The Church that Morphed {pt 4 of 7} … Another: I AM a Catholic Lesson This part assembled by Patrick Miron


The Church that Morphed {pt 4 of 7}

So what’s up with non-Catholics-lack of understanding?

Another: I AM A Catholic Lesson

This part assembled by Patrick Miron


Beginning of PART # 4

Once again driven by the need to limit the size of this document, what comes below has been greatly edited, but again the site information is presented for those who might wish to pursue in greater depth, this account.

A History Christianity

Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi

A History of the Catholic Church

From Its Beginning to the End of the Sixteenth Century

As both its critics and its champions would probably agree, Roman Catholicism has been the decisive spiritual force in the history of Western civilization. There are more Roman Catholics in the world than there are believers of any other religious tradition–not merely more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined, but more Roman Catholics than all Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. The papacy is the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world. To millions the pope is the infallible interpreter of divine revelation and the Vicar of Christ; to others he is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies about the coming of the Antichrist.

These incontestable statistical and historical facts suggest that some understanding of Roman Catholicism–its history, its institutional structures, its beliefs and practices, and its place in the world–is an indispensable component of cultural literacy, regardless of how one may individually answer the ultimate questions of life and death and faith. Without a grasp of what Roman Catholicism stands for, it is difficult to make political sense of the settlement of the Germanic tribes in Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, or intellectual sense of Thomas Aquinas, or literary sense of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, or artistic sense of the Gothic cathedrals, or musical sense of many of the compositions of Haydn or Mozart.

At one level, of course, the interpretation of Roman Catholicism is closely related to the interpretation of Christianity as such. For by its own reading of history, Roman Catholicism began with the very beginnings of the Christian movement. An essential component of the definition of any one of the other branches of Christendom, moreover, is the examination of its relation to Roman Catholicism: How did Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism come into schism? Was the break between the Church of England and Rome inevitable? Conversely, such questions are essential to the definition of Roman Catholicism itself, even to a definition that adheres strictly to the official view, according to which the Roman Catholic Church has maintained an unbroken continuity since the days of the Apostles, while all other denominations, from the ancient Copts to the latest storefront church, are deviations from it.

Like any intricate and ancient phenomenon, Roman Catholicism can be described and interpreted from a variety of perspectives and by one or more of several methodologies. Thus the Roman Catholic Church is itself a complex institution, for which the usual diagram of a pyramid, extending from the pope at the apex to the believers in the pew, is vastly oversimplified; within that institution, moreover, sacred congregations, archdioceses and dioceses, provinces, religious orders and societies, seminaries and colleges, parishes and confraternities, and countless other institutions all invite the social scientist to the consideration of power relations, leadership roles, social dynamics, and other sociological connections that it uniquely represents. As a world religion among world religions, Roman Catholicism in its belief and practice manifests, somewhere within the range of its multicolored life, some of the features of every religion of the human race; thus only the methodology of comparative religion can encompass them all. Furthermore, because of the normative role of Scholasticism in the formulation of Roman Catholic dogma, a philosophical analysis of its system of doctrine is indispensable even for grasping its theological vocabulary. Nevertheless, the historical method is especially appropriate to this task, not only because two millennia of history are represented in the Roman Catholic Church, but because the heart of its understanding of itself is the hypothesis of continuity and because the centre of its definition of authority is the embodiment of divine truth in that historical continuity.

For a more detailed treatment of the early church, see Christianity, history of. The present article concentrates on identifying those historical forces that worked to transform the primitive Christian movement into a church that was recognizably “catholic,” namely, a church that had begun to possess identifiable norms of doctrine and life, fixed structures of church authority, and, at least in principle, a universality (which is what “catholic” meant) that extended to all of humanity.

