The History of the Church

Sofia Quintero Argentin

The Roman Empire

Most people in the Roman empire were pagans and many of the Roman myths, stories, and names of their gods were inherited form Greece. Pagan beliefs were enforced to ensure political unity throughout the Roman Empire. The Romans were very tolerant with the other different religions throughout the empire, as long as these religions gave homage to the Roman gods. But an exception was made. The Jews refused to pay homage to the gods of Rome. The Romans exempted the Jews from pagan worship, but not without reservation. For some time, there was a few pagan cults throughout the empire, but with time foreign cults started to be practiced. These cults were usually brought to Rome by soldiers who had served in the different corners of the empire. Roman society and economy were never truly stable. For example, the governing class enjoyed wealth while slave and the free people on the countryside had to do labor work and face difficult circumstances.Also, the slaves were told that their master had the power of life and death over them, but sometimes the slaves could even pay their masters for their freedom and could even receive citizenship. Sometimes when the empire's conditions grew severe, the emperors would provide food and entertainment for the people to make sure that wouldn't start a rebolt. But, as a result, this action was a financial drain, and it would hurt the empire. Women were not treated as equals and were seen as commodity that could be bought and sold.

There were two main groups of the Jewish religion; the Sadducees and the Pharisees. The Sadducees exercised religious and political influence which help dominate the Sanhedrin. They were generally in good terms with the Romans. They rejected the idea of the afterlife and the idea of individual judgement after death. The Pharisees were not a group of priests like the Sadducees. They were scholars who tried to interpret the Law and include it with everyday life.

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Jesus and the Founding of the Church

After the crucifixion of Christ, the disciples were afraid that they too would be sentenced to death. There fear and doubt increased when they were told the Jesus had resurrected, but when they saw him, they were relieved that their master was with them for a short while. But after the Ascension, they felt alone again. God did not abandon His Church. On the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended upon them and resolved all of their doubts and worries. After this, the disciples believed that the Church would survive throughout the rest of time. With this they set out with the great task to build the Church of God. They spread the Good News and proclaimed that the true messiah came to save us. The teachings of the Apostles began what is known as the Tradition of the Church.The Apostles later on transmitted their episcopal power and authority to their successors, who have been given the duty to protect and transmit Christ's teachings as they were taught and interpreted by the Apostles.
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The Early Christians

Since Christ left without giving his Church a fully developed theology and disciplinary practice, the Church was guided by the Holy Spirit. But early Christians still remained closely associated with the Jewish faith, which is the tradition from which many Christians converted. Because of this, both religions had some similarities.

Infant Baptism was encouraged by the early Christians because it was believed that a baptismal character would imprint on the soul and would guide the child to a common priesthood from an early age. This was a change from the practice of Baptism on the death bed. Another practice was the Agape. It was an Eucharistic meal which was a precursor for the Mass. But this practice was generally done in smaller and more isolated churches. The ritual of the Mass developed over time. The ceremony included scriptures, psalms, hymns, and prayers. Later on, the Liturgy of the Eucharist was added to be the high point of the Mass. During this time, a brach of theology was formed. The Apologetics defended and explained the Christian religion. They defended the Faith from heresies, especially the pagan heresies, and explained the Church's teachings. The Apologists brought some of the best literary work in the Church, including the Didache which was a guide to living a full Christian life.

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Persecution of "The Way"

In the times of the early Church, many Christians, including some of the Apostles, were persecuted for their faith. Many refused to renounce their faith and were martyred in the Roman circuses. The Christians at the time referred to the Faith as "the Way". Living the Way was difficult and a lot of sacrifice, but they believed that it had to be done in order to become a follower of Christ.

One of the most important martyrs is St. Ignatius who was an Apostolic Father. Not much is know about his early live, but information was collected at the time of his arrest in the reign of Trajan. Securely guarded, he traveled to Rome to meet his death. Along the way, he wrote letters to the Christian communities. These letters are known as the Seven Epistles.In his letters he proclaims his desire for martyrdom. He also attacked many heresies, schism, and false belief. He told the christians to follow and obey the bishops because without them the Church and her traditions would not be possible. St. Ignatius supported the primacy of the papacy and was the first person to use the term "Catholic Church".

