Some people have asked me whether or not the woman who is described in chapter 17 of the Book of Revelation represents the Catholic Church.

Personally, I find the Book of Revelation difficult to understand. The descriptions of God’s glory inspire me. The final triumph of good over evil encourages me. The exhortations about the importance of endurance and faithfulness, even in the face of great hardship, are sobering and strengthening. But there are many things in the Book of Revelation which I don’t understand now, and may never understand in this life.

I did a lot of research in order to write the papers for my web site. In the process, I learned that the Catholic Church does have some things in common with the woman of chapter 17. Some of them are important aspects of Catholicism which people need to know about, whether or not they have anything to do with the Book of Revelation.

There are also some other things about Catholicism which have little importance apart from that mysterious woman. They may be interesting in terms of history and customs, so you might enjoy reading about them even if they don’t have anything to do with the End Times. I will discuss the important issues first. Then I will discuss the other ones.

Chapter 17 also speaks about a beast, and horns, and kings. They seem to be part of some kind of power structure which is opposed to Jesus Christ and to true Christians. But beyond that, I don’t understand much about them. I won’t deal with them at all.


From the fifth century until the nineteenth century, the Catholic Church killed “heretics,” many of whom were Bible-believing Christians. Hundreds of years before the Protestant Reformation, there were evangelical Christians such as the Waldensians. Although they were hunted and killed by the Catholic Church, they managed to survive for many centuries in spite of it. There are some Waldensian churches today. For more information about this, see my paper “Hunting Heretics”. [Note 1 gives a link to it.]

The Inquisition began with the Fourth Lateran Council, which was held in 1215 during the reign of Pope Innocent III. The council decreed that “heretics” were to be turned over to secular authorities to be killed. Catholics who helped exterminate “heretics” were given special privileges and indulgences. People who disagreed with any Catholic doctrine or any papal pronouncement were considered to be heretics. The Inquisition expanded the definition of heresy to include things such as reading the Bible or eating meat during Lent. When people were accused of heresy, they were not allowed to know what the charges were or who their accusers were. They were tortured. If they confessed, then they were usually sent to prison. If they refused to confess, then the Inquisitors sentenced them to be killed by the civil authorities. The Inquisitors confiscated the property of the condemned men and women. If the civil authorities failed to cooperate, then the Inquisitors accused them of heresy. As a result, the civil authorities became victims of the system. The Inquisitors said that they would rather kill 100 innocent people than let one heretic go free. When the Spanish came to Latin America they brought the Inquisition with them. Natives were tortured and killed for refusing to convert to Catholicism. [Note 2 gives links to Internet articles.]

The Inquisition lasted for six centuries. The last person killed by it was a Spanish schoolmaster who was hanged in 1826 because he substituted the phrase “Praise be to God” in place of “Ave Maria” (“Hail Mary”) during school prayers. [Note 3]

The Office of the Inquisition still exists. It is located in the Vatican. In 1965 its name was changed to “The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”. It is headed by Cardinal Ratzinger. [Note 4 gives links to Internet articles.]

Catholic Crusaders conquered Constantinople, which was the center of the Orthodox Church, the location of its ruler (the Patriarch) and its greatest cathedral (Hagia Sophia). The Crusaders killed the men, plundered the city, and set many buildings on fire. They raped and murdered matrons, girls, and Orthodox nuns. They vandalized tombs of Orthodox emperors. They placed a notorious harlot in the seat of the Patriarch where she sang obscene songs and danced lewd dances. The Crusaders desecrated the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia. Consecrated bread and wine were thrown on the ground and trampled underfoot. Icons and religious objects of value were taken as booty. The altar was smashed and the pieces were taken as plunder. Reliquaries were broken open and the relics were treated disgracefully. [Note 5 gives a link to an Internet article.]

Pope Innocent III forced the King of France to kill hundreds of thousands of French citizens in order to get rid of the Albigensian heretics. Because the Albigensians lived among the French Catholics, the Pope commanded that every person in the region (including the Catholics) be killed. As a result, many Catholics were slaughtered along with the Albigensians. This was called the Albigensian Crusade. The Pope gave the Albigensian Crusaders a special indulgence which was supposed to guarantee that if they died in battle then their sins would be remitted and they would go to Heaven. [Note 6 gives a link to an Internet article.]

