The following historical information is taken from 'The Spirit of Roman Catholicism' by Mary Anne Collins, Chapter 8, pp. 31-33. The author describes a contrast between two historical bishops of Rome and what happened to cause this change in mindset in the leadership of the church.
A TALE OF TWO BISHOPS
The degree of change which Constantine caused in the Church can be illustrated by looking at the lives of two Bishops of Rome. So let’s go back in history for about 100 years before Christianity became “politically correct,” to look at the life of Bishop Pontian. Then we will compare Pontian’s life with the life of Bishop Silvester, who lived during the time of Emperor Constantine.
(The following information about Bishops Pontian and Silvester comes from Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 19-38.)
Pontian became the Bishop of Rome in the year 230 A.D. He was made bishop suddenly and unexpectedly when his predecessor was arrested and killed by Roman authorities.
On September 27, 235 A.D., Emperor Maximinus decreed that all Christian leaders were to be arrested. Christian buildings were burned, Christian cemeteries were closed, and the personal wealth of Christians was confiscated.
Bishop Pontian was arrested the same day. He was put in the Mamertine Prison, where he was tortured for ten days. Then he was sent to work in the lead mines of Sardinia.
When prisoners arrived at Sardinia, their left eye was gouged out and a number was branded on their forehead. Iron rings were soldered around their ankles, linked together with a six-inch chain which hobbled them. A tight chain around their waist was fastened to their ankle-chain in such a way that they were permanently bent over.
The prisoners worked for 20 hours a day, with four one-hour breaks for sleep. They had one meal of bread and water per day. Most prisoners died within six to fourteen months from exhaustion, malnutrition, disease, beatings, infection, or violence. Some went insane or committed suicide.
Pontian only lasted four months. In January, 236 A.D., Pontian was killed and his body was thrown into the cesspool.
What happened to Pontian was not unusual. Many Christians were sent to the Sardinian lead mines, or persecuted in other ways. If a man accepted the position of being a Christian leader, he knew that his life from that time on was likely to be short and painful. There were 14 Bishops of Rome in the 79 years between Pontian and Silvester.
Then along came Constantine.
In 314 A.D., Emperor Constantine crowned Silvester as Bishop of Rome. Silvester lived in luxury, with servants waiting on him. Constantine confessed his sins to Silvester and asked for his advice. Silvester presided over worldwide Church councils. He had a splendid palace and a sumptuous cathedral. He had power, prestige, wealth, pomp, and the favor of the Emperor.
Churchmen wore purple robes, reflecting the purple of Constantine’s court. That was an external change. The most important change was an internal one. The Church took on the mentality of Rome. Under Silvester, the internal structure of the Church took on the form and practice and pomp of Rome.
Silvester died in December, 336 A.D. He died peacefully, in a clean, comfortable bed, in the Roman Lateran Palace. He died surrounded by well dressed bishops and priests, and attended by Roman guards. His body was dressed in ceremonial robes, put in an elegant casket, and carried through the streets of Rome in a solemn procession. He was buried with honor and ceremony, attended by leading members of Roman society.
It is understandable that many Christians would have preferred an officially approved status for the Church. But what was the result?
Before Constantine, the church was a band of heroic men and women who were so committed to serve the Lord Jesus Christ that they would endure any hardship. After 314 A.D., the Church became infiltrated by opportunists who were seeking power and political advancement. Church leaders were no longer in danger of persecution. Rather, they enjoyed power, prestige and luxury.
Did the Roman Empire surrender to Christianity? Or did Christianity prostitute itself in order to gain benefits from the Roman Empire? [Note 9]
The temptation for an ungodly alliance with the Roman Empire was very great. But at what cost?
Luke 9:23 Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.
Luke 22:24 Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest. 25 And He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ 26 But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. 27 For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves.
John 13:12 So when He had washed their feet, taken His garments, and sat down again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
2 Corinthians 11:24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; 26 in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27 in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness— 28 besides the other things, what comes upon me daily: my deep concern for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to stumble, and I do not burn with indignation?
30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days. 31 By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe, when she had received the spies with peace.
32 And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: 33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again.
Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— 38 of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
39 And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, 40 God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.