Religion and Spiritual Studies
The Catholic Church History
Knowing the Timeline of the Catholic Church and Its Beliefs
The Birth of the Catholic Church (30 AD)
In Acts 1:4-5 of the Bible, it was stated how Jesus appeared to his disciples instructing them: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” The baptism of the Spirit would be called the birthday of the church—Pentecost. As promised, Jesus’ words were fulfilled on the day of the Pentecost. Peter, His apostle, preached his first sermon urging the crowd to repent, to believe in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. On that same day, 3,000 people were baptized as the people of God. As such, the church had begun.
Early Period: The Apostolic Age and the Persecutions of Christians (100-311 AD)
The Christian church delineates its separation from Judaism. Jesus’ first disciples who were now apostles preached the good news of salvation. During the apostolic age, gospels, epistles, and other Christian scriptures were composed. This highlights the power of Christianity as its preaching and teaching reached almost every part of the world in just a very short period of time. The expansion of churches was not only in the Roman provincial cities in the Mediterranean but also moving inland and northward into Europe. Apostolic age comes ended with the death of the apostle John around 96 AD. John wrote the book of Revelation during his banishment on Pamos.
A few centuries later, history violence of the Catholic Church began. Christianity became a persecuted, illegal, and often necessarily underground religion. Roman officials acknowledged the Christians as atheists as they do not worship Greco-Roman gods. Moreover, Roman religion as being closely tied to support the state, Christians were considered subversive traitors. Christians were blamed whenever a disaster occurs, such as when a plague fell upon a city. The citizens claim that they were being punished because of the refusal of Christians to pay homage to the gods. In the years that followed, both Peter and Paul were killed in the city-wide persecution. On the 2nd century, Emperor Trajan instructed the provincial governor that Christians were not to be hunted and could only be tried with direct and open evidence. However, its persecution did not only stop from there. Each time the Roman imperial control declined due to poor economic conditions, leadership or military danger, it was the Christians that were incriminated. In 201, Rome declared converting to Christianity or Judaism to be a capital offense. The worst and largest persecution happened in the middle of the 3rd century under the emperors Decius and Valerius. Diocletian hunted out and dismissed clandestine Christians in imperial service, confiscated liturgical objects, burned scriptures and levied meeting places.
Medieval Period: The Church of the Popes (591-1517 AD)
Constantine gained the victory at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge in 312 and attributed such triumph to Jesus. The following year, he signed the Edict of Milan ending the persecutions as well as permitting Christianity to be practiced as a religion. He even supported Christianity by building basilicas for worship, backing up the production of Bibles, and returning the lands that had been taken away from Christians during the persecutions. Constantine gifted the Pope the Lateran Palace.
An ecumenical council was called by the Church in 318 AD in order to protect the Church from Arianism—a heresy which suggests that Jesus did not exist from the beginning as preached by a priest named Arius. In 325 AD, over 200 bishops were called to open the Church’s fist ecumenical council in Nicea. The greatest achievement of said council was the condemnation of Arianism and the development of the Nicene Creed, which is still being recited up to now. Also, it was during this period on which a tribe of barbarians called the Goths crossed the German Danube River and was able to enter the Roman Empire. Little do the Romans know that such would eventually cause the fall of the Empire. Another noteworthy event during this period is the birth of Western Monasticism by St. Benedict who established a monastery at Monte Cassino. This led to the foundation of other monasteries.
The monastic way of life started by St. Benedict rapidly spread. Monasteries were built in Italy, France, Spain, and Africa. The monks through their life of work and prayer were able to offer stability and safety the world needed. On the other hand, Pope Gregory the Great contributed greatly to the development and glory of the papacy. He became a papal envoy and in 590 was elected Pope. He rebuilt the city of Rome and called the Church to evangelize the barbarians, reformed the liturgy and wrote a number of theological works. He was also able to alienate the eastern and western churches. The prominent work of the Church, mainly the Latin Church, was converting and educating the barbarians, who conquered and demolished the Roman Empire but later on were conquered and transformed by its Christianity.
