The Catholic Church defines its mission as spreading the message of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity. The Church operates social programs and institutions throughout the world, including schools, universities, hospitals, missions and shelters, as well as organisations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas Internationalis and Catholic Charities that help the poor, families, the elderly and the sick. The Church and many historians believe it to be the continuation, through apostolic succession, of the Christian community founded by Jesus in his consecration of Saint Peter. The Church has defined its doctrines through various ecumenical councils, following the example set by the first Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem. On the basis of promises that Jesus made to his apostles, it believes that it is guided by the Holy Spirit and so protected from falling into doctrinal error. Catholic faith is summarized in the Nicene Creed and detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Formal Catholic worship is ordered by the liturgy, which is regulated by Church authority. The Eucharist, one of seven Church sacraments and a key part of every Catholic Mass, is the center of Catholic worship.
With a history spanning almost two thousand years, the Church is the Western world's oldest institution, and has played a prominent role in the history of Western civilization since at least the 4th century. 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 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 Catholic Church maintains that it is the "one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church" founded by Jesus, but acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of other Christian communities to bring people to salvation. 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 opposition to its pro-life stance on abortion, contraception and euthanasia.
The Catholic Church traces its foundation 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, the leader of the apostles. Catholics cite Jesus' words in the Gospel of Matthew to support this view: "... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church ... 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 Catholic belief, this promised church was brought fully into the world when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles in the event known as Pentecost.
Some scholars agree that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus and that the historical record confirms that it was considered a Christian doctrinal authority from its beginning. Henry Chadwick cites a letter from Pope Clement I to the church in Corinth (c. 95) as evidence of a presiding Roman cleric who exercised authority over other churches. Eamon Duffy acknowledges the existence of a Christian community in Rome and that Peter and Paul "lived, preached and died" there, but is not certain that there was a ruling bishop in the Roman church in the first century, and questions the concept of apostolic succession.
The Church believes that its mission is founded upon Jesus' 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 this mission as a threefold responsibility to proclaim the word of God, celebrate the sacraments, and exercise the ministry of charity. As part of its ministry of charity the Church runs Catholic Relief Services, Catholic Charities, Caritas Internationalis, Catholic schools, universities, hospitals, shelters and ministries to the poor, as well as ministries to families, the elderly and the marginalized.
Catholic teachings have been refined and clarified by councils of the Church, convened by Church leaders, at important points throughout history. The first such council, the Council of Jerusalem, was convened by the apostles around the year 50; the most recent was the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Sacraments are important visible rituals which Catholics see as effective channels of God's grace to all those who receive them with the proper disposition (ex opere operato).
This event, known as the Fall of Man, separated humanity from its original intimacy with God according to Catholic belief. The Catechism states that the description of the fall, in Genesis 3, uses figurative language, but affirms "... a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man" and resulted 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". Although Catholic doctrine accepts the possibility that God's creation occurred in a way consistent with the Theory of Evolution, it rejects any use of the theory to deny supernatural divine design, considering that to be outside the scope of science. The soul did not evolve, according to Catholic doctrine, but was infused into man and woman directly by God. The Church believes that people can be cleansed of original sin and all personal sins through Baptism. This sacramental act of cleansing admits a person as a full member of the natural and supernatural Church, and is only conferred once in a lifetime.
Christians believe that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament's Messianic prophecies. The Nicene Creed states that he is "... the only begotten son of God, ... one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made ...". In an event known as the Incarnation, the Church teaches that God descended from heaven for the salvation of humanity, became man through the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of a Jewish virgin named Mary. It is believed that Jesus' mission on earth included giving people his word and example to follow, as recorded in the four Gospels. Catholicism teaches that following the example of Jesus helps believers to become closer to him, and therefore to grow in true love, freedom, and the fullness of life.
Sinning is considered the opposite to following Jesus, weakening a person's resemblance to God and turning their souls away from his love. Sins range from the less serious venial sins, to more serious mortal sins which end a person's relationship with God. Through the passion of Jesus and his crucifixion, the Church teaches that all people have an opportunity for forgiveness and freedom from sin, and so can be reconciled to God. John the Baptist, called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" in reference to the ancient Jewish practice of sacrificing lambs to God. By reconciling with God and following Jesus' words and deeds, the Church believes one can enter the Kingdom of God, which is the "... reign of God over people's hearts and lives."
After baptism, the sacrament of Penance (Confession) is the means by which Catholics believe they can obtain forgiveness for subsequent sin and receive God's grace. Catholics believe Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sins in God's name. The act involves confession by an individual to a priest, who then offers advice and imposes a particular penance to be performed. The penitent then prays an act of contrition and the priest administers absolution, formally forgiving the person of his sins. The priest is forbidden under penalty of excommunication to reveal any sin or disclosure heard under the seal of confession. Penance helps prepare Catholics before they can licitly receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.