The emergence of Catholic Christianity

At least in an inchoate form all the elements of catholicity–doctrine, authority, universality–are evident in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles begins by focusing on the demoralized band of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem; but by the time its account of the first decades is finished, the Christian community has developed some nascent criteria for determining the difference between authentic (“apostolic”) and inauthentic teaching and behavior. It has also moved beyond the borders of Judaism, as the dramatic sentence of the closing chapter announces: “And so we came to Rome ” (Acts 28:14). The later epistles of the New Testament admonish their readers to “guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20) and to “contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), and they speak about the Christian community itself in exalted and even cosmic terms as the church, “which is [Christ’s] body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:23). It is clear even from the New Testament that the specification of these catholic features was called forth by challenges from within, not only from without; indeed, scholars have concluded that the early church was far more pluralistic from the very beginning than the somewhat idealized pictures in the New Testament might suggest.

As such challenges continued in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, further specification became necessary. The schema of apostolic authority formulated by the bishop of Lyon, Irenaeus (c. 130-c. 200), may serve to set forth systematically the three main lines of authority for catholic Christianity: the Scriptures of the New Testament (alongside the Christianized “Old Testament”) as the writings of the Apostles of Christ; the Episcopal centers established by the Apostles as the seats of their identifiable successors in the governance of the church; and the apostolic tradition of normative doctrine as the “rule of faith” and the standard of Christian conduct. Each of the three depended on the other two for validation; one could determine which purportedly scriptural writings were genuinely apostolic by appealing to their conformity with acknowledged apostolic tradition and to the usage of the apostolic churches, and so on. This was not a circular argument but an appeal to a single catholic authority of apostolicity, in which the three elements were inseparable. Inevitably, however, there arose conflicts–of doctrine and jurisdiction, of worship and pastoral practice, and of social and political strategy–among the three sources of authority, as well as between equally “apostolic” bishops. When bilateral means for resolving such conflicts proved insufficient, there could be recourse to either the precedent of convoking an apostolic council (Acts 15) or to what Irenaeus had already called “the preeminent authority of this church [of Rome], with which, as a matter of necessity, every church should agree.” Catholicism was on the way to becoming Roman Catholic.

The emergence of Roman Catholicism

Internal factors

Several historical factors, some of them more prominent at one time and others at another, help to account for the emergence of Roman Catholicism from the catholic Christianity of the early church. The twin factors that would eventually be regarded as the most decisive, at any rate by the champions of the primacy of Rome in the church, were the primacy of Peter among the 12 Apostles of Christ and the identification of Peter with the Church of Rome. In the several enumerations of the Apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2-5; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13) there are considerable variations, with further variations in the manuscripts; but what they all have in common is that they list (in Matthew’s words) “first, Simon, who is called Peter.” “But I have prayed for you,” Jesus said to Peter, “that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned again, strengthen your brethren” (Luke 22:32 ); and again: “Feed my lambs. . . . Tend my sheep. . . . Feed my sheep” (John 21:15 -17). Above all, when Christ, according to the New Testament, said to the Apostle Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock [Greek petra ] I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18 ), that was, according to Roman Catholic teaching, the charter of the church–i.e., of the Roman Catholic Church.

The identification of this obvious “primacy” of Peter in the New Testament with the “primacy” of the Church of Rome is not self-evident, since; for one thing, the same New Testament remains almost silent about a connection of Peter with Rome. The reference at the close of the Acts of the Apostles to the arrival of the Apostle Paul in Rome gives no indication that Peter was there as the bishop or even as a resident, and the epistle that Paul had addressed somewhat earlier to the church at Rome devotes its entire closing chapter to greetings for many believers in the city but fails to mention Peter’s name. On the other hand, the first of the two epistles ascribed to Peter does use the phrase (presumably referring to a Christian congregation) “she who is at Babylon ” (1 Peter 5:13 ), which was a code name for Rome . It is, moreover, the unanimous testimony of early Christian tradition that Peter, having been at Jerusalem and then at Antioch , finally came to Rome , where he was crucified (with his head down, according to Christian legend, in deference to the crucifixion of Christ); there was, however, and still is, dispute about the exact location of his grave. Writing around the end of the 2nd century, the North African theologian Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225) spoke of ” Rome , from which there comes even into our own hands the very authority of the apostles themselves. How happy is its church, on which apostles poured forth all their doctrine along with their blood! Where Peter endures a passion like his Lord’s! Where Paul wins his crown in a death like that of John [the Baptist]!”

