AskDefine | Define catholics

Extensive Definition

The Roman Catholic Church, officially known as the Catholic Church, is the world's largest Christian church, representing over half of all Christians and one-sixth of the world's population. It is made up of one Western church (the Latin Rite) and 22 Eastern Catholic churches, divided into 2,782 jurisdictional areas around the world. Both groups may become members of religious communities such as the Dominicans, Carmelites, Jesuits, and others. To further its mission, the Church operates social programs and institutions throughout the world. These include schools, universities, hospitals, missions, and shelters, as well as Catholic Relief Services and Catholic Charities that help the poor, families, the elderly, and the sick.
Through Apostolic succession, the Church believes itself to be the continuation of the Christian community founded by Jesus in his consecration of Saint Peter.
From at least the 4th century the Catholic Church has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization. In the 11th century, the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Western, Catholic Church split, largely over disagreements regarding papal primacy. Eastern churches which maintained or later re-established communion with Rome now form the Eastern Catholic Churches. In the 16th century, partly in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Church engaged in a substantial process of reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation. The Church teaches that it is called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians - a movement known as ecumenism. Modern challenges facing the Church include the rise of secularism, and controversy over its opposition to abortion, contraception, and euthanasia.

Origin and mission

The Catholic Church traces its founding to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. It sees the bishops of the Church as the successors of the apostles, and the pope in particular as the successor of Peter, leader of the apostles. Catholics cite Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew to support this view: "... you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." According to church belief, the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles in an event Christians call Pentecost brought this promised "church" fully into the world. Some cite a letter from Pope Clement I (c. 95) as evidence of a presiding cleric. Others, like Eamon Duffy, doubt that there was a ruling bishop in the Roman church in the first century, and question the concept of apostolic succession. Calling "suspiciously tidy" the second century list of popes by Irenaeus, Duffy states, "there is no sure way to settle on a date by which the office of ruling bishop had emerged in Rome, and so to name the first pope, but the process was certainly complete by the time of Anicetus in the mid-150s, when Polycarp, the aged bishop of Smyrna, visited Rome, and he and Anicetus debated amicably the question of the date of Easter".
The Church believes that its mission is founded upon Jesus' biblical command to his followers to spread the faith across the world: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you: and Lo, I am with you always, until the close of the age". Pope Benedict XVI summarized the Church's mission as a threefold responsibility which includes proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity, and stated that these duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. As part of its ministry of charity the Church runs Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, shelters, and ministries to the poor, as well as ministries to families, the elderly and the marginalized. Through these social programs the Church applies the tenets of Catholic social teaching and tends to the corporal and spiritual needs of others. The Nicene Creed is the core statement of Catholic Christian belief. Catholic teachings have been refined and clarified by major councils of the Church, convened by Church leaders at important points throughout history. The Catholic Church believes that it is guided by God the Holy Spirit, and protected by divine revelation from falling into doctrinal error. It bases this belief on biblical promises that Jesus made to his apostles. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells Peter, "... the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against" the church, and in the Gospel of John, Jesus states, "I have much more to tell you, but you cannot bear it now. But when He comes, the Spirit of truth, He will guide you to all truth". and the New Testament writings found in the Codex Vaticanus and listed in Athanasius' Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. Sacred Tradition consists of those beliefs handed down through the Church since the time of the Apostles. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are collectively known as the deposit of faith. This is in turn interpreted by the Magisterium, or the teaching authority of the Church. The Magisterium includes infallible pronouncements of the pope,
According to the Catechism, Jesus instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, the Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Holy Matrimony. They are vehicles through which God's grace is said to flow into all those who receive them with the proper disposition. The Church encourages individuals to engage in adequate preparation before receiving certain sacraments. Differing liturgical traditions, or rites, exist throughout the worldwide Church. These reflect historical and cultural diversity.
Eastern Orthodox Christians hold beliefs that are quite similar to those of Catholics, differing from them mainly with regard to papal infallibility, the filioque clause and the immaculate conception of Mary. Protestant churches vary in their beliefs, but they generally differ from Catholics regarding the authority of the pope and of church tradition, on the role of Mary and the saints, the role of the priesthood, and on issues pertaining to grace, good works and salvation. The five solas, composed by Martin Luther in the 16th century, were one attempt to express these differences.

God the Father, original sin, and Baptism

The Nicene Creed begins, "We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen ...". Thus, Catholics believe that God is not a part of nature, but that he created nature and all that exists. He is viewed as a loving and caring God who is involved in the world and in people's lives. He desires his creatures to love him and to love each other. Before the creation of mankind, however, the scriptures teach that God made spiritual beings called angels. In an event known as the "fall of the angels", a number of them chose to rebel against God and his reign. The leader of this rebellion has been called "Lucifer", "Satan" and the devil, among other names. The sin of pride, considered one of seven deadly sins, is attributed to Satan for wishing to be equal to God. One of these fallen angels is believed to have tempted the first humans, Adam and Eve, whose act of committing the original sin then brought suffering and death into the world. This event, known as the Fall of Man, left humans separated from their original state of intimacy with God, a separation that can persist beyond death. The Catechism states that "the account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms ... a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man" resulting in "a deprivation of original holiness and justice ..." that makes each person "subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death: and inclined to sin ...". This sacramental act of cleansing admits one as a full member of the natural and supernatural Church and is only conferred once in a person's lifetime. The Church believes that this savior was Jesus, whom John the Baptist called "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world". The Nicene Creed refers to Jesus as "the only begotten son of God, ... one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made." In a supernatural event called the Incarnation, Catholics believe that God came down from heaven for our salvation, became man through the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of a virgin Jewish girl named Mary. They believe that Jesus' mission on earth included giving people his word and example to follow, as recorded in the four Gospels. The Church teaches that following the example of Jesus helps believers to grow more like him, and therefore to grow in true love, freedom, and the fullness of life. Sinning is the opposite of following Jesus, robbing people of their resemblance to God while turning their souls away from God's love. Through the passion of Jesus and his crucifixion, it is taught that all people have an opportunity for forgiveness and freedom from sin, and so can be reconciled to God.
Since Baptism can only be received once, the sacrament of Penance is the principal means by which Catholics may obtain forgiveness for subsequent sin and receive God's grace and assistance not to sin again. This is based on Jesus' words to his disciples in the Gospel of John 20:21–23. A priest is forbidden under penalty of excommunication to reveal any matter heard under the seal of confession. Penance helps prepare Catholics before they can licitly receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.