Through the sacrament of Confirmation, Catholics ask for and believe they receive the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is sometimes called the "sacrament of Christian maturity" and is believed to increase and deepen the grace received at Baptism. Spiritual graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit may include the wisdom to see and follow God's plan, as well as judgment, love, courage, knowledge, reverence and rejoicing in the presence of God. The corresponding fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. To be licitly confirmed, Catholics must be in a state of grace, in 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. Baptism in the Eastern rites, including infant baptism, is immediately followed by the reception of Confirmation and the Eucharist.
There are three states of afterlife in Catholic belief. Purgatory is a temporary condition for the purification of souls who, although saved, are not free enough from sin to enter directly into heaven. It is a state requiring penance and purgation of sin through God's mercy aided by the prayers of others. Heaven is a time of glorious union with God and a life of unspeakable joy that lasts forever. Finally, those who chose to live a sinful and selfish life, did not repent, and fully intended to persist in their ways are sent to hell, an everlasting separation from God. The Church teaches that no one is condemned to hell without having freely decided to reject God and his love. He predestines no one to hell and no one can determine whether anyone else has been condemned. Catholicism teaches that through God's mercy a person can repent at any point before death and be saved "like the good thief who was crucified next to Jesus".
Catholic belief holds that the Church "... is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth." To Catholics, the term "Church" refers to the people of God, who abide in Jesus and who, "... nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ. Catholic teaching maintains that the Church exists simultaneously on earth (Church militant), in purgatory (Church suffering), and in heaven (Church triumphant); thus Mary and all other saints are alive and part of the living Church. This unity of the Church in heaven and on earth is the "Communion of Saints". The Church constitution, Lumen Gentium, affirms that the fullness of "means of salvation" exists only in the Catholic Church but acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of Christian communities separated from itself to bring people to salvation. It teaches that Catholics are called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians.
The Church operates numerous social ministries throughout the world, but teaches that individual Catholics are required to practice spiritual and corporal works of mercy as well. Corporal works of mercy include feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, immigrants or refugees, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting those in prison. Spiritual works require the Catholic to share knowledge, to give advice, comfort those who suffer, have patience, forgive those who hurt them, give correction to those who need it, and pray for the living and the dead. In conjunction with the work of mercy to visit the sick, the Church offers the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, performed only by a priest. Church teaching on works of mercy and the new social problems of the industrial era led to the development of Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes human dignity and commits Catholics to the welfare of others.
The Eucharist (Holy Communion), is celebrated at each Mass and is the center of Catholic worship. The words of institution for this sacrament are found in the Gospels. The Church teaches that the Old Testament promise of God's salvation for all peoples was fulfilled when Jesus established a New Covenant with humanity through the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper—a covenant then consummated by his sacrifice on the cross. It believes that the bread and wine brought to the altar at each Mass are changed through the power of the Holy Spirit into the true body and the true blood of Christ (termed transubstantiation) and that by consuming these, believers are spiritually nourished and deepen their union with Jesus, are helped to overcome and avoid sin, cleansed of venial sins, unite with the poor and promote Christian unity.
The most common celebration of the Eucharist, the Latin rite or ordinary form, is separated into two parts, the Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist. and generally last from a half hour for a daily Mass to just over an hour for a Sunday Mass. According to professor Alan Schreck, in its main elements and prayers, the Catholic Mass celebrated today "bears striking resemblance" 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 celebration of the Eucharist in the Eastern Catholic Churches is termed Divine Liturgy. Variations exist in this liturgy between the different Eastern Churches that reflect different cultural traditions. An alternate or extraordinary form of Mass, called the Tridentine Mass, is celebrated primarily in Latin. Standardized at the Council of Trent, it reaffirms that the Mass is the same sacrifice of Jesus' death as the one he suffered on Calvary, contrary to Protestant belief.
Because the Church teaches that Christ is present in 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 Catholics must abstain from eating for one hour before receiving Communion. Those who are conscious of being in a state of mortal sin are forbidden from this sacrament unless they have received absolution through the sacrament of Penance. Because the Church respects their celebration of the Mass as a true sacrament, intercommunion with the Eastern Orthodox in "suitable circumstances and with Church authority" is both possible and encouraged. Although the same is not true for Protestant churches, in circumstances of grave necessity, Catholic ministers may give the sacraments of Eucharist, Penance and Anointing of the Sick to Protestants if they freely ask for them, truly believe what the Catholic Church teaches regarding the sacraments, and have the proper disposition to receive them. Catholics may not receive communion in Protestant churches because of their different beliefs and practices regarding Holy Orders and the Eucharist.
