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Roman Catholic Church

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The Roman Catholic Church, commonly known as the Catholic Church, is a Christian church which claims direct apostolic succession to St. Peter.[1] The Catholic Church is the largest church in the world with over a billion followers (1,100,000,000). This means it makes up approximately a sixth of the world's population and is the largest Christian church.[2] Around a half of Catholics are from the Americas, a quarter live in Europe and the remainder are split roughly evenly between Africa and Asia. Oceania contains approximately 1% of the world's Catholic population.


History of the Church

The Catholic Church is one of the world's oldest institutions, with a history spanning around 2000 years. Catholics believe that the Church was founded in A.D. 33, when Jesus appointed Peter as the first Pope of the church.[3] Peter then traveled to Rome, where he led and nurtured the early Church. He remained there until he was crucified under the persecution of Christians under Nero.[4]

After this time, the Christians and the Church were persecuted widely by the Romans, with some being torn apart by dogs or burnt alive.[5] Early Christians often suffered persecution or martyrdom because of their refusal to worship pagan Gods or swear loyalty to the emperor.[6] Catholic tradition states that all of the Popes during this period were martyred.Template:Citation needed Despite this persecution, Christianity continued to grow.

A turning point in the history of Christianity and the church occurred in 313 AD when Emperor Constantine the Great officially embraced Christianity. In his lifetime, Christianity rose to become the dominant power in the Roman Empire.[7] In 383 AD, the Roman Catholic Church was officially recognised as official religion of the Roman Empire.[8] The Nicene Creed was written at this time.[9]

From 1309 to 1378, a schism developed between the French and Italian cardinals. The French set up a separate branch called the Avignon Papacy in the Palais des Papes (pronounced "pal-lay doo pops") in Provence, France. By 1378, the Church resolved most conflicts, although minor issues continued through 1437.

The Catholic Church survived the decline and fall of the Roman Empire and became the dominant religion in Europe during the Middle Ages. The time between the 7th and 14th centuries were dominated by wars with splinter religions and emerging Muslim civilizations. In the 7th century, the expansion of the Muslim Arab caliphate brought them into conflict with the Byzantine Empire. This led to the Crusades to recapture Jerusalem and regain land lost to the Arabs,[10] arguably providing a catalyst resulting in the Ottoman Empire.

In more modern times, the Catholic church has aimed to spread its message peacefully with missionary work in South America and Africa has led the Church to become the largest religious institution in the world.[11]

The Pope and bishops

Main article: Pope

The Catholic church is led by the Pope, currently Benedict XVI, and the bishops. The role of these men is to guide the Church in both faith and morals.[12] As part of this role, the bishops are said to be guided by the Holy Spirit in these matters, and so have the power to proclaim a belief or teaching to be part of Church doctrine.

The doctrine of papal infallibility has been debated by theologians at least as far back as the Middle Ages, defined as a dogma of the Catholic faith at the First Vatican Council in 1870. Papal infallibility has only been invoked twice, both with respect to Marian doctrines unique to Catholic theology: the Immaculate Conception (1854) and Assumption (1950).

Catholic doctrine holds that the Pope is the successor of Peter, who had a position of primacy among the Twelve Apostles, and that Christ established his Church on Earth with Peter as its head. The central support for this doctrine is found in Matthew 16:18-19, where Jesus says, "And I say also 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 shall be loosed in heaven."

In Catholic tradition, Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and Pope, based on his residence and martyrdom there. However, the term "Pope" (literally, "Holy Father") was first used as a title by Siricius, who reigned from 384 to 399. During this period, the leaders of the Church in Constantinople, Egypt and elsewhere were often seen as on a par with the Bishop of Rome; it was only later that the Pope attained global primacy.

Previous Popes have been very influential, such as Leo I (called "the Great") who is credited with having turned Attila the Hun from the sack of Rome, Gregory VII, who asserted the power of the papacy in the Investiture Controversy, and Innocent III, who convened the Fourth Lateran Council. More recently, John Paul II was credited with a key role in the end of Communism in Eastern Europe.[13]

The official Annuario Pontificio, published by the Vatican, lists 265 popes and recognize several antipopes.