After many Christians being persecuted and after some battles were fought. Constantine and Licinius met in Milan in AD 313. They issued the Edict of Milan which restored all of the Church property taken by the empire and gave the Christians the freedom to practice their faith in peace. Constantine himself supported the faith because he saw Christianity as a religion that would bring unity to his empire.

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The Church Fathers and Heresies

After the persecution of Christians, a series of heresies started to attack the early Church. Also many heresies and schismatic leaders confronted the Church after the Edict of Milan was issued. as a result, Popes and bishops lead the Church and her followers through a number of Ecumenical Councils.

St. Thomas defined heresies as "species of unbelief, belonging to those who profess the Christina faith, but corrupt its dogmas". One can enter a heresy by ignorance of the truth, misunderstanding, or non comprehension. This heresy is called material heresy and is considered as a mistake and this type of heresy is not willed by the subject. Another type of heresy is formal heresy. In this type of heresy the subject can freely choose, with full understanding of the teachings of the Church, to consider the religion as false.

The first heresies were a threat to the Church since they attacked the very heart of the Church: Jesus Christ. They proclaimed that Jesus was inferior to the Father and dined his divinity. An example would be Gnosticism. Gnosticism rejected the Church's teachings regarding both Christ's human and divine nature. They believed Jesus did not have human nature, instead he was good divine redeemer who was going to bring the secret knowledge and make it known to man. Since they thought Jesus was a representative of the Divine Being, they said that Jesus didn't have a human body nor did he die on the cross. They also believed that matter is a corruption of spirit and thus the world is corrupt. Man must seek through knowledge to overcome this fallen state and return to the Divine Being, and to make this possible the Divine Being send a savior.

In order to defend the Church and her teachings, the Pope and bishops would gather and seek ways to defend the Faith. Theses gatherings are called the Ecumenical Councils. Throughout history there has been 21 councils, the first being the First Council of Nicaea in 325. The first six of these councils addressed various heresies and have tried to provide a theological answer to the question, "Who is Jesus Christ?" In these councils the Pope governs the council and can reject or accept any decrees passed. If a Pope died during a council then the proceedings would be halted until a new Pope was elected. An example of the results of these councils would be the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed.

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Light in the Dark Ages

During the Fall of the Roman Empire, the Church stayed strong. This showed that even in times of uncertainty, the Church will keep spreading the message of the Gospel and the Good News, and that amid the darkness, she holds the powerful light of Christ. Since the empire was weak, many invaders took advantage and attacked. One of these invaders were the Huns. But after meeting with Pope Loe the Great, Attila, the leader of the Huns, withdrew from attacking Rome. This happened again when Pope Leo the Great convinced the leader of the Vandals, Generic, to not burn Rome and to spear the lives of the people.

Later on there was a rise of monasticism. Monasticism is a way of life characterized by prayer and self-denial lived in seclusion from the world and under a fixed rule with professed vows. Many men and women would withdraw themselves form the world and would seek God through asceticism and silence. There are two types of monastic life. The eremitical, or hermit life, is when an individual withdraws into loosely organized groups to live in an isolated ascetical life. The most common form of monastic life is known as the cenobitical life. People who lived this way would usually live in a community. Monasticism started with St Paul of Thebes and St. Anthony, both whom lived eremitical lives of prayer and seclusion in Egypt.

The rise of monasticism benefited the Church because not only did it help spread Christianity but served as a source of great spiritual strength, they serve as seminaries for bishops and priests, and they functioned as centers of evangelization of the barbarian tribes through various forms of education. The monasteries also had impact on Europe in general. The first affect was the recovery and evangelization of rural society. The second effect was that they saved the western culture by coping manuscripts of texts.The third affect was one of civilization. As a result of their work of evangelization, the monasteries had a great civilizing effect on Germanic people.

