A Timeline of Catholic Church History: 1 - 500 A.D. This timeline is researched and prepared by Suzanne Fortin, Copyright 2003. All rights reserved.
AD Event 20s *|c. 29 AD Our Lord's Resurrection. The First Pentecost. St. Peter preaches in Jerusalem and converts three thousand people, creating the first Christian community. 30s *c. 35 Saul of Tarsus has an apparition of Jesus Christ and is converted to Christianity.*c. 39 St. Peter baptizes Cornelius. This event marks the beginning of the missionizing to the Gentiles.
40s| *42 The first persecution of Christians in Jerusalem under Herod Agrippa. Many Christians escape to Antioch, establishing its first community.*44 Martyrdom of St. James the Great, brother of the Apostle John. He is the first apostle to die for the faith. He was sentenced by Herod Agrippa in 44 AD. Today he is honored at the shrine of Santiago Compostela.
50s |*c. 51 The Council of Jerusalem. It rules that Gentile converts do not have to observe the Moasaic Law. 60s *62 Martyrdom of St James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem. He is stoned to death.*64 First persecution of the Christians by Nero, who blames them for setting a fire that burned much of Rome. Christianity soon after becomes a capital crime.
|*66 Jews revolt against Roman authority. The Christians, remembering the prophecies of Christ, leave Jerusalem, led by their bishop, St. Simeon. A civil war ensues. Nero sends Vespasian and Titus to put down the insurrection.
|*mid-60's Martyrdom of St. Paul.
| *67 Martyrdom of St. Peter. Tradition states that he was crucified upside down. St. Linus succeeds him as Pope (-76).
|*69 Fall of Jerusalem. The Temple is destroyed. Tacitus records that 600,000 Jews were slaughtered during the siege; Josephus said it was a million.
|70s *76 Pope St. Cletus (Anacletus) reigns(-88). 80s *c. 88 The reign of Pope St. Clement I (-97).
During his pontificate, he issues a letter to the Corinthians, urging them to submit themselves to lawful religious authority. He writes "Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry." 90s *95 Persecution of Christians in Rome under Domitian.*97 Pope St. Evaristus accedes to the Chair of Peter (-105).
100s |*c. 100 Death of John, the last apostle. The period of Public Revelation comes to an end.
*c. 100 Birth of St. Justin Martyr (d. c. 165), Church Father. He wrote two Apologies of the Faith, and A Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew. In his writings, he bears witness to a number of Catholic doctrines. In one famous passage, he describes the Order of the Mass.
|*c. 105 Death of Pope St. Evaristus. Pope St. Alexander I replaces him (-115).
|*c. 107-117 Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch, apostolic Father and bishop. He was a disciple of St. John, along with St. Polycarp. Theodoret, the Church historian says he was consecrated bishop by St. Peter, who was at first bishop of Antioch before going to Rome. Ignatius was martyred in Rome under Emperor Trajan's rule. It was during the journey to Rome that he wrote his famous letters that contain invaluble information about the early Church. He was the first to use the term "Catholic" to describe the Church.
110s *111 Pliny the Younger, govenor of Bithynia, writes in a letter to the Emperor Trajan that to his surprise, the Christians are not guilty of any of the vices they are rumoured to engage in. He executes Christians who would not apostatize.
|*c. 115 Pope St. Sixtus I begins his reign (-125).
*117 Persecution of Christians under Hadrian (-138).
120s *125 Pope St. Telesphorus begins his reign (-136).
130s *c. 130 Birth of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father and bishop. He had heard St. Polycarp in Smyrna. He wrote a famous treatise, Against Heresies, refuting Gnosticism, and intervened in favour of the Quartodecimians when they were excommunicated by Pope Victor I for not observing Easter according the Roman Calendar (i.e. the first Sunday after the full moon after the Spring equinox).*135 Emperor Hadrian excludes Jews from Jerusalem.
*136 Pope St. Hyginus accedes to the see of Peter (-140).
140s *140 Election of Pope St. Pius I (-155).
*144 Marcion of Pontus is excommunicated for heresy (Marcionism): he believed that the God of the Old Testament is a different God than that of the new, and that he is a vengeful God; he denied the inspiration of the Old Testament. Marcionites established a parallel church that survived for several centuries.
150s *155 Death of Pope St. Pius I. St. Anicetus becomes Pope (-166).
|*c. 156 Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, disciple of St. John the apostle. First recorded instance of devotion to a martyr and the devotion to relics in the Martyrdom of Polycarp.
160s *c. 160 Birth of Tertullian, Church Father. Tertullian apostatized to the Montanist sect and in his later years rejected the Catholic Church. However, in his earlier years, c. 200 AD, he justified Catholic belief against heretics by appealing to the apostolic origin of the Church, whereas the heretics and their heresies were subsequent to it.
|*165 Death of St. Justin Martry (b. 100), Church Father.
|*166 St. Soter becomes Pope. (-175).
170s *172 Montanus launches his Montanist movement, based on his private revelations. He claimed that there was an age of the Father (the Old Testament), the Age of the Son (the New Testament) and the age of the Holy Spirit, which he would inaugurate and which would announce the end of the world. It denied the divine nature of the Church and preached a very rigorous morality.*175 St. Eleutherius succeeds as Pope (-189).
|*c.176-177 Athenagoras writes Embassy for the Christians, aka Apology, a work addressed to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius and his son Commodus that shows the reasonableness of the Christian faith and the absurdity of the charges made against Christians. It also defended the notion of the Trinity.
|*177 St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Against All Heresies, a work of apologetics refuting Gnosticism, which claimed salvation through an esoteric knowledge. Irenaeus argues that this belief counters that universal tradition handed down from the apostles, and that the bishops are the successors of the apostles who have the authority to transmit Revelation. To make his point, he lists the succession of Popes beginning with Peter.
