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The name of Jesus Christ is well known all over the world. Not only is he revered by Christians of all denominations, but he is admired by people of all non-Christian religions, especially Islam that is ranked second in the world after Christianity in terms of followers; in fact, Islam considers itself so closely allied with Christianity and events in the Bible, that Jesus Christ and his mother Mary are mentioned several times in the Koran .
After the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ in 30 A.D, his followers created a Judaism group known as the Jewish Christian movement which had its headquarters in Jerusalem. Some years after this, Paul established a rival group called the Pauline Christian group whose main object was the conversion of Gentiles. The members of the Jewish Christian movement came under attack by the Roman Army when it demolished Jerusalem in 70 A.D. They were either massacred or forced to flee in all directions, effectively terminating their religious group once and for all (Religioustolerance.org).
Pauline Christianity eventually involved into the Church and was given official legal status in 313 A.D followed by official status of the Circa Empire in 380 A.D. The Church received a huge boost in 381 A.D when Roman Emperor Constantine converted to its faith. It started growing on the lines of the Roman Empire, wherein major provinces were formed on geographical lines and each was placed under the charge of a preeminent bishop. The situation remained stable for 6 centuries before a conflict between the Church’s east and west regional groups grew so intolerable that they formally split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church in the year 1054 A.D (Religioustolerance.org).
During the following years, in addition to the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, six other meta-groups of Churches were formed. They were the Oriental Orthodox and Assyrian Church, the Protestant Church, the Anglican Communion Church, the Pentecostal Church, the Restoration Church and a miscellaneous group of Churches containing various faith groups that are not affiliated to the other 7 meta-group Churches (Religioustolerance.org).
While the eight meta-groups of Churches are presently classified into more than 30,000 different Christian groups, the Roman Catholic Church has emerged as the premier one thereby elevating Roman Catholicism into the position of the largest Christian denomination.
After Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, his apostles were entrusted with the spreading the religion. The leader of the apostles, St. Peter is looked upon by all Christians as the first spiritual leader called ‘pope’ (Religious Facts). Until 1054 A.D all the popes who succeeded St. Peter were considered as spiritual leaders by all Christians. But after the breakup of the Christians into various denominations, the pope has been considered to be the spiritual leader of Roman Catholics only.
Since its inception, Roman Catholicism has been subjected to reformation. There were many persons and events that are considered as milestones in the development of the denomination.
The first person is Thomas Aquinas , a Dominican theologian who wrote such a large number of impressive works on philosophy and theology that he was referred to as ‘the angelic doctor.’ He published a combination of ideas about Christianity and Aristotle’s philosophy that was adopted as the official system of beliefs of Roman Catholic theology in 1879 (Kemerling).
The second person is Clement VII who reigned as pope between 1523 and 1534 A.D. He is credited with firmly upholding the Roman Catholic refusal to allow married couples to divorce by rejecting the demand of the powerful British ruler King Henry VIII to have his marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled (Gstohl).
A number of theologians were responsible for bringing about reformation in Roman Catholicism during the 16th century. Anna Bijns was a Belgian poet who published poetry between 1528 and 1567 about religious faith while attacking patriarchs and Lutherans. Ignatius Loyola of Spain established the Society of Jesus in 1540. Cesare Baronius was an Italian theologian and Cardinal who published ‘Ecclesiastical Annals’ from 1588 to 1607 which defended the status of popes against the ‘Magdeburg Centuries’ containing the Protestant version of history. Robert Bellarmine was a Jesuit theologian and Cardinal who published ‘Controversies’ between 1586 and 1593 containing arguments about important matters like papal authority, the holy sacraments and purgatory. Johannes Cochlaeus was a German theologian who strongly criticized Marin Luther and other Protestants. Albert Pighius was a Dutch theologian who published ‘Affirmation of the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy’ in support of the authority of the pope. Sylvester Mazzolini Prierias was a Dominican theologian who published ‘Dialogue’ that supported the infallibility of the pope as a response to Martin Luther’s ’95 Thesis.’ Teresa of Avila was a Roman Catholic nun who established the Carmelite Order (Gstohl).