Catholics are still persecuting “heretics,” but it is no longer openly supported by Catholic authorities. For example, in Mexico, the Chiapas Indians have become Evangelical Christians. They are being tortured and killed because they do not accept Catholic doctrines and they refuse to worship Mary. Although the Mexican government says that it stands for freedom of religion, local officials usually do not attempt to arrest or prosecute the people who torture and kill Christians, drive them away from their homes, or cut off their arms or legs with machetes. Considering the situation, it is unfortunate that the Pope recently exhorted Mexican Catholics to “vigorously defend their faith” against Protestants. Some Catholics could interpret that as encouragement to keep on persecuting them. [Note 7 gives addresses of Internet articles.]

I realize that during the religious wars following the Protestant Reformation, some Protestants killed Catholics. That was terrible. However, it is important to remember that the Reformers started out as members of the Catholic clergy. (Luther was a monk. Calvin was studying for the priesthood. Zwingli and Tyndale were priests.) The Catholic Church taught them theology which justified killing “heretics”. In addition, they were raised in a society which, for centuries, had become used to seeing Catholic clergy condemn people to death for “heresy”.

The Reformers disagreed about whether or not it was right to kill “heretics”. For example, many Anabaptists were pacifists who didn’t believe in killing anybody. Tyndale was a hunted man, hiding and running for his life. Somehow he managed to translate the Bible into English in spite of being hunted.

In contrast, the Catholic Church taught theology which justified killing “heretics”. It had laws requiring that “heretics” be sought out and arrested. It appointed Inquisitors whose job was to question the “heretics” (using torture), sentence them to punishment (which often meant being burned at the stake), and make sure that the civil authorities carried out the sentence.

Revelation 17:6 says that the woman is “drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus”.


For many centuries, popes used excommunication, and the threat of excommunication, to force kings and emperors to obey them. They literally ruled over kings and emperors.  For information about this, see my paper “Spiritual Intimidation”. [Note 8 gives a link to it.]

These days, the Pope does not rule over national leaders, but he does influence them. The Vatican has diplomats in most countries. It also has special representatives at the United Nations and the European Union. In addition, Catholic clergy and Catholic citizens influence the countries they live in. But that is nothing like ruling over national leaders. However, some people believe that a time will come when the Catholic Church will again have great power and influence. Only time will tell.

Revelation 17:18 says that the woman “reigneth over the kings of the earth”.


The Bible refers to idolatry as harlotry. The image is that people who have a covenant with God (are intimately bound to Him) become unfaithful and worship other gods (which is a form of intimacy with those gods).

For example, in Exodus 34:15-16, God warns the people of Israel not to go “whoring after” the gods of the inhabitants of Canaan. In Deuteronomy 31:16, God tells Moses that a time will come when the Israelites will break their covenant with the Lord God and go “whoring after the gods of the strangers of the land”. Judges 2:17-19 says that God was angry with the Israelites because they bowed down to false gods, they followed “other gods to serve them,” and they went “whoring after other gods”.

What does it mean to serve other gods? What is the nature of idolatry?

Is it idolatry to say that we cannot be saved unless Mary helps us? That would mean that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ was not sufficient to save us. Is it idolatry to say that there is no salvation without the Pope? Again, that would mean that Jesus is not enough. Some popes have declared that there is no salvation apart from Mary. Some popes have declared that no person can be saved unless he or she submits to the Pope. [Note 9 gives the address of an Internet article with quotations from popes.]

In the Epistle to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul addresses the problem of the “Judaizers”. These were Christians who believed that, in addition to faith in Jesus Christ, people needed to be circumcised and follow the laws of Moses. [Note 10] Paul says,

“I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.” (Galatians 1:6-7)

Paul says that if people rely on good works for salvation (such as sacraments, and following the laws of the Catholic Church), then the death of Christ does not benefit them. If we were able to find salvation through following the law (either the Jewish law or Catholic law), then it was not necessary for Christ to die for us.

“I do not frustrate the grace of God; for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)

The problem with trying to fulfill the law (whether Jewish law or Catholic law) is that it is impossible. Nobody can totally fulfill all of it all of the time. (How many Catholics even have a thorough enough knowledge of the papal encyclicals and the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” and Canon Law to know everything that is required of them?)

“For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. And the law is not of faith: but The man that doeth them shall live in them. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Galatians 3:10-13)

In the time of the Apostle Paul, there were “Judaizers” who said that circumcision was necessary for salvation, and that Christians should follow the Jewish law. Paul calls that slavery. He says that the end result is that people fall from grace, and Christ’s death on the cross does not benefit them.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage. Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.” (Galatians 5:1)

Catholics are modern day Judaizers. They also say that following the law is necessary for salvation. The only difference is which law is involved. For Catholics, it is Canon Law, and the official declarations of popes and church councils (as opposed to Jewish law). For Catholics, the symbol of this is the sacraments (as opposed to circumcision). Either way, Paul says that people who rely on the law for salvation are “fallen from grace” and “Christ is become of no effect” for them.