180s *185 Birth of Origen, controversial Church Father. His writings were, in many ways, productive for the orthodox faith. However, a number of his ideas were problematic or downright heretical. Among them: his excessive allegorism in Scriptural interpretation, his subordinationist tendencies, his belief in eternal creation and final salvation of all souls. His writings sparked complex doctrinal controversies. In spite of the problems, he had many admirers among orthodox Fathers.*189 Pope Victor I takes over the See of Peter. (-199)
|*189 Pope Victor I excommunicates the Quartodecimians. The Quartodecimians of Asia Minor reckoned the date of Easter according to the Jewish Passover, as 14 Nisan, regardless of whether or not it fell on a Sunday, contrary to the majority of the faithful in various parts of the Empire. Pope Victor ordered Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus to call a synod and have the bishops of Proconsular Asia submit to the Roman practice. The bishop called the synod, but the assembly refused to submit, citing that the apostles John and Philip followed the same custom. The Pope then excommunicated the bishops and their followers. St. Irenaues protested this action as too harsh, but did not say the Pope had overstepped his authority. This is the first record of an episcopal council in the post-apostolic age.
|190s *190 Pope Victor I excommunicates Theodotus for his denial that Jesus is God. The latter gathered together a band of followers, whose teachings would eventually influenced Paul of Samosata, the true originator of Arianism.
|*199 Pope St. Zephyrinus accedes to the See of Peter (-217). Pope Zephyrinus was not inclined to philosophical speculation and would not either endorse or condemn St. Hippolytus' attacks against the Monarchian heresy. This made the Pope's faith appear suspect.
|200s *c. 200 Death of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father and bishop.
|*c. 200 Monarchianism makes its appearance. In contrast to Arianism, Monarchians affirm Jesus is God, but in order to safeguard the unity of God, they essentially deny the distinction between the Son and the Father. St. Hippolytus was an ardent opponent of this heresy.
*202 Emperor Septimius Severus persecutes Christians with the aim of establishing one common religion in the Empire.
*c.208 The first record of prayers for the dead in the writings of the Church Fathers. Tertullian writes that a good widow prays for her dead husband's soul in On Monogamy.
|210s *c.213 Birth of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, (d. c. 270) aka the Wonderworker, aka Thaumaturgus. He defended the Unity and the Trinity of God in his writings.
|*217 Death of Pope St. Zephyrinus. Pope St. Callistus I succeeds him (-222). Callistus was a former slave who was in charge of his master's bank. He lost a lot of money to bad debts, some of the debtors being Jews. When he attempted to recover the money, some Jews denounced him as a Christian and he was sent to the mines of Sardinia, but survived to return to Rome in 190 AD. During Pope Zephyrinus' reign, he was a power behind the throne, making his faith appear suspect to the future anti-Pope St. Hippolytus.
|*217 Election of anti-Pope St. Hippolytus, Church Father, the first anti-Pope in Church history, and the only one venerated as a saint. He considered Pope St. Callistus I to be a Monarchian heretic, and he continued his claim to the Chair of Peter through to the reign of Pope St. Pontian. He reconciled with the Church before being martyred in the mines of Sardinia in 235.
|220s *220 Pope St. Callistus I excommunicates Sabellius, a priest who taught that the Son of God did not exist before the Incarnation, and that God exists in three "modes" but not in three persons, therefore the Son and the Father suffered at the passion. This heresy, Sabellianism, would become prevalent in the fourth century.*222 St. Urban I becomes Pope (-230).
*222 Alexander Severus becomes emperor (-235). He lifted many harsh laws against the Christians, and essentially gave them the right to exist as a religion. They now had the right to own property and assemble for worship. He had a personal devotion to Jesus Christ, but he honoured him as one among many gods.
230s *230 Death of Tertullian, Church Father who later joined the Montanists, a heretical sect. His writings are invaluable for the historical testimony they provide.
*230 St. Pontian succeeds St. Urban I as Pope (-235). In 235, the Emperor Maximian launched a persecution against the heads of the Church. Pontian was banished to the mines of Sardinia. In order to make possible the election of a new Pope, he resigned.
|*235 Pope St. Anterus reigns for forty days (-236).
|*236 Election of Pope St. Fabian (-250). Eusebius relates in his history of the Church that when it came time to elect a new Pope, the assembly put forward several names of prominent people, but a dove rested on Fabian's head, whom no one had considered for the office. The assembly took it as a sign of divine favour and selected him as the new Pope.
|240s 250s *250-251 The Decian Persecution. The Emperor Decius requires all citizens in every town and village of the Empire to perform acts of worship to the gods of the State. People suspected of Christianity are brought before a commission and required to sacrifice. Refusal meant a long prison stay and subjection to torture so that the accused would apostatize. Failing that, they are put to death. Many Christians apostatize or obtain certificates stating that they had sacrificed. This systematic persecution produces numerous martyrs.*250 Martyrdom of Pope St. Fabian in the Decian persecution. He was not given the opportunity to apostatize but was swifty executed for his faith.
*c. 250 The devotion to martyrs, once a more private practice, becomes widespread after the Decian persection due to the great numbers of martyrs it produced.
|*c. 250 Birth of St. Anthony of Egypt (d. 355) considered to be the founder of monasticism. Approximately 5000 disciples of both sexes had gathered around him in the Nitrian desert (Egypt), despite his opposition. We know of him through a biography of St. Athanasius.
*251 Council of Carthage under St. Cyprian allows those who lapsed during the persecution to be readmitted after a period of penance.
*251 Pope St. Cornelius succeeds Pope St. Fabian (-253).
*251 Novatian becomes the second anti-Pope in Church history (-258). He strongly disagrees with Pope Cornelius' stance allowing those who apostatized during the Decian persecution to return to the fold after a suitable penance. He insisted on permanent excommunication for them. This period is known as the Novatian Schism. The Novatian church will continue to exist up to the eighth century, but will be absorbed by the Catholic Church.
*c. 251 St. Cyprian writes his famous treaty, On the Unity of the Church. He argues that the Church was founded on Peter, and that the local bishop was the head of the local Church. In practice, however, he contradicted himself by asserting that the Pope could not make him accept Christians baptized by heretics.
*c. 253 Death of Origen, Church Father. He probably died from the tortured he suffered under the Decian persecution.
|* 253 Election of Pope St. Lucius I (-254).
|*254 St. Stephen I is elected Pope (-257). He is the first Pope known to have invoked Matt. 16:18 as evidence for the authority of the Chair of Peter.
|*256 Pope St. Stephen I upholds the baptisms administered by heretics.
|*257 The Emperor Valerian launches a persecution against Christians (-259). The clergy is summoned to sacrifice to the pagan gods. If they refused, the church property they legally held in the church's name was to be confiscated and they were to be exiled (a year later, the penalty would be immediate execution). All faithful Christians who met in religious assemblies were punishable by death.
|*257 St. Sixtus II becomes Pope (-258). He was arrested very shortly after his election and beheaded for his faith.
|*258 Martyrdom of St. Cyprian of Carthage. He defended the readmission to the Church of those who apostatized during persecution, but rejected the idea that baptism by heretics and schismatics is valid. In his writings, he defended the primacy of Peter as the source of unity in the Church. He remained the foremost Latin writer until Jerome. At his execution, his followers placed cloths and handkerchiefs near his place of execution in order to catch his blood and thereby have a relic of him.