Alongside this apostolic argument for Roman primacy–and often interwoven with it– Rome was honored because of its position as the capital of the Roman Empire: the church in the prime city ought to be prime among the churches. As the capital Rome drew visitors or tourists or pilgrims from everywhere and eventually became, for church no less than for state, what Jerusalem had originally been called, “the church from which every church took its start, the mother city [metropolis] of the citizens of the new covenant.” Curiously, the transfer of the capital of the Roman Empire from Rome to Constantinople by the newly converted emperor Constantine in 330, which weakened Rome’s civil authority, served only to strengthen its spiritual authority: the title “supreme priest [pontifex maximus],” which had been the prerogative of the emperor, now devolved upon the pope. The transfer of the capital also occasioned a dispute between Rome (“Old Rome”) and Constantinople (“New Rome”) over whether the new capital, as capital, should be entitled to a commensurate ecclesiastical preeminence alongside the see of Peter. The second ecumenical council of the church (at Constantinople in 381) and the fourth (at Chalcedon in 451) both legislated such a position for the see of Constantinople, but Rome refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of that prerogative.

It was also at the Council of Chalcedon, convoked to resolve the doctrinal controversy between Antioch and Alexandria over the person of Christ that the council fathers accepted the formula proposed by Pope Leo I (reigned 440-461). “Peter,” they declared, “has spoken through the mouth of Leo!” That was only one in a long series of occasions when the authority of Rome , sometimes by invitation and sometimes by its own intervention, served as a court of appeal in jurisdictional and dogmatic disputes that had erupted in various parts of Christendom. During the first six centuries of the church the bishop of every major Christian centre was, at one time or another, charged with heresy and convicted–except the bishop of Rome (although his turn was to come later). The titles that the see of Rome gradually assumed and the claims of primacy it made within the internal life and governance of the church were, in many ways, little more than the formalization of what had meanwhile become widely accepted practice during these first four or five centuries of its history.

External factors

In addition to the transfer of the capital from Rome to Constantinople, there were at least two other external factors at the beginning of the Middle Ages that contributed decisively to the development of Roman Catholicism as a distinct form of Christianity. One was the rise of Islam in the 7th century. During the decade following the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 632 CE his followers captured three of the five “patriarchates” of the early church–Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem–leaving only Rome and Constantinople, located at opposite ends of the Mediterranean and, eventually, also at opposite ends of the East-West Schism. The other force that encouraged the emergence of Roman Catholicism as a distinct entity was the fall of the Roman Empire and the migration into Europe of the Germanic and other tribes that were eventually to constitute its principal population. Some of them, particularly the Goths, had already become Christian before even coming into Western Europe . The form of Christianity they had adopted in the 4th century was, however, by the standards of Christian orthodoxy both Eastern and Western, heretical in its doctrine of the Trinity. Therefore the future of medieval Europe belonged not to the Christian tribes but to the pagan tribes, particularly the Franks, once these had become Christian. The Christianity they accepted after their arrival was not only orthodox on the doctrine of the Trinity but it was allied with the authority of the pope. The coronation by the pope of the Frankish king Charles (Charlemagne) as Roman emperor on Christmas Day 800 clearly symbolized that alliance.

The early medieval papacy

During the centuries that marked the transition from the early to the medieval church Roman Catholicism benefited from the leadership of several outstanding popes; at least two of them–both called “the Great” by historians and “Saint” by the Roman Catholic Church–merit special consideration even in a brief article. Pope Leo I was, even for his pagan contemporaries, the embodiment of the ideal of Romanitas in his resistance to the barbarian conquerors. Twice in the space of a few years he was instrumental in saving Rome , from the Huns in 452, when he achieved their withdrawal to the banks of the Danube , and from the Vandals in 455, when his intercession mitigated their depredations in the city. His aforementioned intervention in the doctrinal controversy among Eastern theologians over the person of Christ and the role played by his Tome of 449 in the formula of the Council of Chalcedon in 451 was part of a concerted campaign to consolidate and extend the jurisdiction of the see of Rome over such remote areas as Gaul, Spain, and North Africa–a jurisdiction officially acknowledged by the Roman emperor.