Holy Spirit and Confirmation

Jesus told his apostles that after his death and resurrection he would send them the "Advocate", the "Holy Spirit", who "will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you". In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus tells his disciples "If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" The Nicene Creed states that the Holy Spirit is one with God the Father and God the Son (Jesus) thus, for Catholics, receiving the Holy Spirit is receiving God, the source of all that is good. Catholics formally ask for and receive the Holy Spirit through the sacrament of Confirmation. Sometimes called the "sacrament of Christian maturity", Confirmation is believed to bring an increase and deepening of the grace received at Baptism. To be licitly confirmed, Catholics must be in a state of grace, which means that they cannot be conscious of having committed a mortal sin. They must also have prepared spiritually for the sacrament, chosen a sponsor or godparent for spiritual support, and selected a saint to be their special patron and intercessor.

Church, works of mercy, and Anointing of the Sick

Catholics believe that the Church "is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth". Jesus told his disciples "Remain in me, as I remain in you ... I am the vine, you are the branches." Thus, for Catholics, the term "Church" refers not merely to a building or even to the organizational hierarchy but first and foremost to the people of God who abide in Jesus and form the different parts of his spiritual body. The Nicene Creed ends with, "We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come." Accordingly, the Church teaches that each soul will be judged by Jesus immediately after death and receive a particular judgment based on the deeds of their earthly life. Chapter 25:35–46 of the Gospel of Matthew underpins the Catholic belief that a day will also come when Jesus will sit in a universal judgment of all mankind. The final judgment will bring an end to human history. It will also mark the beginning of a new and better heaven and earth ruled by God in righteousness.
There are three states of afterlife in Catholic belief. Heaven is a time of glorious union with God and a life of unspeakable joy that lasts forever. The Church teaches that no one is condemned to hell without freely deciding to reject God and his love.

Prayer and worship

In the Catholic Church, a distinction is made between the formal, public liturgy and other prayers or devotions. The liturgy is regulated by Church authority and consists of the Eucharist and Mass, the other sacraments, and the Liturgy of the Hours. All Catholics are expected to participate in the liturgical life of the Church but individual or communal prayer and devotions, while encouraged, are a matter of personal preference.
The Church provides a set of precepts that every Catholic is expected to follow. These set a minimum standard for personal prayer and require the Catholic to attend Mass on Sundays, confess sins at least once a year, receive the Eucharist at least during Easter season, observe days of fasting and of abstinence from meat as established by the Church, and help provide for the Church's needs. Similar words of institution are found in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and I Corinthians; "Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.'" "Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins.' " The New Covenant is, according to Catholics, celebrated and renewed in the Eucharist. The celebration of the Eucharist in the Eastern Catholic Churches is termed Divine Liturgy. Variations in this liturgy between the different Eastern Churches reflect different cultural traditions. The ordinary form of the Mass in the Latin rite or the Mass of Paul VI, is most often celebrated in the vernacular and separated into two parts. The first, called Liturgy of the Word, consists of readings from the Old and New Testaments, a Gospel passage and the priest's homily or explanation of one of those passages. Catholics believe that the bread and wine brought to the altar are changed through the power of the Holy Spirit into the true body and the true blood of Christ through transubstantiation. The main elements and prayers of this Mass are similar to the form of the Mass described in the Didache and First Apology of Justin Martyr in the late 1st and early 2nd centuries.
The Tridentine or Traditional Latin Mass, is now a special, or extraordinary, form of the Mass. It was codified by the Council of Trent from earlier forms with the particular intention of reaffirming that the Mass is the same sacrifice of Jesus' death as the one he suffered on Calvary in opposition to Protestant belief that the Mass is not an actual sacrifice. Although the Traditional Mass was superseded by the vernacular as the primary form, the Tridentine Mass was never actually forbidden after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. It had been offered by an Indult since Pope John Paul II's 1988 motu proprio, Ecclesia Dei and can now be said by any Roman rite priest according to Pope Benedict XVI's 2007 motu proprio, Summorum Pontificum.
Because the Church teaches that Christ is fully present in both forms of the Eucharist, there are strict rules about its celebration and reception. The ingredients of the bread and wine used in the Mass are specified, and a fast of one hour before receiving Communion is in effect. Only Catholics who are in a state of grace are admitted to communion; anyone who is in a state of mortal sin must not receive the Eucharist without having received absolution through the sacrament of Penance. Catholics may not receive communion in Protestant churches because of their different beliefs and practices regarding Holy Orders and the Eucharist.