|*259 Peace of Gallenius. Emperor Gallenius succeeds to the throne, ends the persecution of Christians and legally recognizes their existence. Church property is restored. This peace lasts for forty years. Churches are built, bishops gain social prestige and Christians acquire more social status. Christians serve the regimes of various emperors. Christianity still remains a target for hostility.
|*259 Pope St. Dionysius begins his pontificate (-268).
| 260s *c. 260 Birth of Eusebius of Caesarea, Church Father, bishop and "Father of Church history." his Church history is an important source of information about the Early Church. He also wrote the Life of Constantine.*261 A period of relative peace begins for the Church (-303).
|*c. 265 Three councils held at this time in Antioch condemn Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, for his heretical teachings on the relationship of God the Father and God the Son. He maintained that Jesus the man was distinct from the Logos and became the Son of God through adoption because of his merits, and that God is only One Person. His teachings were a pre-cursor to the Arianist heresies of the fourth century and beyond.
|*269 Pope St. Felix I fills the See of Peter (-274).
| 270s *c.270-275 Death of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea (b. c.213) , aka the Wonderworker, aka Thaumaturgus, Church Father and bishop.*c. 272 Crucifixion of Mani by Bahram, king of Persia. Mani founded the Manichaean religion, which centred on the battle between the good god and the evil god. He had travelled widely, going as far as India, and drew from many philosophies and religions-- including Buddhism. He also claimed to be the Paraclete. His religious ideas would persist throughout the Middle Ages, and were adopted by the Cathari and the Bogomils.
|*272 Emperor Aurelian rules that the bishop of a city is whomever the bishops of Italy and Rome acknowledge as such. The ruling deprived the deposed Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, of all church property--including churches. This way the secular arm made it possible for Rome to effectively depose bishops.
|*275 Pope St. Eutychian succeeds Pope St. Felix I.(-283).
|280s *283 Pope St. Caius is elected head of the Church (-296).
|*285 Partition of the Roman Empire into Eastern and Western halves. Diocletian rules the Eastern half, Maximian, the Western.
|290s *293 Diocletian forms the Tetrarchy. In order to improve the transition of power upon the death of an emperor, Diocletian created a system of co-rulers. Thus, the Emperors are Augusti, their heirs apparent are Caesars. Diocletian chooses Galerius as Caesar; Maximian chooses Constantius I Chlorus. The Tetrarchy system would eventually fail in its goal of assuring smooth transitions of power.
|*296 Election of Pope St. Marcellinus I (-304).
|*c. 297 Birth of St. Athanasius (d. 373), Doctor of the Church. Archbishop of Alexandria. He was a staunch defender of the Divinity of Jesus Christ against Arianism, and was exiled sevral times for his orthodoxy.
300s *c. 300 Christianity introduced in Armenia.*Constantine re-unites both halves of the Empire, becomes sole emperor.
*302 Growing intolerance of Christians leads to the army and the imperial service being closed to professed Christians.
|*303 Persecution of Christians by Diocletian through a series of edicts.All people were to worship state gods. Churches were to be destroyed, Christian books were to be burned. The first act of the persecution was to burn down the cathedral at Nicomedia.
|*304 Christians faithful to the their religion are now subject to the death penalty. The government commits massacres to terrify the faithful.
| *304 Death of Pope St. Marcellinus I.
|*305 Emperors Diocletian and Maximian resign. Galerius, viciously anti-Christian, succedes as emperor in the East. The new emperor in the West, Constantius Chlorus, ceases the persecution in his domains.
|*c. 305 The Council of Elvira, Spain approves the first canon imposing clerical celibacy.
|*306 Constanine becomes the emperor in the West and continues the policy of toleration towards Christians.
|*306 Galerius orders all his subjects to make pagan sacrifices.
|*306 Birth of St. Ephraem the Syrian (d. 373), Doctor of the Church. Known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit. Author of the Nisibene Hymns, some of which are Marian.
*308 Election of Pope St. Marcellus I (-309). His stance against apostates who demanded immediate re-entry into the Church raised a commotion and led to the Emperor Maxentius exiling him. He died soone after leaving Rome.
*309 Reign of Pope St. Eusebius.
310s *310 Sapor II becomes king of the Persian Empire (-381). Until the third century, the Church grew in Persia without persecution. However, with the accession of the Sassinid Dynasty (227 AD) the Church became suspect and was eventually persecuted. Under Sapor II, Christians are subject to a persecution worse than any undertaken by the Roman Emperors. It was considered the religion of the Roman Empire, with whom the Persian were constantly at war.
*311 An edict of toleration is emitted in the names of Galerius, Constantine and Licinius. The emperors come to realize that persecution produced non-believers in either the gods of the state or in the Christian God. Emperor Maximinus of Daza only follows the policy for six months, then continues the persecution in the East.
|*31l Pope St. Militiades begins his reign (-314).
|*311 The Beginning of the Donatist Schism. Donatus, Primate of Numidia, will not recognize the election of Cecilian as Bishop of Carthage. Cecillian's consecrator is Felix of Aptonga, a man who had allegedly apostatized under Maximian's persecution (303-305). To the Donatists, apostasy and other serious sins destroys a priest's spiritual powers. The priest's powers are therefore dependent on his personal holiness. Donatus holds a council which illegally elects a pretendant to the see. Although he lives in Carthage, Donatus has no jurisdiction there.
*312 Martyrdom of Lucian of Antioch during the persecution of Maximinus of Daza. He taught that the Word (logos) was a creature. He taught Arius, the heresiarch, and his teaching was at the origin of the Arian heresy. He is also known for having rejected allegorical interpretations and was strongly literal in his biblical interpreations. He reconciled with the Church.
|*312 Constantine defeats the Emperor Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. The night before the battle, Constantine has a vision of a cross in the sky and the words "In this sign you shall conquer." After the victory, Constantine orders that the cross be put on the soldiers' shields and standards. Once Constantine enters Rome, he offers the Lateran Palace to the Pope as a residence.
|*313 Edict of Milan. Toleration of Christians in the Western Roman Empire. All people, not only Christians, have freedom of religion so long as they render honour to "the divinity." Emperor Constantine returns Church property. In the Eastern Empire, Maximinus continues to persecute Christians until he grants them toleration in a last-ditch effort to gain their favour and keep alive his struggle against his enemy Licinius.
| *313 Constantine intervenes on the Donatist schism and recognizes the election of Cecillian of Carthage, the orthodox candidate. The churches held by Donatists are handed over to Catholics.
