History of the Church

Second Semester Exam - Estel Reeves

The Roman Empire

Religion in both the republic and empire of Rome was regarded not as a means to achieve personal salvation, but rather as a tool to instill a sense of political unity and loyalty throughout the empire. Many pagan beliefs from Greece took root in the foundation of Roman society and integrated into the very culture of the people. This influence was evident with the continual growth of the Greek philosophy known as Stoicism, which appealed to the Roman sense of law, order, and virtue, it encouraged reason and rejected extreme emotions such as joy and grief.

Thus, it is logical that a civilization, that prided itself on order and reason over a spiritual sense of individual rights, would take steps to ensure the survival of its united culture and would go so far as to suppress other beliefs with its demands. The Roman people were shockingly tolerant to the diverse customs and beliefs that existed within the bounds of the empire and would even sacrifice to local gods so long as homage was paid to their own, but this was credited to their desire to keep a united front. However, this same tolerance would not extend to monotheistic religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, which directly challenged the polytheistic beliefs of the empire. In time, Judaism became an exemption, but it was ultimately a decision made with great discretion and reservation. It would take many more years before Christianity would be granted that same acceptance.

Jesus and the Founding of the Church

The Resurrection and subsequent Ascension into heaven instilled a restless spirit amongst the disciples. Although, Jesus had returned to them and fulfilled all of his promises, they feared the time of his absence and that the persecution he had endured in life would be bestowed upon them as well. However, God would not leave his people and his Church to fend for themselves, alone and unguided.

On the Jewish feast of Pentecost, the disciples received the Holy Spirit and all of their fear, doubts, and concerns were soothed and resolved. With this newfound sense of peace and certainty that the Church would forever stand as testament or sacrament of God's eternal truth, power, and love for his people; the Apostles were able to set out and begin to build the foundation of the Church while proclaiming the Good News.

Many of the Apostles were condemned for their devotion to the Faith, with St. John being the last to die. Their teachings instilled the fundamental, basic principles of the Traditions of the Church. Thankfully, their episcopal power and authority was able to survive through their successors who have the duty to continue Christ's teachings as it was understood by the Apostles.

The Early Christians

The early Church did not have completely developed theology or disciplinary practice, instead these institutions were developed with the course of time. Originally, Christianity was closely linked and often confused with Judaism. Followers still upheld many Jewish practices and traditions, it was only after the Council of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple that a large Gentile population emerged in the Christian community.

Jesus first instilled the Sacrament of Baptism in the Holy Spirit, after first experiencing his own baptism of repentance. It is through this sacrament that a believer is incorporated into the Church, begins a new life in Christ and the Holy Spirit, and is forgiven of both original and personal sin. The practice of baptizing infants emerged early on and was fairly common by the third century, it was somewhat controversial among the masses. Tertullian argued that receiver of the baptism ought to be able to fully comprehend the sacrament while Origen believed that original sin should be cleared as soon as possible. No matter someone's personal belief about baptizing infants, it ensures that original sin is forgiven and that the child is also a member of the Church. Popular amongst the adult population was receiving the Sacrament of Baptism at one's deathbed, which is particularly dangerous as it could doom a person to eternal damnation in the case of sudden death.

The Agape was a religious meal that was originally closely associated with the Eucharist, however, because of abuses it was moved towards the evening. However, Mass took time to fully develop; it was comprised of readings of the bible, singing of psalms and hymns, common prayers, collection for the poor, and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. It is believed that the documents from this period suggest that early Christians did consider Christ present in the Eucharist.

Many Christians were met with suspicion from the predominant polytheistic society of Rome; they worshipped in secret, rejected multiple gods, and refused to follow imperial mandates that required sacrifice and veneration. Apologetics is type of theology that defends and further explains Christianity, it was necessary to form this defense as the Agape and Eucharist were supposedly orgies and cannibalistic rites according to rumors. It is through the work of apologetics and Apologists, that many of the greatest examples of Christian literature was developed to defend the Faith. Didache, was also set forth to explain Christian morals, doctrine, and customs, in order to eliminate the outlandish beliefs the Roman people had for the Christian population.

