions and observances of the same church. I also admit the sacred Scriptures according to the sense which the holy mother church has held, and does hold, to whom it belongs to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Holy Scriptures; nor will I ever take and interpret them otherwise than according to the unanimous consent of the fathers.

14. I profess also that there are truly and properly seven sacraments of the new law, instituted by Jesus Christ our Lord, and for the salvation of mankind, (though all are not necessary for every one,) namely, baptism, confirmation, eucharist, penance, extreme unction, order, and matrimony; and that they confer grace; and of these, baptism, confirmation, and order cannot be reiterated without sacrilege.

15. I also receive and admit the ceremonies of the Catholic church, received and approved in the solemn administration of all the above said sacraments.

16. I receive and embrace all and every one of the things which have been defined and declared in the holy council of Trent, concerning original sin and justification.

17. I profess, likewise, that in the mass, is offered to God a true,

proper, and propitiatory sacrifice for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is made a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, which conversion the Catholic church calls transubstantiation.

18. I confess, also, that under either kind alone, Christ whole and entire, and a true sacrament, is received.

19. I constantly hold that there is a purgatory, and that the souls detained therein are helped by the suffrages of the faithful.

20. Likewise, that the saints reigning together with Christ are to be honoured and invocated; that they offer prayers to God for us, and that their relics are to be venerated.

21. I most firmly assert, that the images of Christ, and of the mother of Christ, ever a virgin, and also of the other saints, are to be had and retained, and that due honour and veneration are to be given to them.

22. I also affirm, that the power of indulgences was left by Christ in the church, and that the use of them is most wholesome to Christian


23. I acknowledge the holy Catholic and apostolic Roman church, the mother and mistress of all churches; and I promise and swear true obedience to the bishop of Rome, the successor of St. Peter, prince of the Apostles, and vicar of Jesus Christ.

24. I also profess, and undoubtedly receive, all other things, delivered, defined, and declared by the sacred canons and general councils, and particularly by the holy council of Trent; and likewise, I also condemn, reject, and anathematize all things contrary thereto; and all heresies whatsoever, condemned and anathematized by the church. This true catholic faith, out of which none can be saved, which I now freely profess, and truly hold, I, N ., promise, vow, and swear most constantly to hold and profess the same, whole and entire, with God's assistance, to the end of my life. Amen."

Such is the avowed and accredited faith of the church of Rome; but it seems a most extraordinary circumstance, that, while this church has so enlarged the creed, it has reduced the number of the commandments, omitting altogether the second, "Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image," &c. Exodus 20:3-6; as if the Catholics were conscious it could by no means be reconciled with the twenty-first article of the above recited creed. And then, to prevent alarm, as every body must know there should be ten commandments, the last is divided into two, to make up the number.

This is said to have been done, even before the Reformation. It was done in the French National Catechism, published in 1806, and sanctioned by Pope Pius VII, by the archbishop of Paris, and by the Emperor Napoleon. It is remarkable, also, that in Dr. Chalcnor's "Garden of the Souls" printed in London by Coglan, in 1787, in a form of self-examination for the penitent upon each commandment, there is no reference to the one omitted; nor is there any reference to it in Bossuet's famous "Exposition of the Doctrines of the Catholic Church," when treating upon images, and the manner in which they are directed to be honoured. Lastly, in Butler's Catechism, the eighth edition, printed at Dublin in 1811, and sanctioned by four Roman Catholic archbishops, the commandments stand literally as follows:

" 1. I am the Lord thy God; thou shalt have no strange gods before me.

2. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

3. Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.

4. Honour thy father and thy mother.

5. Thou shalt not kill.

6. Thou shalt not commit adultery.

7. Thou shalt not steal.

8. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

9. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods."

Here it maybe added, that by omitting the second command, the others are numbered differently from what they are by us. Thus, the third is brought in for the second, the fourth is, made the third, &c, till they come to the last, which is divided in two for the purpose above mentioned. The gross and antiscriptural errors, leading to superstition, idolatry, and many other evils, which are contained in the peculiarities of the papistical faith, are abundantly pointed out and refuted by the leading Protestant writers.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Roman Catholics'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​wtd/​r/roman-catholics.html. 1831-2.
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