The first major event that brought about reformation in Roman Catholicism was the First Ecumenical Council of the Vatican. Summoned by Pope Pius IX, it was held between 8 December 1869 and 20 October 1870 and featured all the bishops of Roman Catholic Churches in the world. The Council instituted several important doctrines pertaining to Roman Catholicism which were contained in two constitutions. The first constitution, called Dogmatic Constitution of the Catholic Faith, featured 4 doctrines – on God in his role as creator, faith, revelation and on faith/reason; all the doctrines were officially passed as Canons. The second constitution, called First Dogmatic Constitution on the Church of Christ, contained the definition of the pope’s infallibility and 4 doctrines all relating to popes – the establishment of the apostolic primacy in St. Peter, the place of St. Peter among popes, the authority and ethical attributes of the pope, and the infallible teaching power of the pope (Vaxxine.com).
The second major event was the Second Vatican Council that also featured all Roman Catholic bishops from around the world. It was summoned by Pope John XXIII on 11 October 1962 and closed by Pope Paul VI on 8 December 1965. The Council established 4 constitutions , 7 decrees and 3 declarations (Christusrex.org).
Today, Roman Catholics number more than 1 billion people and comprise nearly 50% of all Christians worldwide. In the U.S, nearly a quarter of the population is Roman Catholic (Religion Facts). The largest concentration of Roman Catholics in the world today lies in South America where countries like Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, Uruguay and Columbia are predominantly Roman Catholic. The second largest number of Roman Catholics is found in all parts of Europe. Predominant among them are West European nations like Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Belgium, Malta and Monaco; Central European countries like Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Austria and Slovakia; and East European countries like Lithuania. The third largest concentration of Roman Catholics is in African nations like Nigeria, Burundi, Congo, Gabon and Seychelles. Asia ranks last, with only the Philippines and East Timor having a predominantly Roman Catholic population.
Credit for the spread of Roman Catholicism to all parts of the world goes to the massive number of Roman Catholic missionaries. Some famous names include Alexander de Rhodes , Francis Xavier , Alexis Bachelot , Francisco Alvares , Luis de Bolanos and Evariste Regis Huc . Most of these missionaries have literally devoted their lives towards helping the people of the countries they travelled to and their exemplary piety and outstanding selfless service record has earned them worldwide admiration that has boosted the image of Roman Catholicism in the eyes of the world and has drawn more and more converts to it. An outstanding example is Mother Teresa, the Roman Catholic nun from Albania who travelled to India, spent most of her life there taking care of the poor and downtrodden especially in the Indian city of Calcutta, and established a wide ranging network of help centers – the reason why sainthood has recently been conferred on her by the Pope Benedict XVI a few years after her death.
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In addition to the exemplary lifestyle of Roman Catholic missionaries, the future of Roman Catholicism is also bright in view of the current malady that is plaguing the world – international terrorism sponsored by Islamic extremists. The inhuman atrocities perpetrated by the individuals trained by terrorist outfits like Al Qaeda has badly affected the following of Islam. In contrast, the peace loving, non-violent, tolerant principles of Roman Catholicism epitomized by Jesus Christ’s exemplary life, is attracting more and more non-Christian converts who are disgusted with international terrorists spreading their web of terror to more and more parts of the world and their undeniable close connection to Islam.
- “Christianity: Sorting the Thousands of Christian Denominations into Meta-Groups.” Religioustolerance.org. 2007. Web.
- Gstohl, Mark. “The Catholic Reformation.” Xavier University of Louisiana. 2004. Web.
- Kemerling, Garth. “Thomas Aquinas (1224 – 1274).” Philosophypages.com. 2006. Web.
- “Roman Catholicism.” Religion Facts. 2008.
- “The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council Dedicated to ‘The Immaculate’.” Christusrex.org. (N.d).2008.
- “The Vatican Council 8 Dec. 1869 – 1870.” Vaxxine.com. (N.d).