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The Roman Catholic Church

The term catholic originally meant "universal".  After 313 Rome favoured Christianity and it eventually became the state religion under Constantine.   By 400 Christianity became established in Graeco-Roman culture.  According to traditional founded by the apostle Peter (the reality is always not so tidy), the Church of Rome quickly came to be the most powerful in Western Europe, while Syriac, Coptic, and Greek churches were established elsewhere.   Eventually the church split into two main "superpowers" - the Latin Catholics in the West who looked to Rome, and the Grek or Slavonic speaking Eastern Churches who looked to Constantinople.  By the 11th century the differences between the two had hardened into a rift that was only to be healed by the spirit of religious ecumenicalism and universalism in the later half of the 20th cenntury

For some thousand years then, the Church of Rome ruled and exerted a major influence on the culture and politics of Western Europe.  From Ireland to the Carpathians, the bishop of Rome was acknowledged as Pope (from papa - vulgar Latin - "father"), and Latin was used in liturgy, scriptures, and theology.  With the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, most of northern Europe split from the Latin church to form their own religions and sects - Lutherism, Calvanism, Anabaptism, and Anglicanism

During the Age of Exploration Catholic missionaries from Spain, Portugal and elsewhere, sort convrts in the Americas, and parts of Asia, and Africa.  Missionary activity continued throughout the 19th and 20th century and the Catholic Church remains the largest Christian sect.  Though at present in decline in the West, it continues to grow in the Third World, especially Africa.

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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page last modified 23 March 2003