The History of the Church

by Johannah Carmona

The Roman Empire

Pagan Rome worshipped an emperor who was seen as a god or associated with the god Jupiter. As the upper and lower classes continued to separate, the lower classes turned to Christianity's promises of hope and salvation for all.


At the same time, the descendants of Abraham along with Moses escaped captivity and God gave Moses the Ten Commandments later establishing a kingdom at Palestine. By the end of the reigns of kings David and Solomon, the kingdom was ripped in half and the Temple was torn down. When the Jews returned from the Babylonian exile, they rebuilt a more modest Temple which would later be destroyed by the Romans.


During this time, there were two main groups of Jewish religious leaders: Sadducees and Pharisees. The Essenes drew away from society and lived a prayerful life in the desert. They practiced forms of Baptism and Communion.

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Jesus and the Founding of the Church

Skipping ahead past the Resurrection, Jesus promised his disciples before his Ascension that he would send the Holy Spirit down upon them to help them live out His calling and start the Church. This sending down of the Holy Spirit is known as Pentecost and is known as the birthday of the Church.


With the help of the Holy Spirit, the disciples were able to carry out the Good News all over the world. When the apostle disciples died, their legacy was carried on by the Tradition of the Church. Our modern bishops have a direct link to the apostles.

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The Early Christians

Early Christians had many similarities to the Jews including Baptism. Infant Baptism became more common backed by the belief that a baptismal character is imprinted on the soul and the infant is then called to the common priesthood for the rest of their lives at Baptism. This was a change from the practice of Baptism on the death bed.


Another practice was the Agape which means "love" in Greek. It was a Eucharistic meal which was a precursor to the Mass. Overtime, an early form the Mass was formed with scriptures, psalms, hymns, and prayers. The Liturgy of the Eucharist was added as the high point of the Mass.


A branch of Theology called the Apologists formed. Their purpose was to fight heresies, especially the pagan heresies, and defend and explain the Church teachings. From the apologists came some of the best literary works in the Church today including the Didache, a guide to living a Christian life.

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Persecution of "The Way"

"The Way" was the name of the Christian Faith during the times of corrupt Roman emperors Nero and Diocletian and the Roman bread and circuses. Christians were martyred in amphitheaters such as the Coliseum in public. The Christian minority was considered criminals and becoming a Christian put one's life at risk.


St. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch is an apostolic father and renowned Christian bishop. When he was arrested by the Romans, he wrote seven epistles expressing his desire for martyrdom. St. Ignatius is knows for first using the name "Catholic Church". St. Ignatius was fed to lions in the Coliseum.


With the death of emperors Diocletian and Constantius came the rise of emperor Constantine in A. D. 307 in the West. Before going in to battle with the emperor of the East Maxentius, Constantine had seen a cross in the sun with the words "in this sign you will conquer". Constantine painted crosses on all the shields of his soldiers and won the battle, thus converting to Christianity along with the rest of Rome.


The Edict of Milan was a great move for the Church. It returned all confiscated properties to the Church, giving Christians places to worship. It gave freedom to practice Christianity, giving Christians the legal right to practice without being persecuted. Ultimately, Christians were now able to be Christians along with their pious Emperor Constantine.

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Church Fathers and Heresies

Due to the persecution of Christians in the fourth and fifth centuries and the sudden ability to be free to worship, heresies were abundant. In order to clear the mud, Athanasius (most likely) wrote the Athanasius Creed which emphasized the Trinity. Along with the Nicene and Apostles' Creed, heresies were being fought. There are material heresies, ignorance of truth, and formal heresies, freely chosen.


One large heresy was Gnosticism- salvation can be achieved through knowledge. Although there were many different variations of Gnosticism, all believed that matter was a corruption of spirit making the world corrupt, man must seek God through knowledge, and God made salvation possible through a savior, usually Jesus.