In addition to the Mass, the Catholic Church considers 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." Meditation is prayer in which the "mind seeks to understand the why and how of Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking." Contemplative prayer is being with God, taking time to be close to and alone with him. Three of the most common devotional prayers of the Catholic Church are The Lord's Prayer, the Rosary and Stations of the Cross. These prayers are most often vocal, yet always meditative and contemplative. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament is a common form of contemplative prayer, whereas Benediction is a common vocal method of prayer. Lectio divina, which means "sacred reading", is a form of meditative prayer. The Church encourages patterns of prayer intended to develop into habitual prayer. This includes such daily prayers as grace at meals, the Rosary, or the Liturgy of the Hours, as well as the weekly rhythm of Sunday Eucharist and the observation of the year-long liturgical cycle.
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. Explaining the intercession of saints, 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." The Church holds Mary, as ever Virgin and Mother of God" in special regard. She is believed to have been conceived without original sin, and was assumed into heaven. These dogmas, focus of Roman Catholic Mariology, are considered infallible. She is honored with many titles such as Queen of Heaven. Pope Paul VI called her Mother of the Church, because by giving birth to Christ, she is considered to be the spiritual mother to each member of the Body of Christ. Because of her influential role in the life of Jesus, prayers and devotions, such as the Rosary, the Hail Mary, the Salve Regina and the Memorare are common Catholic practices. The Church has affirmed the validity of Marian apparitions (supernatural experiences of Mary by one or more persons) such as those at Lourdes, Fatima and Guadalupe while others such as Međugorje are still under investigation. Affirmed or not, however, pilgrimages to these places are popular Catholic devotions. Several liturgical Marian feasts are celebrated throughout the Church Year.
Worldwide, the Catholic Church comprises a Western or Latin church and 22 Eastern Catholic autonomous particular churches. The Church is divided into jurisdictional areas known as dioceses, or sees. These are known as eparchies in the Eastern Churches. In 2007, there were 2,782 sees in the Catholic Church, both Eastern and Western. Each is headed by a bishop, patriarch or eparch, appointed by the pope.
Each diocese is divided into individual communities called parishes, each staffed by one or more priests. The community is made up of ordained members and the laity. Members of religious orders such as nuns, friars and monks are considered lay members unless individually ordained as priests.
Lay men become ordained through the sacrament of Holy Orders, and form a three-part hierarchy of bishops, priests and deacons. All of the bishops, along with the pope, cardinals, patriarchs, primates, archbishops and metropolitans, comprise the College of Bishops and are considered the successors of the apostles. Only bishops are able to perform the sacrament of Holy Orders, and Confirmation is ordinarily reserved to them as well (though priests may do it under special circumstances). 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. Although all priests, bishops and deacons preach, teach, baptize, witness marriages and conduct funeral services, only priests and bishops may celebrate the Eucharist or administer the sacraments of Penance and Anointing of the Sick.
Married men may become deacons, but only celibate men are ordained as priests in the Latin Rite. Clergy who have converted from other denominations are sometimes exempted from this rule. The Eastern Catholic Churches ordain both celibate and married men. All rites of the Catholic Church maintain the ancient tradition where marriage is not allowed after ordination. Men with transitory homosexual leanings may be ordained deacons following three years of prayer and chastity, but homosexual men who are sexually active, or those who have deeply rooted homosexual tendencies cannot be ordained. All programs that aim to prepare men for the priesthood are governed by canon law, and are usually designed by national bishops' conferences, so they can vary from country to country. 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.
Since the twelve apostles chosen by Jesus were all male, only men may be ordained in the Catholic Church. While some consider this to be evidence of a discriminatory attitude toward women, the Church believes that Jesus called women to different yet equally important vocations in Church ministry. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Christifideles Laici, states that women have specific vocations reserved only for the female sex, and are equally called to be disciples of Jesus. This belief in different and complementary roles between men and women is exemplified in Pope Paul VI's statement "If the witness of the Apostles founds the Church, the witness of women contributes greatly towards nourishing the faith of Christian communities".
The laity consists of those Catholics who are not ordained clergy. Saint Paul compared the diversity of roles in the Church to the different parts of a body—all being important to enable the body to function. The Church therefore considers that lay members are equally called to live according to Christian principles, to work to spread the message of Jesus, and to 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 lay vocations. The sacrament of Matrimony in the Latin rite is the only sacrament not conferred by a priest–the spouses mutually confer the sacrament upon each other by expressing their consent before the priest who serves as a witness. In the Eastern liturgies the minister of this sacrament, which is called "Crowning", is the priest or bishop who, after receiving the mutual consent of the spouses, successively crowns the bridegroom and the bride as a sign of the marriage covenant. Church law makes no provision for divorce, but annulment may be granted when proof is produced that essential conditions for contracting a valid marriage were absent. 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.
