History of the Catholic Church

Home | Category: Catholics


Saint Peter (died AD 64-68), reputed to be the first pope and founder of the Roman Catholic Church

Rome is said to have been the Holy See since A.D. 42. But in reality it was considerable later than that. Initially, the center of the Christian church was Jerusalem. When Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire the center of the religion was Byzantium (present-day Istanbul). Rome was an outpost. The early history of Catholicism is the same as the early history of Christianity. (See Christianity).

Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “For almost a thousand years, Catholicism and Christianity were as one. The break, or schism between the Church of Rome and other Christian faiths began with the split with Orthodox Christians in 1054 over questions of doctrine and the absolute authority and behaviour of the popes. For similar reasons in the sixteenth century, the Protestant churches also went their own way. [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011 |::|]

Initially all the Christian churches were unified. One by one different sects broke away. In the early years of Christianity there was the Armenian Church, the Byzantine church and several smaller factions. During this period the Byzantine church and the Catholic church were one and the same. The first sects to break from away from Byzantine control were the Egyptian Copts, Syrian Maronites and Nestorians.

Early Christian communities gathered in a private homes and huts to sing hymns, listen to readings of the scriptures, conduct all night prayer sessions and commemorate events like the Last Supper. There was often a lot of noise and animals walking around. Early congregations had an urban and plebeian character.

The building of churches was largely forbidden until Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire. The first churches were rather plain. They were built of heavy stones, had few windows and consequently were very dark. The were no columns or friezes like Greek and Roman temples, the main object it seems was to create a space large enough for worship.

After Constantine recognized Christianity in 313, the power and the wealth of he church grew quickly with the help of faithful Christians who donated their land and other possessions. Bishops were as powerful as feudal lords and they grew wealthy by trading commodities in their bishopdoms.

Websites and Resources Holy See w2.vatican.va ; Catholic Online catholic.org ; Catholic Encyclopedia newadvent.org ; Lives of the Saints: Catholic.org catholicism.org ; BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Candida Moss at the Daily Beast Daily Beast Christian Answers christiananswers.net ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Internet Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;

Great Schism

According to the BBC: “The differences between Eastern and Western Christianity culminated in what has been called the Great Schism, in 1054, when the patriarchs of the Eastern and Western division (of Constantinople and Rome respectively) were unable to resolve their differences. The split led to the Orthodox church and the Roman Catholic church. The Orthodox church does not recognise the authority of the Roman papacy and claims a Christian heritage in direct descent from the Christian church of Christ's believers.” [Source: BBC, June 8, 2009 |::|]

Great Schism

“The doctrine of the Christian Church was established over the centuries at Councils dating from as early as 325CE where the leaders from all the Christian communities were represented. The Eastern Church recognizes the authority of the Councils of Nicea 325 CE, Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431) Chalcedon (451) Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787). [Source: BBC, June 11, 2008 |::|]

“Although initially the Eastern and Western Christians shared the same faith, the two traditions began to divide after the seventh Ecumenical Council in 787 CE and is commonly believed to have finally split over the conflict with Rome in the so called Great Schism in 1054. In particular this happened over the papal claim to supreme authority and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The break became final with the failure of the Council of Florence in the fifteenth century. |::|

“However, in the minds of most Orthodox, a decisive moment was the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the (Western Christian) Fourth Crusade. The sacking of Constantinople by the Crusaders eventually led to the loss of this Byzantine capital to the Muslim Ottomans in 1453. This has never been forgotten. |::|

“The divisions between the East and Western Churches happened gradually over the centuries as the Roman Empire fragmented. Eventually, while the Eastern Churches maintained the principle that the Church should keep to the local language of the community, Latin became the language of the Western Church. |::|

“Until the schism the five great patriarchal sees were Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem. After the break with Rome Orthodoxy became 'Eastern' and the dominant expression of Christianity in the eastern Mediterranean, much of Asia Minor, Russian and Balkans.” |::|


Early Christian Councils

There were three major schisms: 1) the one in the 5th century that split eastern Christendom in two; 2) the one the 11th century that divided the Latin church and the Byzantine church; and 3) the Reformation in the 16th century in which Protestantism arose and split from the Roman Catholic church.