In order to fight heresies like Gnosticism, the church held Ecumenical Councils modeled after the first council of Nicaea from 325. The three forms of councils are diocesan councils, provincial councils, and plenary councils, all with varying levels of importance. There would be twenty-one ecumenical councils throughout history.


In addition to the councils, the Church had many great leaders that helped explain the Faith. These leaders became known as Church Fathers. Church Fathers included St. Ambrose of Milan, St. Augustine of Hippo, Pope St. Gregory the Great, St. Jerome, and St. Hilary of Poiters. Many became Doctors of the Church.


Among the greatest of Church Fathers was St. Ambrose of Milan. He defended the Church's independence from the state and the Arian heresy. He is known for standing up to secular leaders including Emperor Theodosius in 390. Another great Church Father was the passionate St. Jerome who is most famous for translating the Bible into a unified version into Latin.


During this time, the Apostle's Creed was brought into the spotlight as a profession of faith.


In the fourth and fifth centuries, the Christological Heresies were teaching lies about who Jesus is and his divinity. The council of Nicaea, led by St. Athanasius, fought the Arian heresy persistently despite the threats, beatings, exiles, and murders from the Arians. The Council of Nicaea was pushed by Emperor Constantine. The 250 bishops at the council wrote the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed which was the precursor to our present day Nicene Creed, another profession of faith.

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Light in the Dark Ages

The Roman empire collapsed due to various reasons and with it came the collapse of education and religion. Human rights were overlooked by the invading barbarians. The Germanic tribes continued to push into Roman civilization and Roman religion and values were undermined. By the time the violent Huns came, Rome was not ready. This is when the famous story of Pope Leo the Great convincing Attila the Hun not to invade. This changed the course of history.


At the same time, Christians were becoming more devout, often dedicating their lives to self- denial, prayer, and seclusion. This led to the rise of monasticism. The eremitical monasticism or hermit life involved separating from society and living in somewhat organized groups. The cenobitical or common life form of monasticism involved living in a community. Examples of monasticism include the Carmelites and the Carthusians.


Because of what monasteries could offer for society, monasteries flourished and with it came the spreading of Christianity. Monasteries evangelized rural society, were centers of intelligence, and attracted the Germanic peoples to convert to Christianity because of their holy examples causing civilization.

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The Great Schism

The beginnings of the schism began with the founding of Constantinople. After, alienation grew and with the rise of Charlemagne, intensified. The fight over icons, caesaropapism, filioque, and other theological disputes separated the East and the West further, ultimately causing the pope to excommunicate the patriarch and the patriarch to excommunicate the pope. The Church was torn in half.
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The Crusades and the Inquisition

The Crusades series of religious wars called by Pope Urban II to fight off Muslim expansion and take back Jerusalem. Muslim expansion was rapid and proved to be a growing threat for Christian Europe. The crusaders were all willing to fight for the Church. Pope Urban II promised indulgences for those who fought in battle and most people saw it as an act of religious devotion. Crusaders took vows of piety, self sacrifice, and love for God.


The First and most organized Crusade came at a time when Muslims were politically divided, giving the crusaders the advantage. The crusaders were able to have established authority over Palestine, making it a Christian state. The next Crusades over the next five centuries failed, often ending in accidents and deaths. Christians lost possession of the Holy Land in 1291, losing Christian footing until the 1800's.


While some may say the Crusades failed, it is known that the Crusades had many great effects on Europe. The Crusades did not defeat Turkish expansion, but they held it off for the next four hundred years. Also, the Crusades led to military technological advances such as siege engines, rams, towers, and catapults.Christian unity allowed for more traveling and spreading of goods and ideas to help grow the Western culture.

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The High Middle Ages

The Albigensian heresy expanded, posing a threat to Christianity. The teachings of the Albigensians disproved the very existence of Christianity, contradicting itself. In response, Pope Gregory IX made the Inquisition to purge the heresies. He called for the Dominicans and Franciscans to carry out the purging.