Liturgy of the Hours and the liturgical year

In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus instructs his disciples to "pray always". The Liturgy of the Hours, or Divine Office, is the Church's effort to respond to this request. It is considered to be an extension of the celebration of the Mass and is the official daily liturgical prayer of the Church. It makes particular use of the Psalms as well as readings from the New and Old Testament, and various prayers. Religious orders often make praying the Liturgy of the Hours a part of their rule of life; the Second Vatican Council encouraged the Christian laity to take up the practice.
The liturgical year is the annual calendar of the Catholic Church.

Devotional life and personal prayer

In addition to the Mass, the Catholic Church considers personal and communal prayer to be one of the most important elements of Christian life. The Church considers personal prayer a Christian duty, one of the spiritual works of mercy and one of the principal ways its members nourish a relationship with God. The Catechism identifies three types of prayer: vocal prayer (sung or spoken), meditation, and contemplative prayer. Quoting from the early church father John Chrysostom regarding vocal prayer, the Catechism states, "whether or not our prayer is heard depends not on the number of words, but on the fervor of our souls".
Prayers and devotions to the Virgin Mary, and the saints are a common part of Catholic life but are distinct from the worship of God. The Catechism states that the saints "do not cease to intercede with the Father for us ... so by their fraternal concern is our weakness greatly helped". Because of her influential role in the life of Jesus, prayers and devotions asking for her intercession, such as the Rosary, the Hail Mary and the Memorare are common Catholic practices. The Church devotes several liturgical feasts to Mary throughout the Church year and pilgrimages to Marian shrines such as Lourdes, France and Fátima, Portugal are a common form of devotion.

Church organization and community

The spiritual head and leader of the Catholic Church on earth is the pope. He governs from Vatican City in Rome, a sovereign state of which he is also the Head of State. He is elected by the College of Cardinals, composed of bishops or priests who have been granted special status by the pope to serve as his advisors. The cardinals may select any male member of the Church to be pope, but that person must be ordained as a bishop before taking office. The Church community is governed according to the Code of Canon Law. The Roman Curia assists the pope in the administration of the Church. Although the official language of the Church is Latin, Italian is the working language.
The basic administrative unit of the Catholic Church is the diocese each of which is led by a bishop. Each diocese is further divided into individual communities called parishes, which are usually staffed by at least one priest.

Ordained members and Holy Orders

Lay men become ordained through the sacrament of Holy Orders, and form a three-part hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons. As a body the College of Bishops are considered to be the successors of the apostles. Along with the pope, the College includes all the cardinals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops, and metropolitans of the Church. Only bishops are allowed to perform the sacraments of Holy Orders and Confirmation. While bishops are responsible for teaching, governing and sanctifying the faithful of their diocese, priests and deacons have these same responsibilities at a more local level, the parish, subordinate to the ministry of the bishop. Priests, bishops and deacons preach, teach, baptize, witness marriages, and conduct wake and funeral services, but only priests and bishops may celebrate the Eucharist or administer the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick.
Although deacons may be married, only celibate men are ordained as priests in the Latin Rite. Clergy who have converted from other denominations are sometimes excepted from this rule. The Eastern Catholic Churches ordain both celibate and married men. All rites of the Catholic Church maintain the ancient tradition that, after ordination, marriage is not allowed. Men with transitory homosexual leanings may be ordained deacons following three years of prayer and chastity, but men with deeply rooted homosexual tendencies or those who are sexually active are not ordained.
All programs for the formation of men to the Catholic priesthood are governed by Canon Law. They are designed by national bishops' conferences such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and vary slightly from country to country. The conferences consult Vatican documents such as Pastores Dabo Vobis, Novo Millennio Ineunte, Optatam Totius, and others to create these programs. In some countries, priests are required to have a college degree plus another four years of full time theological study in a seminary or other approved institution. In other countries a degree is not strictly required, but seminary education is longer. Candidates for the priesthood are also evaluated in terms of human, spiritual and pastoral formation. The sacrament of Holy Orders is always conferred by a bishop through the laying-on of hands, following which the newly ordained priest is formally clothed in his priestly vestments. The Church teaches that women have different yet equally important roles in Church ministry. In Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Christifideles Laici, he states that women were equally called to be disciples of Jesus and were given "tasks connected to spreading the Gospel". While its position on an all male priesthood has been criticized as evidence of a discriminatory attitude toward women, the Church believes women are called to fulfill a different and complimentary role best reflected in Pope Paul IV's statement "If the witness of the Apostles founds the Church, the witness of women contributes greatly towards nourishing the faith of Christian communities". Lay members are equally called to live according to Christian principles, work to spread the message of Jesus, and effect change in the world for the good of others. The Church calls these actions participation in Christ's priestly, prophetic, and royal offices.
Marriage, the single life, and the consecrated life are all lay vocations. The sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Latin rite is the only sacrament not actually conferred by a priest or bishop. The couple desiring marriage are themselves the ministers of the sacrament while the priest or deacon serves as witness. Church law makes no provision for divorce but annulments may be requested in strictly defined circumstances. Since the Church condemns all forms of artificial birth control, married persons are expected to be open to new life in their sexual relations. Natural family planning is approved.
Tertiaries are laypersons who live according to the third rule of orders such as the Franciscans or Carmelites, either within a religious community or outside.
Some non-ordained Catholics practice formal, public ministries within the Church. These are called lay ecclesial ministers, a broad category which may include pastoral life coordinators, pastoral assistants, youth ministers, and campus ministers.