The 5th century schism and the Reformation were similar in character. They were sudden and dramatic and split groups that had shared similar teachings and types of worship. The second was more complex and took longer to unfold.

In the early years of Christianity a great deal of debate, intellectual energy and soul searching went into resolving the questions of how God and Jesus could both be divine if God was one as Jesus himself said and the fact that Jesus must be both human and divine for him to take the place of human kind and die for their sins. The resolution of these questions shaped how Christianity evolved and defined itself.

Ecumenical Councils were called to settle theological issues. Constantine inaugurated the ecumenical movement. He called first general ecumenical council, in Nicaea in A.D. 325 to settle questions of doctrine, combat heresy and work out disputes between different sects. The six Ecumenical Councils that followed — Constantinople 381, Ephesus 431, Chalcedon 451, Constantinople 553, Toledo 598, Constantinople 680 and Nicaea 787 — further defined the doctrines of the church.

At the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 several sects were forced to split from the Christian church. At the Second Council of Nicaea in 787 it was declared that God alone could be worshiped and saints were given respect and veneration. At the council in 1054, the Catholic and Orthodox churches split.

Schisms and their councils

First Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325

In A.D., 325, the Council of Nicaea, held in Nicaea (present-day Iznik In Turkey), inaugurating the ecumenical movement. Called by Constantine to combat heresy and settle questions of doctrine, it attracted thousands of priests, 318 bishops, two papal lieutenants and the Roman Emperor Constantine himself. The attendees discussed the Holy trinity and the eventual linkage of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, argued whether Jesus was truly divine or just a prophet (he was judged divine), and decided that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

The early councils were shaped largely by Christian scholars from Alexandria and their views were in line with modern Coptic doctrine that the God and Christ are of the same essence and that Christ's divinity and humanity are unified.

Constantine made a grand entrance at the council. According to one witness he “proceeded through the midst of the assembly” and acted like a Pope. The greatest debate was between Arius, a priest from Alexandria, who argued that Christ was not the equal of God but was created by him, and Athanasius, the leader of the bishops to the west, who claimed that the Father and Son, where distinct, but hatched from the same substances and thus were equal. Arus's argument was rejected in part because it opened to the door to polytheism and a doctrine was codified that stated Christ was “begotten not made” and that God and Christ were “of the same stuff."

The Council of Nicaea gave us the Roman version of Christianity rather the Nestorian. The most important decision was the rejection of Arius's arguments and the adoption of Nicene creed: the assertions that Christ's divinity, the Virgin Birth and the Holy Trinity were truths and the denial of Christ's divinity was a heresy. This became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. Anyone who departed from the creed was branded a heretic.

Council of Ephesus in 431 and the Nestorians

The Council of Ephesus in 431 was called in part to address the policies of the Nestorians and address the issue of whether Christ was dualist (human and divine) or singular (two in one). Nestorian beliefs lost out.

At the Council of Ephesus several sects were forced to split from the Christian church. Afterwards the Nestorians were persecuted and exiled. Nestorius was banished to Egypt, where he died in exile. The Nestorians were formally removed from the Orthodox-Catholic church after the Muslim conquests in the 7th century.

Some say the Nestorians were the first people to adopt Christianity. It is said they did so after St. Thomas visited Assyria within a few years after Christ’s death. There is no real historical evidence to back up this claim.

Nestorian Christianity is named after Nestorius, the bishop of Constantinople from A.D. 428 to 431. Of Persian origin, he became a monk and lived in a monastery in Euprepius near Antioch. His skill as a speaker earned him an appointing to bishop. He was an activist bishop who launched campaigns against heretics and promulgated beliefs that later became associated with Nestorian Christianity. His effort won him the scorn of other powerful bishops who declared Nestorious a heretic. Bishops that and excluded his followers from the

Ecumenical Councils

The person who really defined Nestorian Christianity was Theodore (died 431, bishop of Mopsuestia in Colicia and a pupil of Diodorus, bishop of Tarsus. Theodore emphasized the humanity of Jesus and argued that he acquired his state of sinlessness by uniting with the Person of the Divine Word. which he received as an award for attaining a state of sinlessness. The Word, he insisted, dwelt in the man Christ. Nestorians thus rejected the union of God and man and Mary was considered the mother of a man not a god.