The Great Schism

Over time, the churches form the East and West started to have different opinions of the Church and started to grow distant. For example, the Christians of the East minimized the Pope's status as the "chief shepherd" of the Church. Also, the Eastern Christians allied themselves more with their national patriarchs than with the successors of St. Peter. In the West the monasteries and convents worked together with the surrounding populations to teach the rudiments of agrarian life along with the fundamentals of Christianity. The Eastern monks, however, were more secluded, an had little contact with the world which limited their influence on the people. Another factor that caused the East and the West to grow apart was the Filioque Controversy. In the Third Council of Toledo the words "and the Son" were added to the Niceno-Constantinopolian Creed. This addition clarified that the Holy Spirit proceeded from both the Father and the Son. The East was not content with this change because the Patriarch of Constantinople refused the addition. They argued that the Catholic Church violated the Council of Chalcedon's command not to change the creed. The final split of the two Churches took place in the year 1054. All of the tension and disagreements surfaced. The dispute over the Filioque, the crowning of Charlemagne as the emperor of the West, the issues of authority in the Photon Schism, and the reforming tendencies under the leadership of the papacy in the West all came into focus. As a result, these disputes combined and shattered the thousand-year communion between the East and the West.

The Crusades

After being halted by Charles Martel, the Muslims broke the harmony between them and the Christians. Muslims in Egypt started to persecute Christians and began to spread. As a result the East asked the West for help and hoped that the split could be healed, too. The Western Christians appealed to help, and as a result, Pope Bl. Urban II began the Crusades. The Crusades were considered defensive wars with religious pilgrimage and were viewed as acts of religious devotion. The Christians in the West believed that God would reward those who fought for a good cause. Also the crusaders were offered reduction of taxes, dissolving of debt payments, and the protection of their families.

Not many of the Crusades were recognized because they weren't successful. But some of them were considered as efficient. First Crusade took place when the Muslims were politically divided. The Crusaders took advantage of this and tough to reconquer the Holy Land. Because of their victory, the First Crusade was considered a success and was said to be the most organized. Other Crusades that were mentioned were the Third and Fourth Crusades.

The Crusades managed to hold back Turkish expansion into Europe. Also since there was a lot of contact with the Eastern Christians through the exchange of people, goods, and ideas there was an enormous influence on the intellectual life of Europe. The Crusades had a powerful impact on technology too. For example, improvements were made in siege engines to break down walls and gates, including battering rams, towers, and catapults.The Crusades encouraged travel and made pilgrimages easier.

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The Inquisistion

The Albigensian heresy triggered the Inquisition because of the speed and strength it had while spreading. This heresy was considered a threat because its teachings struck at the core of the Catholic Faith. They believed in two gods and they considered the things in the world evil and dangerous.They even believed that suicide was a way to obtain spiritual purity and encouraged homosexual relations. They also rejected the Mass, sacraments, and the ecclesiastical hierarchy. Both civil and religious authorities saw this heresy as more than just a theological disagreement. As a result, Pope Gregory IX established the Inquisition in order to detect the heresy. He appointed Dominicans and Franciscans as Papal Inquisitors.

Before actual beginning a trial, the inquisitor would be asked to confess. If he did confess, the punishment was not severe, but it was rather just an act of penance. For example, they would have to go on a pilgrimage, fast, or wear crosses in their clothes. But if he did refuse to confess then the trial would begin. In order to make the inquisitor confess, the judge would remind him that he would be sentenced to death if he refused. Also they would bring in a tried man in hopes that he would get them to confess. If the accused still refused then he would be sent to higher authority like the Pope or a bishop. Then a ceremony would be held and the accused would be judged again and would be then punished. Some of the punishments were inhumane but some punishments were good works, like the building of a church. Some of the accused were whipped, imprisoned, exclusion, and death. Conditions similar to this started to establish in souther France and Spain which was much crueler than the Papal Inquisition.

