This Ancient Religion Called Catholic! Vol. 4, No. 13

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The Catholic church is no doubt the oldest institution in the Western world. It can trace its history back almost two thousand years. It began in Jerusalem as a small nucleus of disciples who shared faith in the resurrection of Jesus, their sacrificial leader, and it spread quickly to countless cities of the Roman Empire.
Its inflexible opposition to Roman culture, moral and religion aroused the savage fury of the state, and many of the church’s members perished when they refused to conform. But its spiritual power was only magnified by persecution, and its progress remained constant. No wonder Tertulian expressed the confidence that blood of martyrs was the seed of Christianity.
Finally, it won a decisive victory over the old paganism when it drew to its side the Emperor Constantine himself, who in 312AD attached its emblem – the monogram of Christ – to the banners of his troops and granted it complete religions liberty.
Its fortune was henceforth linked intimately with the state, as emperor after emperor showered it with privileges and favours. When the Western Empire itself fell apart before the onslaught of the Barbarians, Catholic church remained the only power that was not totally disrupted by the collapse. And under the leadership of remarkable Popes like Gregory the Great (d.604), the barbarians got converted, thereby the foundation of a whole new Christian civilization was established.
For merely a thousand years then, the Catholic Church presided over the total life of Christendom and animated its laws, institutions, customs, literature, art and architecture with its faith in Jesus Christ, God and Man. Its Popes gradually established their supreme authority over the whole of Western Christendom.
As modern times dawned with the renaissance of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the unity of the Papal Christendom was severely undermined by man forces – social, economic, religions, cultural and political, that could no longer be contained within the framework of papal theocracy. Such forces could be indicated when Luther dealt the most devastating blow on the Holy Mother Church but saved by a thoroughgoing reform at Trent (1545 – 1563) that rejuvenated its spiritual energy. There were also forces of modern secular culture like the French Revolution which began in 1789. Yet the Church kept its rank unbroken and its faith unchanged. The French Revolution rather enabled the Church to gain a powerful spiritual revival that manifested itself in the conversion of numerous members of Europe’s intellectual elite. These elites however assisted the Church in development of a special ethic that offered a consistent set of answers to the moral problems raised by the Industrial Revolution.
On the other side of the spectrum, when the liberal Catholic and modernists attempted to work out a reconciliation of its traditional faith with the demands of modern culture, they were officially anathematized by the syllabus of Erros of Pope Pius IX (1846 – 1878).
Nevertheless, the Popes of the twentieth century enhanced its prestige by the able leadership they provided in age of technological advance and spiritual chaos. With the advent of Pope John XXIII (d.1963), a turning point was reached the Church’s relation with the modern world through his convocation of the Second Vatican Council (1962 – 1965), that involved all men of good will.
Before the end of the Vatican II Council Pope John XXIII died (1963) but his successor, Pope Paul VI skillfully balanced traditions with innovations in guiding the Church steadily through one of its most critical transition periods. (From Trent Traditions to Vatican II traditions), yet remaining steadfast to the apostolic tradition. His death on August 6, 1978 (at the age of eighty) touched off a fascinatedly series of events that made Rome the Centre of world attention for many weeks. As God may have designed it at this point in time, his successor, John Paul (Albino Luciani) reigned only thirty-four days but in that short span, he succeeded in revivifying the image of the Papacy. Meanwhile, his sudden death on September 28, cut short all speculations about the direction of his pontificate, and the people prayed for divine intervention, as cardinals gathered in Rome for another conclave, that they may find another man of the caliber of Albino Luciani (i.e. Pope Johnpaul).
Providentially, not only did the cardinals break with a tradition of more than four and a half centuries by electing a non-Italian, but they chose a cardinal from communist Poland, Karol Woytyla, at fifty-eight, the youngest Pope in our century; and with the exception of Pope Pius IX, he reigned the longest Papacy in the history of the Church so far. His death was a grevious blow to the whole world. The great intellectual of our time, Cardinal Ratzinger took up the responsibility of the papacy at the time when the Church needed him most. His humble resignation was terrific to many who were confused with many revelations about the end of the Church established by our Lord Jesus Christ. However, a noble Jesuit from Latin America, George Bergoglio who came to join at the conclave just like his fellow cardinals could not return home as the Holy Mother Church bestowed the future of this oldest religion upon him with the name Pope Francis. Indeed, the gate of hell shall not prevail against the Church.
Tecsthought shall continue with the reflection on the history of the Catholic Church. Enjoy the series!

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