Persecution of "the Way"

The Faith was known as "the Way" by early Christians, as following Jesus Christ is the way to achieve personal salvation. It required integrity in agreement with the commandments and the Gospels, and a drive to become a disciple of Christ. Many Christians sacrificed their lives for the Faith and were martyred in a time that Rome possesed great mistrust and fear of the religion. It is because of the great persecution endured by the early Christians, that they are often commended for their true belief and accordance to the Gospels in the face of much distress.

St. Ignatius is perhaps the one best examples of the endurance of the Christian faith during a time of severe trial and tribulation. In the Seven Epistles, his desire for martyrdom is so evident that he even asks for no one to intervene on his behalf.

Christianity was able to triumph and experience a moment of peace under the rule of Constantine, during his reign followers of the Faith were granted a reprieve from the continious persecution. He instituted the Edict of Milan which returned property back to Church that had previously been seized by the empire and gave all Christians the freedom to publicly engage in their religion. Although Constantine was friendly with the Christians, he also had political motivations; he sought to unify the empire and saw that Christianity may be able to achieve such a feat.

The Church Fathers and Heresies

Many heresies and schismatic leaders emerged to confront the Church after the Edict of Milan, this period is remembered as the greatest age of heresy with the exemption of Protestantism. Under this age, the Faith's primary focus was to combat heresy and defend its teaching. The Athanasian Creed developed out of this mindset, expresses belief in the Divine Persons of the Blessed Trinity and the Incarnation of God the Son. Similarly, the Church also convened several Ecumenical Councils to address the problem heresy posed to the Faith. There have been only twenty-one councils throughout the entire existence of the Church, six of which were put into place to examine possible solutions to the Christological heresies. Many holy leaders also emerged to lead the Church, describe the Faith, and resolve the challenges posed by heresies; these leaders are known as Church Fathers.

St. Ambrose of Milan is one of several Church Fathers, he vehemently opposed the Arian heresy and any injustice that threatened the lives of the people; he went so far as to take a stand against Emperor Theodosius for slaughtering hundreds of village people.

Gnosticism and Arianism were two of the primary heresies that challenged the foundational beliefs of the Church. Gnosticism asserted that salvation is achievable only through knowledge which is given to a select few; the founder of Arianism, Arius, threatened the very basis of Christianity by his belief that Jesus Christ is neither God or equal to the father. Ultimately, the whole of the Church was united in a shared belief and not even the pressure of these various heresies could break these binds. The Council of Nicaea presented a united Christian front against heresy, and even garnered the support of Emperor Constantine for the Nicene Creed which was document in support of the orthodox Faith of the Church against Arianism.

Light in the Dark Ages

Throughout the fall of Rome, the Church was able to remain a firm and set forth an unprecedented example of how although man may fall God and His great love will always remain strong. During this turbulent time, the Church continued spreading the Gospel while proclaiming to trust in Christ amidst the turmoil and tribulations of this dark era.

There is no exact date for the fall of Rome as it took an extended amount of time to fully decline; however, it still came as a surprise to the Church as it was believed that Rome was an institution that would last through all of the ages of man. Overtime, the Church would disassiocate with the old Roman Empire to reach out and evangelize the barbarian tribes that had settled in Europe. Later, Christianity would have spread throughout Western Europe.

While the collapsing Empire of Rome was still in the midsts of struggling with invading Germanic tribes, a new threat emerged to topple the Empire, they are remembered as the Huns. Attila, referred to as, "the Scourge of God,"had full command of the Huns, he moved West to engage with the Romans. It is likely due to Pope St. Leo the Great's intervention that Attila was dissuaded from attacking. Pope St. Leo and Attila were said to have encountered each other as the Huns drew closer to Rome, it is not known exactly what words passed between them, but whatever the case was Attila withdrew from Italy.

During this tumultuous era, Monasticism first emerged; it is described as a way of life defined by prayer, self-denial in seclusion from the world, and under a fixed rule with professed vows. Two different forms of monastic life developed: the eremitical or hermit life, involved withdrawing from society to live in loosely organized groups in the pursuit of an isolated ascetical life; while the cenobitical life, comprised of living in a community.

The rise of monasticism would prove to be vital in the spread of Christianity, the survival of Greco-Roman writings, and the development of a future Christian culture. Monasteries served several purposes; first and for most they were a place of spiritual strength during times of hardships, there were used as seminaries for priests and bishops, and lastly, they acted as centers of evangelization of the barbarian tribes through forms of education.