Theodore’s doctrines were influenced by 4th century Christian scholars from Antioch, who emphasized Christ’s humanity and its inherent imperfections. It was not until Nestorius came to Constantinople that Theodore’s teachings became popular and thus was named after Nestorious. At the Council of Constantinople in 553 Theodore’s doctrine was formally condemned.

Council of Chalcedon in 451

At the Council of Chalcedon in 451 the second person of the Trinity, the son, was defined by Orthodox Christians as having two natures, divine and human. The Armenians, Egyptian Christians (Copts), Syrian Orthodox Christians (also known as Jacobites) disagreed and believed that Christ has a single nature, consisting of two natures, with his humanity absorbed into his deity, a concept known as Monophysitism. The Nestorians supported the Monophysite view but believed in sharper distinctions between the two natures and emphasized Christ's humanity. The schism that resulted at Chalcedon stimulated the use of Syriac as an ecclesiastical language.

By this time Christian scholars from Alexandria were in the minority and the conservative Greco-Roman Orthodox views prevailed. Gaining strength was a mechanism that would remain a central theme in Christianity: the use of that accusations of heresy to dismiss members or sects with unpopular views.

In 518 Monophysitism was declared heretical by Justin I at the Synod of Constantinople. The Greek-speaking Orthodox churches excommunicated the Copts and Syrians because they didn't accept the Orthodox belief that Jesus was a true God and perfect man. The decision was later overturned by Emperor Justinian on the urging of his wife Empress Theodora.

Monophysites of Syria became known as Jacobites. Early Maronites were strong supporters of the Chalcedon view. Jacobite and Maronite monks battled one another, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the destruction of many monasteries.

martys and iconoclasm


In the A.D. 8th century there was a split within the Byzantine church split over whether or not worshipping icons constituted idolatry. At one point all icons were destroyed in accordance with an imperial decree, and as a result four centuries of beautiful icons were lost and we now have the word "iconoclast," or icon smasher."

To support their claim the iconoclasts brandished the second of the Ten Commandments (Thou shall not make graven images.".and bow down to them or serve them) and blamed volcanic eruptions and deaths from the plague on the worship of idols. Their opponents, know as "wooden worshippers," responded by pointing that the Ten Commandments were made 1000 years before Christ was born and therefore did not apply to Christ, Mary and the saints, who were all born after the commandments were made."

Iconoclasm was in full force in Constantinople from 726 to 842. Worshiping images of Christ, Mary and the saints was forbidden. At the height of the iconoclastic frenzy priests were lynched by mobs on the mere suspicion of being idol worshippers and the property of nuns was seized by the government. The Iconoclasts were eventually put down by Emperor Constantine VI, who was crowned at tho age of nine and dominated by his power-hungry mother. Constantine hosted a religious conference where it was decided that idol worshipping was an acceptable form of religious expression, but sculptures and bas-reliefs were "graven images" that were not to be tolerated."

Friction Between Catholic and Orthodox Church

Over time divisions grew between what became the Constantinople-based the Eastern (Byzantine, Orthodox) church and the Rome-based Western (Catholic) church. The division grew gradually over a long period of time and was primarily over the issue of authority.

In the 7th century Byzantines and Catholics disagreed on the roll of images and icons in the church. Rome favored them as objects of worship while the Patriarch in Constantinople was against them (and still is in the form of statues). Constantinople was also very upset when Charlemagne was crowned head of Holy Roman Empire in the 9th century instead of a Byzantine emperor.