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The High Middle Ages

At this time, the demand for education increased and the schools, that once were monasteries and cathedral schools, began to develop expanded areas of education. The schools added philosophy, astronomy, civil and canon law, and medicine to there curriculum. As time passed the schools started to develop into small universities.Also, as these schools develop a new branch of education developed called Scholasticism. Scholasticism grew form the Medieval way of teaching, it combined theological and philosophical methods in order to understand the high truths of philosophy and theology.

Some of the most famous universities were the University of Paris, the University of Bologna in Italy, and the Benedictine monastery of Salerno. In Paris, the university was formed by the combination of three other schools. Each school still continued to teach its specialty and students could now have a broader education from this unified schools. In Italy, the university began to teach the Dictame which attracted many students and then developed another program specializing in grammar and rhetoric. Bologna became the center of legal training in Europe. Finally the school in Salerno which devoted its work to the study of ancient works on botanical and medical sciences. As the school grew, it also became the first university in Europe to offer degrees and licenses for its studies. Another school was the University of Oxford.

The universities also offered a program called stadium generale which included theology, philosophy, civil and canon law, medicine, physics, and the arts. The arts divided into two branches; the trivium which included Latin grammar, rhetoric, and logic. The other branch was quadrivium which included arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and music. After a student was admitted to the school, they would start studying trivium. After they had mastered this branch, they would considered a bachelor of arts and was able to study the quadrivium. After mastering this branch they would be considered as a master of arts and could keep studying if they wish to. These universities helped further understand the specialties of the universities and encouraged studying and education.

Not only was there a development in education, but also in the religious life. For example, the mendicant friars. These monks lived a strict life of poverty and alms. They also spread the Gospel throughout towns and cities. The original two of the mendicant friars were the Franciscans and the Dominicans. The Franciscans, which were started by St. Francis of Assisi, were dedicated to preaching to the poor and lived lives of radical poverty. They viewed this way of life as a way to reflect more faithfully the love of Christ. The Dominicans, which were started by St. Dominic, focused on focused on teaching and education and produced some of the greatest intellectuals in Europe. Together, these orders initiated a powerful Christian renewal among the Catholic population of Europe.

The Plague

Sine the population in Europe was weakened because of famine, the Black Death easily made its way all through Europe. The Plague first broke out in the Genoese Black Sea trading post of Kaffa on the Crimean peninsula. Rats carried infested fleas all over Europe which caused many people to become sick. About one third of the population was killed by the Plague. Also, many relationships were damaged. For example, mothers and fathers abandoned their families because they were afraid that they would become sick too. Priests didn't see and blessed the dead anymore because of this fear as well. Chaos erupted all over and there were many revolts and uprisings. The Jews were mostly blamed for the Plague and were persecuted. Many believed that God was punishing them and turned to violent solutions. For example, some people would go from town to town physically abusing themselves in hope that God would spare them. Also many turned to witchcraft for cures.
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The Hundred Years War

The Hundred Years War was a series of short battles interrupted by long periods of relative peace. The wars started because the French kings wanted to drive the English from their feudal estates in France. The conflicts between the French and the English changed the nature of the knightly warfare and transformed the entire political makeup of Europe. The conflicts between these two countries only arose after king Charles IV died without a heir. No one was left with a clear claim of the throne, as a result, both King Philip IV's nephew and King Edward III of England claimed the throne. As the Hundred Years War continued, the future of France was not clear since they did not have many victories. But things started to change after St. Joan of Arc, a young peasant girl, lead the French to battle and had some victories. But she was later on captured and was burned at the steak after being blamed for witchcraft.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance, which means "rebirth", was mainly a desire to return to the Greco-Roman world and reawaken a sense of human beauty and personal achievement. Since education became widely available, people started to focus more on the ancient Latin and Greek classics instead of the theological Scholasticism. As a result universities started to focus more on history, grammar, and rhetoric rather than theological studies, this mean that students studied the Greco-Roman civilization. The Renaissance, also, concentrated on man's abilities rather than God's omnipotence in controlling people's destiny. The Renaissance man wanted to enjoy life and serve his community actively with his talents and gifts. The Renaissance helped develop the arts, politics, and economics, which showed the people that society could function effectively outside of the traditions of religion and morality.