Members of religious orders

Both the ordained and the laity may enter the religious or consecrated life—either as monks or nuns, if cloistered, or friars and sisters if not. A candidate takes vows confirming their desire to follow the three evangelical counsels of chastity, poverty, and obedience.
The majority of those wishing to enter the consecrated life join a religious institute (also referred to as a monastic or religious order). They follow a common rule such as the Rule of St Benedict, which includes the vows of poverty chastity and obedience, and agree to live under the leadership of a superior. They usually live in community, although occasionally an individual is given permission to live as a hermit, or to reside elsewhere, for example as a serving priest or chaplain. Examples of religious institutes include the Sisters of Charity, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, Cistercians, Marist Brothers, Paulist Fathers, and the Society of Jesus, but there are many others.


see Roman Catholicism by country The Catholic Church is the largest Christian church, encompassing over half of all Christians, and is the largest organized body of any world religion. Church membership in 2007 exceeds 1.131 billion people, a substantial increase over the 1970 figure of 654 million. Although the number of practicing Catholics worldwide is not reliably known, membership is growing, particularly in Africa and Asia. As of 2005, Brazil was the country with the greatest number of Catholics.


According to canon law, membership of the Catholic Church is gained through Baptism. Christians baptized outside of the Church or those never baptized may be received by participating in a formation program such as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. In all rites, after going through formation and making a profession of faith, candidates receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter vigil on Holy Saturday.
A person can excommunicate themselves or be excommunicated from membership in the Church by committing certain particularly grave sins. Examples include violating the seal of confession (committed when a priest discloses the sins heard in the sacrament of Penance), persisting in heresy, creating schism, becoming an apostate, or having an abortion. Throwing away the sacramental bread and wine received during the Eucharist or taking or retaining them for a sacrilegious purpose are also considered excommunicable offenses. Excommunication is the most severe ecclesiastical penalty because it prevents a person from validly receiving any Church sacrament. It can only be forgiven by the pope, the bishop of the diocese where the person resides, or priests authorized by him. Among those who have incurred excommunication are Arius, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and members of the group Womenpriests.


Roman Empire

The Catholic Church considers that it began on the day of Pentecost, when, according to the scriptural accounts, the apostles first emerged from hiding following the death of Jesus to publicly preach his message. According to church tradition and many historians, the apostles traveled to northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and Rome to found the first Christian communities.
From the first century onward, the Church of Rome was respected as a doctrinal authority because it was believed that the Apostles Peter and Paul had led the Church there. The apostles had already convened the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, in or around the year 50 to reconcile doctrinal differences concerning the Gentile mission. Although competing forms of Christianity emerged early and persisted into the fifth century, the Roman Church retained the practice of meeting in ecumenical councils to ensure that any doctrinal differences within the Church itself were quickly resolved.
In the first few centuries of its existence, the Church defined and formed its teachings and traditions into a systematic whole under the influence of theological apologists such as Pope Clement I, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Augustine of Hippo. Because early Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or to defer to Roman rulers as gods, they were frequently subject to persecution. The ferocity or absence of the persecution varied depending upon the policies of the emperor in question. Persecution began under Nero in the first century, and by the mid-third century it was extensive throughout the empire, culminating in the great persecution of Diocletian and Galerius at the beginning of the fourth century, which was seen as a final attempt to wipe out Christianity. In spite of these persecutions evangelization efforts persisted, leading to the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity in 313.
In 325 the First Council of Nicaea was convened in response to the Arian challenge concerning the trinitarian nature of God. The council formulated the Nicene Creed as a basic statement of Christian belief. During the reign of Pope Sylvester I, Emperor Constantine I commissioned the first Basilica of St. Peter, as well as the Lateran, a papal residence and several other sites of lasting importance to Christianity. Many standard Christian practices had been established by the end of Constantine's life including the observation of Sunday as the official day of worship, the use of the altar as the focal point of each church, the sign of the cross, and the liturgical calendar. By 380, Christianity had become the official religion of the Empire.
Over subsequent decades a series of ecumenical christological councils formally codified critical elements of the theology of the Church. The Council of Rome in 382 set the Biblical canon, listing the accepted books of the Old and New Testament, and in 391 the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was made. The Council of Ephesus in 431 clarified the nature of Jesus' incarnation, declaring that he was both fully man and fully God. However Monophysite disagreements over the precise nature of the incarnation of Jesus led to the first of the various Oriental Orthodox Churches breaking away from the Catholic Church in 451.