Lay ecclesial movements consist of lay Catholics organized for purposes of teaching the faith, cultural work, mutual support or missionary work. Such groups include: Communion and Liberation, Neocatechumenal Way, Regnum Christi, Opus Dei, Life Teen and many others. 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.
The majority of those wishing to enter the consecrated life join one of the religious institutes which are also referred to as monastic or religious orders. They follow a common rule such as the Rule of St Benedict and agree to live under the leadership of a superior. They usually live together in a community but individuals may be given permission to live as hermits, 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.
The Church recognizes several other forms of consecrated life, including secular institutes, societies of apostolic life and consecrated widows and widowers. It also makes provision for the approval of new forms.
Membership of the Catholic Church is attained through Baptism. For those baptized as children, First Communion is a particular rite of passage when, following instruction, they are allowed to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist for the first time. Christians baptized outside of the Catholic 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 by committing 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 or performing an abortion. Throwing away or retaining for a sacrilegious purpose the Eucharist is considered an excommunicable offense. Formal 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.
|Parishes and missions||408,637|
|Primary and secondary schools||125,016|
|Homes for the elderly and handicapped||13,933|
|Dispensaries, leprosaries, nurseries and other institutions||74,936|
|Diocesan and religious priests||405,178|
|Seminarians (men studying for the priesthood)||110,583|
Some parts of Europe and the Americas have experienced a shortage of priests in recent years as the number of priests has not increased in proportion to the number of Catholics. The Church in Latin America, known for its large parishes where the parishioner to priest ratio is the highest in the world, considers this to be a contributing factor in the rise of pentecostal and evangelical Christian denominations in the region. Secularism has seen a steady rise in Europe, yet the Catholic presence there remains strong.
With a high number of adult baptisms, the Church is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else. It also operates a greater number of Catholic schools per parish here (3:1) than in other areas of the world. Challenges faced include suppression of non-Islamic religious practices by Muslims in Sudan and a high rate of AIDS in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The Church in Asia is a significant minority among other religions comprising only 3% of all Asians, yet its vibrance is evidenced by the large proportion of religious sisters, priests and parishes to total Catholic population. From 1975–2000, total Asian population grew by 61% with an Asian Catholic population increase of 104%. Challenges faced include oppression in communist countries like North Korea and China.
Oceania is overwhelmingly Christian with Roman Catholicism as the majority denomination. There, the Church faces challenges in reaching indigenous populations where over 715 different languages are spoken. Of Catholics worldwide, 12% reside in Africa, 50% in the American continent, 10% are in Asia, 27% in Europe and 1% live in Oceania.
The cultural influence of the Catholic Church has been vast, particularly upon western society. Most significant was its role in the spread of the Christian religion throughout the world, a process which ended practices like human sacrifice, slavery, infanticide and polygamy in Christian lands. Historians note that Catholic missionaries, popes, laymen and religious were among the leaders in the campaign against slavery, an institution that has existed in almost every culture. Christianity improved the status of women by condemning female infanticide (as well as all other forms), divorce, incest, polygamy and marital infidelity of both men and women in contrast to the evangelized cultures beginning with the Roman Empire that previously permitted these practices.
The Church has frequently been criticized for the house arrest of Galileo over the geocentrism controversy of the 1600s and his criticism of the Biblical Book of Joshua (10:13). However historians of science, including non-Catholics such as J.L. Heilbron, A.C. Crombie, David Lindberg, and Thomas Goldstein, have argued that the Church had a significant, positive influence on the development of civilization. In contrast to scholars such as Ramsay MacMullen, who take a negative view with respect to the loss of ancient literature with the rise of Christianity, they hold that not only did monks save and cultivate the remnants of ancient civilization during the barbarian invasions of Europe, but the Church promoted learning and science through its sponsorship of universities and Catholic schools throughout the world. Presently, the Church operates the world's largest non-governmental school system. The Catholic Church was the dominant influence on the development of Western art, at least up to the Protestant Reformation. Important contributions include its patronage of artists, its consistent opposition to Byzantine iconoclasm and the creation of the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles of art and architecture. Renaissance artists like Raphael, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci were among a multitude of innovative artists sponsored by the Church. In music, Catholic monks developed the first forms of musical notation, and an enormous body of religious music has been composed for the Catholic Church through the ages. This led directly to the emergence and development of European classical music, and its many derivatives. The Baroque style, which encompassed music, art and architecture, was particularly encouraged by the post-Reformation Catholic Church as it offered a means of religious expression that was stirring and emotional, intended to stimulate religious fervor.