The Great Schism

The communion between the East and West was completely destroyed in the fateful year of 1054. This was not by any means a sudden development, the Great Schism took place over years filled with decisive theological differences and political tactics that were aimed at achieving more power. These differences did not just pertain to policies, but to disputes between the conceptions of Church government and hierarchy.

Eastern Christians often neglected the Pope's status as the chief shepherd of the Church, instead they aligned themselves more closely with their own national patriarch. Another factor that caused tension between the East and West, was that patriarch of Constantinople often confused himself with a significant government official concerned with imperial administration, while the Emperor was very involved with Church politics; this was due to the unique relationship between the two ranks, the patriarch would crown the emperor who would subsequently vow to protect the Church and Faith. There was also a significant difference between the laity in the East and the West.

Although, these differences did play a role in the Great Schism they were not the only factors at play. The Filioque controversy and the Photian Schism also encouraged the split in the Church, and ultimately were two of the decisive reasons behind the split. The Filioque controversy was due to the Patriarch of Constantinople refusing the addition to Nicene Constantinopolitan Creed, who argued along with Eastern scholars that the Catholic Church had violated an injunction not to change the creed.

Similarly, the Photian Schism was concerned with who held the status as the Patriarch of Constantinople. The Emperor wanted Photius to be elevated to the position, so badly that he bought off legates to convince the pope of his decision to remove Ignatius from his previous position. However, the pope discovered the treachery and demanded that Ignatius be reinvested with his previous status. The emperor demanded for the situation to be reexamined all awhile Photius still carried out the duties of his office.

All of these combined circumstances culminated in split between the Western and Eastern Churches, this event would forever be remembered as one of the most divisive moments in Church history.

The Crusades; the Inquisition

The Crusades

The Crusades were a series of religious pilgrimages with the goal of defending the Christian world from continued Muslim expansion. Within a mere hundred years of Muhammad's death, Islam spread rapidly and overtook much of what was considered Christian land. Palestine, Egypt, Asia Minor, and North Africa were all seized by Muslim forces.

The First Crusade was the most successful, the army separated itself into four different groups that were to meet in Constantinople. When the campaign began in 1097, the armies proved to be very efficient; they successfully sieged Nicaea, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Although the First Crusade's accomplishment of recovering the Holy Land is largely attributed to the organization and mobilization of its forces, one could argue that the Muslim political disunity also played a key role in the turn of events. Despite how they may have tried, Jerusalem was difficult to maintain and was eventually lost once again.

The Third Crusade was a reaction to the Battle of Hattin, the armies of Jerusalem were decimated and the relic of the true cross was lost. Later crusades would prove to be neither as influential or as successful as the First and Third Crusades.

The recovery of the Holy Land and the rescue of Christians in the near East, the objectives of the crusades, were never accomplished. However, that does not mean the crusades were not successful; they prevented Turkish expansion for a few hundred years, gave a sense of Christian unity, inspired military innovations, and encouraged trade and interest in foreign culture.

The Inquisition

The Inquisition was a court system developed to root out heresy, which was considered a threat to not only the Church but to the whole of the Christian world. One of the primary reasons it was developed was to combat the Albigensian heresy that targeted the core of the Faith; it taught that all things in the temporal, physical world are evil, and that things of a spiritual nature are good.

A trial began if an accused did not confess. There were several tactics used to get someone to confess; first judges would remind them of the punishment that would be inflicted if they were found guilty, they would be subject to close confinement, be visited by a tried man, and confined to an inquisition prison if they were serious offenders. The accused was not allowed to know who the accuser was and witnesses for the defense hardly ever showed up because of the fear that they to would be suspected for heresy. However, the accused could give a list of possible enemies which could potentially clear his or her name.

The harshest penalties for being found guiltily included imprisonment, various levels of exclusion from communion, and being surrendered to secular authorities for a more severe punishment. Ultimately, the accused heretic had more to fear from a secular court that had little concern for Christian mercy. Count Raymond VII burned those who had confessed to heresy without giving them the opportunity to recant, this inhumane behavior would simply not be tolerated in Inquisition courts.