The rivalry between Catholic and Orthodox Christian became more formalized in 9th century when Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople (858-86) drew up a list of heresies practiced by the Western church in Rome that included irregularities in the way it practiced Lent, the celibacy of the clergy and the way they said the Byzantine creed. According to a Time magazine article, “The Eastern and Western churches quibbled about such inconsequential minutiae as the rings worn by bishops, whether or not priests should shave their beards and whether or not music should be allowed in the church, with the assumption that the Orthodox church was acting in accordance with the doctrine of the church and the Latins were committing heresies."

Split Between Catholic and Orthodox Church in 1054

The Byzantine (Orthodox) church and Catholic church formally split in 1054 when the Pope excommunicated the Byzantine patriarch and the Byzantine patriarch excommunicated the Pope. The churches broke over the claim that the Pope was universal authority for all Christians and also fought over which day Easter should be celebrated on, whether purgatory was a valid concept, whether leavened bread or unleavened bread should be offered as communion and eaten on holy days and the status of the Holy Ghost. The Catholics added "and the son" to the end of the Byzantine creed "the Holy Spirit proceeded from Father." The Byzantines believed that the Holy Ghost came from God alone, while the Catholics believed the Holy Ghost came from God and Christ.

The dispute over the Byzantine creed was significant not so much as a doctrinal issue but over the political issue of whether the Pope had the right to change the creed. Accusation of heresy gave both the East and the West excuses to take military action and seize territory form their rivals. The schism in 1054 was triggered by a trivial dispute over the use of unleavened bread in communion was not taken seriously at the time and it was assumed that the two sides would quickly make but political problems (namely the presence of the Normans in the Mediterranean) cut of communication between Rome and Constantinople and the dispute was never cleared up.

The break up between the Eastern church and Western church was not a simple, definite break that the 1054 split implies. It was a drawn-out complicated affair that began in earnest in the 9th century and was not finished until the 15th century. Exactly what happened, the motivations behind it and the role of key players is still not completely understood.

The split was not cordial. Rather than regard themselves as partners with the same covenant the two churches regarded themselves as rivals and fought over who was the single legitimate voice of the entire religion. Some have said the split over the doctrinal issues mentioned above was just a manifestation and cover from what was really a political dispute between the Byzantine Empire and Rome-centered western Europe.

Later Disputes Between Orthodox Church and Catholic Church

The Orthodox were also not pleased when the Vatican-based Crusaders sacked Constantinople, where the Orthodox church was based, in 1204. Before that time the two churches feuded but they continued to recognize each other. The 1204 attack caused the dispute between East and West became irreconcilable. The churches from then on regarded each other as members of separate communities. The division was so deep that the Turks were regarded by the Byzantines as a lesser evil than submission to the Papacy.

The Russians who had no part in the original conflict destroyed one attempt at a reunion between the Eastern and Western churches when the Muscovite Prince Basil II repudiated the terms of an agreement made in Florence to bring the churches together. Later the Orthodox Christians were angered by Catholics declarations of the immaculate conception. They were also not pleased by the first Vatican Council (1869-70), which declared that the Pope was infallible.

Other factors that played a role in schism between the Orthodox and Catholic churches were the failure of the Crusades, the fall of Constantinople to the Turks, animosity between Christians and Muslims, the increased power of the Papacy, the Reformation and rivalry between Western Europe and Russia. Some historians have argued that the Napoleonic campaign in 1812, the Crimean War in 1853-1955, the Balkan Wars in 1878 and 1912 and World War I had the schism between the western and eastern churches at their roots because one of the chief aims of all these conflicts was to gain control over Constantinople.

13th century fresco showing Constantine giving the Constitutum Constantini to Pope Sylvester I

Constitutum Constantini and Its Unraveling as Forgery

The Pope's authority over all of Europe is based the “Constitutum Constantini” (the Donation of Constantine), a 3,000-word documented purportedly written by Constantine between A.D. 315 and 325 that legalized Christianity and gave the See of Rome and the Pope spiritual power over the entire world in addition to political power over Europe. The document was not made public until the ninth century when it was used as evidence in dogma debates when the Christian church split into the Catholic church and Eastern Orthodox Church.