The apostles convened the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, in or around the year 50 to reconcile differences concerning the evangelization of Gentiles. Although competing forms of Christianity emerged early and persisted into the fifth century, there was broad doctrinal unity within the mainstream churches. From the year 100 onward, teachers like Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus defined Catholic teaching in stark opposition to Gnosticism. The Roman Church retained the practice of meeting in ecumenical councils to ensure that any internal doctrinal differences were quickly resolved. In the first few centuries of its existence, the Church formed its teachings and traditions into a systematic whole under the influence of theological apologists such as Pope Clement I, 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. This began under Nero in the first century and culminated in the great persecution of Diocletian and Galerius, which was seen as a final attempt to wipe out Christianity. Nevertheless, Christianity continued to spread and was eventually legalized in 313 under Constantine I's Edict of Milan.
In 325, the First Council of Nicaea convened in response to the threat of Arianism and formulated the Nicene Creed as a basic statement of Christian belief. Emperor Constantine I commissioned the first Basilica of St. Peter and several other sites of lasting importance to Christianity. By this time, the altar as the focal point of each church, the sign of the cross, and the liturgical calendar had been established. In 380, Christianity was declared the sole religion of the Empire. In subsequent decades a series of Ecumenical councils codified critical elements of the Church's theology. The Council of Rome in 382 listed the accepted books of the Old and New Testament and in 391 this Biblical canon was translated into the common language of Latin creating the Vulgate. The Council of Ephesus in 431 clarified the nature of Jesus' incarnation and two decades later, the Council of Chalcedon solidified Roman papal primacy which added to continuing breakdown in relations between Rome and Constantinople, the see of the Eastern Church. Also sparked were the Monophysite disagreements over the precise nature of the incarnation of Jesus which led to the first of the various Oriental Orthodox Churches breaking away from the Catholic Church.
In 530, Saint Benedict wrote his monastic Rule, which became a blueprint for the organization of monasteries throughout Europe. The new monasteries preserved classical craft and artistic skills while maintaining intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria and libraries. As well as providing a focus for spiritual life, they functioned as agricultural, economic and production centers, particularly in remote regions, becoming major conduits of civilization. From 590 Pope Gregory the Great dramatically reformed church practice and administration, launching renewed missionary efforts. These were complemented by the Hiberno-Scottish missions from the Celtic monasticism of the British Isles. Missionaries such as Augustine of Canterbury, Saint Boniface, Willibrord and Ansgar took Christianity to the Anglo–Saxons and other Germanic peoples. Later missions reached the Slavs and other Scandinavians. In the same period the Visigoths and Lombards moved from Arianism toward Catholicism, and in Britain the full reunion of the Celtic churches with Rome was effectively marked by the Synod of Whitby in 664.
In the early 700s, iconoclasts, supported by the Eastern Emperors, and iconodules, supported by the Western Church, fought over the use of images in religious worship. The dispute was resolved in 787 when the Second Council of Nicaea ruled in favor of icons. This was just one of many disputes between the Eastern and Western Churches, which were growing apart during this time. Charlemagne, who had been crowned in 800 by the pope attempted to unify Western Europe through the common bond of Christianity, creating an improved system of education and establishing unified laws. However imperial interest created a problem for the church as succeeding emperors sought to impose increasingly tight control over the popes. Disagreements between the Eastern and Western churches arose again in 858, when Patriarch Ignatius of Constantinople, favored by the pope, was deposed for the more extreme Photios. The pope declared the election of Photios invalid and excommunicated him. The consequent long-running dispute added to the growing alienation between the churches.
After a dispute over whether Constantinople or Rome held jurisdiction over the church in Sicily, the two Churches mutually excommunicated each other in 1054, resulting in the East-West Schism. The Western (Latin) branch of Christianity has since become known as the Catholic Church, while the Eastern (Greek) branch became known as the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) both failed to heal the schism. Some Eastern churches have subsequently reunited with the Catholic Church. In spite of attempts at reunification, the two churches remain in schism, although excommunications were mutually lifted in 1965.
