The History of the Church in Review

By Hailey Schmitt

The Roman Empire

Christ was born when the Roman Empire occupied the Middle East, heavily influencing the world with its culture making it a prime era for the messiah. Rome was a pagan empire fashioned after Ancient Greece. The religion was made of various myths and rituals with countless gods and goddesses and, as time progressed, became less of a genuine belief and more of way to unite the Empire. This led to the Romans being tolerable of other religions since they themselves weren't devout. They allowed the Jews to go against the official religion as monotheists and exempted them from worship.

Stoicism was a popular moral teaching at the time of the Empire. It taught that one should be guided by reason alone and not to allow emotion to influence one's actions. This balanced the Roman systems of virtue, order, and law as well as the Church philosophy.

Slavery was the backbone of Roman society. It was a convenient form of cheap labor and allowed an affluent lifestyle for political leaders. Over two million were enslaved at any given point, most were prisoners from conquered lands. This led to the spread of Christianity because it appealed to those who needed hope in an afterlife and equality of all people.

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Jesus and the founding of the Church

Jesus founded his Church at the Last Supper and soon died, leaving a very confused and scared Church in his wake. However, he did not leave it for long. He returned for forty days to instruct the Apostles and then, after he left again, the Holy Spirit came upon the Church to guide it and to grant the Apostles the ability to perform miracles. Though the Church was persecuted by the Romans, it spread the message of hope like wildfire. The four Gospels were written and councils were convened to determine from Christ's teachings what was right and determined four characteristics.

1. The Church is One meaning we profess one Faith

2. The Church is Holy meaning it is on a journey to become holy

3. The Church is Catholic allowing all people to come to Christ

4.The Church is Apostolic coming from the Apostles directly.

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The Early Christians

Christianity started as a part of Judaism and retained the same customs. It was only after the Council of Jerusalem that Christianity fully separated. Baptism was instituted as acceptance of the Faith and forgiveness of sins. The Eucharist was tied to a similar practice called Agape but the two separated due to abuse of the rituals and Agape soon died out entirely. The Mass developed over time around this ceremony. Churches were only small homes or catacombs because of persecution. Many Church members were buried in the catacombs of churches. Non-violence, the value of human life, and equality were taught throughout the Church.
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Persecution of "The Way"

Rome greatly mistrusted the early Christians because it went against the belief that the emperors were gods. Christianity was declared illegal and those who kept the Faith were killed in brutal public spectacles. Christians were given the option to recant but were killed if they didn't. The Coliseum was one of the largest attractions used to kill Christians. They were fed to animals publicly for entertainment. The persecution ended with Emperor Constantine when he saw in the sky before battle the words "in this sign you will conquer" and he won the battle so he gave the Church its property back and made Christianity legal.
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The Church Fathers and Heresies

The end of Christian persecution was met with the rise of heresies. Greek philosophy was often used to support Christian teachings. Several Ecumenical Councils were held to solidify doctrine to counteract the array of heresies. Material heresy is heresy stemmed from ignorance on teachings and is not a sin. Formal heresy is a choice to disagree with known Church doctrine and is considered sinful on varying levels of culpability. Most major heresies in the early Church centered around the nature of Christ. Many denied either the divinity or humanity of God the Son. Gnosticism, a major heresy in the early Church, taught that the material world is inferior to the spiritual world and created by a lesser being than the Divine Being. They taught that salvation was only possible through secret knowledge. They believed Judaism to be a religion worshiping the inferior god and that Jesus was not human because the physical world was seen as evil.

Church Fathers were great theological leaders that combated heresy. It is a traditional title not bestowed by the Church. The general characteristics of a Church Father are orthodox doctrine, holiness, notoriety, and antiquity.

In the fourth and fifth centuries saw the rise of Arianism. Arianism taught that Jesus was below God and was more of a glorified being. Arianism became such a widespread problem that the Council of Nicaea and the Nicene Creed were created to halt it.

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Light in the Dark Ages

The Dark Ages came when the Roman empire collapsed which took the Church and the world by surprise. Falling Rome faced a series of invasions that brought a violent culture into the not yet Christianized Rome. Justice was determined by violent methods and human sacrifice common. Education declined to the point that most people were illiterate which was a blow to the Church because people could not read Scripture. Crime rose and the economy declined. Many left the Church because it was thought that the fate of the Church and Rome were intertwined.

