Friday, November 16, 2012

Introduction to the History of the Catholic Church and Papacy


by M. J. Joachim
The history of the Catholic Church begins and ends with Jesus. He is our Lord and Savior, and without Him, there is no reason for the Church to exist at all. That said, Catholics depend on Holy Scripture (both old and new testaments) to appreciate, understand and adhere to God’s laws.

According to A Concise History of the Catholic Church, by Thomas Bokenkotter, “The Catholic Church has always claimed Jesus of Nazoreth as its founder, and nearly everyone is familiar with the basic facts about this dynamic Jewish preacher and healer who was born around the turn of the century A.D. (probably between 6 B.C. & A.D. 6) and was crucified by the Romans between A.D. 28 and 30.”

The Catholic Catechism affirms Bokenkotter’s declaration in Part 1: Chapter 2, “At the heart of the catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazoreth, the only Son from the Father…who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever.”

The Acts of the Apostles in the Bible also affirm the foundation (Jesus) of the Catholic Church, while giving us picturesque glimpses into the formation of the early Church. It is worthwhile to note that while many Catholics point to Peter as our first pope, the role of Popes has also changed throughout the course of history.

One must recognize that there were twelve apostles and numerous (hundreds and thousands) of followers in the early church. These devoted servants of Christ, many who walked, talked and prayed with Him personally, were living people of their times.

They were chosen, yes. But they were also human. They had to discern what God was doing in their lives and in their world, just like we must do today.

After Jesus died and rose from the dead, His followers were on a mission. Of this there is no doubt. Establishing a Christian community was imperative to keep their newfound faith alive and well.

The Acts of the Apostles, the second volume of Luke’s two volume work (American Catholic Bible), documents early church history, and shows how the Holy Spirit guided those chosen by God to lead her.

Early on, Luke demonstrates Peter’s role as a primary leader in the Church. However, “Not until the pontificate of St. Pius I in the middle of the second century (ca. 142 – ca.155) did the Roman Church have a mono-episcopal structure of government (one bishop as pastoral leader of a diocese). (Lives of the Popes, Richard P. McBrien)

This is one of the reasons I chose to focus on Acts of the Apostles for my first Catholic Bible E-Study series, because the history of the Catholic Church is rich and dynamic. It is also very relevant to the growing pains each society and culture faces in every era and time.

If we look back to the founding of America, we can see that while George Washington was America’s first president, there were many leaders who worked together to form the country called United States of America. Washington didn’t stand on top of a mountain and say, “Here I am and here’s how it’s all going down.” No, he rolled up his sleeves, got down in the trenches, butted heads with a few people and worked tirelessly to build the foundation of what we now know.  And he didn’t do it alone.

Well, neither did Peter (or Luke, or Paul, or John) or any other follower of Jesus and faithful member of the early Catholic Church.

Just as each of our (Catholic Church) founders worked hard to procure the development of our faith (and per my analysis, USA), so must we work hard to preserve what has been put in place and set in motion.

History indeed teaches us about the pitfalls, struggles, growing pains and opposition to our cause. History also carves a path rich in lessons of success and failure, all capable of influencing the decisions we make in our own lives today.

If we are wise, like the apostles and faithful followers of Jesus, we will trust the Holy Spirit to guide our decisions and help us forge our paths.

That’s all for now, dear people. Blessings for a safe and happy weekend to you J

M. J.

©2012 All Rights Reserved
Photo Credits:  Wikipedia Commons, GNU Free Documentation License, St. Peter's Basilica, Andreas Tille; Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain, Acts of the Apostles Greek Manuscript, Antonius - a monk; Wikipedia Commons, Public Domain, Pope Pius I; Wikipedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution, Pope Benedict XVI, Fabio Pozzebom/ABr (Eucharist at canonization of Frei Galvão in São Paulo, Brazil)