Aside from being the largest religious body in the world, the Catholic Church is also the oldest branch of Christianity. But even if it’s been around for so long, there’s still a lot about our religion that many don’t know about and understand. So to help give light on this matter, here’s an article about how, when, and who started the Catholic Church.
Jesus Christ founded the Catholic Church around 30 AD. He gave his apostles authority and appointed Peter as its leader. After His ascension, they began to preach the gospel and made more disciples. They then passed on their faith and power to their successors, who carried on spreading the good news.
This was how the Catholic Church and its structure came to be. This is also why we believe that we are the one true Church founded by Jesus Christ – because the teachings, Gospel, and traditions that were handed down to us all came from Him, unchanged and untarnished. But how do we know that? History. Let’s look into this more below.
The Beginnings of the Catholic Church
According to the Gospel of Mattew: “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. 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.” (Mattew 16:18-19)
From here, we can say that Jesus Christ was the founder. He proceeded in giving Peter authority and making him the leader. Reading a little further in the same Gospel, Jesus tells the same thing to his disciples, who then became his apostles: “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 18:18) This tells us that He also gave his other apostles power and authority.
In the Book of John 21:15-19, Jesus appeared to Peter while fishing and asked him three times: “Simon (for Simon Peter), son of John, do you love me?” and Peter answered every time, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you”. And each time Peter answered, Jesus says to him: “Feed my lambs.” “Tend my sheep.” and “Feed my sheep.”
So what does this all have to do with the history of the Catholic Church? Everything. Because as Jesus announced he was building a Church, he chose Peter as the head and the one to lead and tend to His flock, which is his Church. He also gave his apostles the special mission to become his messengers.
After Jesus ascended into heaven, Peter and the other apostles then looked over the Church and addressed its issues. In Acts 1:15-26, for instance, the apostles with Peter as their head led the undertaking to fill the position of Judas. In Acts 15:1-12, the apostles again with Peter as the leader exercised their authority by convening and answering an important question addressed to the Church.
Did Peter Start the Catholic Church?
As you notice, Peter played such an important role in the foundation of the Church. So it’s not surprising why some people confuse him as the founder. To set it all straight, Peter didn’t start the Catholic Church. Jesus did.
Instead, Peter (known now as St. Peter) is seen as the first pope of the Catholic Church. Years after the death and crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he was said to have traveled to Rome together with the Apostle Paul to spread the word of God. There, he founded the first Roman Church.
Since Peter was mortal, he had to pass on his authority and responsibility to others. Of course, all those that succeeded him also had to do the same. This practice laid the structure and foundation for all of our Popes. Generally, all the Popes are considered to be successors of St. Peter.
What Happened to the Apostles?
Before the apostles died, they too had to pass on their power to others. They appointed their successors, who we now know as bishops. The bishops will then have to hand down their position from one generation to the next. Thus, creating an uninterrupted line of continuity from the very first apostles of Jesus. This is called the Apostolic Succession.
Some people would argue whether or not the authority that Jesus gave to his apostles can be transferred to another. Well, absolutely. In fact, it was the first thing that Peter did after Jesus ascended into heaven. As mentioned above (Acts 1:15-26), he led the movement to replace Judas and transfer his authority to his successor, Matthias.
Through the Apostolic Succession, all Catholic bishops throughout the world belong to a lineage that dates back to the time of the apostles. Because of this, it is believed that they received certain “special powers” directly from the apostles themselves. These include the right to confirm members of the church, consecrate other bishops, and ordain priests. This also gives them power over the clergy and their diocese members.
Like Peter, the other apostles were fundamental to the foundation of the Catholic Church. Jesus commanded them to share his teachings and preach the good news on his behalf, sending them to different parts of the world – and that they did. As Catholics, we are taught and reminded of their role in helping Jesus build His Church as can be seen in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 765:
“The Lord Jesus endowed his community with a structure that will remain until the Kingdom is fully achieved. Before all else, there is the choice of the Twelve with Peter as their head. Representing the twelve tribes of Israel, they are the foundation stones of the new Jerusalem. The Twelve and other disciples share in Christ’s mission and his power, but also in his lot. By all his actions, Christ prepares and builds his Church.”