The history of the Catholic Church is shrouded in mystery, and it is improbable that its entire history will ever be known. However, certain facts can serve as an outline to illuminate what some historians see as the most important institution in the history of the world.
The word ‘Catholic’ has Greek origins, meaning wholeness, or universal. And indeed, that is how the Catholic Church sees itself: as the all-encompassing and universal church. But as with many ideas that have the potential to cause upset, the church does not currently openly espouse this viewpoint.
The Catholic Church is said to have been established when Jesus said to the apostle Peter, “Upon this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Peter taught and died in Rome, and for centuries, all references were to this city. It is in Rome that the structure and hierarchy of the Catholic Church was created.
One interesting notation cited by various historians is that the institution of the Catholic Church survived and flourished in a time when all other European institutions failed. The church claims this is because it was not created by man, as all other organizations obviously were.
Unfortunately, the strength of the Catholic Church was not enough to overcome the Great Schism of 1054. Up until this time the relationship between Eastern and Western rites of the church were strained but not broken. However, Pope Leo IX insisted that the Patriarch of Constantinople, Michael Cerularius, recognize Rome to be the Head of the church. When Cerularius refused, Pope Leo disavowed him, and the Eastern Orthodox Church was born.
To this day, there is a divide between these two sects of the Catholic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church subscribes to theoria, or the actual experience of God. The Roman Catholic Church uses a form of pagan metaphysical philosophy to replace theoria.
From 1962 to 1965, the Second Vatican Council took place. Issues such as renewal of the Catholic Church, restoration of unity amongst all Christians, and manners in which the Catholic Church could address contemporary problems were addressed.
As of 2007, the Catholic Church claimed to have more than 1 billion members. The church continues its outreach in places such as Africa, which has proven successful, while trying to deal with scandals that have plagued its Irish and American clergy. The Catholic Church continues to reform itself while still trying to retain and affirm its ancient history.