The Christian Church can be divided between those who believe they maintain the true faith and heritage of Jesus soon after He left earth to return to the Father and those who came into being believing that faith and heritage had been lost and needed to be regained. This explains many of the distinctions between the Catholic and Protestant Churches.
The Catholic Church believes that the Scriptures teach that Christ would give His disciple Peter the keys of heaven and earth following His ascension (Matthew 16:18-19). Based on that belief, Peter would be the first Bishop of Rome or Pope (Papa). For that reason, they believe they have maintained the continuity many Christians think is required to be the True Church.
Certainly, after Peter's martyrdom in Rome in the first century, Rome was at the forefront of the Western Church. The following centuries essentially saw the Western Empire (Constantinople was the spiritual center of the Eastern Empire) decay from within and without. Rome's leadership became more corrupt and politically weaker over time. As barbarian invaders began to overrun the Empire, the fifth century Pope, Gregory (the Great) filled the moral, political and logistical void. Over time, many of the invaders converted to Christianity and others negotiated for peace. During this same period the Church Fathers, especially Jerome (345-420) and Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (North Africa) wrote voluminously to articulate principles and doctrines that would guide the Church.
At the beginning of the Second Millennium, the strife between the Eastern Church and Rome had culminated in a reciprocal excommunication in 1954. Neither would submit to the other and thus, the Empire was split socially, politically and theologically.
As a result of the wealth, power and influence it had accumulated over the centuries it protected the boundaries against invaders, preserved the literature of ancient times,
The Mass is the central component of Catholic worship where the priest presides over the transformation and dissemination of the Eucharist which only confirmed Catholics are allowed to partake of.
promoted education, encouraged art and architecture, passed civil laws and disseminated the faith.
Due in part to the Protestant Reformation started by Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Church in the West split. It was Luther's protests at what he considered corruptions in the Roman Church that ultimately facilitated the division. Today, many in the Catholic Church admit there were mistakes made by certain individuals in the Church when selling indulgences intended to shorten one's stay in Purgatory, and, despite the difficulties produced by the Reformation, cured the Roman Church internally. Others, like Erasmus (1469-1536), chose to stay within the Church and change it.
It was during this time that Rome organized the Council of Trent (1545-1563) to set down in formal church writing the official doctrines of the Church. It was during the scientific and theological upheaval of the Enlightenment and social and warring turmoil of the 1800s that shook Europe. Throughout the period, the Roman Church maintained it had retained the Keys to heaven and earth.
There are more Catholics in the United States than any other Christian group. Columbus was a Catholic, the first missionaries represented the Catholic Church, the first permanent community in the U.S. was Saint Augustine, Florida. Roman Catholics founded Maryland (Land of Mary) in 1634 as a refuge from persecution in England during the English Civil War between Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans and the Crown.
Even then they were restricted in their behavior and participation until after the American Revolution. This, despite the fact that Catholics signed many of America's greatest documents including the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution in 1787. As their influence grew so did their numbers until by the 1890s European emigration had swelled their ranks to over six million.
Catholics puts equal faith in Scriptures and church tradition believing one informs the other. Also, they look to all Church Councils including the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed and others.
Unlike most Protestants who view baptism and the Lord's Supper as especially meaningful symbols of their faith, Catholics are taught that they are sacraments that confer grace; that Christ is actually manifested in the miracle of the Eucharist when the priest prays over the Bread and Wine. This doctrine of "transubstantiation" has for centuries defined the Catholic doctrine of Communion and has alienated many Protestants. The Mass is the central component of Catholic worship where the priest presides over the transformation and dissemination of the Eucharist which only confirmed Catholics are allowed to partake of.
Other sacraments include Confirmation, where one learns about and is confirmed by a priest as understanding and confessing Catholic teaching; penance, (sometimes called Reconciliation) for sins committed after baptism, anointing of the sick, formerly known as "extreme unction" for the the very ill, aged and dying and marriage.
Episcopal in church government and ruled by the Pope in Rome he is the "Vicar of Christ". Directly below him is the College of Cardinals and is limited to priests. They are responsible for electing a new Pope when the current dies. In the U.S. there are 11 cardinals, 45 archbishops, 336 bishops and tens of thousands of priests although there is currently a severe shortage of those wanting to serve as priests. Next is the parish priest who traditionally have handled most of the ministry in the local parish. Today, with thousands of laymen being trained as deacons some of the responsibility and burden has been shifted away from the priest.
One of the most controversial doctrines elaborated on later at Vatican I in 1870, was papal infallibility. This was the belief that when the Pope spoke "ex cathedra" (from the throne) on church doctrine it was to be treated as being from God Himself and thus, unchangeable. Other doctrines formulated through the years included the Immaculate Conception, whereby Mary, the mother of Christ, was herself, born sinless; that she too, like Christ, ascended into heaven and could be an advocate for the sinner before her Son.
Some of these doctrines, including papal infallibility so incensed some Catholics that they left the Church and began what is referred to as Old Catholics. This and other doctrines, including those just mentioned have long been points of contention and division among Protestants.
More changes were to come however, when in 1962-1965, the bishops of the Church met for Vatican II. The resolutions there would again ignite anger, placate critics and thrill Catholics and Protestants. Latin, the required language of the Mass was replaced by the language of the culture, encouragement of the laity to participate in Church ministry, allow right minded Catholics to observe and, in some cases, join Protestant councils such as the World Council of Churches and other significant ecumenical groups.
Today, the Catholic Church, Roman Catholics in particular, affirm issues that modern culture defines as controversial. For example, faithful Catholics are not to practice artificial birth control, allow women into the priesthood and others.
Among Catholic Churches in America, there are the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church of America, the Old Catholic Church of the United States and the Old Roman Catholic Church in North America
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