Is it idolatry to say that the Pope is “God on earth”? In 1894, Pope Leo XIII said that as Pope, he held on the earth the place of God Almighty. Pope Pius X ruled from 1903 to 1914. He said that when the Pope speaks, it is Jesus Christ Himself speaking. Pope Pius XI reigned from 1922 to 1939. He said that because he was the Vicar of Christ he was “God on earth”. Is it idolatry to address the Pope as “your holiness”? The protocol of the Catholic Church requires it.  [Note 11 gives the addresses of Internet articles with these quotations and with information about “your holiness”.]

Is it idolatry to venerate Mary and the saints? According to “Webster’s Dictionary,” one definition of “veneration” is “expressing reverent feeling; worship” and one definition of “devotion” is “religious fervor”. Catholic Canon Law says that all Catholics should cultivate devotion to Mary, including praying the rosary. (The rosary has ten prayers to Mary for every one prayer to God.) Every fixed altar in churches is required to have a relic of a saint. (The “Code of Canon Law” is available online. You can read these laws for yourself.) [Note 12]

Is it idolatry to venerate “images”? Canon Law says that Catholic churches should have “holy images” (statues, pictures, etc.) and that Catholics should venerate these images. [Note 13] In contrast, the Bible forbids the veneration of statues or other images. It says,

 “Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them” (Deuteronomy 5:8-9).

The Infant of Prague is an example of the extent to which veneration of images can be taken. It is a statue of Jesus as a baby. It is kept in a church in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Miracles are attributed to this statue. Pilgrims come from around the world to venerate it. The statue wears expensive clothing and a gold crown set with jewels. It has 70 different sets of clothes. In 1995 it was carried in solemn procession through the streets of Prague. The procession was led by two cardinals. Churches in many countries have replicas of this statue. [Note 14 has links to Internet articles with pictures.]

Is it idolatry to worship consecrated bread? The Catholic Church says that during Mass the bread and wine literally turn into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. Catholics are taught to bow before the bread and to worship it. According to Catholic Canon Law, Catholics are supposed to worship the Eucharist with “supreme adoration”. [Note 15]

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then Catholics are guilty of idolatry. According to the Bible, this is spiritual adultery, and people who practice it are called harlots.

If you are a Catholic, please don’t be offended by the term. The reference to harlotry shows how much it hurts God when His people practice idolatry. It shows God’s deep level of commitment to His people, and the pain which their unfaithfulness causes Him.

The Catholic Church is referred to as holy mother Church. This means that Roman Catholics are her “children”. If her “children” practice idolatry, then she is a mother of harlots, because the Bible calls idolaters harlots. If her doctrines and laws require her “children” to do things which are idolatry, then she herself is an idolater. Therefore, in Biblical terms, she would be referred to as a harlot.


The Catholic Church is referred to as being a woman. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” uses the phrase “holy mother Church” in 25 paragraphs. You can check this out for yourself. The “Catechism” is available on-line with a search engine. [See Note 16.]


The Vatican is located in the city of Rome. Because the city of Rome is the location of the Pope and the men who direct the operations of the Catholic Church, the term “Rome” is used to refer to the Vatican. “Rome” is also used to refer to the Roman Catholic Church. People refer to the city in order to refer to the Catholic Church. So the Catholic Church is identified with a city.

Revelation 17:18 says that the woman is a “great city which reigneth over the kings of the earth.”


Revelation 17:9 says that the woman sits on seven mountains. According to “Strong’s Concordance,” the word for “mountains” also means “hills”. Rome is known as the “city of seven hills”. The hills are named after Roman gods.  [Note 17 gives links to web pages with maps and the names of the seven hills.]

Rome is also a city whose native language is Latin. The ancient Romans spoke Latin. In modern times, the only place where Latin is the official language is the Vatican. Catholic Rome also speaks Latin.


Revelation 17:4 says that the woman wears purple and scarlet clothing, with gold and precious stones.

The following information about clerical vestments and jewelry comes from 18 Internet articles. Six of them have pictures of popes, cardinals, and bishops wearing their vestments and jewelry. One has pictures of displays of vestments. Two have pictures of the flower “Papal Purple”. I also consulted a Catholic dictionary and a regular dictionary. Most of the sources I used are Catholic. [Note 18 gives links to the Internet articles.]

The color purple used to be very expensive. It was extracted from shellfish and insects. It took much labor and many creatures to produce it. For example, it required 12,000 shellfish to extract an ounce and a half of “Tyrian Purple” (the purple dye made in Tyre). Only wealthy people could afford to buy things which were dyed purple. As a result, purple became a symbol of power and authority.

