The Catholic Church is one of the largest organizations in the world, and is also one of the oldest. The Catholic Church is the ancestor of all Christian denominations, tracing its heritage back nearly 2000 years to the founding of the church by Saint Peter.
The First Christians
The Catholic Church originated in the teachings and actions of Jesus Christ, whom the Church believes to be the Son of God. Jesus gave Peter, his closest disciple, the responsibility of carrying on his teachings, when he said to Peter, “and I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Peter took the message of Christ first to Jerusalem, where he baptized thousands, creating the first large Christian community. Peter believed in baptizing gentiles and also took Christ’s message to the pagan community.
Martyrdom of Saint Peter
For centuries after the crucifixion, the Roman authorities persecuted Christians. The community Peter founded in Jerusalem spread to Antioch to escape persecution. Peter carried Christianity to other cities and provinces in the Roman world, eventually bringing Christianity to Rome. The church he established in Rome became the center of the Christian world. It grew and evolved over the centuries into the Catholic Church that exists today.
Peter was arrested by Roman authorities and crucified on Vatican Hill in Rome. He was crucified upside down when he protested that he was unworthy of dying in the same way as Christ. The date of his death is uncertain, but historians believe it occurred between 64 and 68 A.D. Saint Linus took over as Pope after the death of Saint Peter and was followed by Pope Anacletus in 76 A.D. They are listed as the second and third Popes of the Catholic Church after the founder, Saint Peter.
Constantine and a Christian Rome
It is written that the Roman Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity after he had a vision of the Cross in 312 A.D. He believed it to be sign and had his soldiers paint the symbol on their shields for protection. When he defeated the much larger army of a rival, becoming the most powerful man in Rome, Constantine believed it was Christ who had saved him. Constantine gradually assumed greater control in Rome, until he became absolute ruler. He then passed laws legalizing the Christian religion and later banning pagan practices in 324 A.D. The Catholic religion became the official religion of the Roman world.
Schism Between Churches
The Catholic Church lists the line of popes from Peter onwards as the first popes of the Catholic Church, but there were also patriarchs (popes) of the Christians in the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire, in Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch and later Constantinople. These churches would eventually break away from the church in Rome to form the Orthodox Christian Church of Eastern Europe, solidifying the distinction between the Catholic western religion and Orthodox eastern religion. The schism between the two churches grew from disagreements about theology and authority, with the church in Constantinople breaking away from Roman Catholic authority for good in the 11th century A.D.
- Catholic Bridge: A Timeline of Catholic Church History 1 - 500 A.D.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Ecclesiastical History
- Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Peter, Prince of the Apostles
- The Illustrated History of the Roman Empire: 'Constantine the Great' 'Saint Constantine' Flavius Valerius Constantinus (AD ca. 285 - AD 337)
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