According to adherents of the Catholic faith, the Catholic church began with Jesus, who lived in the first century and spent his adult life preaching in the Roman Empire. After his death, his disciples continued preaching what Jesus had taught them, and the Catholic church operates in present times as a continuation of the early church established by Jesus Christ.
According to the Catholic Church, Saint Peter was appointed by Jesus to be the head of his church, and his disciples were appointed to carry out the work of spreading the news of Christianity. The current Pope and all previous popes are thought to be successors to Saint Peter, while today's catholic bishops are considered successors to Jesus' original disciples.
After Jesus' death, several of his followers continued to teach his message throughout the Roman empire but were divided as some wished to adhere to older Jewish laws, while others wanted to eliminate the Jewish laws from their teachings.
While it is impossible to date the formation of the Roman Catholic church, the belief system known as Christianity has existed since the first century and gone through many changes in the last 2,000 years. Many historians believe that Pope Leo, who lived from 440 to 461 AD, created the papacy by claiming authority over all members of the church worldwide. The term "Roman Catholic" was not widely used until the Protestant Reformation from 1517 to 1555, which resulted in the church of Christianity being divided into the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Church that are recognized today.