In 1095, Byzantine emperor Alexius I appealed to Pope Urban II for help against Muslim invasions, which caused Urban to launch the First Crusade, hoping to bring about reconciliation with Eastern Christianity. The series of military campaigns that followed 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. Reform efforts sparked by Cluny intensified internal Church efforts to eliminate the practice of lay investiture, or the practice of laymen selecting bishops. Considered by reformers to be a source of church corruption, lay investiture was a powerful source of dominance over the Church by secular rulers. Pope Gregory VII issued a decree against the practice in 1075 which contributed to a century and a half long struggle between popes and secular rulers. The matter was eventually settled with the Concordat of Worms in 1122 which decreed that elections of bishops would be conducted under canon law. Later, the Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux's influence led to the founding of eight new monastic orders founded in the 12th century, including the Military Knights of the Crusades. In the following century, new mendicant orders were founded by Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán which brought consecrated religious life into urban settings.
Twelfth century France witnessed the emergence of Catharism, a belief which 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 prompted 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.
Over time, other inquisitions were launched by the Church or secular rulers to prosecute heretics, to respond to the threat of Muslim invasion or for political purposes. 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. 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 in an effort to associate the entire Catholic Church with crimes most often committed by secular rulers. Over all, one percent of those tried by the inquisitions received death penalties, leading many scholars to consider them rather lenient when compared to the secular courts of the period. The inquisition played a major role in the final expulsion of Islam from the kingdoms of Sicily and Spain.
Driven by political instability in Rome, in 1309 Clement V became the first of seven popes to reside under French influence in the fortified city of Avignon. What became known as the Avignon Papacy ended in 1378 when, at the urging of Catherine of Siena and others, the papacy finally returned to Rome. With the death of Pope Gregory XI later that year, the papal election was disputed. Supporters of Italian and French-backed candidates were unable to come to agreement, resulting in the 38 year long Western schism with separate claimants to the papacy in Rome and Avignon. Efforts at resolution were further complicated when a third, compromise, pope was elected in 1409. 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.
In 1521 the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan made the first Catholic converts in the Philippines. The following year, the first Franciscan missionaries arrived in Mexico, establishing schools, model farms and hospitals. When some Europeans questioned whether the Indians were truly human and worthy of baptism, Pope Paul III in the 1537 bull Sublimis Deus confirmed that "their souls were as immortal as those of Europeans" and they should neither be robbed nor turned into slaves. Over the next 150 years, missions expanded into southwestern North America. Native people were often legally defined as children, and priests took on a paternalistic role, sometimes enforced with corporal punishment. Elsewhere, Portuguese missionaries under the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier evangelized in India and 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. Despite enforced isolation, a minority Christian population survived into the 19th century.
In 1509, the most famous scholar of the age, Erasmus, wrote In Praise of Folly, a work which captured a widely held unease about corruption in the Church. The Council of Constance, the Council of Basel and the Fifth Lateran Council had all attempted to reform internal Church abuses but had failed. As a result, rich, powerful and worldly men like Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) were able to win election to the papacy. In 1517, Martin Luther included his Ninety-Five Theses in a letter to several bishops. His theses protested key points of Catholic doctrine as well as the sale of indulgences. Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and others further criticized Catholic teachings. These challenges developed into the Protestant Reformation. In Germany, the reformation led to a nine-year war between the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic Emperor Charles V. In 1618 a far graver conflict, the Thirty Years' War, followed. In France, a series of conflicts termed the French Wars of Religion were fought from 1562 to 1598 between the Huguenots and the forces of the French Catholic League. King Henry IV's 1598 Edict of Nantes, which granted civil and religious toleration to Protestants was hesitantly accepted by Pope Clement VIII.
The English Reformation under Henry VIII began more as a political than as a theological dispute. When the annulment of his marriage was denied by the pope, Henry had Parliament pass the Acts of Supremacy which made him, and not the pope, head of a new Church of England. Although he strove to maintain the substance of traditional Catholicism, Henry initiated and supported the confiscation and dissolution of monasteries, friaries, convents and shrines throughout England, Wales and Ireland. Under Henry's daughter, Mary I, England was reunited with Rome, but the following monarch, Elizabeth I, restarted a separate church which outlawed Catholic priests and prevented Catholics from educating their children and taking part in political life until the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829 began the process of eliminating many of the anti-Catholic laws.
The Catholic Church responded to doctrinal challenges and abuses highlighted by the Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563), which became the driving force of the Counter-Reformation. Doctrinally, it reaffirmed central Catholic teachings such as transubstantiation, and the requirement for love and hope as well as faith to attain salvation. It also made important structural reforms, most importantly by improving the education of the clergy and laity and consolidating the central jurisdiction of the Roman Curia. New religious orders were founded, including the Theatines, Barnabites and Jesuits, some of which became the great missionary orders of later years. The writings of figures such as Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales and Philip Neri spawned new schools of spirituality within the Church. To popularize Counter-Reformation teachings, the Church encouraged the Baroque style in art, music and architecture.
