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The catholic (small "c") church started in Acts. The Catholic (big "C") or Roman Catholic church started about 1550 years later as a reaction to the protestant reformation. At the completion of the Council of Trent the Roman Catholic Church officially severed its ties with the Christian faith. In this council the Roman Church condemned the gospel and damned those to hell who believe it (specifically in session 6), Damns those who believe they have assurance of salvation, Damns those who believe they are saved by grace alone through faith alone, Damns those who believe good works are the fruit of salvation, Damns those who do not believe in indulgences, Damns those who do not believe the Apocrypha belongs in the bible, Damns those who believe God alone saves Were these new teachings created by the Council of Trent? No, these false teachings existed before; some of them for quite a while just like many false teachings still exist in the visible church today. The difference is that the Roman Church took these teachings and ratified them, took hold of them and made belief in them a matter of heaven and hell. Unless the Roman Catholic Church recants and nullifies the product of the Council of Trent there will forever be a divide between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants. These are things we cannot agree to disagree with; it is a difference of religions.
When we affirm in the Creed that 'I believe in the holy catholic church' we mean that we recognise the worldwide church of Jesus Christ, and are confessing that we are a member of that body. This church was born at Pentecost when God the Holy Spirit came to dwell amongst his people (Acts 2). So, the catholic church began 2000 years ago. However, if by Catholic we mean Roman Catholic Church, then the answer is usually held to be in the year 1054 AD. It was at that time that the Eastern and Western churches, with leaders in Constantinople and in Rome, went their separate ways. This is known as the Schism of 1054. It was the culmination of many theological and practical differences between the two bodies. This happen because the Eastern patriarch condemned the practice of the Roman Church of using unleavened bread in Communion services. The papal legates who went to Constantinople to sort things out ended by excommunicating the patriarch and his followers. In reply the patriarch anathematised the pope and his followers. The Roman Catholic Church and the Greek Orthodox Churches went their separate ways from this time on. Many of the items we associate with Roman Catholicism (such as use of images, prayers to the dead, veneration of Mary, status of the Mass, authority if the pope, celebacy of priests, doctrine of Purgatory, etc) had been creeping into the Western Church for centuries. So this Schism was simply the 'straw that broke the camel's back' as it were. It took the Reformation of the 16th century to begin to undo many of the heresies and errors - both theological and practical - that had become a stranglehold on Christian belief and practice. May we never forget.
First it is critical to differentiate between "catholic church" and "Roman catholic church." "Catholic church" is better translated as "Universal congregation." This began as of the resurrection of Christ. In 313 AD, as S. Michael pointed out, the Roman church gained legalization in Rome. They started collecting the New Testament books, with great success. In 378 AD, Jerome translated them into Latin (The Vulgate). This was done to keep the masses in the dark about Scripture. Many people were burned at the stake for even having a snippet of the Scriptures in their possession, in the common language. (Jon Hus, and William Tyndale. E.g.) The Romans successfully preserved the integrity of the Bible. However, at the same time they created the Magisterium. By the late 6th century, the Roman church had gained control of the Catholic (universal) church. The Magisterium was the rod by which Rome ruled. Popes continually added rules that were not Biblical. The greatest of these rule makers was Pope Innocent III, in 1215 AD., especially at the 4th Lateran Council. This "Roman rule book" that deviated from the Scriptures, was the genesis of the Reformation. In the mid 14th century, Dr. John Wycliffe, (The Morningstar of the Reformation) from Oxford, started becoming concerned about the differences between the Bible and the Magisterium. He began the call to reform the Roman church back to the Bible. He specifically railed against indulgences and Transubstantiation, to the great dismay of the Holy See. The Roman church was in control of Oxford, and got Wycliffe terminated from his position, though Wycliffe was known to be the top philosopher of his time. Wycliffe took the banishment, and started translating the Bible into English, which infuriated Rome. Though Wycliffe died of natural causes, Rome was so mad at Wycliffe, that 44 years after his death, they dug up his body, and burned it. I would point to 378 AD as being critical. When the Roman church "hid" the Scriptures in the Latin language (aka the "language of the learned") there had to be rules for the masses to follow. These "rules" varied from the Scriptures, or there would have been nothing to reform 1,000 years later. 33 AD. Beginning of the Catholic Church 313 AD. Beginning of the Roman Catholic Church 378 AD Bible translated into Latin (giving the Roman church unique power) Late 6th century. Rome takes control. 1054 AD Roman / Eastern Orthodox schism 1378 AD Bible translated into English (Wycliffe) 1521 AD Bible translated to German (Luther) 1530 AD. The Augsburg confession, which cemented the schism of the reformation.