Purple was the color of Roman emperors. It was also used by popes. The imperial purple used in Rome was called “purpura”. It was so expensive that Emperor Aurelian would not allow his wife to buy a purple silk garment.

In the middle ages, wealthy popes used purple stones and gems in papal architecture. (Gems range from semiprecious stones to expensive jewels.) The purple came from porphyry, which is a stone which has crystals embedded in a purple groundmass. (“Porphyry” is also spelled “porphry”.)

In 1464, Pope Paul II introduced the use of scarlet. He called it “Cardinal’s Purple” because it was used by Catholic cardinals. Scarlet became a luxury dye during the Middle Ages. Scarlet dye had been around for a long time. The Book of Genesis mentions scarlet cloth. However, scarlet was not used as a symbol of power and wealth until Pope Paul II started using it for cardinals in the fifteenth century. Catholic cardinals still wear scarlet.

In formal correspondence with high-ranking clergy, it used to be proper protocol to say “kissing the Sacred Purple” or “kissing the Sacred Ring”. As of 1969, this was no longer required.

There are two special hats which can be worn by bishops and cardinals. One is a skull cap, called a zucchetto. The other is a special kind of cap which is square, with three ridges or peaks on its upper surface. It is called a biretta (or berretta). Bishops have the privilege of being allowed to wear purple zucchettos and birettas and a purple cassock with crimson trimmings. (A cassock is a long, loose priestly garment.) Cardinals are allowed to wear scarlet zucchettos, birettas, and cassocks

When bishops are ordained, they wear a gold chasuble. It is made of gold threads which are woven into cloth. This is real gold, not just gold color. (A chasuble looks like a long poncho without sleeves.)

The cope is a liturgical mantle which is long, open in front, and fastened with a clasp or band. Wealthy clerics used brooches to fasten them. Some of these brooches were very expensive jewelry.

The Pope, cardinals, and bishops wear a “pectoral cross”. This is a large cross which rests on the chest. The Pope wears a gold cross on a gold chain. Cardinals wear their cross on a chain or on a scarlet and gold cord.

For some special occasions the Pope, cardinals and bishops wear miters made of gold. (The miter is a tall hat with two points at the top.) This is real gold, not just gold color.

The Pope, cardinals, and bishops wear rings. The Pope has a special ring known as the “Ring of the Fisherman”. He also has magnificent pontifical rings which he wears on special occasions. Cardinals have rings of sapphire and gold. They often have additional rings of their own choosing.

Apostolic prothonotaries wear purple hats with six scarlet tassels at each side. An apostolic prothonotary is a member of the highest level of the Roman Curia, which is the governing body of the Vatican.


Revelation 17:4 says that the woman wears purple and scarlet clothes and holds a gold goblet in her hand. The “cup” is a drinking vessel which holds wine. (Verse 6 says she is drunk, and verse 2 refers to drinking wine.)

According to “Webster’s Dictionary,” a “cup” is “the containing part of a drinking vessel that has a stem and a foot”. In other words, it is similar to a wine glass. Some ancient chalices look like wine goblets with a pair of handles at the top. [Note 19 gives a link to an article which has a picture.]

Every Catholic priest (including every bishop and cardinal) drinks wine out of a goblet (chalice) every day when he says Mass. Chalices used to be made of precious metal. If a chalice was not made of gold, then its interior was gold-plated. After the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), priests were allowed to use chalices which were made of other materials. [Note 20]


Is the Catholic Church the woman in Revelation, chapter 17? For the sake of my Catholic friends, I hope that she isn’t.

There are some similarities between the woman and the Catholic Church. But we won’t really understand the role that the Catholic Church is to play in the End Times until the events described in the Book of Revelation actually occur. By then it may be a moot point. Christians will either be with the Lord, or else they will be enduring severe persecution.


I encourage you to link to this article and to put it on your own web site. You have my permission to copy this entire article or portions of it, and to quote from it. You have my permission to incorporate this entire article or portions of it into publications of your own, including translating it into other languages. You have my permission to distribute copies of this article, including selling it for profit. I do not want any royalties or financial remuneration of any kind. Please give this information to anybody who might be interested in it.


1. Hunting Heretics

2. Peter de Rosa, “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy,” (Dublin, Ireland: Poolbeg Press, 1988, 2000). The Inquisition is a recurring theme throughout the book. The author is a practicing Catholic. He used to be a Jesuit priest. While he was a priest, he did extensive research in the Vatican Archives.