Pope Gregory I (reigned 590-604), more than any pope before or after him, laid the foundations for the Roman Catholicism of the Middle Ages. It was he who selected Augustine of Canterbury to bring about the conversion of England to the Christian faith and the Roman Catholic obedience. He asserted the primacy of his see over the entire church, including the patriarchate of Constantinople, and his diplomatic and political skills secured the independence of the Western Roman Catholic Church both from the Byzantine Empire and from the Germanic tribes occupying Italy. Gregory the Great was also one of the most important patrons of the Benedictine monastic movement, to which he owed a considerable part of his own spiritual upbringing (as his biography of Benedict manifests).

Nevertheless, medieval Roman Catholicism would not have taken the form it did without the conversion of the emperor Constantine in 312. As a consequence of that event Christianity moved in a few decades from an illegal to a legal to a dominant position in the Roman Empire. Henceforth every branch of Christendom had to deal with rulers who claimed to profess its faith; conversely, the character of every branch of Christendom could in considerable measure be described on the basis of its way of relating church and state. For medieval Roman Catholicism the centralization of church authority in the pope made the relation of church and state a persistent issue in the very understanding of the nature of the church itself. As the church approached the conclusion of the first millennium of its history, it had become the legatee of the spiritual, administrative, and intellectual resources of the early centuries.

Most of the preceding analysis pertains to the whole of Christendom. The Eastern Orthodox Church has almost as large a share in the developments of the early centuries as does the Roman Catholic Church, and even Protestantism looks to these centuries for its authentication. The Middle Ages may be defined as the era in which the distinctively Roman Catholic forms and institutions of the church were set. The following chronological account of medieval developments shows how these forms and institutions emerged from the context of the shared history of the early Christian centuries.

The church of the early and High Middle Ages

The concept of Christendom

By the 10th century the religious and cultural community that is called Christendom had come into being. {That is “morphed”} In every European state the religion of the state was Roman Catholicism. Christendom fought back against Islam in the Crusades (see below), which failed to repossess the lost territories but strengthened the unity of Christendom and rendered it conscious of its power.

The Middle Ages saw the rise of the universities and of a “Catholic” learning, sparked, oddly enough, by the transmission of Aristotle through Arab scholars. Scholasticism, the highly formalized philosophical and theological systems developed by the medieval masters, dominated Roman Catholic thought into the 20th century and contributed to the formation of the European intellectual tradition. With the rise of the universities, the threefold level of the ruling classes of Christendom was established; imperium (political authority), sacerdotium(ecclesiastical authority), and studium (intellectual authority). The principle that each of these three was independent of the other two within its sphere of authority had enduring consequences in Europe .

The same period saw the growth of monasticism. One may see in this withdrawal from the world a response to the essential conflict between Christianity and Roman civilization; those who refused to accept the prevailing compromise between the religious and secular spheres could find no place in the world of the early Middle Ages. Perhaps the most remarkable feature of monasticism was that this withdrawal did not take the form of heresy or schism. Monasticism found a way of refusing the compromise without departing from the church that had made the compromise.

A period of decadence

This period also revealed the possibilities of corruption within the Roman Catholic Church. Without the accumulated prestige and the precedents established by the 9th-century popes, the claim to primacy would have had difficulty in surviving the subsequent period of papal decadence. In the 870s the imperial government in Italy declined in influence, and the bishopric of Rome, along with other European bishoprics, was increasingly at the mercy of the local nobility, with spasmodic interventions by the 10th-century German emperors.