Toward the latter part of the 17th century, Pope Innocent XI reformed abuses by the Church, including simony, nepotism and the lavish papal expenditures that had caused him to inherit a large papal debt. He promoted missionary activity, tried to unite Europe against the Turkish invasions, and condemned religious persecution of all kinds. In 1685 King Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes, ending a century-long experiment in religious toleration. This and other religious conflicts of the Reformation era provoked a backlash against Christianity, which helped spawn the violent anti-clericalism of the French Revolution. Direct attacks on the wealth of the Church and associated grievances led to the wholesale nationalisation of church property in France. Large numbers of French priests refused to take an oath of compliance to the National Assembly, leading to the Church being outlawed and replaced by a new religion of the worship of "Reason". Napoleon later re-established the Catholic Church in France through the Concordat of 1801. The end of the Napoleonic wars brought Catholic revival, renewed enthusiasm, and new respect for the papacy.
In the Americas, Franciscan priest Junípero Serra founded a series of new missions in cooperation with the Spanish government and military. These missions brought grain, cattle and a new way of living to the Indian tribes of California. San Francisco was founded in 1776 and Los Angeles in 1781. However, in bringing Western civilization to the area, the missions have been held responsible for the loss of nearly a third of the native population, primarily through disease.
In South America, Jesuit missionaries tried to protect native peoples from enslavement by establishing semi-independent settlements called reductions. In China, despite Jesuit efforts to find compromise, the Chinese Rites controversy led the Kangxi Emperor to outlaw Christian missions in 1721. These events added fuel to growing criticism of the Jesuits, who were seen to symbolize the independent power of the Church, and in 1773 European rulers united to force Pope Clement XIV to dissolve the order. The Jesuits were eventually restored in the 1814 papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum.
In a challenge to Spanish and Portuguese policy, Pope Gregory XVI, began to appoint his own candidates as bishops in the colonies, condemned slavery and the slave trade in the 1839 papal bull In Supremo Apostolatus, and approved the ordination of native clergy in the face of government racism.
In Latin America, a succession of anti-clerical regimes came to power beginning in the 1830s. One such regime emerged in Mexico in 1860. Church properties were confiscated and basic civil and political rights were denied to religious orders and the clergy. The even more severe Calles Law introduced during the rule of atheist Plutarco Elías Calles eventually led to the "worst guerilla war in Latin American History", the Cristero War. Between 1926 and 1934, over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. In an effort to prove that "God would not defend the Church", Calles ordered Church desecrations where services were mocked, nuns were raped and captured priests were shot. Calles was eventually deposed and despite the persecution, the Church in Mexico continued to grow. A 2000 census reported that 88 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholic. In the twentieth century, General Juan Perón's, Argentina and Fidel Castro's Cuba saw extensive persecution of the priesthood, and confiscation of Catholic properties. In Europe a particularly violent outbreak of anti-clerical persecution took place in 1936 Spain. Because priests and nuns were symbols of conservatism, they were murdered in "large numbers" during the Spanish Civil War by republicans and anarchists. Confiscation of Church properties and restrictions on people's religious freedoms have generally accompanied secularist and Marxist-leaning governmental reforms.
Prior to the start of World War II in the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge, Pope Pius XI warned Catholics that antisemitism is incompatible with Christianity. Drafted by the future Pope Pius XII and read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches, it described Hitler as an insane and arrogant prophet and was the first official denunciation of Nazism made by any major organization. Nazi reprisals against the Church in Germany soon followed, including "staged prosecutions of monks for homosexuality, with the maximum of publicity". When Dutch bishops protested against the wartime deportation of Jews, the Nazis responded with harsher measures against them. In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests. The records of Dachau concentration camp alone, list 2,600 Roman Catholic priests who were incarcerated in the Priester-Block. In Stalin's Russia an even more severe persecution occurred. After the war historians such as David Kertzer accused the Church of encouraging centuries of antisemitism, and Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Prominent members of the Jewish community such as Albert Einstein contradicted the criticisms and spoke highly of Pius' efforts to protect Jews, while others noted that "hundreds of thousands" of Jews were saved by the Church. Even so, in 2000 Pope John Paul II on behalf of all people, apologized to Jews by inserting a prayer at the Western Wall that read "We're deeply saddened by the behavior of those in the course of history who have caused the children of God to suffer, and asking your forgiveness, we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant. The aftermath of World War II saw atheistic communist governments in Eastern Europe severely restrict religious freedoms. The Church's resistance and the leadership of Pope John Paul II have been credited with hastening the downfall of communist governments across Europe in 1991, even though some priests collaborated with the regime.