|*313 The Lateran palace makes its first appearance in Catholic history as it is the scene of an appeal of the Donatists in the matter of Cecillian's election as Bishop of Carthage. Emperor Constantine chose the bishops to sit on the tribunal, but the Pope presided over it. It rules in favour of Cecillian.
|*314 St. Sylvester I is elected Pope (-335)
*c.314 Constantine agrees to hear a new appeal by the Donatists in the case of Cecillian's Episcopal election. This time the appeal is brought to a secular court. The Donatists maintained that Felix of Aptonga could not have validly ordained Cecillian because he had apostatized during a persecution. The police books of the persecution were produced, and there was no evidence Felix had ever been arrested. It was also shown that the Donatists had attempted to forge the certificate proving his guilt. Constantine sends this evidence to the Council of Arles, where the Fathers note that the Donatists are "crazy fanatics, a danger to Christianity." They rule in favour of Cecillian.
|*315 Birth of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 387), Doctor of the Church. He fought Arianism in the East.
|*315 Birth of St. Hilary of Poitiers (d. 368), Doctor of the Church.
*316 Constantine hears another appeal of the Donatists in the matter of the election of Cecillian of Carthage. He rules in favour of Cecillian. He rules that the churches held by the Donatists were to be handed over to the Catholics, and that the Donatists were forbidden to meet.
|*c. 318 Beginnings of the Arianist controversy. Arius taught: that the Father and the Son were not of the same substance, and therefore the latter was inferior; and that the Word (Logos) is a creature and that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Logos.
|320s *320 St. Pachomius founds the first two monasteries-- on for each sex in Tabennisi.
|*321 The Donatists appeal to Constantine for toleration. He grants it, in spite of his contempt for the sect.
|*323 Licinius, Emperor of the East launches a persecution against Christians.
|*323 Constantine and Licinius do battle at Chrysopolis. Licinius dies six months later. Constantine has no rival and is the sole ruler of the Empire. Constantine preserves freedom of religion but his attitude towards paganism becomes contemptuous. Paganism and Christianity enjoy equal status before the law.
|*325 The Council of Nicea. Presided by Emperor Constantine and Hosius of Cordoba. Pope St. Sylvester I sends papal legates, being too old to make the journery from Rome. Many of the bishops in attendance had been physically injured in the persecutions of previous decades. The Council defines trinitarian belief in God. The Father and God the Son are declared of the same substance against the teachings of Arius. Emperor Constantine considers heresy to be a form of rebellion, and banishes Arian bishops to Illyria.
|*325 Building of Church of Natitvity, Bethlehem.
|*326 Constantine recognizes the Novatian Church, the parallel Church established under the Novatian schism in the preceding century. It would die out a century later in Rome, but would survive until at least the seventh century in the East.
|*329 Birth of St. Basil the Great (d. 379), Doctor of the Church and father of Eastern monasticism. He was the first to draw up a rule of life and he developed the concept of the novitiate.
|*c. 329 Birth of St. Gregory of Nanzianzus (d. 389), Doctor of the Church, one of the traditional four Greek Doctors.
|330s *330 Building of first St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It was torn down in 1506 and re-built.
|*330 Birth of St. Gregory Nanzianzus (d. 390), Doctor of the Church. One of the Cappadocian Fathers.
|*331 Seat of the Roman Empire moved to Constantinople (formerly Byzantium).
|*331 Bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, an Arian, schemes to have a local synod depose the orthodox bishop Eustathius of Antioch. Constantine recognizes the authority of the synod and expels Eustathius. His successor, Paulinus of Tyre dies a few months later, and, for the first time in history, a secular ruler interferes in the choice of a bishop. Constantine recommends the Arian Euphronios, who was elected.
|*335 By this time Eusebius of Nicomedia succeeds in convincing the emperor of his orthodoxy by proposing at the Council of Jerusalem an ambiguous formula of faith to which both Arians and Catholics can adhere.
|*336 Reign of Pope St. Mark.
|*336 Death of Arius, heresiarch, creator of the Arian herersy. Right before his death, the Emperor Constantine's sister, Constantia, requested on her deathbed that Arius be recalled from his place of banishment and exonerated. The Emperor paid heed to her request. He ordered the bishop of Alexandria to give Arius Communion, but the latter died right before he was to receive. The populace views it a sign of divine condemnation.
|*336 The earliest record of the celebration of Christmas in Rome. The East kept the Feast of Epiphany, January 6th.
|*337 Death of Constantine. He was baptized on his deathbed by bishop Eusebius of Nicomedia, an ally of Arius. The Empire is ruled by his three sons, Constantine II, Constantius II and Constans.
|*337 Election of Pope St. Julius I (-352).
|*338 Election of St. Julius I (-352).
|340s *c. 340-350 The Arian bishop Ulfilas makes a corrupt translation of the Bible into the Gothic language and converts the Goths. From then on, barbarian tribes that converted to Christianity were Arian, until the conversion of the Franks in the 6th century.*340 Birth of St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the four traditional Latin Doctors of the Church. He baptized St. Augustine. He fought the Arian heresy in the West and promoted consecrated virginity.
|*341 Emperors Constants and Constantius II abolish and prohibit pagan sacrifices. Pagan sentiment becomes very anti-Christian.
|*341 Death of Eusebius of Nicomedia, bishop of Constantinople. He schemed to depose Catholic bishops throughout the empire and replace them with Arians. He made Arians appear orthodox through ambiguous formulas of faith.
|*c. 343 Birth of St. Jerome (d. 420), one of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. He translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin and produced the first authoritative translation, the Vulgate. At that time, Latin was still a vernacular language. He also wrote a treaty against Helvidius, upholding the Virgin Birth.
|*347 Birth of St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), Doctor of the Church and Bishop of Constantinople. He is the foremost Greek Doctor of the Church, known especially for his homilies on Scripture. He alienated the court at Constaninople with his preaching against the vanities of the rich. The conspiracy of his enemies resulted in his exile. The Pope and many Western bishops supported him but could not obtain justice for him.
|*347 Emperor Constans ends the toleration of Donatists in Numidia. The period of Donatist dominance in Africa had been one of license, including riots and massacres. He exiles the Donatist bishops and hands their churches to Catholics.
|350s *350 Assassination of Emperor Constans. Constantius II, an Arian, becomes sole Emperor. Arians attempt to link St. Athanasius with Constans' assassin.*353 Emperor Constantius II prohibits idol worship under penalty of death. The Western Empire is majoritarily Pagan.