German kingship entered upon a new epoch in the 10th century. Under Otto I, the Great, the bishops and greater abbots were drawn into royal service and enriched with estates and counties, for which they did feudal homage. Otto conquered northern Italy and extracted from the pope an imperial coronation (962). Both he and his grandson Otto III regarded the papal territory as part of their realm; they appointed and removed popes and presided at synods. Otto III, an enlightened ruler, appointed as pope his old tutor, Gerbert of Aurillac–who took the name Sylvester II–whose brief reign (999-1003) was a shaft of light between two periods in which Roman factions dominated the papacy.

German “protection,” however, had its price. When the emperor Henry III descended into Italy in 1046, deposing three rival claimants to the papacy (Sylvester III, Gregory VI, and Benedict IX) and then appointing his own candidate, Clement II (and later several successors), the Roman Church was in grave danger of becoming an imperial proprietary church, similar to those multitudinous lower churches in Europe whose royal or aristocratic owners regarded them, in accordance with age-old custom, as their own private property to be disposed of at will.

France during this period was fragmented into many feudal domains. This allowed the ecclesiastical hierarchy there a certain independence and cohesion, while the growth of the French reform-oriented monastery at Cluny prepared the country for its message of reform. In England there was a unique intermingling of ecclesiastical and royal administration that, in fact, left the church entirely free. On the fringes of Christendom– Scandinavia , Scotland , Ireland , and northern Spain –there was little hierarchical development.

Popular Christianity c. 1000

The greater part of central Christendom had by the 11th century been divided into bishops’ dioceses and individual parishes. But in the northern and western regions the proliferation of small private churches had not yet been wholly absorbed, and the existence of proprietary and exempt enclaves continued to the Reformation and beyond. The priest, in rural districts usually a villein of the lord (subject to the lord but not to others), cultivated his acres of glebe (revenue lands of the parish church), celebrated mass on Sundays and feasts, recited some of the hours (liturgical or devotional services for use at certain hours of the day, according to the monastic daily schedule), and saw that his flock was baptized, anointed, and buried. Lay people normally received communion four times a year–Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Assumption (August 15). Auricular (privately heard) confession was widespread but not universal.

Education in the early Middle Ages was at a very low ebb outside the monasteries.

Cathedral schools were few, and rural priests who could read Latin easily were rare. Almost all literary work came from the monasteries and in Celtic lands (mainly Ireland ) from the half-monastic Culdees (religious recluses). The larger monasteries, such as Cluny or St. Gall ( Switzerland ), were towns in miniature with a variety of social services; they were also the only reservoirs of learning and artistic skill. On the land, pious practices and beliefs often merged into superstition or “white” magic; and marriage customs, together with the complicated degrees of prohibited relationships, provided endless problems in an epoch when the presence of a priest was not necessary for a valid union. In an age of protective lordship, heavenly patrons were highly valued, and the body or relics of a reputed saint made him the persona, a quasi-living protective presence, of a church or abbey. This aspect of belief explains the popularity of pilgrimages to shrines such as that of the Apostles at Rome , St. James at Santiago de Compostela ( Spain ), the Magi at Cologne ( Germany ), and countless others. Monastic piety was expressed not only in the liturgy but also in “little offices” (liturgical or devotional services) of the Blessed Virgin, of the cross, of all saints, and of the dead; the primary reason for a monastery’s existence was intercessory prayer–hence the numerous monastic foundations by royal and noble families.

The first reformers: Leo IX and Nicholas II

Leo IX (reigned 1049-54) was the first pope to impose his authority upon the church in general; he achieved this by a tactic of lengthy tours beyond the Alps , punctuated by synods, in which decrees both dogmatic and disciplinary were passed. He also began the practice of appointing non-Romans to curial (papal administrative) posts and sending legates (papal representatives) to carry out his decrees. A man of great energy and spiritual purpose, he must nevertheless bear the responsibility for a disastrous war that ended in capitulation to the Normans and for choosing the rigid and violent Humbert for the mission to Constantinoplein 1054, the year from which the Schism between the churches of the East and West is dated. In the years of confusion that followed, the papal election decree of Nicholas II in 1059 stands out: it gave the right and duty of papal election to the cardinals, tacitly eliminating the king of Germany . The same pope shortly afterward renewed earlier decrees on simony and clerical celibacy but avoided the issue of pope and empire.

