One of the oldest institutions in the world, the Catholic Church has been around for so long that it grew into one of the biggest religions today with over 1.3 billion members. But how old exactly is it and how did it start? Let’s discuss this below.
The Catholic Church is almost 2,000 years old. It was founded in 30 CE when Jesus told the Apostle Peter that he was building a church and putting him as its head. After his ascension, his followers spread all over the world and formed the “universal” church with the Pope, Peter’s successor, as its leader.
Before the Catholic Church became what it is now, it went through lots of challenges throughout the years. So to help you understand how it came to be, it’s important to first discuss how it started and how it is the one true church.
When Was the Catholic Church Founded?
The Catholic Church traces its history back to 30 CE when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, talked to Apostle Peter about building his church. You can find this in Matthew 16:18-19 where it states: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
In the same verse, Jesus establishes Peter as the first head of the Catholic Church, saying: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Reading further, you’ll also find that Jesus gave his other apostles authority in his church (Matthew 18:18).
After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, the Holy Spirit then came upon the Virgin Mary and the apostles on Pentecost with “tongues of fire” (Acts 2:3). This allowed them to be “all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4)
With the Holy Spirit’s gift, the apostles were able to proclaim the gospel and the word of God in different languages. They began to spread out in different parts of the world, which then formed the “universal” church we all know now as the Catholic Church. All these happened in the apostolic age and ended with apostle John’s death, which was around 96 CE.
Is the Catholic Church the One True Church?
As Catholics, we are taught that our church is the “one true church” – the one that Jesus Christ himself built. But with so many churches saying otherwise, how can we be so sure? Well, because of history.
As mentioned above, Jesus established the Church with Peter as its head and the other apostles also having authority. After Jesus’ death and resurrection, we know that Peter and the other apostles exercised such authority when they chose Matthias as Judas’ replacement (Acts 1:15-26) and when they convened to address questions in the church (Acts 15:1-12).
Now, because the apostles were still mortals, they needed to pass on their authority. The same goes for Peter, who was considered the church’s very first Pope. Those who were handed such responsibility from the apostles are called today as bishops. Likewise, all these bishops needed to ordain their own successors. This process continues to this day. So the line from the apostles to each of our bishops has never been broken.
So what does this all have to do with the Catholic Church being the one true church? Well, this shows that the teachings that Jesus handed over to his apostles are the same teachings given to us now. Our belief has remained unchanged and untarnished since the beginning. Everything that we believe in and practice, from the sacraments to the Eucharist and even the papal primacy, is all founded by Jesus Christ himself and found even in the earliest Church.
History of the Catholic Church
To give you a better idea of how old the Catholic Church is and how it came to be, here’s a brief timeline of all the most important events in its history.
- 30 CE: The Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ. During Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the Virgin Mary and the apostles.
- 57-59 CE: Apostle Paul wrote the Epistle to the Romans. While there are no records of the Early Christians in Rome, such epistles prove that there was already a church established there. The Book of Acts also shows some of his dealings in Rome.
- 63 CE: Apostle Paul comes to the Catholic Church in Rome
- 64 CE: A fire broke out in Rome, which Emperor Nero blamed on the Christians. Thus, he ordered their execution. This event started the policy of persecuting Christians.
- 95 CE: Apostle John wrote the Book of Revelation.
- 64-312 CE: The persecution of Christians went on for about 250 years under different rulers, but the most widespread and tragic were during Emperor Decius (249-250 CE) and Valentianus (257-258 CE). The Great Persecution, which was the most severe, was under the Emperors Diocletian and Galerius (303-312 CE)
- 312 CE: Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity. This was the turning point for the church. Then by 313 CE, he finally ended centuries of Christian persecution by lifting the ban on Christianity through the Edict of Milan. During this period, Constantine also established the Nicene Creed in hopes of unifying various groups of Christians and resolving the issues that divided them.
- 325 CE: The First Council of Nicea was formed with the help of Constantine. This changed the structure of the church leadership and formalized key articles of the faith.
- 330 CE: Constantine moved the Roman Empire’s capital to Constantinople, leaving the Christian Church the authority in Rome.
- 381 CE: Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. It was also during this time that the Bishop of Rome or the Pope became the head of the Catholic Church.
- 476 CE: The Roman Empire collapsed. At the same time, differences between the Western and Eastern Christians emerged.
- 551 CE: The head of the Constantinople church was declared the leader of the Eastern branch of Catholicism, which was considered to have equal authority to that of the Bishop of Rome. This wasn’t accepted by the Roman church. Thus, the division of the Christian Church started.
- 590-604 CE: Pope Gregory I became the Bishop of Rome and laid the foundations for the Roman Catholic Church. During his papacy, he gained more power, allowing more people to acknowledge his authority and accept the teachings of the Church.
- 1054 CE: The division of the Roman Catholic Church in the West and the Orthodox Church in the East was formalized through the Great Schism.
- 1517 CE: Another great division happened in the Roman Catholic Church, which brought about the Protestant Reformation headed by Martin Luther.
- 1095-1230 CE: Christians fought against Islam to reclaim the Holy Land in Jerusalem. While the Christians were defeated, the Church’s power, wealth, and authority only increased throughout the world.