In the A.D. 8th century Pope Stephen II and the military leader Pepin (king of the Franks and father of Charlemagne) gained control of huge chunk of land in central Italy, that included Rome and Ravenna, by using the “Constitutum Constantini” . The chunk of land, known as the Patrimony of St. Peter, was ruled by the popes for most of the next 11 centuries.

The “Constitutum Constantini” (the Donation of Constantine) was later revealed to be, in the words of Voltaire, the "boldest and the most magnificent forgery." One of the documents flaws was that it gave Rome authority in New Rome (Constantinople) at least a decade before the city was founded.

In 1440,the “Constitutum Constantini” was labeled a fake by Lorenzo Valla who was called into settle a dispute between King Alfonos and Pope Eugenius IV over who had secular authority over Italy. Valla showed the Constitutum Constantini was a fake. An authority on Latin, Valla pointed out that a diadem in Constantine's time was not a gold crown as the “Constitutum Constantini” claimed but was coarse cloth and the word "tiara" was not even in use at the time the document was said to have been written. A number of other words in it were not used in Constantine's time.

Valla was later convicted of heresy for pointing out the "Apostle's Creed" could not have been composed by the Twelve Apostles. He was convicted on eight counts and probably would have been burned at the stake were it not for his patron King Alfonso. Valla's criticism of the Bible itself were not well received either.

Catholic Church in the Middle Ages

Disputes and abuses of power plagued the Catholic church in the Middle Ages. Several councils were held that tried to iron them out. Notable among these were the Lateran Council (1215) and the councils of Pisa (1409), Constance (1414-18), and Basel (1431-49).

smashing symbols of the Catholic Church at Wittenberg in 1522

During the Renaissance, the Catholic Church developed a reputation for extravagance, corruption and hypocrisy. Worldly Borgia and Medici popes schemed, debauched, warred and plundered. One practice of the Catholic church that Martin Luther found particularly upsetting was the sale of soul-saving indulges authorized by the Pope. These documents, it was said, could used to have punishment time in purgatory reduced by the purchaser for oneself or for a loved one already dead. It was sort of like a savings bond or a gift certificate for the afterlife.

The Catholic church raised most of its revenues from the indulges which sold for around twenty silver coins a piece. The money was used to build churches and maintain the luxurious lifestyle of the Pope and the papal elite. During Luther's time expensive construction work was being done on St. Peter’s basilica in Rome and indulgences were sold to pay for that.


The Reformation — more properly called the Protestant Reformation or the European Reformation — was a 16th-century religious and political uprising against the authority of the Pope that led to was a schism in Western Christianity. It was initiated by Martin Luther with the publication of the “Ninety-five Theses” in 1517 and continued by Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin and other Protestant Reformers. The Reformation triggered the bloody the Counter-Reformation, which sucked in much of Europe, and lasted until the end of the Thirty Years' War in 1648. The Reformation led to the division of Western Christianity into different denominations such Catholic, Lutheran, Reformed, Anglican, Anabaptist and Unitarian. The Eastern Orthodox Christian church had split off in 1054.

The Reformation began as theological debate over real and perceived Church corruption. Early dissenters included John Wycliffe (1320-84) in England, and john Huss (burned as a heretic in 1415) in Bohemia. Martin Luther was from Germany. Other major players in the Reformation were Huldrych Zwingli of Zurich, John Calvin of Geneva and King Henry VIII of England

The Reformation was aided by the invigorated intellectual freedom of the Renaissance and spirit of nationalism in England, France, Germany and Bohemia. In the 16th century the church was corrupt and blemished by greedy clergy and decadent monks, extracting financial burdens from the laity to pay for their indulgences and ambitions. The General Councils of 15th century failed to reform he church. After the Reformation the power of the Catholic Church was greatly weakened.