|*352 Reign of Pope Liberius (-366), the first Pope who is not considered a saint. He would not be pressured by Constantius to condemn St. Athanasius.
|*354 Birth of St. Augustine of Hippo (d. 430), Doctor of the Church. One of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. One of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church. Among his most famous works: Confessions, City of God, On the Trinity.
|*354 Constantius II ignores his own law and confirms the rights and privileges of the city of Rome, including their share of state subsidies.
|*c. 355 Constantius II kidnaps Pope Liberius to pressure him to condemn St. Athanasius, and thereby approve the Arian creed. The Pope refuses and is banished to Baerea in Thrace. Constantius attempts to replace Liberius with Felix, but the laypeople of Rome would not hear of it.
|*357 Constantius II is persuaded to allow Pope Liberius to return to Rome. There is some dispute as to whether his return was prompted by his signing a semi-Arian formula that would have satisfied Constantius, or by the Roman faithful, who drove out Felix, the anti-Pope. Much appears to be uncertain about this situation.
|360s *c. 360 Scrolls begin to be replaced by books.
|*361 Emperor Julian "the Apostate" becomes Roman Emperor (-363). He was brought up in Arian Christianity in his early childhood, but was tutored by Pagans in his adolescence. Upon his accession to the throne, he attempts revive Paganism, and in his contempt the Christian Faith, he tries to re-build the Temple in Jerusalem, but fails.
| *362 Emperor Julian recalls the exiled Donatist bishops.
|*363 Emperor Julian "the Apostate" dies before getting a chance to launch a systematic persecution against the Christians, although mobs that riot and kill them go unpunished.
|*363 Jovinian, a Catholic, becomes Emperor. He restores toleration for all religions.He reigns only for nine months.
|*364 Valentinian, a Catholic, now rules the Western empire (-375). He takes the property of State-run temples, but instead of handing it over to the Church, as Constantius II did, he puts the imperial treasury in charge of it.
|*364 The Arian Valens becomes Emperor of the Eastern Empire (-378). He seeks to Arianize his Christian subjects and makes life difficult for Catholics.
|*366 Reign of Pope St. Damasus I (-384). He is most famous for compelling St. Jerome to undertake a faithful translation of the Scriptures, the version known as the Vulgate. St. Damasus condemned Apollinarianism and Macedonianism. He approved the canons of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381).
|*c. 368 Death of St. Hilary of Poitiers (b. 315), Doctor of the Church and bishop. He was exiled for his orthodox faith by the Emperor Constantius, but eventually was able to return to Poitiers. He attempted to reconcile the Semi-Arians and the orthodox faithful.
|370s *370 Valens, Emperor of the East, orders the bishops of his realm to conform to an Arian formula on pain of of deposition and exile. Many refuse. Their churches are handed over to Arian appointees. Other dioceses organize resistance, and in some cases massacres ensue.*373 Death of St. Athanasius (b. 297), Doctor of the Church, Bishop of Alexandria.
|*373 Death of St. Ephraim of Nisibis, Church Father. Gratian, Emperor of the Western Empire (-383). He abolishes the office of Pontifex Maximus, the head of the Pagan religion, which, by default, was held by the Roman Emperor, even if he was Christian (although he did not necessarily exercise the office). Under the influence of Ambrosius, Gratian prohibited Pagan worship at Rome; refused to wear the insignia of the pontifex maximus as unbefitting a Christian; removed the Altar of Victory from the Senate House at Rome, despite protests of the pagan members of the Senate, and confiscated its revenues; forbade legacies of real property to the Vestals; and abolished other privileges belonging to them and to the pontiffs. Nevertheless he was still deified after his death. Gratian also published an edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the bishops of Rome and Alexandria (i.e., the Nicene faith). The move was mainly thrust at the various beliefs that had arisen out of Arianism, but smaller dissident sects, such as the Macedonians, were also prohibited.
|*376 Birth of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), Doctor of the Church. Opposed Nestorianism.
|*377 A synod in Rome condemns the teachings of Apollinaris of Laodicea. Apollinarism posited that Christ had a human body and a human sensitive soul, but his rational mind was taken over by the Logos or the Divine nature of the Second Person of the Trinity. It was also condemned at the first Council of Constantinople, 381.
|*379 Theodosius, a devout Catholic, becomes the Eastern Roman Emperor (-395). For the first time in half a century, the State would favour Catholicism over Arianism. Theodosius is the first emperor to legislate against heresy. The churches of heretics are to be confiscated and handed over to the Catholic Church. Heretical gatherings are forbidden and heretics cannot make wills or inherit. He also legislates against apostasy from Christianity to Paganism.
|*379 Death of St. Basil the Great (b. 329), Doctor of the Church.
|380s *c. 381 Emperor Theodosius makes Christianity the de facto official religion of the Empire by forbidding the worship of the ancient Gods.
|*381 The First Council of Constantinople. Presided by Pope Damasus and Emperor Theodosius I. It proclaimed the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
|*382 By this time, the pagan priesthood in the Western Empire no longer enjoys any of its former privileges, and the State has confiscated temple property, making their legacies void.
|*383 Roman legions begin to leave Britain. British Christians gradually disconnected from Rome until St. Augustine of Canterbury re-introduces the faith in 590.
|*384 Pope St. Siricius begins his reign (-399).
*c. 385 Priscillian becomes the first heretic ever sentenced to death under a Christian prince. He was executed for witchcraft, which was a capital offense, but in reality, he made enemies because of his Manichaean doctrines. Many in the Church protest this action. St. Martin of Tours objects to the interference of a lay court in an ecclesiastical matter. Pope Siricius denounces Bishop Ithacus of Treves for being the leader of the campaign against Priscillian.
*c. 386 Death of St. Gregory of Nyssa, Church Father, brother of St. Basil the Great. Before he became a monk, he was married. His wife either died or became a nun.
