CHURCH HISTORY AT A GLANCE
The first Church leaders were the Twelve Apostles, with Peter as head (Jesus said to Peter: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." (Mt 16:17-19) In the Bible, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John mention Peter's name 195 times. Peter was the only Apostle given the keys. He was the first Apostle to receive the power of binding and loosing on Earth. "Binding" and "loosing" were Rabbinic legal terms conveying real legislative power; thus Christ's statement was understood to convey promise to Peter of legislative authority over the Kingdom - his decisions would be ratified by heaven. Today, the pope, when speaking by himself, has a personal authority, making decisions that are ratified by heaven. (More info here). Later, the Apostles as a group received legislative authority (Mt. 18:18) from Christ. That is why today, when all the bishops of the world speak together, including the bishop of Rome, it is ratified by heaven.
The special and divinely established role of Peter the Rock (chief shepherd of the Church from 32 A.D. to 67 A.D.) was immediately passed on to Linus (67-76 A.D.), who was immediately succeeded by Anacletus (76-88 A.D.), who was immediately succeeded by Clement of Rome (88-97 A.D.), who was immediately succeeded by the next 261 popes. The current successor of Peter is Pope Benedict XVI. We call him pope ("Papa" in Italian), which means Father, because Peter was a Father to the first Christians. Peter was the Rock on whom Jesus built His church. Jesus, speaking in his native language of Aramaic, changed Peter's name from Simon to "Rock" ("Kepha" or "Cephas" in Aramaic). In English, "Rock" is translated as "Peter." According to the Gospel of John, He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, "So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter). (John 1:42)
Meanwhile, the Apostles conferred authority on other worthy men via the laying on of hands. These newly ordained men ordained other men, also through the laying on of hands. Only men whose authority came in a line from the College of Apostles could validly ordain. Today, all Catholic bishops around the world were validly ordained. In other words, the laying on of hands conferred on them would form a human chain going back to the College of Apostles. Although the successor of Peter has always served as the head bishop, the other bishops around the world also have authority as a whole. That's because Jesus, after conferring the authority to Peter to bind and loose on Earth (Mt. 16:17), later extended this incredible authority to the whole group of Apostles, saying Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Mt 18:18) The Catholic Church as well as the Orthodox Churches are still led by bishops in apostolic succession. Tragically, Protestants cut themselves off from the divinely preserved apostolic lines of succession in the 16th century. Their leaders can not trace their laying on of the hands back to the first century.
The Church that Jesus founded never collapsed because Jesus promised it never would. As recorded in the Bible, Jesus said the powers of hell would never prevail against His church. (See Mt 16:18). The Catholic Church is the oldest Church in the world and the oldest government as well. The Catholic Church will still be here when Jesus comes again on the Last Day of the world. It will still be led by Peter's direct successor until this day.
In the first few centuries of the Church, various heretical and schismatic groups would pop up here and there. St. Augustine and the other Early Church Fathers were able to prove these groups were fakes by pointing to the fact that their leaders were not in direct succession from the College of Apostles, and these groups did not posses the direct successor of Peter. For example, Church Father Irenaeus (who was mentored by the Apostle John's disciple Polycarp) wrote: And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about" (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [189 A.D.]).
Church Father St. Irenaeus also wrote that all Christians had to agree with the Church founded at Rome. "But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [189 A.D.]).
Here is Firmilian, pointing out in 253 A.D. that Pope Stephen holds the throne (or chair) of Peter, by virtue of direct succession from Peter: "[Pope] Stephen ... boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid [Matt. 16:18]. ... Stephen ... announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter" (collected in Cyprian’s Letters 74:17 [253 A.D.]).
Here, St. Jerome, the Doctor of Biblical Science, stresses that Christians must be in communion with the office of pope (or chair of Peter) "I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which the Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails" (Letters 15:2 [396 A.D.]).