See Separate Articles on MARTIN LUTHER and THE REFORMATION

Before the Reformation

Europe at the time of the Reformation was racked by chaos and uncertainty. Many people, including Luther, believed that the end of the world was imminent. Numerous extreme, and often violent, religious cults had sprung up across Europe. The Catholic church took the excessive measure that it did as much out of fear as greed.

The Reformation took place at a time when feudalism was being replaced by strong national monarchies. "The development of trade, markets, and banking forced the owners of land and capital into enterprises aimed at maximizing profits," wrote Columbia anthropologist Marvin Harris. "This could be done only by breaking up the small-scale paternalistic relationships characteristic of the feudal manorial estates and castle towns.”

Land holdings were divided, serfs and retainers were replaced by peasant renters and sharecroppers, and self-contained manors were converted into cash crop agribusinesses. Country folk lost their subsistence plots and family homesteads, and great numbers of dispossessed peasants drifted to the towns, where they sought employment as wage laborers. From the eleventh century on, life became more competitive, impersonal, and commercialized—ruled by profit rather than tradition."

Before the Reformation, there were numerous religious cults active in Europe. Centuries before the Reformation numerous cults opposed to the Catholic Church had sprung up. One of the groups that emerged in the 13th century were the "flagellants," groups of men that stripped down to the waists and beat themselves on the back with iron-tipped thongs until the blood ran of their back and dripped on the ground. The 15th century Taboritites were encouraged by their fanatical leaders to "wash their hands in blood" in effort to track down and kill every sinner.

The mixture of religion and politics in Europe produced some strange results. The emperor of the Holy Roman Empire once kidnaped The pope and held him ransom. A Catholic king from France allied himself with Muslim Turks and European Protestants in a fight against the emperor. The Muslims even had a base in southern France where they marketed Christian slaves. The chivalric system that began to break down in the Crusades was in shambles by the Reformation, when the enemy was no longer infidels that did not deserve equal treatment but as Christian equals.

Events of the Reformation

Luther and His Problems with the Catholic Church

Luther's realization that the Catholic Church's emphasis on holy relics, contributions, indulgences are other material ways of achieving salvation were not only useless but wrong and deceitful. Luther believed that salvation was te product of faith nor of indulgences and good deeds. [Source: People's Almanac]

One practice of the Catholic church that Luther found particularly upsetting was the sale of soul-saving indulges authorized by the Pope. These documents, it was said, could be used to have punishment time in purgatory reduced by the purchaser for oneself or for a loved one already dead. It was sort of like a savings bond or a gift certificate for the afterlife.

The Catholic church raised most of its revenues from the indulges which sold for around twenty silver coins a piece. The money was used to build churches and maintain the luxurious lifestyle of the pope and the papal elite. During Luther's time expensive construction work was being done on St. Peter’s basilica in Rome and indulgences were sold to pay for that.

Early Protestants and the Early Reformation

By the 1520s many of the a German princes accepted the evangelical teachings of Luther. Masses were held in German rather than Latin and Luther composed new hymns in German. Monks and nuns married, Luther himself married an ex-Cistercian nun. A formal protest by princes supporting Luther against Archduke Ferdinand gave the reformers the name "Protestants"

The term Protestant was coined in 1529 when a groups of "protestors" rejected a decision by a secular government body pushed through by the Catholic majority to prohibit the practice of the reformed faith introduced by Luther.

Luther himself consecrated the first Protestant church in Germany — in Torgau Saxony — in 1544. Luther pushed for the abolition of monasteries, priests grew their hair long and got rid of their formal vestments. Luther ran a kind of Underground railroad to help nuns and monks escape from monasteries and convents. Though this network he met his wife.

The Reformation was viewed by many peasant as an opportunity for people to protest the taxes and rule of the Catholic-supporting landowners and aristocrats. Frederick's successor, John the Steadfast, joined with other nobles to form a confederation whose purpose was mutual defense, political survival and advancement and support of the growing religion.