*c. 386 Death of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He is famous for a quotation demonstrating the antiquity of the practice of Commuion in the hand: "Do not come with thy palms stretched flat nor with fingers separated. But making thy left hand a seat for thy right, and hollowing thy palm, receive the Body of Christ, responding Amen."
|*386 St. Ambrose refuses to hand over a church to the Arian sect when ordered to do so by the Emperor. In a sermon he says a famous phrase " The emperor is within the Church, and not above the Church." He says of the Arians: " it has been the crime of the Arians, the crime which stamps them as the worst of all heretics, that "they were willing to surrender to Caesar the right to rule the Church." The Emperor backs down.
|*388 Christians attack and burn down a synagogue in Callinicum at the instigation of the Bishop. St. Ambrose persuades Emperor Theodosius to not force the local bishop to pay for its restoration. In a letter to the Emperor, he makes many arguments, but principal among them is that re-building the synagogue would amount to being disloyal to the Faith, and that the law is unfairly applied, seeing as Jews burned a number of churches during the reign of Julian the Apostate, and no one was punished. The Emperor ignores the letter. But when he attends Mass presided by St. Ambrose, the bishop refuses to offer the sacrifice until the Emperor revokes his edict.
|*c. 389 Death of St. Gregory of Nanzianzus, Doctor of the Church.
|390s *390 St. Ambrose threatens Theodosius with excommunication for massacring 7000 people in Thessalonica as punishment for the murder of an imperial official. Theodosius does public penance.
|*391 Emperor Theodosius closes all pagan temples in his realm.
|*392 Upon the death of Western Emperor Valentinian II, Theodosius becomes the sole ruler of the whole Roman Empire. He forbids all pagan household rites and idols, but does not compel any of his Pagan subjects to become Christian. Paganism will continue to exist, mainly in the backwaters, for the next three centuries.
|*c. 392 Death of Apollinaris of Laodicea, heresiarch. In his early years, he was respected for his classical and Scriptural knowledge, on the same level as St. Athanasius, St. Basil and St. Jerome. However, he taught that Christ's reason was taken over by the Logos. Apollnaris did not reconcile with the Church.
|*c. 393 Birth of Theodoret of Cyrus, Church Father, bishop and historian. He opposed St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Nestorian controversy, but he eventually submitted to the Council of Ephesus on the matter.
|*397 Death of St. Ambrose of Milan (b. 340), Doctor of the Church.
|*399 Election of Pope St. Anastasius (-401). A man of great holiness, he was friends with St. Augustine and St. Jerome. He condemned Origenism.
|*397 Death of St. Martin of Tours. He was the first saint honoured for his asceticism, not for martyrdom, and whose prayers were invoked in liturgy. He is considered the founder of monasticism in the West. He was also the first to attempt to convert the pagan countryside of Gaul.
|400s *401 Reign of Pope Innocent I (-417).
|*405 St. Jerome completes his translation of the Old Testament from the Hebrew.
|*405 Emperor Honorius declares Donatists to be heretics and that they should be rooted out.
|*407 Death of St. John Chrysostom (b. 347) Church Doctor and Bishop of Constantinople. He died from exposure to the elements during his forced march to Pontus, his place of exile.
|410s *410 The Sack of Rome by the Visigoths, led by Alaric. This event is the inspiration for St. Augustine of Hippo's monumental work, The City of God.*410 The Donatists are granted toleration by Emperor Honorius.
|*c. 411 Beginning of the Pelagian controversy in Northern Africa. Pelagius, an unordained monk, denied the theory of Original Sin, stating that death was a physical necessity, not a result of Original Sin, and that Adam's fault was transmitted through bad example. He denied the necessity of grace to perform good acts, and affirmed it was possible to lead a life completely free of sin. St. Augustine refuted these beliefs at length.
|*411 286 Catholic Bishops and 279 Donatist Bishops meet at a conference in Carthage to discuss reunion. It was presided by an Imperial official. He rules that the Donatists have to submit to the Catholic Church. An imperial edict the following January, 412, confirms this decision and threatens banishment for all who disobey.
|*415 After the Jews massacred a group of Chrisitans, St. Cyril of Alexandria organizes a mob to drive out the Jews from Alexandria, as the Prefect of the city, Orestes, sided with the Jews and had condemned a guilty Christian for disturbing the peace.
|*417 Election of Pope St. Zosimus (-418).
|*418 Election of Pope St. Boniface I (-422).
*418 The Council of Carthage condemns Pelagianism. Emperor Honorius banishes all Pelagians from the cities of Italy. Eighteen bishops, led by Julian of Eclanum, must leave their sees for refusing to sign an orthodox creed, not because it was anti-Pelagian, but because it was based on St. Augustine's ideas.
|*419 The Council of Africa produces the first Code of Canon Law in Church history: the Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Africanae. It forbade appeals overseas in disciplinary matters, including to Rome.
|420s *c. 420 The Semi-Pelagian controversy erupts. Many Pelagians accepted the condemnation of their beliefs at the Council of Carthage (418). In light of that, a more moderate form of Pelagianism, Semi-Pelagianism, arose. It stated that the act of will preceded the grace of salvation. The main proponents of this belief were the monks of Marseilles, including Vincent of Lerins and its main opponents were St. Augustine and his disciple Prosper of Aquitaine. It was condemned at the Second Council of Orange, 529.
|*422 Pope St. Celestine I begins his pontificate (-432). During his reign, Nestorius, patriarch of Constantinople, professed the heresy of the two-person nature of Christ, known as Nestorianism.
|*c. 422 A mob of Christians in Alexandria murder Hypatia, a renowned female pagan philosopher. They tore her to shreds using sharp roof tiling, then burnt her remains. Damascius attributes the murder to St. Cyril of Alexandria's envy of her reputation; he is, however, a Christian-hater. The Church historian Socrates does not mention any motive on Cyril's part, but says that it did bring disgrace on the Church of Alexandria. More about the incident here
*426 The Council of Africa formally requests the Pope that he not be so ready to hear appeals settled in their jurisdiction or lift excommunications that they have imposed. Rome makes no reply.
*427 Nestorius, heresiarch, is appointed Bishop of Constantinople.
*428 Nestorius campaigns and obtains a new law against heresy. His friend, the monk Anastasius, in attempt to promte Nestorius' theology, preaches that the title "Mother of God" should only be used with the greatest of care, if at all. This creates a tumult. Nestorius excommunicates those who object to this novel theology. They appeal to the Emperor.
|*429 Vandals invade North Africa led by Genseric. They were Arian and very anti-Catholic. Catholic churches are burnt, Catholic meetings are prohibited, and Catholic clergy are exiled and replaced by Arian clergy.
|430s *430 Death of St. Augustine (b. 354), Church Doctor and bishop.*431 Ecumenical Council of Ephesus, presided by St. Cyril of Alexandria in the name of Pope Celestine I. It condemns Nestorianism, the belief that Christ is two persons and declared Mary is the Mother of God (theotokos). It also condemned Pelagianism.
|*432 Pope St. Celestine I sends St. Patrick to evangelize Ireland.
|*432 Pope St. Sixtus III begins his pontificate (-440).
|*c.434 Death of St. Vincent of Lerins, Church Father and Abbot, famous for upholding the universal opinion of the Fathers as the Rule of Faith in disputed matters.
