The Catholic Church
According to the New Testament of the Holy Bible Simon and his brother Andrew became disciples of Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus gave Simon the nickname of Cephas (which means rock in Arabic) and that name got translated into the Petros by the Greeks (Greek was widely spoken in the Middle East by everyone). The Anglo version of Petros is Peter.
Peter is the disciple who drew his sword to defend Jesus from the guards sent by the Pharisees (the men in charge of the Jewish religion for that area), slicing off the ear of one guard (whom Jesus then promptly healed and that guard left his post and became a secret follower of Jesus as a result of that personal experience). Later, Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times, as predicted by Jesus and documented by at least four other disciples in the New Testament.
After the death and resurrection of Jesus, Peter traveled to Italy and founded a church, as Jesus has commanded of him, in or around Rome. His writings (or those attributed to him) are found in the New Testiment under the heading "Romans."
Nero, leader of Rome at that time, eventually had Peter crucified (nailed to a wooden beam and left to die). It is said that a man named Constantine then founded and built a church on the ground where Peter was crucified and this is said to be the formal beginnings of the Catholic Church.
Some say the (Catholic) Church began directly with Jesus, who did lay the foundation for some of the beliefs and rituals, some say it began with Peter who (along with the other remaining disciples) were ordered by Jesus to go out into the world with nothing in their pockets, a sword at the belt as a defense measure and found churches based on the teachings (or gospel) of Jesus.
Some say the church began with Peter, who did as he was bided to do by Jesus.
Some say the church began with the others (known now as Popes) who followed in the traditions of Peter keeping his ministry (or church) alive.
The term “Catholic” was not actually used until after year 100 AD. It was then used to describe the church of St. Ignatius of Antioch. The term Catholic, meaning “Orthodox” or to being strictly adherent to the principals of the Church as it existed in Rome.
The term Roman Catholic Church came about during the 19th century in Great Britain to define this specific church and separate it from other “Catholic” Churches (we'll explore this aspect further next time when we look at the development of the Protestant church).
The head of the Roman Catholic Church, which has the largest number of organized Christian (those who believe that Jesus was the Christ or Savior or Son of God, as prophesied in the Old Testament or Jewish religious belief system) followers, is the Pope. The Pope, who is now selected by a college (or body or assembly) of Cardinals (who are the next rank down from the Pope) who vote in a secret ballot election for a new leader (Pope) upon the death or resignation of the existing Pope.
Peter was elevated by the Roman Catholic Church to “Sainthood” (meaning he lived an outstanding life holding closely to the following of Jesus and God, doing many great things selflessly) and named their first Pope. Following him was Linus and then Cletus (aka: Anacletus) who were also executed in short order for their work in the church of Jesus and both were raised to Sainthood.
The Catholic lineage, therefore, is said to date back directly to Peter and Jesus from the current Pope in Rome today, however few Pope’s ever knew Peter or the other disciples, such as Paul, and have all their teachings and histories passed down by the existing Pope and other senior members of the Church on a second or even third hand basis.
Since this church was founded in Italy where Latin was the primary language, all speaking done in the Church was done in Latin, until late in the 1900’s when local languages were allowed to be used.
The Pope is said to speak for God and Jesus and is infallible in this area (they can say or do no wrong in the realm of interpreting morals and faith or worship).
Aside from Roman Catholics, there are also many other Eastern Orthodox churches who hold close to many of the traditions used by all, hence they can be called Catholic, although they are not Roman Catholic and may not have any direct ties with the Pope or the Roman Catholic Church.
All Catholics and Catholic churches basically adhere to many of the same rituals and traditions found in most other religions, including liturgy (known as a sermon to Protestants or a Mass to Roman Catholics) in which people gather and listen to the senior religious figure (generally a Priest in most Catholic religions, although it can also be a Bishop who is a senior member of the church governing a territory, or a Cardinal who is part of the inner circle at the main Roman Catholic Church, now located in Vatican City, Italy).