The Rise of Monasticism brought light to the Dark Ages. Monasticism is based on prayer and self-denial separated from society. Eremitical monks were hermits to live alone in nature. Others stay in monasteries and worked to support a life of prayer. Monasticism started in the fourth century with St. Paul of Thebes and St. Antony. Monasteries provided education and the spread of Christianity after the disintegration of Rome and many invading tribes were converted. Greco-Roman literature was preserved and agriculture grew. Germanic and Greco-Roman culture fused.

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The Great Schism

The East and West Churches had many differences in beliefs that went ignored for centuries and eventually led to the split in the Church. The East was against icons and had an independent Patriarch in Constantinople. The Bishop of Rome, considered the head of the Western Church, didn't hold as much power in the East. The West had more Roman influence while the East had more Greek influence. It was the Filioque Controversy that finally caused the Schism. In the Third Council of Toledo, Jesus was officially made equal with the Father and Holy Spirit. While the West thought the point clarified previously held doctrine, the est refused to accept it. In 1054, the combination of authority disputes and doctrine split the Church into Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic.
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The Crusades

The Crusades and the Inquisition both are infamous in history as times of Church Violence. The Crusades began with Muslim expansion into Christian territories. The Holy Land was conquered and Christians were cut off from pilgrimages there. When Muslims began persecuting Christians, war broke out. Pope Urban II started crusades to regain the Holy Land and people fought out of religious devotion or as a form of forgiveness for sins. Unfortunately in later Crusades, some came to pillage, ruining the Church's holy efforts. The First Crusade was the best organized and reclaimed the Holy Land for the Christians temporarily. Later crusades were increasingly disorganized and failed. The crusading spirit became distorted and the Holy Land was lost once more. Jews and Muslims alike were persecuted in the later crusades and it wasn't until St. Francis of Assisi oversaw a peaceful crusade did relations change. Though St. Francis's goal to convert the Sultan failed, it opened friendly dialogue between Muslims and Christians. Some good did come out of the Crusades though. It brought Europe out of the Dark Ages and opened up trade with the Middle East, bringing new ideas and boosting the economy.
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The Inquisition

The Church in medieval times was central to religious, social, and political life that insured widespread stability. The Inquisition started in response to the Albigensian heresy that saw the physical world as evil and ruled by two gods. Suicide was considered an act of spiritual purity. When an Albigensian killed the Papal Legate, the Pope called a crusade on them which took over 20 years. Later, the Inquisition was set up to find heretics and to purge the Church. Inquisitors took time to examine controversial topics for heresy and gave the accused time to repent. If the accused didn't recant, they were punished or given good works to do. Only in the Spanish Inquisition was killing a problem because the Inquisition there was controlled by the government rather than the Holy See. The Inquisition was not meant as a punishment but as a way to try to keep the Church one and to help heretics see the error in their ways.
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The High Middle Ages

The High Middle Ages was a time where monasteries and cathedral schools were centers of education. Universities arose from cathedral schools that had grown beyond holding capacity and reorganized into guilds. The University of Paris was run by teachers that were mutually protected while they taught. The University of Bologna however, was controlled by students who insured education quality. These two typified the two forms of university in the High Middle Ages. Most universities focused on a particular field that expanded into many branches in time. The North had a chancellor that had authority to give degrees to students and teachers divided into faculties according to discipline. In the South, student nations controlled university life. Studium Generale was the general coursework of universities including theology, law, medicine, math, science, and the arts. Students were required to be able to read and write in Latin before being admitted to a university and one learned by a teacher reading aloud from a book. Universities greatly increased the education and spread of new ideas in Western Europe.

The Mendicant Orders also grew in the High Middle Ages. St. Francis of Assisi went from a rich merchant's son to a monk that founded the Franciscan Order devoted to poverty after he heard God ask him to rebuild his church. St. Dominic also formed a Mendicant Order, the Dominicans, who taught against heresy and lived strict lives.