|*436 Promulgation of the Theodosian Code, isseud by Theodosius II. It was a systematic presentation of laws in existence. Observance of Sunday, Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Pentecost enforced.
|440s *440 Election of Pope St. Leo I "The Great" (-461), Doctor of the Church. He vigourously fought many heresies: Manichaenism, Priscillianism, Euctychianism, Monophytism and Nestorianism. He is famous for his encounter with Attilia the Hun, whom he persuaded not to pillage Rome. He also obtained a promise from Genseric, leader of the Vandals, that they would not injure the inhabitants of Rome when they sacked it in 455.*444 Death of St. Cyril of Alexandria (b. 376), Doctor of the Church. He fought the teachings of Nestorius, proclaiming Christ had two natures in one person, and that Mary was thereby the God-bearer (Theotokos) the Mother of God. Unfortunately, he used the phrase " one incarnate nature of God the Word" to express his orthodox belief. This phrase led to misunderstandings, to the extent that Monophysites claimed he was on their side.
|*c. 447 Death of Sozomen, Church Father and historian. He continued the Church history begun by Eusebius in the previous century.
|*449 The "Robber Council" of Ephesus. Eutyches, a monk from Constantinople, had been condemned by his bishop, Flavian, for teaching that Christ only had a divine nature. He made an appeal to the emperor to hold a Council, which has been dubbed the "Robber Council" of Ephesus. Pope St. Leo I had written a famous letter for the occasion, the Tome of Leo, in which he explained the Catholic Faith on the subject of the two natures of Christ. His letter is ignored at the Council. Eutyches' condemnation is made void, while Flavian is deposed and sentenced to prison for his orthodox faith.
450s| *451 The ecumenical Council of Chalcedon, presided by the Emperor Marcian and the legates of Pope St. Leo I. Over five hundred bishops attend. They approve the Tome of St. Leo as an orthodox statement of faith. It affirms that there is a hypostasis in Christ, a union of the Divine and the Human natures in one person. Bishop Dioscoros of Alexandria is condemned for having protected Eutyches the heretic. The Council also denounces the intervention of the Emperor in religious affairs.*454 At the death of the exiled Monophysite bishop Dioscoros of Alexandria, they elect a successor, Timothy, nicknamed "the Cat" to replace the Catholic bishop who had already been installed. Imperial troops are sent in to restore order and Timothy the Cat is exiled along with other Monophysite bishops.
460s *461 Beginning of reign of Pope St. Hilarus (-468).*461 Death of St. Patrick, apostle to the Irish.
*468 St. Simplicius becomes Pope (-483).
|470s *477 Death of Genseric, King of the Vandals and persecutor of Catholics. His successor, Hunseric, seeks to eliminate Catholicism entirely from Northern Africa. He assembles 466 Catholic bishops and gives them four months to apostatize to Arianism, or else the traditional imperial decrees against heresy would be applied to them. Many trades are closed off to the common people unless they can produce a certificate of Arian conformity. 480s *480 Birth of St. Benedict of Nursia (d. 543), founder of Western monasticism and originator of the Benedictine Rule.*483 St. Felix III is elected Pope (-492).
*484 Beginning of Acacian Schism. Pope Felix III excommunicates Patriarch Acacia of Constantinople for signing the Henoticon, a vague document, which contained no heretical statement, but did not condemn Monophytism. It was intended by the Emperor Zeno to be a compromise formula of faith to please both Catholics and Monophysites.
|490s *491 The Armenian Church secedes from the Church of Rome and Constantinople.*492-496 Pope Gelasius I. He was also a staunch defender of the papal office during the Acacian Schism.
|*494 Some persecuted bishops of North Africa are recalled from exile.
|*496 Pope Anastasius II begins his reign (-498).
|*496 Clovis, king of the Franks, converts to Catholicism. When his troops appear to be losing against the Alemanni at Strasbourg, he invokes the God of his Catholic wife Clotilda to give him victory. He is baptized by St. Remi, and brings the Franks to the Catholic fold, the first barbarian people to adopt Catholicism.
|*498 Election of Pope St. Symmachus (-514).
|*499 The Synod of Rome issues decree on papal elections. It banned discussions on the election of a future Pope during a reigning Pope's lifetime. It was an attempt to conspire to make an election truly democratic, and not make the reigning Pope choose his successor.
How Did the Catholic Church Get Her Name?
by Kenneth D. Whitehead
The Creed which we recite on Sundays and holy days speaks of one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. As everybody knows, however, the Church referred to in this Creed is more commonly called just the Catholic Church. It is not, by the way, properly called the Roman Catholic Church, but simply the Catholic Church.
The term Roman Catholic is not used by the Church herself; it is a relatively modern term, and one, moreover, that is confined largely to the English language. The English-speaking bishops at the First Vatican Council in 1870, in fact, conducted a vigorous and successful campaign to insure that the term Roman Catholic was nowhere included in any of the Council's official documents about the Church herself, and the term was not included.
Similarly, nowhere in the 16 documents of the Second Vatican Council will you find the term Roman Catholic. Pope Paul VI signed all the documents of the Second Vatican Council as "I, Paul. Bishop of the Catholic Church." Simply that -- Catholic Church. There are references to the Roman curia, the Roman missal, the Roman rite, etc., but when the adjective Roman is applied to the Church herself, it refers to the Diocese of Rome!
Cardinals, for example, are called cardinals of the Holy Roman Church, but that designation means that when they are named to be cardinals they have thereby become honorary clergy of the Holy Father's home diocese, the Diocese of Rome. Each cardinal is given a titular church in Rome, and when the cardinals participate in the election of a new pope. they are participating in a process that in ancient times was carried out by the clergy of the Diocese of Rome.
Although the Diocese of Rome is central to the Catholic Church, this does not mean that the Roman rite, or, as is sometimes said, the Latin rite, is co-terminus with the Church as a whole; that would mean neglecting the Byzantine, Chaldean, Maronite or other Oriental rites which are all very much part of the Catholic Church today, as in the past.
In our day, much greater emphasis has been given to these "non-Roman" rites of the Catholic Church. The Second Vatican Council devoted a special document, Orientalium Ecclesiarum(Decree on Eastern Catholic Churches), to the Eastern rites which belong to the Catholic Church, and the new Catechism of the Catholic Church similarly gives considerable attention to the distinctive traditions and spirituality of these Eastern rites.