The most important to be remembered about this time period was that heresy was considered a cancer of society that must be rooted out by any means necessary. The threat to one's eternal fate was as feared as the most brutal of criminals, and thus needed to be dealt with accordingly. However, the Church attempted to grant as much mercy as could be given in this age when heresy threatened to topple the Christian world.

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The High Middle Ages

During the High Middle Ages, there was a greater demand for education amongst both monks and nobles. University systems grew out of a history of monastery and cathedral schools, these universities offered philosophy, astronomy, civil and canon law, and medicine in their courses to fulfill the demands of eager scholars. Scholasticism emerged from this thirst for knowledge; it encouraged the use of theological and philosophical methods to increase one's understanding of the highest truths in theology and philosophy and man's unique relationship with God.

St. Francis of Assisi and St. Dominic founded the first mendicant orders, their example served to inspire others to follow a life of poverty and religious devotion. These two orders reinvorgated Christian zeal, and taught that constant faith and love of God would ultimately lead to knowledge and a greater understanding of the Faith.

St. Francis was known for his devotion to a life of poverty and prayer, he inspired great throngs of people who followed him on his travels; this signaled the beginning of the Franciscan Order. His teachings emphasized the necessity to lead a life inspired by Christ's example. St. Dominic lived a life of poverty modeled after St. Francis and sought to live as Christ had done. The Dominican Order sought to combat heresy through knowledge, preaching, and the Rosary.

The High Middle Ages was a time of great cultural growth that lead to Scholasticism and eventually to the development of two popular mendicant orders. Knowledge was encouraged as a means to achieve a higher theological understanding of the world, and the two orders renewed Christian zeal among the masses and inspired others to lead lives of poverty and combat heresy through spreading of the Gospel.

The Plague; the Hundred Years War; Joan of Arc

The Plague

Widespread famines preceded the Black Plague, but would ultimately play a role in the devastating growth of the plague amongst the masses. The century began with good omens, prosperity lead to a surplus of goods, money was beginning to undermine serfdom, and agricultural advancement lead to a larger population. However, a series of bad harvest began to spell out the doom that would soon follow the famines. The Hundred Years War encouraged the displacement of peasants, forcing them to move to the relative safety of the walled cities which would eventually become a prison of disease and decay.

The Black Death ravaged the population of Europe, approximately twenty-five million people perished. It first spread to Kaffa, a trading post on the Crimean Peninsula, by way of Tartar invasions. The disease corpses that littered a Genoese settlement created the ideal stage for the plague to spread, the sailors returning to their settlements allowed the disease to seep into Italy.

One of the carriers of the plague was the common rat who was infested with disease ridden fleas. However, out of the three different forms of Bubonic plague, it was the pheumonic form that was the most deadly and common, not the one that spread from the blood transmission of fleabites. This pandemic left a devastating impact on European society, with no knowledge pertaining to how the plague was spread the people often looked for a scape goat to blame. Interpersonal relationships greatly suffered as well, mothers abandoned children and husbands fled from their wives. This was a time of great cultural suffering for the whole of Europe, and it would take many years for the people to fully recover from the ravages of the Black Death.

The Hundred Years War

It was through the Peace and Truce of God, that the Church was able to prevent confrontations amongst the various kings of Christendom. A common faith, was what united these various kings who shared neither nationality or custom. However, this was no longer enough to resolve conflicting interests and problems of inheritance.

The English and French thrones were united through a series of matrimonial alliances, the English possessed vast regions of France through inheritance and Henry II's marriage to Eleanor of Aquitaine served to only expand the English claim over France. This greatly frustrated the French who were hostile toward foreign rule, the relationship between between these two nations was further damaged by France's support of rebel novels in Scotland and piracy on the English Channel.

These disputes developed into a series of armed conflicts that would be remembered as the Hundred Years War, the death of the French king Charles IV had left the throne in need of an heir. After a series of defeats for the French, it seemed certain that the cross-bow wielding English would win the war. However, the French learned from their mistakes at Crecy, and instead engaged in skirmishes rather than full-scale battles with the English. All looked good for the French until a civil war broke out and the mad king Charles VI took the throne. King Henry V did not miss his opportunity, he claimed the throne of France and married the French king's daughter, Catherine.

