There have been different dates as to when the Roman Catholic Church was founded. Some say in 590 CE and others say it’s 1054 AD. So when exactly is it and how?
The Catholic Church was founded about 30 CE by Jesus Christ himself. He established Peter as the head, the first pope, and gave his other apostles authority. Following His ascension into heaven, his apostles began to go to different parts of the world, preaching the gospel and making more disciples.
From there, the Church continued to grow into one of the biggest religions in the world. But before it became what it is today, the Catholic Church went through many challenges and even persecution. To further understand how it came to be, here’s a timeline of the history of the Catholic Church.
History of the Catholic Church Timeline
It all began during Jesus’ earthly ministry in 30 AD when Jesus announced that he was building his church. This can be found in Matthew 16:18-19 where Jesus says: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” Jesus also gave his disciples, who later became his apostles, authority in his church. He says: “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)
During the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, allowing them to proclaim the Gospel in many different languages. They then spread out in different places around the world, forming the “universal” church known as the Catholic Church. This was all during the apostolic age and came to an end when the apostle John died, which is said to be around 96 CE. The Book of Revelation, which John wrote is said to be written in 95 CE.
While there are no records of the first Christians in Rome, it was evident that there was a church already established there. New Testament scriptures show this; for instance, the Book of Acts shows some of Paul’s dealings in Rome. Paul himself also wrote epistles addressed to the church in Rome.
Furthermore, St. Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, and St. Irenaeus of Lyons have all referred to the apostle Peter as the minister in Rome being its first bishop. Paul first came to the Catholic Church in Rome in 63 CE and died around 68 CE. During this time, he was believed to have been beheaded and martyred for his faith. St. Peter was said to have been crucified around the same time.
Early Christians suffered persecution for a very, very long time. When a fire broke out in Rome in 64 CE, Emperor Nero blamed it on the Christians and ordered their execution, including St. Paul. This started the Roman policy of persecuting Christians.
There were then a lot of diverse and localized persecutions of Christians over the next centuries, producing plenty of martyrs who refused to give up their faith. But the most tragic and widespread persecutions were during the time of Decius (249-250 CE) and Valentianus (257-258 CE). The most severe, which is now known as the Great Persecution, was under the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius (303-312 CE).
Why were Christians persecuted? First, they refused to worship the emperor. Secondly, they refused to worship the gods and take part in making sacrifices. Furthermore, the Romans believed that Christians were taking part in strange and new practices, rituals, and rites – and during that time, anything unknown is seen as a threat.
The Turning Point
After centuries of persecution, change finally came when Emperor Constantine I converted to Christianity in 312 CE. In 313 CE, he then lifted the ban on Christianity through the Edict of Milan. Since there were various groups of Christians during this time who had different ideas and interpretations of the Scripture and the role of the church, Constantine also established the Nicene Creed to unify them and resolve the issues causing the division.
Constantine was also instrumental in forming the First Council of Nicea in 325 CE, which attempted to change the structure of the church leadership and model it to that of the Roman system. Not only that but they helped formalized key articles of faith as well. Then in 330 CE, Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople, making the Christian church as the central authority in Rome.
Except for Julian the Apostate, every emperor that followed embraced the Christian faith. Theodosius I even made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 381 CE. The Pope or the Bishop of Rome also became the head of the Catholic Church.
From then on, Christians experienced many changes over the centuries. Catholicism then grew in power and influence.
The Middle Ages
In 476 CE, the Roman Empire collapsed, leaving a void in power over Western Europe. The Christian Church tried to fill this, serving as the common tie between all the people. At the same time, the differences between Eastern and Western Christians started to emerge. Then at the Council of Chalcedon in 551 CE, the head of the Constantinople church was declared head of the Eastern branch of Catholicism, standing in equal authority to the Pope. However, Rome refused to acknowledge this. Thus, effectively starting a division of the Christian Church.
Around 590 to 604 CE, Pope Gregory I or later called “Gregory the Great” became the Bishop of Rome. He was the first to fully exercise the authority over the Church and he also laid the foundations for the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. Throughout his reign, he was able to gain more and more power, leaving more people to acknowledge his authority and accept Catholic teachings. His movement of converting people to Catholicism was so successful that he was able to sway even kings, rulers, and nations.
The Great Schism
While the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity had long been divided, this was only formalized in 1054 CE through the Great Schism. Since the leaders of both groups could not agree, this split up the Latin-speaking Roman Catholic Church in the west and the Greek-speaking Orthodox Church in the east.
The Roman Catholic Church then experienced another division 500 years later. In 1517, Martin Luther challenged the teachings of the Catholic Church, which then brought about the Protestant Reformation. Through his document called the “Disputation on the Power of Indulgences” or “95 Theses”, he presented ideas that contradicted the Church’s teachings. This resulted in the creation of another branch of Christianity called Protestantism.
Other Important Events
There was also the Crusades, which is a series of wars that took place between 1095-1230 AD. During this time, Christians fought against Islams and Muslims in hopes to reclaim the Holy Land in Jerusalem. After a long battle, however, the Christians were defeated. But after the Crusades, the Catholic Church’s power, authority, and even wealth only increased.
The Catholic Church at Present
From a small grassroots movement started by a few and persecuted for centuries, the Catholic Church grew into one of the biggest religions in the world. There are now churches in almost every country, embracing all peoples and cultures and making the Word of God accessible to everyone. The Church has also served as a peacemaker during times of war and a shelter and provider for those in need. And while many empires and civilizations have fallen, the Catholic Church remains.