Sometimes, the Church Fathers would write out lists of popes in chronological order to show the popes could be traced right back to Peter and His special office (called the "Chair of Peter"). The lists were offered as proof that the Catholic Church was the one church founded by Jesus.
Here, St. Jerome also appeals to the succession from the apostles as a basic characteristic of Christian clergy : "Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians" (Letters 14:8 [396 A.D.]).
Here, St. Augustine, a Church Doctor, lists "succession of priests" from Peter himself as one of the things that kept him in the Catholic Church. "[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church’s] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called ‘Catholic,’ when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" (Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation" 4:5 [397 A.D.]).
Ten years after the last Apostle died, St. Ignatius of Antioch referred to the Church in Rome as holding the "presidency" of the many churches that together formed the Catholic Church. He wrote: "Ignatius . . . to the church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you hold the presidency in love, named after Christ and named after the Father" (Letter to the Romans 1:1 [110 A.D.]).
Seven years after the last Apostle died, we see St. Ignatius (third bishop of Antioch, Early Church Father, and personal acquaintance of the Apostles) calling the Church of the Christians "the Catholic Church." “Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans 8:1-2 107 A.D.)
The life of earliest Christians focused on the Sacrifice of the Holy Mass. Obviously, Christians did not have personal Bibles (the press was not invented until the 15the century), but they heard the Word of God at Mass from their priests. Through the sacraments, especially Holy Communion, they had personal contact with the living Jesus. Through the sacraments, they were fed supernatural grace to their souls through the sacraments, and were transformed by the living God. The Church Fathers vehemently defended the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Check out some of the Church Father quotes at Catholic Answers concerning the Real Presence. All Christians in the true Church literally interpreted the words of Jesus which commanded them to eat His flesh. "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him (John 6: 53-56) All Christians in the one Church accepted the literal message of Jesus when he held up bread and said "This is my Body." According to the Gospel of Matthew: Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins (Mt 26:26-28)
4th century: The Catholic Church, which had been promised the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit into eternity, was able to determine which first-century writings were definitely inspired (and should become part of the New Testament) and which were not inspired. Councils led by bishops who were direct successors of Apostles were able to determine the canon of the Bible. Of course, all bishops were also priests by definition. Any group that was NOT in union with direct successors of the Apostles would have been dismissed by the early Christian community as non-authoritative and schismatic. Christians knew that the vehicle for truthful doctrine and correct Biblical interpretation came through the Church that could prove Apostolic Succession. This awesome authority of the Church to bind and loose on Earth came straight from Jesus. See Mt 16:19 where Jesus first invests the authority in Peter and Mt 18:18, where Jesus extends the authority to the other Apostles. Christians today use those same contents of the New Testament that were settled upon way back when. (that includes Catholics, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches)
In the 11th century, the Great Schism occurred, meaning that bishops in the East broke off the Catholic Church as a whole to form the Orthodox Church, but fortunately, Orthodox Christians maintained most of the historic Christian doctrines including all Seven Sacraments, the Mass, a valid priesthood, apostolic succession AND THE REAL PRESENCE OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST IN THE EUCHARIST. The major thing they are now missing is being in union with the direct successor of St. Peter (currently Pope Benedict XVI). We pray for restored unity!
In the 16th century, the Protestant churches got their start with several renegade Catholics, especially Martin Luther and John Calvin. Luther was concerned because a lot of the priests of the day were obscuring the true teachings of the Church, and were abusing their power, especially in the issuing of indulgences. Today, the concerns Luther had have been eradicated (You certainly won't find anybody "selling" indulgences), so we hope everyone will come back to the Church of their ancestors, the Catholic Church. Back in the 16th century, official teachings of the Catholic Church had not changed, but some priests were sinning by not adhering to official teaching. The Catholic Reformers - including St. Frances de Sales, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Vincent de Paul, etc. - through their lives of intense prayer and radical holiness were able to restore holiness in the Catholic Church. Luther, although he started out with good intentions, wound up pronouncing new doctrines that contradicted ancient Christian doctrines. He got kicked out of the Catholic Church, and continued trying to stamp out a whole list of historic Christian doctrines, including penance, priestly celibacy, and even Confession, despite the fact that Jesus Himself passed on his awesome authority to forgive sins and even to withhold forgiveness of sins to certain representatives (Jesus breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 22-23). Luther also declared the doctrine of "faith alone" and when he could not find the word "alone" in the Bible, he added it after the word "faith" when he translated his Bible into the German language.