The future of France looked rather bleak, and it was all but guaranteed that they would remain subject to the English crown. However, the emergence of St. Joan of Arc would turn the face of the war.

Joan of Arc

St. Joan of Arc was born an extraordinary young woman; at the age of thirteen she experienced a vision in which St. Michael the Archangel, St. Margaret, and St. Catherine of Alexandria showed themselves to hear. They declared her liberator of France, specifically the city of Orleans, and instructed her to go to Charles VII and inform him that she would ensure his coronation.

Joan of Arc succeeded in her mission in winning the support of the king, and lead an army to recapture the city of Orleans. Under her courageous leadership, France was able to liberate Orleans and the regions of Loire, Troyes, Chalons, and eventually Rheims. After the capture of Rheims, Charles VII was formally declared king.

Unfortunately, the following year Joan of Arc was captured by the English. She was put on trial for both heresy and witchcraft, neither Charles VII nor France intervened on her behalf; thus, she was subsequently convicted guilty of heresy and burned at the Stake. However, before she lead the French army into battle, Charles had had her tested by doctors and bishops to see whether or not there was anything heretical in her message; she had been found completely innocent.

Fortunately, the great service Joan of Arc completed for her people was acknowledged and she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV in 1920.

The Renaissance

After years filled with war, plague, famine, and schism an age of rebirth emerged that would forever change the dynamics of Western Europe. Out of collections of fiefs and kingdoms nation-states began to rise to power, and commerce and capital debilitated the vassal-lord relationship of the feudal system. However, an adjustment in academic pursuits was what truly marked this age as significant; scholasticism was no longer the primary means of achieving knowledge, people now looked turned the ancient Greek and Latin classics of the past. This signaled a revival in the arts and literature which centered on the human person, beauty, and appriecation of Man's achievements.

This new focus of the human person over theological studies also trespassed into the area of study. Universities now focused on rhetoric, grammar, and history while students admired the classical accomplishments of the Greco-Roman civilzation, there was no longer a focus on theological studies. This inspired a return to humanism which was reflected in achievements of this period. A significant Renaissance characteristic was a focus on the present moment rather than looking toward the next world.

The rise of humanism marked the intellectual climate of the Renaissance era, it focused on the human person and sought to revive the study of classical texts and works from ancient Rome and Greece.

The Protestant Reformation; the English Reformation

The Protestant Reformation

The Hundred Years War, the devastation of feudal loyalties from the plague, and damaged reputation of the papacy after years of schism and political involvement created an environment ripe for reform and heresy. Simony, nepotism, the abusive sale of indulgences, and the improper veneration of relics were just several things that needed to be remedied not just within the Church, but throughout all of Europe. However, there were particular abuses in the Church that were in need of reform as well; benefices were collected for personal gain, there was failure to keep vows of celibacy and obedience, and widespread corruption due to the lure of wealth and worldliness.

Martin Luther set out to address these abuses with much needed reform. However, his action of nailing Ninety-Five These against the sale of indulgence would create a divide in the Church that is still in existence. The theology he developed would claim that salvation is achieved through faith alone, he referred to this as his major theological discovery. At this point, the Church had long since established that his teaching were heretical as they rejected papal supremacy, the authority of councils, and even the Epistle of St. James at one point. He dismissed all but the two sacraments specifically mentioned in the Gospels, the Eucharist and Baptism.

His heretical teachings inspired many followers and reformers to believe in his teachings which ultimately created a divide in the Church; ironically, he had originally set out to rid the Church of its abuses and ended up usurping its stability.

The English Reformation

The English Reformation did not occur because of theological or dogmatic controversies, but over papal authority and the issue of an annulment. This event would signal the completion of the Protestant revolution, and would inspire England to ultimately become a protestant nation.

King Henry VII was once declared, "Protector of the Faith", however, his actions would usurp papal authority and institute himself as the head of the Church of England. Although, he is infamously remembered for his many wives, it was his reaction to the Pope Clement VII refusal to grant his annulment for his marriage with Catherine that would change the dynamics of all of Europe. In order, to marry Anne Boleyn who he believed would be able to produce him an heir he had to first annul his marriage with Catherine which was proving to be quite difficult. However, he was able to achieve his goal be enacting several laws and finally the Act of Supremacy which proclaimed him head of the Church in England; this gave him the capabilties to divorce Catherine and to marry Anne Boleyn who was eventually beheaded.