Beliefs and practices

Catholics believe that the Bible, as interpreted by the Magisterium of the Church, is the infallible word of God. The Pope and bishops are viewed as the succesors to the Apostles, and thus are viewed as having succeeded to their authority. Catholics believe that Scripture and Tradition are equal in authority; and that the authority of Scripture is dependent upon the authority of Tradition, since it is Tradition which teaches us what is and what is not Scripture. Catholics accept additional books, the Deuterocanon, in the Old Testament, which Protestants do not accept, being some (but not all) of those books which Protestants call the Apocrypha. Catholics believe these additional books are equal in inspiration, canonicity and authority to those books common to all Christians.

The Catholic Church subscribes to the the Nicene, Apostle's and Athanasian creeds. Central to these at God exists as three persons in one essence, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; that God created the world and everything in it and that Jesus Christ is the only son of God and "eternally begotten" of and "one in being with" him. Other key beliefs are in the Incarnation, redemption of sin through Christ's suffering on the Cross, Ascension and Second Coming.[14]

Catholics believe that Jesus was fully both God and fully man and was born through Virgin Birth. Jesus's death on the cross allowed us all to be saved, and it is only through him that salvation is possible. Catholicism recognizes seven sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation (also called Confession), Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Annointing of the Sick (also called Extreme Unction) and Holy Orders. Catholic doctrine emphasizes the efficacy of certain sacraments, such as Baptism, Reconciliation and Eucharist, in attaining salvation. In contrast, the classic Protestant view, as formulated by Luther, is that there are but two sacraments, Baptism and the Lord's Supper, neither of which is strictly necessary for salvation, but both of which should be undertaken in obedience to Christ. Catholics distinguish sacraments from sacramentals, which refer to lesser rites, ceremonies or devotions, such as the use of holy water or making the sign of the cross when praying. Sacraments are believed to have been established by Jesus Christ, but sacramentals have been established by the Church; sacraments are believed to directly bestow saving grace, whereas sacramentals do not directly bestow grace by themselves, but are believed to change the heart in such a way as to make the believer who practices them better disposed to receive that grace. Although today there is a clear distinction between sacraments and sacramentals, in the first thousand years of Catholicism the distinction was not so clear, so some historical enumerations of the sacraments involve more or less than seven.

Sin is defined as "an offence against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbour caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity."[15] Sins are considered either mortal or venial.

Mortal sins are those that "destroy charity in the heart of man" and that "[turn] man away from God... by preferring an inferior good to Him." [16] A sin is considered mortal if three conditions are met: The object of the sin must be (i) a grave matter (generally, a violation of one of the Ten Commandments), [17] and the sin must be committed with (ii) full knowledge and (iii) deliberate consent.[18]

In contrast, "[v]enial sin allows charity to subsist, even though it offends and wounds it." [19] Venial sins are committed when the sinner trangresses a lesser law or when he acts without full knowledge or deliberate consent. [20] Venial sins weaken charity, but do not break the covenant with God.[21]

Catholics believe that one is saved by receipt of the sacraments, in particular baptism. If one commits a mortal sin, then one's salvation procured by baptism is lost, and one becomes eternally damned to Hell; however, through receipt of the sacraments (especially Reconciliation), one's salvation can be restored. By contrast, if one commits a venial sin, one will not go to Hell after death, but rather to temporary punishment in Purgatory, after which one will be admitted to Heaven. Saintly persons who die without unconfessed venial sin can bypass purgatory and go straight to heaven; indulgences can reduce the time spent in Purgatory, either the time of the person who obtains the indulgence (such as by saying specified prayers), or the time of another whom they choose to apply the merit of the indulgence to. Since Catholics believe that baptism is normally necessary for salvation, the traditional Catholic belief has been that unbaptised babies who died in infancy, and aborted or stillborn foetuses, could not be admitted to heaven, but would instead spend eternity in Limbo, technically part of Hell, but nonetheless a pleasant place, but one where the beatific vision of God, granted to those in heaven, would be denied. However, that has never been an official teaching of the Catholic Church, only speculation of theologians; Pope Benedict XVI has indicated that the alternative position, that unbaptised infants go to Heaven, is also an acceptable belief for Catholics to hold.