If caught in the Inquisition, one would go through a "term of grace" where the convicted has a chance to freely convert to Christianity. Otherwise, a trial would be held and within the trial, a confession would be pulled out, sometimes violently. If the convicted confessed, their punishment would be less. If the convicted did not confess, they would go to closed confinement without food. In confinement, other convicted-and-confessed men would visit to try to convince the accused to confess. If that did not work, a council of priests, bishops, and the like would be set up to decide the accused's fate.


The Inquisition was not always violent and it was effective in lessening the evil of that time. In hopes of the same lessening of evil, Spanish leaders Ferdinand and Isabella set up the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisition was altogether very efficacious.


At the same time, the monasteries kept so much knowledge that medieval universities were made from them. Schools of scholasticism taught philosophy, astronomy, civil and canon law, and medicine. This led to a flourishing of Medieval culture. Many places where universities were became major cities in Europe including Bologna and Paris. The structure of the universities were very similar to modern day schooling. Some similiarites include deans, faculties, teaching degrees, and exploration in all aspects of learning. Students were able to study the trivium, the precursor to a bachelor's degree, and the quadrivium, the precursor to the master's degree. Some students would then proceed to further study for their doctorate.


The universities maintained intelligence throughout Europe and from them came some of the most influential leaders of that time including many popes and bishops.


St. Francis of Assisi, a jubilant prisoner of war who converted late in life, established the Franciscan mendicant order and St. Dominic, a Spanish preacher, established the Dominican mendicant order. Called to living a devout, prayerful life of service and piety, Sts. Dominic and Francis attracted many people to their particular ways of life. The Franciscans preached to others and provided their services and evangelization. The Dominicans were incredibly intelligent, often preaching in universities as professors and spreading the Rosary.

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The Plague, The Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc

As the population went up, the farms grew big enough to feed everyone. When large scale famines struck, people starved. This was the worst time for the greatest demographic catastrophe to ever hit Europe to strike. Twenty-five million people died, leaving the living with broken hearts. Political, economical, and intellectual Europe was left in shambles and nobody could do anything to help it.


From 1337 to 1453 was a period of war between England and France. France continued to support the rebellious nobles of Scotland and the piracy of the English Channel. England declared Flanders, a vital trade route region modern day Belgium, under the protection of the English Crown and swayed the Flemish loyalty away from France. When Charles IV of England died, there was dispute over who would take the French crown, sparking the Hundred Year's War.


Among the greatest heroes of the Hundred Years War was St. Joan of Arc. A young small village girl, God put a vision in her heart to lead France to victory. She went from no one to some one and then on to being a saint. She dressed in men's clothes and impressed the dauphin who then allowed her to lead a battle. She won her battles and was caught as a prisoner of war and she was later burned at the stake.

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The Renaissance

As feudalism ended, a period of "rebirth" posed new challenges for the Church as well as new opportunities to improve oneself. With the emerging schools came a movement in humanism. The people wanted to apply their new knowledge from schools to their everyday challenges in their lives. When this happened, there was room left to explore the finest things in life like the arts. The Renaissance was a time when the arts flourished, often known as the time when the most famous artists such as Michaelangelo and da Vinci. Scholasticism opened the door to a Christian humanism. The teachings of being precious in God's eyes with dignity as a God made creature went hand in hand with the teachings of humanism. However, some took it too far and started relying on human sufficiency instead of God.
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The Protestant Reformation

As the Church became corrupt, somebody had to speak out. Among the corruptions were simony, nepotism, and improper veneration of relics. The Church's main problem was the selling of indulgences and monk Martin Luther saw it vividly. Martin Luther had a problem called scrupulosity which is when you are too hard on yourself for a sin or you think there was a sin but there was not any. This led to his overly criticizing 95 Theses which pointed out what was wrong with the Church. Luther posted it on the Church door and his theses were overlooked. Luther continued to publish and speak out against the Church, so the pope took a look at the 95 Theses to see what was going on. Filled with heresy, Luther was called to debate theological scholars. These debates only helped Luther straighten out what he truly believed instead of the opposite. Luther's popularity grew and soon enough he had many followers. The Church got mad, forcing Martin Luther into hiding. He had started the Protestant Church and broke away from the Catholic Church, later marrying a woman against his vows as a monk.
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The English Reformation