Much monastic property was confiscated following the enactment of the Act of Supremacy, and despite his break with the Church Henry stilled considered himself Catholic; he continued to oppose Lutheran ideas in his realm for example. However, his struggles were for nought; England was made into a strong Protestant nation following his death and the rise of his son Edward VI.

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Exploration and Missionary Movements

A period of exploration and navigational innovations created an opportunity for widespread evangelization. Advances in technology which encompassed the development of the caravel, compass, and the astrolabe as well as improvements in maps, charts, and navigation techniques gave rise to a sense of adventure and discovery. Bartholomew Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa which effectively created a route to India, and Christopher Columbus in his efforts to find a new route to India discovered a so called "New World". These discoveries would allow the Church to evangelize vast areas and to spread the Gospel to people who had never before encountered Christianity.

Missionaries seeking to minister in these far off lands faced many overwhelming obstacles that included travel distance, climate, and a language barrier. In order to minister the Gospel, missionaries had to invent new words, create written alphabets, and even learn the grammatical structure of the native languages they encountered. However, there were also many social dynamics that proved to be more difficult to remedy. Medicine men, witch doctors, and pagan priests deeply opposed the Christian faith, superstitious practices prevented some from accepting the Creed, but the poor Christian example given by settlers proved to be the most difficult obstacle to overcome. St. Francis Xavier proved to be insurmountable in his efforts to provide an exemplary Christian example to the native population by ministering the Gospel, his missionary work lead to many conversions.

For Charles V and Philip II, the spread of Christianity was the greatest goal in the New World. Spanish missionaries formed Indian communities away from the influence of settlers that proved to be bad examples of Christian charity. At these settlements they taught the Faith, established schools, and created a written language from the spoken native language.

In North America, the Catholic colony of Maryland offered a haven for English Catholics who sought refuge from persecution. However, the coexistence of Protestants and Catholics was not able to remain peaceful and they suffered religious restrictions. Thankfully, the colonial representative legislature was split in two, in order to protect the Catholic minorities. This would eventually influence the bicameral legislature of the U.S.

The Age of Enlightenment

The Age of Enlightenment brought forth a variety of philosophies that would challenge political authority, tradition philosophy, and the value of the Church. Human reason was placed on a pedestal while matters of the highest truth, the Faith, were thought of as primitive and superstitious. The Church would have to manage atheism, agnosticism, and secularism while new philosophies challenged her teachings and secular rulers grew increasingly intrusive.

The ideas of Jansenism applied a Calvinist influence to Catholic teachings; it taught that God only granted salvific grace to a small number of people, Christ did not die for all mean as some were already destined for damnation. These teachings rejected the Sacrament of Penance and asserted that only the predestined should be granted the right to receive the Holy Communion. The founder of Jansenism, Jansen did not set out to go against the Church's teaching as he was a priest; he left explicit instructions to his friend before his death to accept the decision the Church made in regards to his book. None the less, his book was published and his teachings were enormously popular.

Ultimately, Pope Innocent X rejected Jansenism and explained that God wills for everyone to be saved and has enough grace to grant such a feat. Following Innocent's condemnation of the heresy, Louis XIV of France took steps to ensure its elimination; he went so far as to raze the convent of Port Royal.

Advances in scientific discoveries lead to increased disdain for matters of spiritual significance. Human reason and scientific knowledge was regarded as the highest form of truth; it was believed that the study of science and nature could be used a panacea for all worldly problems, such as poverty, disease, and war. However, good did come from this new intellectual movement. Rationalist scholars encouraged religious toleration, respect for the opinions of others, and condemned prejudices.

Out of this time of scientific achievement, Descartes unintentionally created a great divide between Faith and reason; he dismissed the validity of any understanding that was not centered on provable date. Similarly, Bacon believed that reason was only means to provide a true and reliable method of knowledge.

The Rise of Soviet Communism; the Rise of Nazism; Pope Pius XII and World War II

The Rise of Soviet Communism

The development of communism in Russia would soon become a force of subversion, revolution, conquest, oppression, and religious and political persecution. It would come to claim millions of lives and threaten the stability of the world. Shockingly, this political philosophy of intolerance attracted many Western intellectuals. However, this was due to a clever campaign of propaganda that claimed that the Soviet Union was a worker's paradise, an ideal society for all nations to replicate.