During the Renaissance a new movement surfaced. Humanism is an intellectual and literary movement that began in the city-states of Italy. The humanist moved away from Scholasticism and believed that education had a moral purpose, which was to make the individual better and wiser. To achieve this, they aimed to master every branch of learning on classical Greek and Roman culture.

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The Protestant Reformation

The Protestant Reformation is known as worldliness in the hierarchy, clerical abuses, rising nationalism, and unsupervised individual preaching. In the middle of the sixteenth century, reformers began to question the teaching of the Church, which shake the foundations of Christendom. Simony, nepotism, abuse of indulgences, and improper veneration of relics had spread all throughout western Europe. Because of this, reform was needed in the Church. Also the level of learning among the parish priests declined, as a result, many could not read or write in Latin.

Martin Luther was an Augustinian Friar who began to see God as a lawgiver and administrator of justice. As he kept questioning and thinking, Luther began to wonder how much penance a sinner could possibly do before obtaining God's mercy. Later on, he came to the conclusion that no human could achieve a state of grace and the necessary righteousness to win God's mercy. Luther was enraged with the Church's teaching on indulgences and started to object the Church. As a result, he wrote the Ninety-five Theses. These theses attacked the use of indulgences and argued that indulgences imply the forgiveness of sins through human as opposed to divine authority. Luther also started to place personal interpretation of Scripture over the teaching authority of the Church. Finally, on October 31, 1517, Luther nailed the Ninety-five Theses on the Cathedral door in order for everyone to see. Because Luther kept attacking the Church and challenging her authority and was also gaining followers and was being considered as a threat now, Pope Leo X excommunicated him. Later on he was sentenced to death after he revealed his heretical ideas to Catholic theologians. As a result he was forced to live in a castle in Warburg for over a year. Luther was able to develop four major theological principals and each of them was created after what he believed were false teachings of the Church.

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The English Reformation

England was the place of the Protestant revolution last movement. It was not originated from theological issues but because of the papal authority regarding the king's son marriage and his position as head of the England's Church.

After the civil war, Henry VII restored calm and prosperity to England allying with Spain marring his youngest son with Catherine de Aragon, princess of Spain. Because of the lack of a male descendant, he began to seek the way to end that marriage and asked the Pope Clement VII for an annulment. The Pope insisted on a legitimate trial for Catherine and ordered the case to be brought to Rome.

Henry VIII derided the Pope's refusal, named Thomas Cranmer the new archbishop of Canterbury who officiated an illicit marriage between his son and pregnant Anne Boleyn and nullified Henry's first marriage.

After that, with "The Act of Supremacy" law the king was proclaimed the supreme head of the Church in England , Anne Boleyn was recognized as Queen and the Pope was lo longer recognized as any religious authority in England.

Determined to enforce his will, Henry executed and imprisoned priests , nuns and humanists who refused his royal supremacy like John Fisher and Thomas More.

Henry continued to fight against the Lutheranism , remarried 3 more times before his own dead and left an infant son who grew the Protestant movement in England.

As the Turks were reaching a great power by 1560's and were controlling the Mediterranean, Pope St, Pius V urged every Christian to prepare for the naval offensive by praying the Rosary. The Christian fleet defeated the larger Turkish force in the Battle of Lepanto. Since then, Mary's assistance in remembered on every October 7th Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.

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Exploration and Missionary Movements

During the 16th century the Church started the greatest missionary expansion of her history through holly missionaries. In the need of direct sailing routes to the Orient, the Portuguese Bartholomew Dias sailed down the west coast of Africa and entered the Indian Ocean discovering a new route initiating a worldwide trading empire . Vasco de Gama, Dias and Cabral reached cities like Calcutta, Macao in China and even Brazil shores.

After several years of trying,in 1482, Columbus financed by Spain's Queen discovered and started the exploration of the New World. Pope Alexander VI was called to negotiate a division of the discovered lands, giving Spain the majority of the Americas.

