"But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate....So hast thou also them that hold the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate." (Revelations 2:6, 15)

Catholics may occasionally encounter the anti-Catholic claim that the "Nicolaitans" condemned by Christ in Revelation 2 were the beginnings of a clergy in the early Church, and that God is therefore opposed to the Catholic clergy.

This claim is not based on a historical study of the Nicolaitans themselves, but on a sloppy etymological analysis of the word Nicolaitans.  This term contains two Greek words:  Nikos, which means "triumph, victory" and laos, meaning "people" (the root of the word laity).  Some anti-Catholic Bible scholar must have noticed this and decided that the Nicolaitans were "subjugators of the laity", that is, an oppressive clerical class of apostate Christians which vaunted itself the rulers of the early Church.

The problem with this interpretation is that we know from Church history who the Nicolaitans actually were, and they were nothing of the sort!  They were an early Gnostic sect which claimed to be followers of Deacon Nicholas of Antioch, who is mentioned in Acts 6:5.  "Nicolaitans" actually means "followers of Nicholas", not "subjugators of the laity"!

(BTW, the name Nicholas [Nicolaus in Greek] means "victorious over the people", but that was just the name given that man at his birth.  It has nothing to do with the actions or attitudes of the sect which claimed to follow him!  Besides, in the first century A.D. the word laos simply meant "people"; it did not come to specifically indicate "laity" as opposed to clergy until around the fourth century.  So "subjugators of the laity" could not possibly have been the meaning of "Nicolaitans" in the Book of Revelation!)

Early Christian writers, such as Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius of Caesarea, inform us that the Nicolaitans were a Gnostic sect which started out teaching extreme asceticism and denied all earthly pleasures.  Marriage was absolutely forbidden to all its members and they were all required to be strict vegetarians as well (this is the actual group which St. Paul condemns in 1 Timothy 4:1-5).  They later degenerated into an immoral bunch who, paradoxically, still rejected marriage but committed fornication freely.

This was not an orthodox Christian group, but a heretical sect.  They were not Christian clergy, for the group included both men and women, and the clergy of the early Church were all men.  And Christ does not hate the Catholic priesthood, for it is a participation in His own eternal Priesthood.  He Himself set up the first Catholic clergy by choosing the Twelve Apostles to lead His Church and dispense the Sacraments.

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