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The Plague

The thirteenth century brought prosperity and education to Europe but it all collapsed in 1315. The worst famine in 200 years stunted population growth and economic depression set in. The Black Plague struck as a final blow. It started near the Crimean Peninsula where it spread from trade, killing an estimated twenty five million people. Towns disintegrated and families and friends abandoned each other to escape sickness. All of the High Middle Age's intellectual progress was lost and the Church lost many clergy members. The Pope fled to Avignon and Jews were accused of poisoning people with the plague.
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The Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years War was between France and England started when the French king died without an heir causing a dispute over royal claim. England had already acquired much land in France because of marital ties with France. Both England and France wanted to claim an heir so war broke out. In reality, the war was a bunch of battles spread out over time interspersed with peace. At first, England was winning thanks to the invention of the long bow. Plague then drove France into greater submission until France switched to skirmishes rather than full-scale battles. France once again lost the upper hand when its unstable rulers were manipulated by nobles.
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St. Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc was born during a time of French defeat in the Hundred Years War. She heard voices of saints urging her to fight so she disguised herself as a man. She went to French King Charles VII and convinced him to let her lead armies in battle. She was victorious in many battles and eventually succeeded in getting King Charles VII crowned. Later, the king began to ignore Joan's cause. She lost a battle and was captured by the English who tried and executed her for heresy when she was only nineteen years old.
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The Renaissance

The Renaissance, meaning rebirth, was a time of social-political change with a new outlook on life. Universities began to grow again with learning and the arts flourished. A new philosophy called Humanism focused on the individual man with his achievements and beauty rather than on the human race as a whole in relation with God. The Renaissance was more secular and focused on earthly pleasure and beauty rather than that of the next life. Humanists brought back Roman culture, literature, and philosophy while Christianity declined slightly. Churches were lavishly decorated with new technologies in art and architecture that recalled Romanesque themes such as with the Sistine Chapel.
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The Protestant Reformation

The Church came into dire need of reform. Indulgence abuse, simony, and clergy breaking their vows became severe problems. Martin Luther, a monk and respected theologian in his time, tried to reform the Church but went against Catholic doctrine. He struggled with scrupulosity and doubted salvation. His largest conflict with Catholicism was the belief in a kind, forgiving God over that of a harsh judge. He began his quest for reform because of the abuse of Church indulgences and other corruption and posted his Ninety Five Theses on a Church door to express his views. Though the Church worked hard to get him to recant, Martin Luther refused and broke away from the Church in the end. Many other Protestant religions broke away after Luther and since then, the Church has been divided.
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The English Reformation

The English Reformation did not originally come from doctrinal conflicts but rather from political conflict. Henry VIII was married to Catherine of Aragon happily for awhile until she failed to give him a male heir. He then wished to marry one of her attendants, Anne Boleyn. He asked the Pope for an annulment but the Church refused. Henry then appointed secret Protestants as bishops and passed the Act of Supremacy to declare himself the head of the Church of England. Catholic Church property was taken away and many Catholics were killed. After Henry died, the Church of England took away most of the ceremonial Mass and the Church of England became Protestant.
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Exploration and Missionary Movements

The discovery of the New World led to an explosion of exploration to claim power and resources. A commercial revolution boosted the European economy and trade. The Middle class grew and mercantilism made world power countries prosper though it greatly increased slavery and forced other countries into serfdom which led to communism. On the side of Native Americans, slavery and disease brought hardship.

Missionaries also flocked to the New World. Though the distance and foreign climate made travel difficult, many people came to convert the Native Americans. It was slow work because many settlers provided poor examples of the Catholic Faith and local religious leaders of the Native Americans resisted conversion. Spanish missions in California were more successful and run mostly by the natives. Bl. Junipero Serra founded 21 missions alone. Maryland on the East Coast was founded as a refuge for English Catholics which began religious toleration in the coming United States.

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The Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment ended the era of united Christendom. Monarchs claimed absolute power and power of reason replaced religion. Commonly held beliefs were called into question as science contradicted it. Jansenism was a heresy that spread throughout France during the Enlightenment. Cornelius Jansen, a priest who studied St. Augustine's wok believed that all humans acted in reflection of a sin-ridden soul and only predestined people could be saved. After Jansen's death, a friend of his proclaimed Jansen's teachings and, though the Pope denounced the heresy, it spread.