The origin of Catholic Church goes back into the Pentecost, the day on which the Church was inaugurated. From then the Church spread throughout the world from Spain to India. It is interesting that when there arose a doctrinal dispute over the circumcision the leaders of the Church - apostles including Paul - gathered together, discussed and reached a conclusion. The apostles were succeeded by other men who led the Church in the places where each apostle preached and established the Church. It is clear from the writings from the early Fathers of the Church even before the death of the last Apostle John. Now apostles are no more, the canon of the New Testament was not fixed, then how could they solve the doctrinal disputes arose in the infant Church? They had the example of Apostles handed down to them. Since they were ruling in the place of the Apostles they gathered together and solved the problems and defined the dogmas. It is in this way we have the doctrines like Trinity and the Canon of the Bible. This fact is indisputable. Any contrary argument will stand against the history of the Christianity. The early Church documents of the first centuries give us the details of apostolic successions in the respective regions. That is why the Church can proudly declare that her present day bishops are the worthy successors of apostles. Whenever there is a doctrinal dispute they come together and define the true faith. If question their authority to do so we are questioning the very New Testament itself. It is clear from the early writings that each region followed its own canon. It was in the fourth century and by the council of "bishops" that the canon was fixed. The council accepted the canon of the Roman Church as the official Canon because early Church leaders thought that the Roman position on the faith matters are the right one. That is why we see in their works how they would appeal to Rome when there was some problem in their respective areas.
The Catholic Church points to Pentecost as the official "Birthday of the Church." We see God as a Great Gatherer of the tribes, and on this special occasion, brought people from every nation, every tongue into one place, to remind us of the covenant He made - I AM your God, you are my people. Similar to the first Pentecost, God writes down his laws this time not on tablets of stone, but in our hearts. And God is consistent, He wrote the laws with the "finger of God", i.e. the Holy Spirit. This same day is a reversal of the Tower of Babel incident. As a consequence of making a name for themselves, God confused their languages. With different languages, the people divided themselves and went out in separate ways. At Pentecost, we see people of different languages unite themselves to build a name for God.
My view is that the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) is a distinct religion from Biblical Christianity. It does not appear to draw its authority from Scripture. The Roman Catholic doctrines and practices are largely inconsistent with the teaching of Scripture. I am therefore persuaded that its origin cannot be traced to the New Testament church or the early church fathers. It is possibly a concoction of medieval Christianity steeped in pagan roots. Its growth can be identified with the Medieval period right to the Reformation era when its authority was challenged. It subscribes to a myriad of traditions, some of which openly violate Scripture. It denies salvation by faith alone and instead promotes a works-based soteriology. The RCC church government is predicated on a papal system and its priesthood is founded on compulsory celibacy, contrary to Scripture.
The origin of Catholic Church started when Jesus founded his Church on Peter (Petros in Greek and Cephas in Aramaic which mean “rock”). The 12 apostles of Jesus regarded Peter as their leader when Jesus was taken up to heaven. Before the ascension of Jesus, he entrusted his flock and sheep to Peter to take care of them: “Feed my lambs and feed my sheep.” John 21:15-17: 15. When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 16. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 17. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep. In Acts, the Holy Spirit was received as Jesus’ promise. He said, “I will be with you till the end of time,” and gave instructions to spread and proclaim the gospel. Peter consecrated Clement as his successor and appointed bishops, such as Saints Ignatius and St. Policarp in Antioch and Smyrna. Early church fathers such as Ignatius, a disciple of John the evangelist, coined the name “Catholic”. He is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word “katholikos” (καθολικός), meaning "universal", "complete" and "whole" to describe the church, writing: “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
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