The discovery of the New World brought a commercial revolution to Europe; broke local monopolies and increased the control of vast resources and capital. European nations began to develop trading empires in the New World, but the countries without access to new trade routes kept behind.The use of slaves started to flourish.

This situation opened the Church new apostolic opportunities and the desire to express the Good News of Christ into these newly formed territories. Jesuits, Capuchins and Vincentians monks and friars were eager to evangelize the indigenous .

This new missionaries faced a lot of obstacles like the long travel distance, climate, language and the poor example of the settlers; however they established solid Catholic foundations in many regions of this New World. By learning native dialects and traditions helped the Indians in agriculture and technical crafts, taught the faith, established schools and transcribed spoken native language into written language teaching natives to read and write.

Unlike others, English Catholics came to the New World seeking refuge from the persecution in their native country and stablished the colony of Maryland. After the two house legislature was specified in the Constitution, because of the Protestants repression, Maryland and Pennsylvania were safe places for catholics and free religion expression started to be promoted.

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The Age of Enlightenment

As monarchs began recognizing their nations and assuming absolute power of their domains new political philosophies grew focused on the rights of the individual and the power of reason instead of religious beliefs. The scientific revolution of the 16th century contributed to the Age of Enlightenment in the 17th century, where political authority, traditional philosophy and the value of the Church were challenged. Also there were a number of heresies during the reign of Louis XIV, one of the most effective heresies was Jansenism, which was founded by Cornelius Jansen. Jansen dedicated most of his life in creating his own theory of grace and recording his ideas in his work Augustinus. He believed that Christ did not die for all men since most people were not destined to be saved. Jansen's teachings denied the Sacrament of Penance and taught that only the just should receive Holy Communion. This new theology spread because Jansen's book became popular after his death. As a result, Pope Innocent X condemned Jansenism and pointed out the teachings of the Council of Trent. This council taught that the Sacrament of Penance conferred sufficient grace to forgive all sins and that Holy Communion purifies the soul.

The scientific discoveries of the seventeenth century lead to what is known as the Age of Enlightenment. This intellectual movement sprang up from enthusiasm for and faith in scientific progress. Many began to believe that the study of science and nature could help correct all problems of society. Soon, everything that did not relate to a scientific explanation was dismissed. As new ideas spread, statesmen and rulers adopted the new philosophical attitudes. Many sought to separate themselves and their countries from the Church. The Church would viewed as an enemy of scientific progress. Rationalism took precedence over faith and reason became the guiding principle in this philosophy; under which Descartes famously stated "I think, therefore I am". Descartes sough to describe the world mathematically. He proposed to replace traditional learning with a new system based on logical reasoning and certain proof. He argued that human knowledge was damaged.

The Rise of Soviet Communism and Nazism

Soviet Communism became the cause of an international program of subversion, revolution, conquest, oppression, and religious and political persecution that costs millions of lives and threatened the peace and stability of the world. The Soviet Union emerged after Czar Nicholas II and his family were executed. Under the rule of Joseph Stalin, society was cruel and brutality and totalitarian oppression grew. Also during his dictatorship, fifty million opponents of the regime were executed or sent to prison camps. The main target and major element of the Communist program was religious persecution. The Russian Orthodox Church was seen as nationalistic as well as religious so it was allowed to exist. But other churches were not this lucky. For example, both Catholic and some Orthodox churches were destroyed and turned into dance halls, stables, museums of atheism, chicken coops, and public baths.

After the defeat of World War I, Germany was left in political and economical turmoil until Hitler came into power. One of the first acts the dictator made was the agreement between Germany and the Church. But despite the agreement, the Nazis violated it from the start. Nazism was a blend of nationalist totalitarianism, racism aimed especially at the Jews, neopaganism, and the moral rejection of the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Pope Pius XII and World War II

Pope Pius XII was know as "the Pope of Catholic Action." He worked to promote peace and prevent World War II and when the war broke out he still continued to appeal peace. During this time, the Holy See remained neutral but the Pope privately offered to serve s a channel for communication between the anti-Hitler elements in Germany and the Allies.