Reformed Synod

Hans Küng, a Swiss religious scholar at the University of Tübingen, claims that the Reformation would probably not have taken place if the Catholic Church had given in on three points: 1) the use of the vernacular language instead of Latin, 2) the sharing of the communion cup with the congregation, and 3) giving priests freedom to marry." The last point he says would have had a great influence on the spread of Catholicism. If priests were allowed to marry, more men would consider joining the clergy which would have made it possible to establish churches in more places.

Counter-Reformation in Europe

The Catholic Church responded to the Reformation with a cleaning up of its own house somewhat, the persecution of Protestants. The choosing of sides — the Catholic or the Protestants — was often mixed up with a struggle for political power that culminated with the Thirty Year War that devastated Germany and broke up the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1529, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V (1500-1558) decreed the "reading, purchasing or possessing of any proscribed books, or any New Testaments prohibited by the theologians of Louvain" were crimes in which "men" are to "be beheaded, the women buried alive, and the relapsed burned." In 1601, the Spanish Dominican Alonso Giroi demanded that all religious books written in languages other than Latin were prohibited.

The Council of Trent (1545-63) set the stage for the Catholic Counter Reformation. The first Council of Trent 1545-47 condemned Protestantism. The Council of Trent in 1563 stamped reformation teachings as heresies. Jesuit founder Ignatius Loyala wrote: "Even if my own father was a heretic , I would gather wood to burn him."

During the Counter-Reformation the Catholic Church "retreated into orthodoxy": banning books, confining Rome's Jews to a ghetto and burning heretics at the stake. The Counter Reformation against Protestants was led the Jesuits (founded in 1534 by Loyola), who also played a big part in the Catholic revival that occurred during the Counter-Reformation. Many people converted to Catholicism in Poland, Hungary and south Germany and missionaries were shipped to India and China. [Source: World Almanac]

In the later part of the 16th century, the Catholic church was able to convert many Germans and regain control in parts of Germany like Bavarian. Religious parties—The Protestant Union (1608) and the Catholic League (1609)—were formed.

Reformation and Counter-Reformation Religious Wars

A century and a half of religious wars associated with the Reformation and Counter-Reformation began before Martin Luther's death in 1546. The first conflicts were a revolt of Reich knights in 1522 and a peasant uprising in 1524 in southern Germany. The later was repressed with Luther's support. Both rebellions failed and were brutally put down.

Civil war between Huguenots (Protestant nobles and merchants) and Catholics mostly in France lasted from 1562 to 1598, leaving tens of thousands dead. It pitted Catholics against Calvinists and climaxed with the demise of the Valois dynasty, the royal house of France from 1328 to 1589, and the conversion to Catholicism of the Protestant heir to the throne, Henry of Navaree, who said, "Paris well worth a mass." The Treaty of Nantes, which ended the fight, and recognized the Protestants was revoked in 1685.

During the Thirty Year War, Germany was devastated by local and foreign armies from France and Sweden.. The peace of Ausberg in 1555 promised religious freedom to the princes and nobles in Germany. The main beneficiaries of the religious wars were the German princes, who used Protestantism as an excuse to confiscate the riches of local Catholic church. The Habsburg attempt to restore Catholicism was resisted in 25 years of fighting.

One of the most tragic events of the Counter-Reformation was the Massacre of Huguenots — the massacre of Protestants on St. Barthalomew's Day in Paris in 1572, when King Charles IX ordered the murders of 3,000 French Protestants and the Huguenots were driven into exile. One scholar was so intent on learning Hebrew on this frightful day that a colleague wrote "that for some time he heard neither the clash of arms, nor the groans of children, nor the wailing men, nor the shouting of men.”

Saint Barthalomew's Day Massacre

1929 Lateran Treaty

In 1871, the Italian Law of Guarantees granted the Pope sovereignty over Vatican City inside Rome, immunity from arrest, and an annual appropriation of 3.2 million lire. The Vatican did not recognize the secular state of Italy until 1929.

Vatican City came into existence in 1929 as a separate state with the Lateran Treaty, a deal struck between the Catholic church and the Italian leader Benito Mussolini that gave the Pope legal authority in Vatican territory in exchange for the church remaining neutral in Italian political affairs. Before the Lateran Treaty the Pope ruled over a shrinking and warring kingdom known as the papal states.