So the proper name for the universal Church is not the Roman Catholic Church. Far from it. That term caught on mostly in English-speaking countries; it was promoted mostly by Anglicans, supporters of the "branch theory" of the Church, namely, that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the creed was supposed to consist of three major branches, the Anglican, the Orthodox and the so-called Roman Catholic. It was to avoid that kind of interpretation that the English-speaking bishops at Vatican I succeeded in warning the Church away from ever using the term officially herself: It too easily could be misunderstood.
Today in an era of widespread dissent in the Church, and of equally widespread confusion regarding what authentic Catholic identity is supposed to consist of, many loyal Catholics have recently taken to using the term Roman Catholic in order to affirm their understanding that the Catholic Church of the Sunday creed is the same Church that is united with the Vicar of Christ in Rome, the Pope. This understanding of theirs is correct, but such Catholics should nevertheless beware of using the term, not only because of its dubious origins in Anglican circles intending to suggest that there just might be some other Catholic Church around somewhere besides the Roman one: but also because it often still is used today to suggest that the Roman Catholic Church is something other and lesser than the Catholic Church of the creed. It is commonly used by some dissenting theologians, for example, who appear to be attempting to categorize the Roman Catholic Church as just another contemporary "Christian denomination"--not the body that is identical with the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of the creed.
The proper name of the Church, then, is the Catholic Church. It is not ever called "the Christian Church," either. Although the prestigious Oxford University Press currently publishes a learned and rather useful reference book called "The Oxford Book of the Christian Church," the fact is that there has never been a major entity in history called by that name; the Oxford University Press has adopted a misnomer, for the Church of Christ has never been called the Christian Church.
There is, of course, a Protestant denomination in the United States which does call itself by that name, but that particular denomination is hardly what the Oxford University Press had in mind when assigning to its reference book the title that it did. The assignment of the title in question appears to have been one more method, of which there have been so many down through history, of declining to admit that there is, in fact, one--and only one--entity existing in the world today to which the designation "the Catholic Church" in the Creed might possibly apply.
The entity in question, of course, is just that: the very visible,worldwide Catholic Church, in which the 263rd successor of the Apostle Peter, Pope John Paul II, teaches, governs and sanctifies, along with some 3,000 other bishops around the world, who are successors of the apostles of Jesus Christ. As mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles, it is true that the followers of Christ early became known as "Christians" (cf. Acts 11:26). The name Christian, however, was never commonly applied to the Church herself. In the New Testament itself, the Church is simply called "the Church." There was only one. In that early time there were not yet any break-away bodies substantial enough to be rival claimants of the name and from which the Church might ever have to distinguish herself.
Very early in post-apostolic times, however. the Church did acquire a proper name--and precisely in order to distinguish herself from rival bodies which by then were already beginning to form. The name that the Church acquired when it became necessary for her to have a proper name was the name by which she has been known ever since-the Catholic Church.
The name appears in Christian literature for the first time around the end of the first century. By the time
it was written down, it had certainly already been in use, for the indications are that everybody understood exactly what was meant by the name when it was written.
Very early in post-apostolic times, however. the Church did acquire a proper name--and precisely in order to distinguish herself from rival bodies which by then were already beginning to form. The name that the Church acquired when it became necessary for her to have a proper name was the name by which she has been known ever since-the Catholic Church.The name appears in Christian literature for the first time around the end of the first century. By the time it was written down, it had certainly already been in use, for the indications are that everybody understood exactly what was meant by the name when it was written.
Around the year A.D. 107, a bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch in the Near East, was arrested, brought to Rome by armed guards and eventually martyred there in the arena. In a farewell letter which this early bishop and martyr wrote to his fellow Christians in Smyrna (today Izmir in modern Turkey), he made the first written mention in history of "the Catholic Church." He wrote, "Where the bishop is present, there is the Catholic Church"
(To the Smyrnaeans 8:2). Thus, the second century of Christianity had scarcely begun when the name of the Catholic Church was already in use.
Thereafter, the mention of the name became more and more frequent in the written record. It appears in the oldest written account we possess outside the New Testament of the martyrdom of a Christian for his faith, the "Martyrdom of St. Polycarp," bishop of the same Church of Smyrna to which St. Ignatius of Antioch had written. St. Polycarp was martyred around 155, and the account of his sufferings dates back to that time. The narrator informs us that in his final prayers before giving up his life for Christ, St. Polycarp "remembered all who had met with him at any time, both small and great, both those with and those without renown, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world."
We know that St. Polycarp, at the time of his death in 155, had been a Christian for 86 years. He could not, therefore, have been born much later than 69 or 70. Yet it appears to have been a normal part of the vocabulary of a man of this era to be able to speak of "the whole Catholic Church throughout the world."
The name had caught on, and no doubt for good reasons.
The term "catholic" simply means "universal," and when employing it in those early days, St. Ignatius of Antioch and St. Polycarp of Smyrnawere referring to the Church that was already "everywhere," as distinguished from whatever sects, schisms or splinter groups might have grown up here and there, in opposition to the Catholic Church.
The term was already understood even then to be an especially fitting name because the Catholic Church was for everyone, not just for adepts, enthusiasts or the specially initiated who might have been attracted to her.
Again, it was already understood that the Church was "catholic" because -- to adopt a modern expression -- she possessed the fullness of the means of salvation. She also was destined to be "universal" in time as well as in space, and it was to her that applied the promise of Christ to Peter and the other apostles that "the powers of death shall not prevail" against her (Mt 16:18).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church in our own day has concisely summed up all the reasons why the name of the Church of Christ has been the Catholic Church: "The Church is catholic," the Catechism teaches, "[because] she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is 'missionary of her very nature'" (no. 868).
So the name became attached to her for good. By the time of the first ecumenical council of the Church, held at Nicaea in Asia Minor in the year 325 A.D., the bishops of that council were legislating quite naturally in the name of the universal body they called in the Council of Nicaea's official documents "the Catholic Church." As most people know, it was that same council which formulated the basic Creed in which the term "catholic" was retained as one of the four marks of the true Church of Christ. And it is the same name which is to be found in all 16 documents of the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Church, Vatican Council II.
It was still back in the fourth century that St. Cyril of Jerusalem aptly wrote, "Inquire not simply where the Lord's house is, for the sects of the profane also make an attempt to call their own dens the houses of the Lord; nor inquire merely where the church is, but where the Catholic Church is. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Body, the Mother of all, which is the Spouse of Our Lord Jesus Christ" (Catecheses, xviii, 26).
The same inquiry needs to be made in exactly the same way today, for the name of the true Church of Christ has in no way been changed. It was inevitable that the Catechism of the Catholic Church would adopt the same name today that the Church has had throughout the whole of her very long history.
From The Catholic Answer, May/June 1996?
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