The History of the Church (Part 1)

Last Sunday, Fr. Tony, an Opus Dei priest,  led us through an introductory session on the 2000 years of history of the Church. It was a great session and intro to the church’s history. We hope you find this as interesting as we did and we pray through this you too (Yes you reader) can grow in faith and in love with the one true, holy, catholic and apostolic church ???. Amen

Blessed John Henry Newman was beatified by Pope Benedict XV in 2010 and is one of the most famous converts in England. He was a high Anglican priest who converted to the Catholic Church and had a very interesting conversion story. He said he joined the Catholic Church not because of the Catholics, but because he read himself into the church. He traced the history of the Anglican Church in the 16th century and found that the Catholic Church had been there from the very beginning. He discovered that the Anglican Church was created because King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife and the Pope would not permit this. It was not in the Pope’s power to dissolve the institution of marriage so Henry left the Catholic Church so his wish could be granted.

Blessed John Henry Newman realized that his church (Anglican) came to be from the selfishness of one man. He discovered that there were Fathers who belonged to the pier of the Church because they were close to the apostles and they safeguarded the history of the Church. Martyrs like St. Felicity and St. Perpetua died for their love for God and also safeguarded the traditions of the Church in the most trying times. He went back to the fathers of the Church and discovered that the true church is the Catholic Church. He then walked into a catholic church and realized that the church was in possession of the fullness of truth and thus began his conversion.

By joining the Catholic Church, he stood to lose 4000 Pounds a year in salary/upkeep money which was a lot of money in those days. He asked what 4000 Pounds was in comparison to one communion. He gave up his pastorship and teaching position and joined the Catholic Church. He was ordained a Catholic Priest and eventually became a Cardinal. As he went deeper in faith, he presented the image of the Church as a tree and how we are the branches and can trace our roots and have something in common with Christ and the early Christians. Our faith is the same, the sacraments are the same, the unity and the hierarchy of the church are also the same as with the early Christians. The accounts of the Apostles appointed by Christ has been passed on and handed down to others through sacred tradition. We can speak on the 266th successor of St. Peter, who is the current Pope Francis. He can trace his roots back to St. Peter. Christians are very much concerned with preserving that line of succession. One of the pillars is how the church has maintained its unity and sacraments till today. It maintains the unity as received from Christ. The 4 marks of the church are

  • One
  • Holy
  • Catholic
  • Apostolic

Blessed Pope Pius IX said the 5th mark of the church is “persecuted” because from its very inception the church has been persecuted. The more the church is persecuted, the more it spreads. The church moved from Jerusalem to Syria, Antioch, and that was where the word “Christian” was used for the first time. They went to Antioch because they were persecuted.

China was evangelized the same time some parts of Africa were evangelized in the 16th century and all regimes have tried to suppress the Church. Mao persecuted the church which led to the establishment of an underground church with meetings in people’s homes. He decided to allow the church to thrive but on the condition that he would appoint the bishops. This led to a new division called the National Church. With time, Pope John Paul II, went about reconciling the two churches. Some of the underground Christians did not mind being persecuted because the Apostles and early Christians were persecuted. They believed that their persecution kept them together and without it, would lead to a level of laxity. They believed that the blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity needed for the faith to spread.

This year we are marking 500 years of the Lutheran formation. Martin Luther was a priest who went astray and made a whole nation go astray with him. In the year 1516, he began having doubts about the Catholic faith and his personal difficulties affected his faith. Luther was upset by the authority in the church and did not believe that there should be a hierarchy i.e. Pope, bishop, etc. He came up with the idea of a classless church. A church where everybody can do anything, and everybody is, in a sense, a priest. He was upset with the images in the church and as we can see, there are no images or grand statues in Lutheran churches today. Most times, there’s just a table with a bible on top of it and anyone who wants to preach can do so. He got rid of all the sacraments except Baptism and the Eucharist. The Eucharist lost its value because for Catholics, it is a sacrifice at Calvary which we celebrate. For them, it is a fraternal meal.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI held an interview where he was asked about bad Popes in the history of the church, and he said that as a Pope, he needs to be focused on the founder of the Church (Jesus Christ) and doing God’s work but that whatever scandals or bad leadership the Church has had in the past, would never break the church. Jesus Christ himself told Peter that “the gates of hell will not prevail against his Church.”

Scott Haan was an Episcopalian who also became Catholic. He taught at a protestant seminary and one day as he was teaching them about the gospel of St. John he realized in the 6th chapter that Jesus insisted we must “eat his body and drink his blood.” In order to understand further, he started going to Catholic mass. He would sit at the back and was struck by how Catholics did exactly what he taught but yet he did not celebrate the Eucharist. He eventually became Catholic and was now able to receive the Eucharist.

What were the early Christians doing when the bible did not exist especially the New Testament? The first book was written about 50-52 A.D. which was about 20 years after Jesus. St. Luke talked about operators of the Word who repeated the Word of God and told the communities what Jesus did and said, and this is how the bible came to be. The bible is not isolated nor was it dropped from heaven but it was written by human authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit really wants to speak to us about the treasures of the church by those who had the authority to spread the faith. Tradition is so important but Luther got rid of that (oral tradition that passed from one community to another). St. Paul says, “I am handing over to you a tradition I have received. The tradition brings forth the scriptures and the treasures of the word.”

Tertullian one of the fathers of the church was a staunch Catholic but he disagreed with the Pope and became a staunch anti-catholic. He did it out of a misguided vigor, but the Pope responded by saying we should be tough but accommodating. His problem was that some Christians would side with persecutors of the Christians and then come to church and look like they were authentic. Tertullian’s great argument with people using the bible was, “who gave you the bible? Is it the church? If your answer is yes, then obey the Church!”

The session ended with a round of questions. Someone asked why Catholics do the sign of the cross. Father Tony replied saying we do it as a short prayer to signify that we are Christians (and this was important especially in the early days).

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