The reality was strikingly different than that idealist portrayal of Communism, under Stalin brutality and totalitarian oppression grew without bounds. It is estimated that during his oppressive rule an astounding fifty-million people, who were believed to oppose the regime, were executed or sent to Siberian prison camp and gulags.

With a history of extreme oppression and cruelty it should come to no surprise that under the Communist regime religious persecution was common place. Catholic and Orthodox churches alike were desecrated and put into positions of mockery, with some even being used as chicken coops. The Russian Orthodox Church, however, was still seen as nationalistic and allowed to exist, but not without making many compromises in order to achieve this. Before 1917, there was 54,000 churches, with 300 being Catholic; however, by 1939, authorities had nearly accomplished their goal of eliminating the Catholic Church from the face of Russia, there were fewer than 100 churches with only two being Catholic.

The Church had been right to oppose Communism from its very beginning as it was not just a threat to the societies in which it existed, but to the whole world.

The Rise of Nazism

The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany would come to deeply affect not only the Church, but Pope Pius XI. A disastrous combination of nationalist totalitarianism, racism particularly directed toward Jews, neo-paganism, and moral nihilism; Nazism would come to openly threaten the Church and the many countries that surrounded Germany.

One of Hitler's chief concerns involved the peace settlement of World War I, he sought to create a new concordat with the Church. This new Concordat ensured the German clergy would follow canon law and gain special privileges for Catholic schools and organizations, while the Vatican promised to temper the political resistance of the German clergy. Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, the principal negotiator, was right to fear for the independence of the Church in Germany and suspect the radicalism of the Nazi regime, because they violated the Concordat from its development.

The pope sent thirty-four separate notes as soon as the oppression began, but each was systematically ignored. Pius XII would later publish the encyclical Mit Brennender Sorge, which condemned the actions of the Nazi regime; it was read in the pulpit of every Catholic Church in Germany charging them with there many indiscretions. In retribution, the Nazi's set out about slandering the Church with a campaign of propaganda. There would be no recovering the divide between Nazism and the Church.

Pope Pius XII and World War II

Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union joined forces to invade Poland, which signaled the beginning of World War II one of the bloodiest wars of all of history; it was to claim 55,000,000 lives within just six short years. Pope Pius XII had worked tirelessly to prevent this unnecessary, fruitless bloodshed; alas, it had still come to pass.

Although Pope Pius XII appealed for peace, he also recognized that World War II was a new kind of war that simply would not be satisfied by the voice of peace of the Vatican. Officially, the Church was deemed neutral, but behind the scenes it acted as channel between anti-Hitler supporters in Germany and the Allies.

During this turbulent time period, the Church is often accused of not doing enough to assist the Jews, but that is simply not the case which many Jews can attest to. Under the Pope's direction, thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees were sheltered while German troops occupied Rome. The Papal residence at Castel Gandolfo as well as multiple Vatican "safe-houses" were also used as means of concealment and shelter for refugees. The Vatican saved hundreds of thousands of Jews, which was acknowledged by the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Israel Zolli; to revealed his gratitude he became Catholic and took the baptismal name Eugene in a show of thanks to Pope Pius XII.

Many Catholics suffered during the oppressive reign of the Nazi party due to their strong Faith and charity for their fellow man. A remarkable martyr of this time is Maximilian Kolbe, he displayed selfless courage when he volunteered to take the place of a married man who had been selected with several others to die in retribution for a prison escape. Edith Stein is yet another example of how Christianity endured in one of the darkest times of modern history.

Vatican II; Pope St. John Paul II

Vatican II

Although the Church was strong and firm in her faith and was presently enjoying inspiring unity in her midsts, there was still a need to convene the Vatican Council II, in order, to best address the spiritual needs of the world. The Council received a to of secular and religious media attention, it was considered the most important event of the Church's life of the twentieth century.

Roughly 2890 of the world's bishops experienced some if not all of the Council, while only 274 did not show up because of age, health, or other valid excuses. The whole Council was rather comprehensive it was divided into four sessions: October 11th-December 8th, 1962; September 29th-December 4th, 1963; September 14th-November 21st, 1964; and September 14th-December 8th, 1965.