The Scientific Revolution dramatically changed how the world was thought of. What wasn't provable was considered false, disdaining religion. Man was praised and religion was no longer considered a powerful force though this did allow religious toleration and difference of opinion.

Descartes, a mathematician, brought back St. Augustine's line of philosophy on doubting human knowledge and searching for truth. He and Francis Bacon developed modern day scientific thought.

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The Rise of Soviet Communism

Soviet Communism is rooted in Karl Marx's theories and resulted from Lenin's persecution of his rivals. He then set up a socialist government and killed the former czar and his family. Brutality and totalitarianism were hidden and the Soviet Union claimed to be a worker's paradise though reality was poverty and suffering. Joseph Stalin continued Lenin's work. It was the Soviet Union's Communism that caused the Virgin Mary to appear in Fatima for prayers. Catholic and Orthodox Churches were persecuted and the Churches turned into buildings for secular use.
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The Rise of Nazism

Nazism rose in response to economic depression in Germany caused by the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler came into power, one of his first actions was to restrain the Church. The Vatican and Germany signed a concordat that allowed clergy certain privileges in exchange for the Church not speaking out against the Nazi's. Hitler's regime nevertheless oppressed the Church and persecuted priests, Jews, Gypsies, and other groups.
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Pope Pius XII and World War II

Pope Pius XII is often criticized for being passive in World War II. In reality, he tried to keep the peace before the war began and worked to support the persecuted. The Church didn't speak out against the murder of priests and Jews because speaking of it only increased the Nazi persecutions. He declared the Vatican as a neutral city. He hid Jews in religious buildings, the Vatican, and even in his summer home. The Vatican sent financial aid and false baptismal certificates to protect Jews. Pope Pius XII was almost assassinated by Hitler for speaking of racial equality.
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Vatican II

Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council to alert the Church of the world's spiritual need. The council was divided into four sessions and only 274 bishops didn't attend. Eight months into the council, the pope died and Pope Paul VI was instated. Sixteen documents, four constitutions, nine decrees, and three declarations were written by the conclusion of the council. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church expresses that despite the hierarchy of the Church, all members have equal complementary roles in the Church. The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation expresses the equality of Sacred Scripture and Tradition as well as the Church's teaching authority. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy recognizes the Liturgy as the goal all members of the Church should strive for. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World discussed the dignity of the human person, the nature of common good , and the sanctity of life.
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Pope St. John Paul II

Pope John Paul II lived in Poland under Communist rule and taught philosophy at a university. Though he didn't directly speak out against Communism, he was targeted for inspiring hope in Poland. Despite adversity, he continued to preach his message of love. As pope, he combated Marxist Communism and secular humanism. He was a strong supporter of life. He wrote 14 encyclicals and a Code of Canon Law.
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The Church of Immigrants to the U.S.

High immigration and birth rates caused the Catholic Church in the U.S. to rapidly grow. By the 1860's, it was the largest organization in the country. Lay trusteeism became a conflict because lay members had to own Church property. In response, some dioceses allowed partial lay governance while others hurt relations between lay and clergy. The Code of Canon Law solved the conflict by putting all property of the Church under the bishop. Anti-Catholicism in the U.S. came from high immigrant Catholicism with Protestant natives that didn't like foreign ways. The Know-Nothing Party and many other groups wrote discriminatory books and held riots against Catholicism. In the U.S., non-Catholics outnumbered Catholics leading to discrimination against Catholics. After Vatican II, the United States formed councils of bishops to respond to local problems. At first this benefited the country but later Catholic organizations drifted away from the Church.
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Slavery

Though Pope Gregory XVI condemned slavery, many Catholics in the South during the 1800's were slave owners. No Catholics were part of the Boston Abolitionists though anti-Catholic sentiment helped cause that. In Uncle Tom's Cabin, a brutal slave owner is Catholic, contributed to the enmity to Catholics. Catholics fought both for and against slavery in the Civil War. When the slaves were eventually free, of the 4 million, 100,000 were Catholic. The Second Plenary Council of Baltimore tried to put the freed slaves under pastoral care though it was still segregated.
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