Early Middle Ages

After the final fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Catholic faith competed with Arianism for the conversion of the barbarian tribes. The conversion of Clovis I, pagan king of the Franks in 496 marked the beginning of the steady rise of the faith in the West. In 530, Saint Benedict wrote his Rule of St Benedict as a practical guide for monastic community life. Its message soon spread to monasteries throughout Europe. Monasteries became major conduits of civilization, preserving craft and artistic skills while maintaining intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria and libraries. They were also agricultural, economic and production centers as well as a focus for spiritual life. As a result, the Church soon saw the conversion of the Visigoths and Lombards, who were abandoning Arianism for Catholicism. Subsequently, missionaries such as Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Boniface, Willibrord and Ansgar took Christianity into northern Europe, allowing Catholicism to spread among the Germanic peoples, the Irish and the Slavic peoples, reaching the Vikings and other Scandinavians in subsequent centuries.
In the early 700s, iconoclasm became the source of conflict between the Eastern and Western churches. Under the direction of the Byzantine emperors, iconoclasts forbade the creation and veneration of images, claiming this to be a violation of one of the Ten Commandments. Iconodules, backed by the pope and the Western Church, disagreed with this interpretation. The dispute was resolved in 787 when the Second Council of Nicaea ruled in favor of icons. Afterward, the pope crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman Emperor in 800, partially in response to the dispute over iconoclasm. During his reign, Charlemagne attempted to create an international unity through the common bond of Christianity. Although this resulted in many reforms including the creation of an improved system of education and unified laws, it also created a problem for the Church when succeeding emperors sought to appoint future popes. In 858 disagreements between the Eastern and Western churches arose again when Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, favored by the pope, was deposed in favor of the more extreme Photios. The pope refused to recognize Photios, declared his election invalid and excommunicated him. Although Rome eventually approved his election, the dispute added to the growing alienation between the churches.