In England, a new Tudor took the throne with the death of his brother. He married his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon and had one child with her, Princess Mary who would go on to be the Catholic extremist queen "Bloody" Mary. Henry was disappointed that Catherine could not give him a male heir. Then, Henry's wandering eye caught hold of a young French girl named Anne Boleyn. Falling instantly in love with her, he wanted to divorce Catherine and marry Anne in hopes that she could give him a male heir. The Catholic Church would not give Henry the divorce he wanted because the only reason was the shallow, "because I want to." Angered, Henry declared himself the ultimate ruler of the Church. He gave himself his own divorce and married Anne, who he would later behead because they had a daughter. Henry would eventually have his male heir, Edward, who would become a teenage king with the death of his father. Then came Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I who finally compromised with the Church. But the damage was already done, the Church of England was established and was already broken away from the Catholic Church.
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Exploration and Missionary Movements

The powerful monarchs of divided Europe had a new mission which was to send their folks over across the Atlantic and establish their countries' cultures and religions there. Henry the Navigator helped advance the technical aspects of getting there, so going across the sea was just a matter of choice. Some crossed under Africa to India and Asia and others sailed right across the Atlantic to the Native Indians. Among the explorers were the missionaries. Even though they faced many obstacles such as distance, climate, language, and unwilling people did not stop the missionaries from coming. A well known evangelist was St. Francis Xavier who started the St. Thomas Christians. St. Xavier continued to travel throughout the world to spread the Good News.


The Spanish conquistadors conquered the Aztecs and Incas and spread Christianity to the Indians. Missionaries set up the missionaries to let the Indians live in a Christian way. They had a church and each missionary was self sufficient. Although some were reluctant to convert, others were more accepting of the explorers and their teachings. Some explorers even mingled with the Indians and some even started families with them.

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The Age of Enlightenment

Despite the religious turmoil of the past years, Europe had strong leaders.


One of the best leaders of France was King Louis. Then came The Sun King, Louis XIV. Because of his special upbringing and crown at the early age of 5, Louis was able to grow up knowing where the corruption was and when he was old enough, he ruled with great power. During his reign, there was a popular heresy called jansenism that taught original sin made man a slave to all and only God's grace could save him. This meant that Christ did not die for everybody because man was already damned.


There were great scientific advancements in the seventeenth century which led to a Scientific Revolution which then led to an advancement in man's power of reason. Man's power became the obsession. This took away from Europe's concentration on religion. Two great thinkers of this time were Decartes and Bacon. These two were mathematicians and scientists who focused on human reasoning and experimentation. Man had a greater understanding of the universe, creating new different "religions" and doubt that God created everything since it could be explained.

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The Rise of Soviet Communism

Beginning in the 1960's, there was a rejection of traditional values including faith and religion. Secularism was on the rise along with many different nations. After World War I, control was needed to help aid the calamities. Influenced by the beliefs of Karl Marx, Soviet style communism started. It spread due to the Soviet's great skill in propaganda. Under Stalin, the Soviet Union persecuted religions and both Catholic and Orthodox Churches were ousted. Opponents of the regime were sent to prison camps called the gulag. The Church opposed communism and encyclicals were published by the popes against it.
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The Rise of Nazism, Pope Pius XII and World War II

Pope Pius XII negotiated a concordat with Germany to try to protect the Catholics in Germany. The concordat stated that the Church would tell their priests and bishops to obey the German laws without rebellion and Germany would not infringe on their religious rights and beliefs. However, Nazism was a blend of totalitarianism and racism especially toward the Jews. The pope wrote an encyclical against Nazism and the concordat was off. Then came the infamous Holocaust with the Jews and some Christians.