Scripture from the Bible are read. Prayers spoken, often by the entire assembly (or mass or people), sometimes there is chanting or singing.
Originally in the Catholic Church all of this was done in Latin, now it is done in the local language.
Another aspect of the Roman Catholic Church that separates itself from many other religions is the concept of “confession” in which a church member goes into a box, seated next to a Priest who can’t see the person’s face so they can’t truly identify them. The church goer then confesses all their sins to the Priest who assigns them “penance” and then forgives them of their sins. Penance is often doing complex church rituals over a period of time.
Sacrament or communion is also done, especially at Easter time to repeat the “Last Supper” rites Jesus had with his disciples. This involves drinking of sacramental wine and eating unleavened (flat or yeast-less) bread. That Catholics generally used small wafer like crackers for the bread.
Being “Catholic” or “Orthodox” members of the church must adhere to the rituals and traditions to the letter or be excommunicated (removed from the church body -- see our piece on Galileo in our Cosmology piece). Divorce, for example, is not permitted (although they do annul marriages from time to time). Artificial or mechanical birth control is not permitted. Sex outside of marriage is not permitted. Priests are not allowed to be married (they are married to God not a woman) and women are not allowed to be Priests. Up until the ending of the last century the eating of meat on Friday was banned, but this has since been removed as a ban.
Jesus was Jewish. Jesus never gave up being a Jew, but he did preach ideology that was reformist in nature. He, basically, did hold to the Jewish rituals, including Passover. He expected his disciples to continue these traditions and promised them another Passover dinner in "His father's house" after redemption day (sometime in the distant future, when all he knew were dead, but would be resurrected into heaven). Jesus celebrated Passover with his disciples on the eve of his trial and crusifiction and instructed them to think of him and add the memory of him to the ritual. The sacramental wine represented his blood, that would be shed on the cross when he was crucified, the flat, yeastless bread, was his body.
Rome at that time was not Jewish and Jews were not highly regarded (they were conqured slaves of the Romans to be precise). So, it was not "Politically Correct" for Peter or anyone else to introduce direct Jewish rituals, hence a lot of the rituals used by the "Christian" churches are modified from the original Jewish format. (When Catholic missionaries introduced Christianity to the "South" Americas, the locals embraced the bitter herbs with their "salsa" and the flat bread with their "tortillas" and take this combination several times each day, often along with a wine or other fermented beverage.)
It is quite possible that Peter and the other disciples had to become "politically correct" and incorporated the concept of "when in Rome do as the Romans do" into the belief system that would eventually become the "Christian church" in Rome and Italy. This "Christian church" or church based on the foundation and beliefs of the Jew, Jesus, as he preached reform, love and tolerance, would eventually become known as the Roman Catholic Church, based on the ministry founded by Peter, a disciple of Jesus, when he relocated to Italy.
The Roman Catholic Church grew quite strong as the centuries went by, gaining converts, acquiring lands and going up against rulers of France, England and other nations. This created a lot of fricition and animosity, especially in England (and as we shall see in the future, bringing about a whole new concept in Chrisitian religion)!
The Pope even instituted “Crusades” or “Holy Wars” -- some of which went to the Middle East to secure the city of Jerusalem (the place where Jesus carried the cross and was crucified) from the Muslims (see our piece on Islam from last month).
Some Popes even banned books and knowledge (except from the Priests, Bishops and Cardinals of the Church), such as the discoveries of Galileo that the Earth moves around the Sun, not that the Sun moves around the Earth as the Church believed and supported. Historically this is part of what is commonly called the "dark ages" of our times.
To this date the Catholic Church gives a yes or no approval on motion pictures that their church members might see, although many members of the church do not subscribe to, nor honor these ratings (there is no excommunication for seeing a movie or reading a book, although you may need to do some "pennace"), however they do still review and rate movies based on the morals and doctrines of the church.
All religions (and societies) have their rules, rituals, do's and don'ts. This is a very brief and antiseptic look at this particular sect. In the past we've covered Islam, the origin of religion and in the future we will look at other sects...