High Middle Ages

see High Middle Ages The Cluniac reform of monasteries that began in 910 placed abbots under the direct control of the pope rather than the secular control of feudal lords, eliminating a major source of corruption. This sparked a great monastic renewal. Monasteries, convents, and cathedrals still operated virtually all schools and libraries and often functioned as credit establishments promoting economic growth. After 1100, some older cathedral schools split into lower grammar schools and higher schools for advanced learning. First in Bologna, then at Paris and Oxford, many of these higher schools developed into universities and became the direct ancestors of modern Western institutions of learning. Monastic contributions to western society included the teaching of metallurgy, the introduction of new crops, the invention of musical notation, and the creation and preservation of literature. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) each failed to heal the schism. Some Eastern churches have subsequently reunited with the Catholic Church, and others claim never to have been out of communion with the pope. Officially, the two churches remain in schism, although excommunications were mutually lifted in 1965.
Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 after receiving an appeal from Byzantine emperor Alexius I to help ward off a Turkish invasion. Urban also believed that a Crusade might help bring about reconciliation with Eastern Christianity. Fueled by reports of Muslim atrocities against Christians, the series of military campaigns known as the Crusades began in 1096. They were intended to return the Holy Land to Christian control. The goal was not permanently realized, and episodes of brutality committed by the armies of both sides left a legacy of mutual distrust between Muslims and Western and Eastern Christians. The sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade left Eastern Christians embittered, despite the fact that Pope Innocent III had expressly forbidden any such attack. In 2001 Pope John Paul II apologized to the Orthodox Christians for the sins of Catholics including the sacking of Constantinople in 1204.
Two new orders of architecture emerged from the Church of this era. The earlier, Romanesque, style employed massive walls, rounded arches, and ceilings of masonry. To compensate for the absence of large windows, interiors were brightly painted with scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Later, the Basilique Saint-Denis near Paris, marked a new trend in cathedral building that employed Gothic architecture. This style, with its large windows and high, pointed arches, provided improved lighting and geometric harmony that was meant to direct the worshiper's mind to God who "orders all things". Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux exerted great influence over the new orders and produced reforms to ensure purity of purpose. In the following century, new mendicant orders, including the Franciscans and the Dominicans, were founded to bring consecrated religious life into urban settings.
Twelfth-century France witnessed the widespread growth of Catharism, a dualistic belief in extreme asceticism which taught that all matter was evil, accepted suicide and denied the value of Church sacraments. After a papal legate was murdered by the Cathars in 1208, Pope Innocent III declared the Albigensian Crusade. Abuses committed during the crusade caused Innocent III to informally institute the first papal inquisition to prevent future abuses and to root out the remaining Cathars. Formalized under Gregory IX, this Medieval inquisition executed an average of three people per year for heresy at its height. In the 14th century, King Philip IV of France created an inquisition for his suppression of the Knights Templar. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella formed an inquisition in 1480, originally to deal with distrusted ex-Jewish and ex-Muslim converts. Over a 350-year period, the Spanish Inquisition executed between 3,000 and 4,000 people, representing around two percent of those accused. The inquisition played a major role in the final expulsion of Islam from the kingdoms of Sicily and Spain. In 1482 Pope Sixtus IV condemned the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition, but Ferdinand ignored his protests. Historians note that for centuries Protestant propaganda and popular literature exaggerated the horrors of the inquisitions. According to Edward Norman, this propaganda "identified the entire Catholic Church ... with [the] occasional excesses" wrought by secular rulers. While one percent of those tried in the inquisitions received death penalties, Norman states that in the 16th century "the Inquisitions were regarded as far more enlightened than secular courts", which did not grant more lenient sentences for those who repented their crimes. a period known as the Avignon Papacy. The papacy returned to Rome in 1378 at the urging of Catherine of Siena and others who felt the See of Peter should be in the Roman church. With the death of Pope Gregory XI later that year, the papal election was disputed between supporters of Italian and French-backed candidates leading to the Western schism. For 38 years, separate claimants to the papal throne sat in Rome and Avignon. Efforts at resolution in 1409 further complicated the issue with the election of a third, compromise pope. The matter was finally resolved in 1417 at the Council of Constance where the cardinals called upon all three claimants to the papal throne to resign, and held a new election naming Martin V pope. Under the patronato system state authorities controlled clerical appointments, and no direct contact was allowed with the Vatican. However in December 1511, Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos openly rebuked the Spanish authorities governing Hispaniola for their mistreatment of the American natives, telling them "you are in mortal sin ... for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people". King Ferdinand enacted the Laws of Burgos and Valladolid in response. Enforcement was lax, however, and while some blame the Church for not doing enough to liberate the Indians, others point to the Catholic Church as the only voice raised on behalf of indigenous peoples. The issue did rouse a crisis of conscience in 16th-century Spain.
In 1521, through the leadership and preaching of the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the first Catholics were baptized in what became the first Christian nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippines. The following year, Franciscan missionaries arrived in what is now Mexico. They worked hard to convert the Indians and to provide for their well-being by establishing schools and hospitals. They taught the Indians better farming methods, and easier ways of weaving and making pottery. Because some people questioned whether the Indians were truly human and deserved baptism, Pope Paul III in the papal bull Veritas Ipsa or Sublimis Deus (1537) confirmed that the Indians were deserving people. Afterward, the conversion effort gained momentum. Over the next 150 years, the missions expanded into southwestern North America. The native people were legally defined as children, and priests took on a paternalistic role, often enforced with corporal punishment. Elsewhere, in India, Portuguese missionaries and the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier evangelized among non-Christians and a Christian community which claimed to have been established by Thomas the Apostle. In Europe, the Renaissance was a period of renewed interest in art, ancient and classical learning. It also brought a re-examination of accepted beliefs. Cathedrals and churches had long served as picture books and art galleries for millions of the uneducated. The stained glass windows, frescoes, statues, paintings and panels retold the stories of the saints and of biblical characters. The Church sponsored great artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, who created some of the world's most famous artworks. In 1509, however, the most famous scholar of the age, Erasmus, wrote The Praise of Folly a work which captured a widely held unease about corruption in the Church. Attempts to eliminate Church corruption by the councils of Constance, Basel, and the Lateran Council were thwarted in large measure by the simony and nepotism practiced in the Church of the 15th and early 16th centuries. These abuses of power, usury, clerical wealth and hypocrisy all contributed to a general feeling among educated people that reform of some sort was necessary. His theses protested key points of Catholic doctrine as well as the sale of indulgences. In Germany, the reformation led to war between the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic Emperor Charles V. The first nine-year war ended in 1555 but continued tensions produced a far graver conflict, the Thirty Years' War, which broke out in 1618. This ended under Pope Clement VIII, who supported King Henry IV's 1598 Edict of Nantes, which granted civil and religious toleration to Protestants. The Acts of Supremacy made the English monarch head of the English church thereby establishing the Church of England. Then, beginning in 1536, some 825 monasteries throughout England, Wales, and Ireland were dissolved and Catholic churches were confiscated. However this affirmation did not extend to papal authority or the dissolution of monasteries, and when he died in 1547 all monasteries, friaries, convents of nuns and shrines were gone. Mary I of England reunited the Church of England with Rome and, against the advice of the Spanish ambassador, persecuted Protestants during the Marian Persecutions. After some provocation, the following monarch, Elizabeth I enforced the Act of Supremacy. This prevented Catholics from becoming members of professions, holding public office, voting, or educating their children. Executions of Catholics under Elizabeth I, who reigned much longer, then surpassed the Marian persecutions Penal laws were also enacted in Ireland but were less effective than in England. The Catholic Church responded to doctrinal challenges and abuses highlighted by the Protestant Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563). The council became the driving-force of the Counter-Reformation, reaffirming central Catholic doctrines like transubstantiation and the requirement for love and hope as well as faith to attain salvation. It also reformed many other areas of importance to the Church, most importantly by improving the education of the clergy and consolidating the central jurisdiction of the Roman Curia. The criticisms of the Reformation were among factors that sparked new religious orders including the Theatines, Barnabites and Jesuits, some of which became the great missionary orders of later years. Improvement to the education of the laity was another positive effect of the era, with a proliferation of secondary schools reinvigorating higher studies such as history, philosophy and theology. To popularize Counter-Reformation teachings, the Church encouraged the Baroque style in art, music and architecture. Baroque religious expression was stirring and emotional, created to stimulate religious fervor.
Elsewhere, Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier introduced Christianity to Japan. By the end of the 16th century tens of thousands of Japanese followed Roman Catholicism. Church growth came to a halt in 1597 under the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu who, in an effort to isolate the country from foreign influences, launched a severe persecution of Christians. Japanese were forbidden to leave the country and Europeans were forbidden to enter. Despite this, a minority Christian population survived into the 19th century.

