The Catholic Church is still far and away the biggest single religion in the world today. There are about 2.4 billion Christians in the world and Catholics make up half of them. Yet within the wider Christian community Catholicism is distrusted, hated, even vilified. Papist is an insult and in some circles is not that far from being some sort of devil worshiper.
Why is the religion which started all of the others hated so much?
Early starting points
The Catholic Church has never been without controversy. Going through a history of the popes, the men who are supposed to be a direct link back to the apostle Peter, there is a tale of schism, war, murder, illegitimacy and politics. The Borgia Popes managed all the list by themselves.
After the plague of the late 13th and 14th Centuries, people quietly began to question the authority of the church. At this point, the strategy was to keep most people in ignorance. The rites of the church were in Latin to prevent most people from understanding and definitely from reading the word of Christ.
Opposition ebbed and flowed, but was constant. Bibles in the vernacular were smuggled into countries as soon as the printing press had been invented. It was a radical idea, a peasant could read the bible and so, God forbid, could a woman.
Solidifying of opposition
By the time Henry VIII broke irrevocably with the church in 1534 there was a big enough groundswell of opposition or discontent with the church’s teachings and attitudes Protestantism could gain real traction.
But in addition, there were other factors at work by this time. There had always been an issue between kings and popes. Did popes have the moral authority and kings the local authority? Catholics who owed allegiance to the pope first and the state second were seen as conspirators whose intention was the destruction of the state.
Bigger religious concerns
It didn’t take much for Protestant scholars to take these arguments much further. St. Paul had spoken about there being a great apostasy before Christ would return. This concept would have made sense to the predominantly Jewish populations to which the apostles preached in the years immediately after Christ’s death.
During the great apostasy, the Antichrist would reign. Protestant scholars who wanted the breach with the church to be a total one began to see the pope as the antichrist and it has to be said that the popes were not doing much to help their cause.
Religion and politics combine
It is here at this point where religion and politics combine into a solid philosophy where I think the possibility for real hatred happens, as does the possibility for persecution. This is by no means limited to hatred towards Catholics.
We have seen it many times. Ethnic cleansing often has the edge of religiosity as well as political them and us. An example? How about the Holocaust?