The reign of Gregory VII

Hildebrand, who succeeded in 1073 as Gregory VII (reigned 1073-85), proved to be one of the greatest of his line and had more influence than any other person of his time upon the external fabric of the church. In his long struggle with the German king Henry IV he suspended and excommunicated his opponent, pardoned him as penitent at Canossa, Italy (1077), excommunicated him again (and was himself twice deposed), and was finally driven from Rome by Henry to die in exile at Salerno (1085). In opposition to Henry’s claim to be the divinely appointed vice regent of Christ over the activities of the church, Gregory presented himself as heir to the unlimited commission of Christ to Peter over all souls (Matthew 16:18-19). Beneath these lofty claims lay the ruler’s resistance to losing his ancestral right of appointing to office his most influential subjects (who often also held the richest fiefs) and the pope’s insistence on the authority of ancient canon law and papal decrees. If the king’s claims were inconsistent with the current conception of a free church, the pope’s claim and actions were without precedent within the memory or records of his age.

Even more directly influential was Gregory’s centralization of the church. Through the appointment of plenipotentiary legates (representatives with full power to negotiate), the immediate control of diocesan bishops, canonical elections, and Roman and local synods, and the publication of canonical collections and polemical manifestos a web was spun in which every thread led to Rome . The scattered priests and the distant bishops were gradually becoming a class, the clergy, distinct from others and with a law and a loyalty of their own. Although Gregory died a lonely exile, his principles of reform had found reception all over Europe , and the new generation of bishops was Gregorian in sympathy and obedient in practice to papal commands in a way unknown to their predecessors.

The Investiture Conflict (1085-1122)

The efforts of the reformers to make the church independent of lay control inevitably centered upon the appointment of bishops by the ruler of the country or region. In ancient canon law, election of bishops had been by clergy and people; entrance upon office followed lawful consecration. Feudalism and royal claims had transformed election into royal appointment, and admission to office was by means of the bestowal, or investiture, by the lord, of ring and staff (symbols of the Episcopal office), preceded by an act of homage. This savored of simony, both because a layman bestowed a spiritual benefice and because money was often offered or demanded. The conservatives appealed to immemorial practice, accepted and even enjoined by the papacy.

Gregory VII, though asserting the principle of freedom, was in fact tolerant of royal appointments free from simony. Pope Urban II (reigned 1088-99) was equally inconsistent, though in other ways he was a reformer. Pope Paschal II (reigned 1099-1118) at once condemned lay investiture, thus precipitating the crisis in England between Anselm, archbishop of Canterbury , and King Henry I. This and a similar crisis in France were settled by a compromise. Election (by the cathedral chapter) was to be free; lay investiture was waived, but homage before the bestowal of the fief was allowed. Meanwhile Paschal, at odds with the German king Henry V, who was demanding imperial coronation, suddenly offered to renounce all church property held by the king if lay investiture were also abandoned. Henry accepted, but the bishops refused the terms; thereupon the King seized the Pope who, under duress, allowed lay investiture. By this time, however, a large majority of the bishops were Gregorians, and the Pope was persuaded to retract. Eleven years later Pope Gelasius II accepted the Concordat of Worms (1122). According to this agreement free election by ecclesiastics was to be followed by investiture (without staff and ring) and homage to the king.

This ended the strife of 50 years, in which pamphleteers on both sides had revived every kind of claim to supremacy and God-given authority. Nominally a compromise, the concordat was in effect a victory for the monarch, for he could usually control the election. Nevertheless, the war of ideologies had exposed the weakness of the emperor who in the last resort had to admit the spiritual authority of the pope, and the struggle left intact the claim of the church to moderate the whole of society.


END OF PART    Blogged 03/25/19

Published by


I am an Informed and fully practicing Roman Catholic

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s