MY CATHOLIC FAITH
LIV. The Living Church
In spite of all kinds of persecutions, the Church, under the guidance of the Holy Ghost, has continued to spread all over the world. It has obeyed strictly the command of Our Lord to the Apostles: “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Everywhere men have listened to its voice, believing the warning of Christ, “He that believeth not shall be condemned.”
Give a short summary of the history of the Church for the almost two thousand years of its existence –The following is a brief summary:
The first 400 years. The Apostles dispersed to different countries in order to carry out Christ’s command to teach. The Apostles baptized, preached, and ruled in various countries to which they were sent. They appointed bishops and priests to rule and minister to the faithful.
In spite of sufferings and persecutions they persevered, until finally they sealed their faith by martyrdom. Peter and Paul were especially interested in the conversion of the Roman Empire, the mightiest and also most wicked empire of ancient days.
The morals of the Romans were extremely debased; the evil was spreading from the Imperial City of Rome throughout the vast empire. In Rome alone some 30,000 different “gods” and “goddesses” were worshipped, many of them for their very immorality. So close was the union of the pagan religion and the empire that to attack the religion was to be considered a traitor to Rome. For this reason the full force of the empire was set against the new religion of the Christians. But the Fisherman did not falter: Peter battled with all his might. He and Paul were both martyred; but others rose to continue the battle for Christ, which lasted for nearly 300 years.
Persecution followed upon persecution, numbering ten unsurpassed in ferocity. The severest were those under Nero (64-68) and Diocletian (303-305). The latter condemned to death some two million Christians. But the more they were persecuted, the faster they increased. Tertullian says: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christianity.”
At last, in 313 A.D., the banners of Christianity were flung out in victory; peace was granted by the Edict of Milan. Later, Constantine the Great made Christianity the State religion (324 A. D.) He was led to this step when he conquered in battle after seeing in the heavens a luminous cross with the words In hoc signo vinces (In this sign thou shalt conquer). His saintly mother, St. Helena, had also a great influence on his conversion.
The second 400 years. Before sixty years had passed after the Edict of Milan, hordes of barbarian Huns, Goths, Vandals, and Visigoths, numbering millions, started moving from the north into the civilized European countries. City after city surrendered until Rome itself was taken, and the darkness of barbarism covered the continent. But the missionaries and teachers of the Church mingled with the barbarians, returned with them to their countries, and brought light once more out of darkness.
St. Patrick was sent to Ireland, and converted that nation to Christianity. St. Augustine in England and St. Boniface in Germany changed those nations into followers of the cross of Christ. The idol worshipping Franks followed their king Clovis into the Christian fold. At the end of four centuries, the cruel and savage barbarians of Italy, Spain, France, Germany, England, and Ireland were Christians, civilized, progressive, settled in peaceful cities, building churches, carrying on trade.
The third 400 years. In the seventh century Mohammed had begun to propagate his doctrines among the Arabian tribes. His was a conversion by the sword: a great part of Asia, North Africa, Spain, and the islands of the Mediterranean were overrun and conquered to Mohammed’s Allah. At last Mohammedanism broke into France.
In a memorable nine-day battle in 732 A. D., the French Christians under Charles Martel defeated the Mohammedans at Tours, and thus stopped their incursions into France. But in the next century the Mohammedans entered and sacked Rome itself, even St. Peter’s. However, the Church carried on and finally repelled the invader.
The fall of Jerusalem into the hands of the Mohammedans in the eleventh century gave impetus to the Crusades, during which Christian armies went to free the Holy Places from the infidels. There were seven Crusades in all, from 1095 A.D., to 1254 A.D. Among the outstanding leaders we may mention: Godfrey de Bouillon, Frederick Barbarossa, Richard the Lionhearted, and St. Louis of France.
The fourth 400 years. The Christian rulers of Europe, upon becoming more powerful, began to look with envy on the Pope’s authority, and to encroach upon it. Although the Crusades had had good effects, too much interest in material preparations caused a relaxation in spiritual life; heresy often attacked the Church. Berengarius denied the Real Presence; followed the Greek schism, the Albigensian heresy, and the heresies of Wycliff and Huss, who denied the authority of the Church. Finally, in the sixteenth century, the general laxness and spirit of revolt culminated in open defiance against Church authority, and the Protestant Revolt swept Europe.
An Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, in 1517 made an open attack on the doctrine of Indulgences. When he was effectively refuted by Doctor John Eck in a public argument, Luther became enraged, and more active in propagating his errors. Because his doctrines appealed to human vanity and weakness, he attracted many followers. The princes. who envied the papal authority, threw in their lot with Luther. The Bible was declared the only rule of faith, so, that no one would any longer be dependent on Church authority, but could interpret the word of God as he pleased for himself. The vicious were readily won over by the doctrine that man cannot prevent sin on account of natural corruption and the absence of free will.
Revolt spread from Germany to other countries. In Switzerland John Calvin followed in Luther’s footsteps, and began Calvinism. In Scotland John Knox was the propagator of Protestantism. In England, Henry VIII’s desire to change wives was the immediate cause for the establishment of the Anglimn Church. Denmark, Holland, Norway, and Sweden were all swept into heresy by their rulers.
But out of the pains of the Protestant revolt, the Church came forth stronger and purified. In the meantime, newly discovered countries were converted. The Portuguese and Spaniards were the pioneers in this missionary enterprise. The discoveries of new lands, to which Catholic missionaries went, resulted in the gain of more millions for the Church than had been lost in Protestantism.
The last 400 years. Many in Europe returned to the Church; more were gained in the Americas. Protestantism has continued to attack the Church; the paganism bred from the spirit of laxity and revolt is another enemy. Open warfare goes on in Russia and satellite countries. Still the Church continues to grow, the greatest single religious body in history.
In 1954 missionaries of Mother Church can be found in the most remote portions of the globe, working patiently to bring souls to Christ. They go where no other foreigners would go. At present there are about 30,000 priests, 12,000 lay brothers, and 60,000 Sisters working in the foreign missions. The missions are supervised and supported by the Societies for the Propagation of the Faith and the Holy Childhood (see Chapter 191 on Propagation of the Faith)
At present the Church has a membership of about 425,000,000 in all parts of the world. They are under the direction of some 420,000 priests, 2,200 Prelates, and one Head, the Pope. They form the greatest body having a single religious faith. The different Protestant denominations number about two hundred million all together. The schismatic Eastern Christians total about 150 millions.