The Vatican's sovereignty was fixed in 1929, when Italy under Mussolini and the Vatican signed the Lateran Treaty, which carved out a small city state within Rome. Roman Catholicism was established as the state religion of Italy and the Vatican City was made the domain of the Pope.

The 1929 Lateran Treaty made the Vatican a sovereign state. It was part of an effort to stem the tide against modernity which was strengthening the power of Catholic political parties and lay communities at the expense of the Vatican and the Pope.

Second Vatican Council (1962-1965)

Pope John XXVIII (1958-63) is known best for convening the Second Vatican Council in 1962. He surprised everyone by announcing it after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had no definite plan when he convened the council and did not to live to see its finish but made many positive inputs and was named Time Man of the Year in 1962 for his efforts.

The Second Vatican Council, which some called the Catholic Reformation, passed many reforms and modernized most rites. Pope John XXVIII said he launched it the help of the Holy Spirit, in an effort to take the Catholic church out of he hands of the Vatican elite and make it more responsive to the thousands of bishops, tens of thousands of priests and million of ordinary Catholic.

Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “The modernising Second Vatican Council (1962-65) saw Catholicism (which post-Reformation was often labelled Roman Catholicism, though this is not a description much favoured by Catholics themselves) addressing itself in earnest to its relationships with other Christian churches. Significantly it abandoned the notion of the Catholic Church as the sole means of salvation. There were, it was acknowledged, other routes to heaven. This opened the way for dialogue with other churches. It has produced an atmosphere of good will and much talk of reunion, but key questions on authority, the sacraments and ministry continue to present seemingly insurmountable obstacles.” [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011]

Second Vatican Council

Reforms Made at the Second Vatican Council

According to the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) the relationship between saints and living people was defined as one of "communion and solidarity" rather “supplicant and benefactor" and as for the saints themselves: “their way of life, fellowship, in their communion and aid by intercession" were to be admired and respected and seen as “examples” rather than worshiped.

At the Second Vatican Council, Pope John XXIII attempted to temper enthusiasm for Mary with the statement: "The Madonna is not happy when she is placed before her son." This was a response to the Papal infallibility was invoked in 1950 by Pope Pius XII, which stated that the Assumption—the taking of the body and soul of Mary to heaven—really occurred.

The Second Vatican Council also declared that the Jews should not be held responsible for Christ’s death. A statement was released that said the crucifixion of Jesus "can not be blamed on all the Jews living without distinction, nor upon Jews of today." Jews were no longer referred to as "perfidious" "Christ Killers" in Holy Week prayers.

Recent History

Priests and the Pope are not supposed to participate directly in politics. In the 19th century it was widely believed that democracy and Catholicism were incompatible. The Catholic Church sided with the non-Catholic powers of Britain and Prussia in its condemnation of revolutionary France. Catholics assisted the Nazis somewhat.

Peter Stanford wrote for the BBC: “The recent history of Catholicism has been one of successes and failures. Its previous Pope, the charismatic Polish-born Pope John Paul II, was widely hailed as the 'spark from heaven' who ignited the revolutions that swept away the Iron Curtain in the late 1980s. [Source: Peter Stanford, BBC, June 29, 2011 |::|]

“In the developing world, its congregations grow apace and its seminaries and convents have no shortage of vocations to the religious life. In Europe and North and South America, however, numbers of churchgoers have dwindled and papal authority has been questioned. There has been a marked exodus from the priesthood and female religious orders since the 1970s. |::|

“Traditional ministries in running schools and hospitals have had to be abandoned for lack of clergy and nuns, while a series of scandals involving first the finances of the Vatican and later the behaviour of paedophile priests has dented its moral authority.” |::|

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org; New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org , Frontline, PBS, Wikipedia, BBC, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Encyclopedia.com, Reuters, Associated Press, Business Insider, AFP, Library of Congress, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from factsanddetails.com, please contact me.