The work of the Second Vatican Council was encompassed into sixteen well-written documents which were comprised of: four "constitutions", nine "decrees", and three "declarations". The so called "constitutions" form the basis of the pivotal documents and provide the theological vision of the rest. The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern Word comprise the central basis of the sixteen documents instituted by the Second Vatican Council. Each constitution concerns a specific aspect of the Faith that it further clarifies, for example; the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, address Pope Bl. John's desire for the Church to be more directly involved in its service of the world.

Pope St. John Paul II

"The smiling pope," was the first non-italian pope in more than 450 years. Karol Wojtyla would not be remembered by his birth name, but instead as Pope John Paul II, "the smiling pope". A great example of John Paul II's natural leadership and friendly manner was how he greeted the world following his election. "Open wide the doors for Christ," he commanded as he addressed the crowd, "to his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development."

Those few words revealed both his exemplary character and his love for Christ above all other things, as well as his knowledge that all things may be achieved through Christ our Lord. As an avid and active participant in the Second Vatican Council, he engaged in the writing and drafting of the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World as well as the Declaration on Religious Freedom even before he was elected pope.

During his papacy there was great resistance to both papal and episcopal authority, to remedy this problem John Paul wrote fourteen encyclicals and many other documents varying from economics to spiritual life. He openly declared his bold and controversial stances on many current issues, all awhile firmly embracing traditions values on matters of contraception, abortion, divorce, the necessity of celibacy in the priesthood, and the impossibility of women's ordination.

However, it is unclear whether it was his writings or his presence that best asserted the authority of the Bishop of Rome, and invigorated the Catholic faith. He traveled quite frequently, and he was welcomed by large crowds of both supporters and believers. John Paul worked to create a better relationship amongst Anglicans and Protestants, he also hoped to hold a reunion with the Orthodox. Another significant step he took was to attempt to reunite Faith and science, he apologized for Catholic failings to events from the Crusades to the treatment of Galileo.

Overall, Pope John Paul II sought to bring peace by fixing the damage done to the Church in previous centuries; he took bold stances, wrote many books to support the Faith, and most importantly was well-loved by the people.

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The Church of Immigrants to the U.S.; Slavery; The Church in the U.S.: Present and Future

The Church of Immigrants to the U.S.

The promise of work, land, and religious and political freedom attracted many to immigrate to the U.S., but more specifically a significant number of these immigrants were Catholic. Nearly three million Catholics immigrated between 1830 and 1870, and the 1880s also experienced another throng of over a million dedicated to the Faith. Thanks to immigration and high birth rates, American Catholicism underwent significant growth.

However, it was not all smooth sailing there would be many controveries that wracked the American Church, including the system of church governance known as lay trusteeism and a rise of anti-catholicism sentimentality. Lay trusteeism was modeled after American civil law, it grew out of enthusiasm for democracy, and hoped to imitate the congregational system of Protestantism in the Americas. These laymen would infringe upon the authority of the Church by hiring their own pastors rather than show deference to the bishop, administer parish affairs, and by becoming owners of parish property. This chaos was finally resolved in the Code of Canon Law of 1917, that directly proclaimed that all parishes and properties were under the control of the bishop.

Anti-Catholic sentiment also developed, ironically, in a nation that supposedly proclaimed religious toleration. In this period there was unprecedented violence and hostility towards Catholics from Nativists, there also a movement known as "Known-Nothings" that hoped to exclude Catholics and foreigners from public office.

Ultimately, Catholicism's early years in America were full of both spiritual growth and great internal turmoil.


Overwhelmed by the issues of the immigrant community and anti-Catholic sentiment, Catholic leadership in the U.S. did not have much to say in regards to slavery. Surprisingly, many Catholics in the South supported the controversial institution, even though Pope Gregory XVI had openly condemned slavery himself.

Catholics fought on both sides of the Civil War; over twenty Union and eleven Confederate generals belonged to the Catholic faith, and hundreds of Catholic women assisted and ministered to the wounded and sick.

Although the Second Plenary Council had adopted new measures of pastor care, Catholic schools and parishes still remained segregated despite the huge step the U.S. had taken to abolish slavery by emancipating four million slaves.

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