The Epistle of James almost drove Luther mad because of its statement "a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24) even to the point that Luther said he almost felt like "throwing Jimmy into the stove." Of course, there were also problematic verses such as Rev 20:12-13, Romans 2:5-8, 2 Cor 5:10, 2 Cor 11:15, 1 Pet 1:17, Col 3:24-25, Rom 11:22, 1 Cor 9:27, 2 Tim 2:11-13, Heb 6:4-6, Heb 10:26-27, 1 Cor 10:11-12, and Gal 5:4. Luther thought man had no control over whether he accepted or rejected the grace won by Jesus, and he wrote a book called On the Bondage of the Will. Soon after, John Calvin formally declared that a true Christian could never lose his salvation. This, of course, contradicted the Bible and all of Christianity for the first 1500 years. The Early Church would have regarded that idea as heresy; for the early Christians believed in degrees of sins, believing that more serious sins forfeited a person's salvation even after grace was received by the person. Centuries later, the Protestant movement spawned the founding of non-denominational and fundamentalist churches. The divisions that were caused in Christianity had lasting effects, and we are still praying for the wounds to be healed and for the unity that Christ pleaded for (Jn 17:17-23) to be restored.
20th century: The Catholic Church kept plugging along, led by a direct successor of St. Peter. Some believe that all popes of the 20th century will be canonized saints. We still believe in all the doctrines of the earliest centuries. We have an assurance that our Church is incapable of pronouncing false doctrines because Jesus promised it "all the truth." (we sometimes call this infallibility, which pertains only to doctrines; it of course does not imply popes cannot sin). Jesus told the Apostles: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth." (John 16:13) In the Bible, the Church is referred to as "the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Tim 3:15). Also, Jesus ensured that when his representatives spoke, they would be communicating Christ's own message. "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." (Luke 10:16) When the Early Church leaders made decisions, they knew it was the Holy Spirit guiding them. Luke recorded: For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things. (Acts 15:28) The divine guidance of the Church will last until the end of time. "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever" (John 14:16). The teaching mission of the Church is divinely protected until the end of time; for Jesus told them:: 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, to the close of the age.(Mt 28:19-20)
"What an awesome authority Jesus invested in Peter when he said "whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven." (Mt. 16:19)
SAINT AUGUSTINE: "whatever has been preached and believed throughout the
whole Church with true Catholic faith since the days of antiquity is true, even
if it not be subject to rational investigation, and even if it not be explained
in words." (Against Jovinian)
CHURCH GOVERNMENT List of Popes, Apostolic Succession, Church and Papacy, St. Peter, Apostolic Succession (Catholic Encyclopedia), Infallibility (Catholic Encyclopedia), The Pope (Cathoilc Encyclopedia), The Church (Catholic Encyclopedia), Unity as a Mark of the Church (Catholic Encyclopedia), St. Augustine of Hippo (Catholic Encyclopedia), Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, The Catholic Church (Wikipedia), Peter is the Rock, Respected Protestant scholars on Peter, Petra and Petros, More on Peter, "Petra" and "Petros", Debate on "Petra", "Petros" and "Peter, The Pebble Argument Goes Down, Peter, Aramaic and Greek, Scott Hahn on the Papacy
CHURCH DOCTRINES The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Sacraments, Church Fathers on the Eucharist, Christ in the Eucharist, Sacrament of Penance, Biblical Evidence for Catholic Church, Bible Verses for Catholic Doctrines, Pope in the Bible, Bible Cheat-Sheet
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