Under the Pope's will, church institutions sheltered and helped thousands of refugees, even at the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo and in the Vatican. Thousand of lives were saved through the efforts of the Pope.

To show his gratitude Israel Zolli, the chief rabbi of Rome during the war converted to catholicism and took Eugenio as his baptismal name in honor of the Pope.

In later years Pope Pius XII was accused of not speaking against the nazi persecution of the jews. But the reality is that he was being cautions and protecting the Church from reprisals.

In his encyclical, however, he stated his position about human race respect due to all persons . Hitler was so upset, that he planned to assassinate the Pope.

Jews were not the only ones who suffer, christian people were also persecuted because of their believes and faith. Two examples are Saint Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein also known as St. Teresa of Avila. They both died in the concentration camp of Auschwitz for proclaiming their faith an helping others.

Vatican II

The Second Vatican Council took place in four sessions and was held in St. Peters Basilica and is considered to have been the most important event in the Church's live of the 20th century.Pope Paul VI opened the session addressing the pastoral nature of the Council, and set up four purposes: to more fully define the nature of the Church and the role of the bishops; to renew the Church; to restore unity among all Christians; and to start a dialogue to the contemporary world.

The four constitutions that are the central documents of Vatican II:

Lumen Gentium which uses scriptural images like Body of Christ and People of God to present the Church as a communio.

Dei Verbum which joins Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture as God's divinely inspire Word.

Sacrosanctum Concillium recognized the liturgy as the summit toward which the activity of the Church is directed.

Gaudium et Spes was the Council's most direct response to Pope Bl. John's desire that the Church be more directly at the service of the world.

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Pope St. John Paul II

Cardinal Karol Wojtyla of Krakow , born May 18th 1920 in Wadowice, Poland, was the first non Italian Pope in more than 450 years. Elected on October 16th, 1978 took the name of John Paul II. During World War II, young Wojtyla protested against the nazis participating in underground theatre as cultural protests. After his ordination he did pastoral work, served as a university chaplain, and pursued advanced studies in philosophy and theology. He became a professor in Krakow and at the Catholic University of Lublin. He wrote theological works, poetry and plays. He also was an active participant of the Second Vatican Council and travelled work wide believing that God had called him to lead the Church into the third millennium of the Christian Era.

Despite his age and declining health he continued to travel and launch initiatives. He was universally recognized as one of the towering figures of modern times and called " one of history's great moral leaders and hero for the ages " by President Bush.

After his dead, Pope Benedict XVI was elected. He reached out to the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Christians specially to the leaders of the Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches and received at the Vatican the firs visit from the Archbishop of Athens since the Great Schism of the 11th century.

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

Nearly three million of Catholic migrants came from Europe to the United States in the early 19th century attracted by the promise of work, land but over all by the political and religious freedom. Most of them came from Ireland, Germany and France. The Catholic Church was the larges religious body in the country about the 1960's.

Although the Pope Gregory XVI had condemned the slave trade in 1839; many catholics, specially in the south supported the legal institution of slavery.

Large numbers of catholics fought in both sides of the Civil War. After theWar, Catholic parishes and schools remained segregated by race until the middle years of the next century.

The Church in the U.S. and Present and Future

After the Second Vatican Council American Catholics were enthusiastic about it. Problems soon arose and religious life began to drop sharply . Perhaps the most damaging development in the American Catholic Church was the disclosure of rampant sexual abuse of minors among some American clergy. The financial penalties paid were insignificant compared to the Church's overall loss of moral credibility and public esteem in the United States.

There are important debates about whether American culture is at its roots not compatible with Catholic believes and values. However the religious and secularist views have been part of the American live since the nation was founded. However a number of religious orders and dioceses throughout the United States are showing hope in a form of a small resurgence of priestly vocations and possible beatification and canonization of significant number of American Catholics encouraging the whole country to deepen their faith and commitment.