Some believe the Church did not do enough to aid the Holocaust, but the Church did a whole lot more than one might recall. They printed fake Baptismal certificates showing Jews were not Jews and they even allowed Jews to hide in the monasteries and other Church buildings as a safe house. However, these actions had to be kept secret so that the Nazis would not find out which would defeat the purpose. Pope Pius XII saved an estimated 860,000 Jews. His efforts did not go unappreciated, though. Jewish leader Israel Zolli then converted to Christianity, even taking the Baptismal name Eugenio after Pope Pius' birth name.


The Jews were not the only ones to be religiously persecuted, the Catholics were sent to concentration camps as well. In fact, two famous saints in the Catholic Church were martyred in Auschwitz: St. Maximilian Kolbe and St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (also known as Edith Stein).

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Vatican II and Pope St. John Paul II

Pope John XXIII convened Vatican II in hopes to update the Church with the modern world and its needs. Over the course of four years, this ecumenical council was extensively covered by secular and religious media. It caused speculation, hope, anxiety, and debate. Pope John XXIII died before Vatican II finished, so Pope Paul VI was elected and he continued the council in his place. In the end, there were sixteen new Church document that were about topics such as religious life, the laity, communication, religious freedom, and Christian education. There were four main dogmatic constitutions which were Lumen gentium, Dei verbum, Sacrosanctum concilium, and Gaudium et spes. Pope Paul XI passed away and Pope St. John Paul II was elected.


The first Polish pope in many, many years, Pope St. John Paul II used his papacy to emphasize the rights of a human person. He also gave attention to the young people in the world knowing that they were the future of the Church. He wrote countless documents and encyclicals, one even led to the fall of communism. He grew up seeing the carnage of World War II and the Holocaust in Poland. His friends were taken away from him by the communist parties. Nevertheless, Pope St. John Paul II influenced those around him, even converting a communist spy in the University in which he formerly taught. He was even a victim of attempted assassination. He visited his shooter in prison and even taught him about Mary. He then publicly forgave his would-be assassin. When Pope St. John Paul II died, he was very quickly beatified and canonized, just recently. The man that principally helped Pope St. John Paul II with all of his writings became the next pope. Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope I remember as a child. He was moved to step down as pope and Pope Francis was elected, our current pope.

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The Church of Immigrants to the U.S. and Slavery

In the nineteenth century, a lot of Catholics immigrated from Europe to the United States. Catholics established their own cities such as St. Louis and Chicago. American Catholicism grew and by the 1860's, the Catholic Church was the main Church of the United States.


There were bitter controversies over lay trusteeism. The lay people began trying to take control over the Churches and its affairs, sometimes hiring their own pastors in defiance of the bishops. In 1917, a Code of Canon Law straightened out this issue by making only the bishop in charge of all parishes and properties.


Due to the United State's religious toleration, there was an anti-Catholic movement that was able to be made. Nativists, Know-Nothings, and the Ku Klux Klan wreaked havoc on the people, often through violent means. The Ku Klux Klan were also anti-Jew and anti-black.


Even though the Church condemned slavery, some Catholics still owned slaves, especially in the Southern United States. The US was torn apart by the Civil War over the fight for or against slavery. Approximately 100,000 black Catholics were emancipated after the Civil War, but segregation continued until the middle of the twentieth century.

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The Church in the U.S: Present and Future

Some believe that American roots have nothing to do with religion, but others argue that founding documents like the Constitution have roots in the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas. Others say that America was founded on enlightenment ideas like moral relativism, religious indifferentism, individualism, and "choice". Both secularism and religion have some sort of influence in the shaping of the American culture. Whatever the case is, it is our job to be the examples of holiness not only for the United States but for the whole world.
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