Age of Reason

Toward the latter part of the 17th century, Pope Innocent XI attempted to reform many Church abuses including simony, nepotism and the lavish papal expenditures that had caused him to inherit a papal debt of 50,000,000 scudi. In France, Church battles with Jansenism and Gallicanism weakened its ability to respond to new thinkers of the age like Denis Diderot who attacked fundamental dogmas of the Church. Anti-clericalism, which developed after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, precipitated the French Revolution. Attacks on the wealth of the Church and allied grievances, developed into wholesale nationalisation of church property and an attempt to establish a state-run church. When Pope Pius VI took sides against the revolution in the First Coalition, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy. The pope was imprisoned by French troops, and died in 1799 after six weeks of captivity. To win popular support for his rule, Napoleon then re-established the Catholic Church in France with the signing of the Concordat of 1801. All over Europe, the end of the Napoleonic wars signaled by the Congress of Vienna, brought Catholic revival, renewed enthusiasm, and new respect for the papacy following the depredations of the previous era.
In the Americas, the Church expanded its missions in cooperation with the Spanish government and military. Junípero Serra, the Franciscan priest in charge of this effort, founded a series of missions which quickly became important economic, political, and religious institutions. These missions brought grain, cattle, and a new way of living to the Indian tribes of California. Overland routes were established from New Mexico that resulted in the colonization of San Francisco in 1776 and Los Angeles in 1781. However, by bringing Western civilization to the area, these missions and the Spanish government have been held responsible for wiping out nearly a third of the native population, primarily through disease.
This period also saw the Church faced with the colonial abuses of the Portuguese and Spanish governments. In South America, the Jesuits protected native peoples from enslavement by establishing semi-independent settlements called reductions. Pope Gregory XVI, challenging Spanish and Portuguese sovereignty, appointed his own candidates as bishops in the colonies, condemned slavery and the slave trade in 1839 (papal bull In Supremo Apostolatus), and approved the ordination of native clergy in spite of government racism.
While missionary expansion was occurring in the Americas, the Church in China experienced missionary setbacks in 1721 when the Chinese Rites controversy led the Kangxi Emperor to ban Christian missions in that country. This controversy added fuel to growing criticism of the Jesuits who were held in disdain throughout Europe because they symbolized the strength and independence of the Church. They also defended the rights of native peoples in South America, hindering the efforts of European powers to maintain absolute rule over their domains. Several decades later Pius VII restored the Jesuits in the 1814 papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum.

Modern era

In 1870, the First Vatican Council affirmed the doctrine of papal infallibility when exercised in specifically defined pronouncements. Controversy over this and other issues resulted in a small breakaway movement called the Old Catholic Church. In Latin America, this era saw anti-clerical regimes come to power from the 1830s onward. The confiscation of Church properties and restrictions on people's religious freedoms generally accompanied secularist, and later, Marxist-leaning, governmental reforms. One such regime was that of Mexico in 1860. Church properties were confiscated and basic civil and political rights were denied to religious orders and the clergy. Harsh enforcement of these measures eventually led to an uprising known as the Cristero War. Between 1926 and 1934 over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. Despite persecution, the Church continued to grow in Mexico, and a 2000 census reported that 88 percent of Mexicans identified themselves as Catholic. Another example, Argentina, saw extravagant press denunciations of the clergy, destruction of churches, and confiscation of Catholic schools occur under the regime of General Juan Perón in 1954 as he tried to extend state control over national institutions.
The Industrial Revolution of this era led to increasing concern about the deteriorating conditions of urban workers. Inspired by the German Catholic industrialist Lucien Harmel, Pope Leo XIII published the 1891 encyclical Rerum Novarum explaining Catholic social teaching in terms that rejected socialism but advocated the regulation of working conditions, the establishment of a living wage, and the right of workers to form trade unions.
New technologies and the superior weaponry of this era allowed European powers to gain control of most of the African interior by the close of the 19th century. A few decades later, in the 1937 encyclical drafted by the future Pope Pius XII entitled Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI warned Catholics that antisemitism was incompatible with Christianity. Yet World War II presented new challenges for the Catholic Church in this area because some historians accuse Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Although the historical record reveals his words and efforts were clearly against the Nazis, his actions continue to be a source of debate. Prominent members of the Jewish community such as Golda Meir, Albert Einstein, Moshe Sharett, and Rabbi Isaac Herzog contradicted the criticisms and spoke highly of Pius' efforts to protect Jews; others like rabbi David G. Dalin noted that "hundreds of thousands" of Jews were saved by the Church.