The Communist rise to power in China of 1949 led to the expulsion of all foreign missionaries, "often after cruel and farcical 'public trials'". In an effort to further detach Chinese Catholics, the new government created the Patriotic Church independent of the worldwide Catholic Church. Rome subsequently rejected its bishops. The Cultural Revolution of the 1960s encouraged gangs of teenagers to eliminate all places of worship and turn their occupants into labourers. When Chinese churches eventually reopened they remained under the control of the Communist party's Patriotic Church, and many Catholic pastors and priests continued to be sent to prison for refusing to break allegiance with Rome.
Changes to old rites and ceremonies following Vatican II produced a variety of responses. Although "most Catholics ... accepted the changes more or less gracefully", some stopped going to church and others tried to preserve the old liturgy with the help of sympathetic priests. The latter form the basis of today's Traditionalist Catholic groups, which believe that the reforms of Vatican II have gone too far. Liberal Catholics form another dissenting group, and feel that the Vatican II reforms did not go far enough. The liberal views of theologians such as Hans Küng and Charles Curran, led to Church withdrawal of their authorization to teach as Catholics.
In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. The Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, became a primary theorist and, in 1979, the bishops' conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church's "preferential option for the poor". Archbishop Óscar Romero, a supporter of the movement, became the region's most famous contemporary martyr in 1980, when he was murdered while saying mass by forces allied with the government. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) denounced the movement. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. Pope John Paul II was criticized for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, but he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics. The movement is still alive in Latin America today, although the Church now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region.
The sexual revolution of the 1960s precipitated Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae which rejected the use of contraception, including sterilization, claiming these work against the intimate relationship and moral order of husband and wife by directly opposing God's will. It approved Natural Family Planning as a legitimate means to limit family size. Abortion was condemned by the Church as early as the first century, again in the fourteenth century and again in 1995 with Pope John Paul II's Evangelium Vitae. This encyclical condemned the "culture of death" which the pope often used to describe societal embrace of euthanasia, contraception, genocide, suicide, capital punishment and abortion. However, the Church's rejection of the use of condoms has provoked criticism, especially with respect to countries where the incidence of AIDS and HIV has reached epidemic proportions. The Church maintains that in countries like Kenya and Uganda, where behavioral changes are encouraged alongside condom use, greater progress in controlling the disease has been made than in those countries solely promoting condoms. Efforts to lead the Church to consider the ordination of women led Pope John Paul II to issue the 1988 encyclical Mulieris Dignitatem, which declared that women had a different, yet equally important role in the Church. In 1994 the encyclical Ordinatio Sacerdotalis further explained that the Church follows the example of Jesus, who chose only men for the specific priestly duty.
Major lawsuits emerged in 2001 claiming that priests had sexually abused minors. In the US, where the vast majority of sex abuse cases occurred, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a comprehensive study that found that four percent of all priests who served in the US from 1950 to 2002 faced some sort of sexual accusation. The Church was widely criticized when it emerged that some bishops had known about abuse allegations, and reassigned accused priests after first sending them to psychiatric counseling. Some bishops and psychiatrists contended that the prevailing psychology of the times suggested that people could be cured of such behavior through counseling. Pope John Paul II responded by declaring that "there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young". The US Church instituted reforms to prevent future abuse including requiring background checks for Church employees; and, because the vast majority of victims were teenage boys, the worldwide Church also prohibited the ordination of men with "deep-seated homosexual tendencies". Some commentators, such as journalist Jon Dougherty, have argued that media coverage of the issue has been excessive, given that the same problems plague other institutions, such as the US public school system, with much greater frequency.
The Church continues to occupy a unique place in society. As in ages past, the pope remains an international leader who regularly receives heads of state from around the world. As the representative of the Holy See, he also holds a seat at, and occasionally addresses, the United Nations. The 2005 election of Pope Benedict XVI saw a continuation of the policies of his predecessors. His first encyclical Deus Caritas Est (God is Love) discussed the various forms of love re-emphasizing marriage and the centrality of charity to the Church's mission. On his 2008 visit to the United States he was received with particular dignity and his Masses were televised live on the major national news networks. When asked why the Pope received such attention the US President said "Because he is a really important figure ...". Following the controversy over his Regensburg address, a May 2008 summit between the pope and a delegation of Muslims came to an agreement that religion is essentially non-violent, and that violence can be justified neither by reason nor by faith. In contrast with periods of religious and scientific intolerance in the past, today's Church seeks dialogue like this with other faiths and Christian denominations. It also sponsors the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a body whose international membership includes Nobel laureates such as Stephen Hawking and Charles Hard Townes among many others, which provides the pope with valuable insights into scientific matters.