Because of the development of the hierarchy, the middle age came to be known as the Church of the Popes—distinct from the ancient church of the Fathers and the modern church of the Reformers. The middle age ends with the decay of the Roman hierarchy but three popes stand out as representatives of as many ages: Gregory the Great for the rise of absolute papacy, Gregory VII for the summit of papacy, and Boniface VIII for the decline of papacy.
Revolutionary Period: Reformation and Counter-Reformation (1520-1880 AD)
The popes were shorn of power and were reduced to being Renaissance princes. Not being able to cope up with the Protestant revolt of Martin Luther and John Calvin, the Protestants aimed to restore the primitive Christianity and they succeeded. The Protestants were able to weaken the hold of the Church in almost all of Europe. Politics and religion were completely entangled resulting to a mixture of religious issues in the Thirty Years War. Within the Church in Europe, there triumphed the most extensive church reform movements which sprang a general revival of religion and much missionary activity in the new empires of Spain, Portugal, and in East Asia. Catholicism also found new life in France, starting with St. Francis de Sales and St. Vincent de Paul. The creation of the Sacred Heart brought a huge impact of the Catholic prayer everywhere in the world.
In the 17th century, there was an increase of state control over the church in all Catholic countries. The bourbons in the 18th century began a course which aimed at eliminating the papacy, which included the suppression of the Jesuits as part of the campaign. The revolutionary movement ousted the Catholic princes, and the church had to live with secular states. The last of the Popes Pius IX was forced to give up the Papal States. However, the church found a new leadership on Pius’ successor, Leo XIII. Together with his successors, Leo XIII worked and preached to urge the Catholics to take part in modern life. They also abandoned reactionary dreams and sought some social reform. There was a formation of Catholic political parties in some countries. However, due to oppressive conditions and the development of a mass socialist movement, the working class detached themselves from the church.
Contemporary Period: The Modern Christianity
Tension between the church and the national governments built in the 20th century led to the outright suppression of the church, as in the former Soviet Union and Communist Eastern Europe, Mexico, Spain, and China. On the other hand, the most prominent trend in the practice and outlook of the church was purposely aimed to the readjustment of the moral and social problems of modern life and a greater emphasis upon the role of laity in the church. Also, another notable feature in the revival of the church is its tightening relations among the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox Church, and various Protestant churches.
These progressive currents came together as the Second Vatican Council (162-1965), which initiated broad reforms in the areas of public worship, government, and ecumenism. Pope John Paul II made the church more international and continued his predecessors’ ecumenical trends. Unlike the popes preceding him, John Paul II affirmed the traditional church’s stands on marriage, abortion, homosexuality, and other doctrine matters.
In the United States beginning the 21st century, the church confronted a major crisis concerning sexual abuse of minor by Roman Catholic priests and how it was handled by the US hierarchy. Some bishops even allowed the priests accused of sexual abuse to remain in the priesthood and to continue to perform their duties in situations where abuse did recur and that such cases were not reported to civil authorities. Various dioceses faced civil and criminal lawsuits and several bishops resigned after the revelation of their involvement in sexual relationships. The issue resulted to a meeting between the American cardinals and the Pope in Rome. They established new policies that included barring a priest who has sexually abused a minor from any ministerial role, and that committed the hierarchy to alert legal authorities to instances of abuse. Physical and sexual abuse scandals involving Roman Catholic priests and brothers have also occurred in other countries.
Succeeding John Paul II was Benedict XVI who was regarded as a traditionalist and generally continued John Paul’s policies. The tradition of lifetime tenure for the pope was enduring. However, Benedict XVI resigned as pope for reasons of age. The last pope to resign was Gregory XII in 1415 who abdicated to facilitate the end of the Great Schism. Benedict was succeeded by an Argentinian who was the first pope from the America and the first Jesuit to hold office—Pope Francis.