The Catholic church and evolution

The Catholic Church has never formally condemned evolution, although it has been considered hostile to evolution in the past.[22] However, Pope Pius XII in 1950 said in Humani Generis that there was nothing in Catholic Doctrine that is contradicted by species evolving into each other, even if man is one such species.[23] He also wrote that evolution was still to be proven and that it should not be accepted without more evidence.

More recently, prominent Catholics have argued that evolution is compatible with Church teachings, and the official position of the Church is that if life did evolve, then it did under the influence and guidance of God. Modern day Church teachings allow a belief in special creation or developmental creation (see theistic evolution). In no cases does it allow a belief in naturalistic evolution, which does not ascribe God as responsible for all creation.[24]

Demographics of Catholicism

Catholicism has over a billion adherents, and in terms of number of new followers is one of the fastest growing religions, with around 17 million new adherents each year. This 1.5% growth rate is slightly above the world population growth rate of 1.2%. This growth is concentrated in Africa and Asia, although the number of Catholics is growing in every continent. However, the number of priests in all first world countries is falling, with a drop of 1.8% in Oceania, and 0.5% in Europe and Asia.[25]

Catholics are increasingly concentrated in developing countries, with two thirds of Catholics presently coming from these countries. This fraction is increasing as growth of the Church is concentrated in these countries, which tend to have higher birth rates than developed countries. The countries with the largest baptised Catholic populations are concentrated in South America, with Brazil (the largest) having a baptised population of over 150 million.[26] However, there has not yet been a South American Pope.

Despite the overall growth rate, in many developed countries such as the United States and Britain the number of Catholics is stable or decreasing. This has lead to Church closures in some areas. [27]

Controversies in the Catholic Church

Throughout its history, the Catholic Church faced controversies and challenges that led to schisms, such as granting of indulgences by the Church. The reasoning behind indulgences is that the clergy and the Church performed more good deeds than required, so they could give some of their surplus to people who had not done as many good deeds.[28] In theory, there is an unlimited amount of rewards which can be given by the Church because Christ is God, so the rewards he accrued are infinite and can never be exhausted.[29] The rewards or surplus of good deeds could be gained by members of the Church which would allow them to spend less time in Purgatory. Indulgences can be attained either for oneself or for those currently in Purgatory (such as friends or relatives).[30][31] This practice of granting indulgences continues today.[32]

Controversy arose as it became common practice for people to buy indulgences. Although the outright selling of indulgences was and is prohibited as a form of simony, it was still a common occurrence and many people gave money in the expectation of receiving an indulgence.[33]. This practice was the one of the most important reasons which led to Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, culminating in the Protestant Reformation.[34]

A more recent controversy in the Catholic Church arose upon charges priests sexually assaulted young people under their care. One Church-commissioned report found approximately 4% of priests in the United States had some sort of allegation of abuse against them. Of this number. 6% of priests against whom allegations were made were convicted (one-quarter of 1 percent total). As revelations of abuse peaked in the 1980s, the Church has paid out over $500,000,000 to victims.[35]

See also


  15. Catechism of the Catholic Church, para. 1849.
  16. Ibid, para. 1855.
  17. Ibid, para. 1858.
  18. Ibid, para. 1857.
  19. Ibid, para. 1855.
  20. Ibid, para. 1862.
  21. Ibid, para. 1863.
  22. Telegraph news story on Catholicism and Evolution
  29. Myths about Indulgences
  31. The Church in History, B. K. Kuiper, pg 159 (Google book result)
  33. Why I am a Catholic, Garry Wills, pg 158 (Google book result)
  35. A Report on the Crisis in the Catholic Church in the United States, National Review Board, February 27, 2004

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