What is the history of the Catholic Church?
Catholics believe that our Lord Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church in the year 33. Jesus appointed the apostle Peter as the first vicar or pope. Matthew 16:18-19 are the scriptural references Catholics give to support this. "And I say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the Kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shalt be loosed in heaven." (KJV)
Around the year A.D. 45, Peter went to Rome and assumed control of the church. During the persecution of Christians by the emperor Nero, Peter was imprisoned and scourged. He gave his farewell blessing to all of his flock, and especially to Saint Paul, who was going to be beheaded the same day outside Rome. He was then led to the top of Vatican Mount to be executed by crucifixion. Deeming himself to be unworthy to die in the same position as our Lord, he asked to be crucified upside down. He received his eternal reward on June 29 in the year 67. Two hundred sixty six popes have succeeded Peter since.
For the next 300 years, Rome would begin a serious persecution against the truth. Christians began to meet behind closed doors and gradual changes were made. Elders of the church were known as bishops, and by the close of the third century; each congregation of any size had a bishop as its head, with a group of elders under him. No work was to be done on Sunday.
In 306, Constantine became sole emperor of Rome. His mother Helena became a Christian and urged Constantine to ease up on the persecution of Christians. He decided that Christianity would now be the state religion. Finding much division in the church, he decided to call a meeting to be held in Nicaea in May 325 A.D. to discuss and unite over the issues that divided the church. Three hundred eighteen bishops assembled and established the Nicene Creed.
Several doctrines were decreed. (1) The Oneness of Deity (2) Easter to be celebrated on the same day (3) Preachers not to be married (4) Certain meats not to be eaten on Sunday by bishops (5) A greater recognition given to the bishops of Antioch, Constantinople, Alexandria, Rome, and Jerusalem. These bishops would be patriarchs, and all authority would be under them.
In A.D. 606, Boniface III was given the title "universal bishop," the pope of Rome. The word "pope" means father. This marked the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church.
Today there are an estimated 1.038 billion Catholics in the world. They make up almost 18 percent of the world population. The pope still heads the church, and priests are urged to remain celibate.
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