The Roman Inquisition

The Spanish Inquisition

The Inquisition in the New World

Fourth Lateran Council: Canon 3 on Heresy

3. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity” (New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1976, 1995), page 308. The author is a practicing Catholic and a prominent historian.

4. Following is a link to an article on the Vatican’s web site. [Click on “Profile”.]

The Vatican web site is slow and it doesn’t always come up. You can also find information about the change of name of the Office of the Inquisition at the following sites:

5. The conquest and pillaging of Constantinople (the Fourth Crusade)

6. The Massacre of the Albigensians

7. Persecution in Mexico (May 20, 2000)

Mexico — Persecution in Mexico (September 2002)

“We Will Not Be Stopped”. This is a book about the persecution of Evangelical Indians in Chiapas, Mexico. It includes personal testimonies. It can be purchased on-line.

8. Spiritual Intimidation

9. Quotations from popes who said that Mary and/or the Pope are necessary for salvation

10. Notes on the Epistle to the Galations from the “Life Application Study Bible”

11. Quotations from popes who said that the popes are exalted above all of mankind

Titles of Address for Roman Catholic Clerics

12. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition (Washington, DC: Canon Law Society of America, 1998), Canon 663, Section 4; and Canon 1237, Section 2. The 1983 Code of Canon Law was translated into English in 1988. It is available online. The following links go to the Index of the book, which has links to the laws. Canon 663 is in Book II, Part III, Section I, Title II, Chapter IV. Canon 1237 is in Book IV, Part III, Title I, Chapter IV.

13. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition, Canons 1186-1190. These are in Book IV, Part II, Title IV.

14. Article with pictures of the statue of the Infant of Prague (clothed and unclothed)


Article with picture of cardinal carrying the statue

Article with several pictures and history of the statue‑jesu/english/eng/jezuleen.htm

Article with pictures showing nuns changing the clothes of the statue‑jesu/english/eng/saticken.htm

Article with pictures showing details of the crown and some of the clothes‑jesu/english/eng/muzejen.htm

History of the Infant Jesus of Prague

15. “Code of Canon Law,” Latin-English Edition, Canon 898. This is in Book IV, Part I, in the beginning of Title III.

16. The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” is available on-line with a search engine.

17. Map of the Seven Hills of Rome, with names of the hills‑and‑hills.html

The Seven Hills of Rome (they are named after Roman gods)

Rome and Its Seven Hills (a map)


Seven Hills of Rome (An article by the on-line edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. It gives the names of all seven hills.)‑hills‑of‑rome/

With time, the names of the seven hills in Rome were changed. This gives the names in Early Rome and in Later Rome.

18. John A. Hardon, S.J., “Pocket Catholic Dictionary” (abridged edition of “Modern Catholic Dictionary”) (New York: Image Books, Dougleday, 1980, 1985), page 61 (“Cardinal”). “Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” 1947, “Biretta” (“Berretta”); “Zucchetto”; “Curia”; and “Porphyry”.

History, Shellfish, Royalty, and the Color Purple


An article from a book on architecture. It tells how wealthy medieval popes used purple and gems in papal architecture in order to show their emperial power. The purple came from porphyry (a rock which has crystals embedded in a purple groundmass).

Pictures of bishops wearing chasubles

Pictures of bishops and cardinals wearing zuchettos

Pictures of the pectoral cross worn by the Pope, cardinals and bishops

Pictures of miters worn by the Pope, cardinals, and bishops

Pictures of Catholic clergy wearing gold miters

Pictures of popes, cardinals and bishops wearing rings

“Vestments” (This has pictures of displays of vestments.)


“Rings” in the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume XIII, 1912, on-line edition 1999.

Instruction on the Dress, Titles and Coat-of-Arms of Cardinals, Bishops and Lesser Prelates, from “L’Osservatore Romano,” April 17, 1969. (Item 27 mentions “kissing the Sacred Purple”.)

“Ecclesiastical Heraldry” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume VII, 1910, on-line edition 1999.

“Biretta” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume II, 1907, on-line edition 1999.

“Prothonotary Apostolic” in “The Catholic Encylopedia,” Volume XII, 1911, on-line edition 1999.

“Cope” in “the Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume IV, 1908, on-line edition 1999.

“Cardinal” in “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume III, 1908, On-line edition 1999. (See Section IX, “Rights of Cardinals.)

Pictures of the flower Papal Purple‑203.htm

19. “Chalice” in the “Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume III, 1908, on-line edition 1999.

20. John A. Hardon, S.J., “Pocket Catholic Dictionary,” page 67 (“Chalice”). The author is a Jesuit priest with a doctorate in theology

Copyright 2002 by Mary Ann Collins.