Vatican II and beyond

In the aftermath of World War II, religious freedoms came under fire from the communist governments of Eastern Europe. the Church's official resistance and in particular the leadership of Pope John Paul II were credited with helping to bring about the downfall of communist governments across Europe in 1991. The Catholic Church engaged in a comprehensive reform during and immediately after the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Charged with making the historical teachings of the Church clear to the modern world, the council pronounced on topics such as the nature of the church, the mission of the laity, and religious freedom. The Church also embarked on efforts to improve Christian unity. In addition to finding common ground on certain issues with Protestant churches, the Catholic Church has discussed the possibility of unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Dissenting groups have occupied polarized positions about the edges of the post–Vatican II Catholic Church. One group, the Traditionalists, believe that the reforms of Vatican II have gone too far in departing from traditional church norms, particularly with regard to changes made to the form of the mass. Liberal Catholics typically take a less literal view of the bible and of divine revelation, sometimes disagreeing with official Church views on social and political issues. The most famous liberal theologian of recent times has been the German, Hans Küng, whose unorthodox views of the incarnation, and his denials of infallibility led to Church withdrawal of his authorization to teach as a Catholic in 1979.
In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. It re–interpreted the Gospel in radical ways that redefined the Church's mission. Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, became one of the movement's better-known scholars. A meeting of Latin American bishops in 1968, charged with the implementation of Vatican II, led to the new movement growing increasingly influential. In 1979, the subsequent bishops' conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church's "preferential option for the poor". Salvadoran Archbishop Óscar Romero became the region's most famous contemporary martyr in 1980, when he was murdered while saying mass by forces allied with the government. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI have denounced the movement as dangerous and "a fundamental threat to the faith of the church" because, as Edward Norman explains, the Church considers it an attempt to establish a Christian society "through the coercive machinery of political management". The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. While Pope John Paul II was criticized for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s brought challenging new issues for the Church to address. Pope Paul VI's encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968 affirmed the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and rejected the use of contraception; both abortion and euthanasia were considered to be murder. The Church's rejection of the use of condoms has provoked criticism, especially with respect to countries where AIDS and HIV have attained epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that countries like Kenya, where behavioral changes are endorsed instead of condom use, have experienced greater progress towards controlling the disease than countries solely promoting condoms.
Efforts to lead the Church to consider the ordination of women led Pope John Paul II to issue two documents to explain Church teaching. Mulieris Dignitatem was issued in 1988 to clarify women's equally important and complimentary role in the work of the Church. Then in 1994, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis explained that the Church only extends ordination to men in order to follow the example of Jesus, who chose only men for this specific duty.
Serious lawsuits emerged in 2001 claiming that deviant priests had sexually abused minors. Some priests resigned, some others were defrocked and jailed, and financial settlements were agreed with many victims. This percentage was far surpassed in a 2004 US government investigation of student sexual abuse by US public school teachers. Although public school administrators engaged in exactly the same behavior when dealing with accused teachers, the Church was widely criticized when it was discovered that some bishops knew about allegations and reassigned the accused instead of removing them. Some bishops and psychiatrists noted that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior with counseling. Pope John Paul II responded by stating "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young". The Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse by requiring fingerprinting and background checks for Church employees and, because a significant majority of victims were teenage boys, disallowing ordination of men with "deep–seated homosexual tendencies". They also require all dioceses faced with an allegation to alert the authorities, conduct an investigation and remove the accused from duty. In 2008, the Church asserted that the scandal was a very serious problem and estimated that it was "probably caused by 'no more than 1 per cent' of the over 400,000 worldwide Catholic priests.




  • The History and Politics of Latin American Theology, Volume 1
  • One Faith, One Lord: A Study of Basic Catholic Belief
  • Jesus of Nazareth
  • Early Modern Italy
  • A Concise History of the Catholic Church
  • A Gospel of Shame: Children, Sexual Abuse, and the Catholic Church
  • Early Modern Spain: A Social History (Social History of Modern Europe)
  • The Story of Christianity
  • Saints and Sinners, a History of the Popes
  • A History of the Church in Latin America
  • The Cambridge Modern History
  • The Encyclopedia of Christianity ">,+origin&sig=n9mbyiNf8G6AUpPj7ij6zHPwXMY|isbn=0802824153}}
  • New Dictionary of Theology
  • Perversion of Power: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church
  • The Story of Christianity, Volume 2, The Reformation to the Present Day
  • The English Reformation Revised
  • The Church in Africa 1450–1950
  • Geography of Religion
  • From Savages to Subjects: Missions in the History of the American Southwest
  • Ireland Her Own
  • Elizabeth the Great
  • The Native Peoples of North America
  • The Spanish Inquisition
  • Mission to Paradise: The Story of Junipero Serra and the Missions of California
  • A History of Christianity in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, 1450–1990
  • Catholic Christianity
  • Catholic Youth Bible
  • The Catholic Tradition
  • Medieval Civilization
  • Creeds of the Churches">,M1|isbn=0664240577}}
  • Introducing the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Traditional Themes and Contemporary Issues
  • Catholicism: New Study Edition-Completely Revised and Updated
  • Christianity: An Introduction
  • The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity
  • The Prophetic Spirit of Catechesis: How We Share the Fire in Our Hearts
  • The Catholic Reformation
  • Dictionary of the Arts
  • The Reformation: How a Monk and a Mallet Changed the World
  • The Roman Catholic Church, An Illustrated History
  • A Short History of the Catholic Church ">,M1|isbn=1851821252}}
  • The Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity
  • Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession
  • The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology
  • The First Crusaders
  • Creeds of Christendom, With a History and Critical Notes
  • Latin America's Wars: The Age of the Caudillo
  • A History of the Mexican-American People
  • A History of Britain 1: At the Edge of the World?
  • The Essential Catholic Catechism
  • A Dictionary of Political Thought
  • Archbishop Romero: Memories and Reflections
  • Mexico and the United States
  • Is Latin America turning Protestant?: The Politics of Evangelical Growth
  • Church and State in Early Modern England, 1509-1640
  • A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America
  • The Mass: The Sacrifice of Christ
  • God's War: A New History of the Crusades
  • Co–Workers in the Vineyard of the Lord
  • Program for Priestly Formation
  • Annuario Pontificio (Pontifical Yearbook)
  • The Catholic Church Through the Ages
  • John Paul II: A Light for the World, Essays and Reflections on the Papacy of
  • How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization
  • FDR, The Vatican and the Roman Catholic Church in America, 1933–1945

Further reading

Chronological order of publication (oldest first)
  • Why Do Catholics Do That?
  • What Catholics Really Believe-Setting the Record Straight: 52 Answers to Common Misconceptions About the Catholic Faith
  • Triumph: The Power and the Glory of the Catholic Church: A 2,000-Year History
  • Catholicism for Dummies
  • Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Catholicism, 3rd Edition (Complete Idiot's Guide to)
  • Catholicism Answer Book: The 300 Most Frequently Asked Questions
  • The How-To Book of the Mass: Everything You Need to Know but No One Ever Taught You
  • The Complete Idiot's Guide to the Catholic Catechism (Complete Idiot's Guide to)
  • Catholicism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

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