Church History

Screen Shot 2011-11-09 at 7.31.17 AMI am in Rome and decided to run to St. John Lateran this morning a make a video — so all of you could enjoy the Feast Day of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Church on November 9, 313. Yup, that’s right! It was the first Christian church ever built and it was the home of Popes for over 1,000 years.

If you want to join us in Rome this February, please call Suzanne at 800-727-1999, extension 121. She can give you info and help you get registered. You will see this church and many more on our marvelous Catholic pilgrimage through the Eternal City.

Click HERE for the brochure for our Rome Pilgrimage. Click HERE for the brochure for our St. Paul Cruise with Scott Hahn which ends in Rome.

St. John Lateran Church is not just the cathedral for the city of Rome, but it is the MOTHER CHURCH of the whole world. It contains the Pope’s Chair, the Chair of St. Peter.

The Church also contains marvelous relics: the cedarwood table Our Lord celebrated the Passover meal on in Jerusalem, St. Peter’s altar which he used as a bishop in Rome.

Also there are the skull bones from both Sts. Peter and Paul in a golden reliquary above the high altar on which only the Pope is allowed to celebrate Mass.

Enjoy! And be proud to be Catholic!

Two Things Available:

1. Here is the map with 18 GPS-tagged videos and 93 pictures where I run across Rome and hit many historical sites and beautiful churches. As a guide, I explain many of the sites along the way.

2. Below is the “Tour Videos” just of St. John Lateran Church.

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As a Protestant, I went to an Evangelical church that changed an important and historical word in the  Apostles Creed. Instead of the “holy, catholic Church,” we were the “holy, Christian church.” At the time, I thought nothing of it. There was certainly no evil intent, just a loathing of the Catholic Church and a distinct desire to distance ourself from its heresy and man-made traditions. 

 I assumed that early on Catholics deviated from “biblical Christianity” so they simply invented a new word to describe their new society. Since we Evangelicals were supposedly the ones faithful to the Bible we had no interest in the word catholic since it was found nowhere between the covers of the Bible. It was a biased word loaded with negative baggage so we removed it from the Creed. 

 I should have asked myself “Where did the word catholic come from, and what does it mean?” Was I right to assume that Roman Catholics invented the word to set themselves apart from biblical Christianity? 

 A short and interesting investigation will turn up some valuable information. Let’s start with an understanding of doctrinal development and the definition of catholic, then  let’s “interview” the very first Christians to see what they thought of the Church and the word catholic and then we will study the Bible itself. 

 How Doctrines and Words Develop
The development of doctrine is not just a Catholic phenomenon. It is also a fact among Protestants and all religions or theological traditions. Over time, theological words develop to help explain the deeper understanding of the faith. As Christians ponder the revelation passed on by the apostles and deposited in his Church the Church mulls over God’s Word, thinking deeper and deeper. It is not unlike peeling the layers away from an onion as one goes deeper to the heart. 

 Development of doctrine defines, sharpens, and interprets the deposit of faith. The Bible is not a theological textbook or a detailed church manual, such as say a catechism or study guide. The Bible’s meaning is not always clear as St. Peter tells us (2 Pet 3:15?16). Thirty-three thousand competing Protestant denominations also make this fact apparent as they fail to agree on what the Bible says. It takes the authority of a universal Church and the successors of the apostles to formulate the doctrines of the faith. As an Evangelical, I was naïve enough to think I could recreate the “theological” wheel for myself.

  To illustrate doctrinal development, let’s look at the word trinity. The word trinity never appears in the Bible, nor does the Bible give explicit formulas for the nature of the Trinity as commonly used today, such as “one God is three persons,” or “three persons, one nature.”  Yet, the word Trinity, as developed within the Catholic Church, is an essential belief for nearly every Protestant denomination. The first recorded use of the word trinity (trias) was in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch around the year a.d. 180.  Although not found in the Bible, the early Church developed words such as Trinity, which are used to define and explain basic, essential Christian doctrines. 

Interestingly, while many Protestants object to the idea of development of doctrine within the Catholic Church, they seem to have no problem with developments in their own camp—even novelties and inventions. Take for example the Rapture, another word not found in the Bible and not used in any theological circles until the mid-19th century. After a prophetic utterance from two women at a Scottish revival meeting, the new doctrine of the Rapture spread like wildfire through England and America.

 It was the Catholic Church that defined the Blessed Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ—the hypostatic union of two natures in the one divine person of Jesus—, salvation, baptism, the Blessed Eucharist, and all the other doctrines that have been the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is also the Catholic Church that gave birth to the New Testament—collecting, canonizing, preserving, distributing, and interpreting them. 

As a Protestant I was quite willing to unknowingly accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the closed canon of the  New Testament, etc., but I willfully rejected the full teaching of the Catholic Church. I now realize that it is in the Catholic Church that we find the fulness of the faith and the visible, universal body of Christ.

 The Word “Catholic” Defined
However, we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning “regarding the whole,” or more simply, “universal” or “general.” Universal comes from two Greek words: uni- one, and vertere- turning. In other words, a “one turning”, “revolving around one,” or “turned into one”. The word church comes from the Greek ecclesia which means “those called out,” as in those summoned out of the world at large to form a distinct society. So the Catholic Church is made up of those called out and gathered into the universal visible society founded by Christ.

In its early years, the Church was small, both in geographically and numerically. For roughly the first decade the Church was made up exclusively of Jews in the area of Jerusalem. The word catholic hardly seemed to apply. But as the Church grew and spread across the Roman Empire, it incorporated Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, Romans, freemen, and even slaves—men and women from every tribe and tongue. But by the third century, oneout of ten people in the Roman Empire was a Catholic. Just as the word Trinity was appropriated to describe the nature of God, so the term catholic was appropriated to describe the nature of Christ’s body, the Church. 

But let’s get back to the history of the word catholic. The first recorded use of the word is found very early in Christian literature. We find the first instance the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was a young man during the time of the apostles and the second bishop of Antioch following Peter. Ignatius was immersed in the living tradition of the local church in Antioch where the believers in Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). He was alive early enough to know the apostles and was taught and ordained directly by the apostles. 

From the apostles St. Ignatius learned what the church was from the apostles themselves. From them he learned how it was to function, grow, and be governed. History informs us that St. Peter was the Bishop of Antioch at the time; in fact, Church Fathers claim that St. Ignatiuis was ordained by St. Peter himself.Ignatius must have worshiped with Peter and Paul and John. He lived with or near them, and was an understudy of these special apostles. St. Ignatius of Antioch is known and revered as an authentic witness to the tradition and practice of the apostles. 

 In the existing  documents that have come down to us, St. Ignatius is the first to use the word catholic in reference to the Church. On his way to Rome, under military escort to the Coliseum where he would be devoured by lions for his faith, he wrote, “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8).  

 Another early instance of the word catholic is associated with St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who used the word many times. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John just as St. John was a disciple of Jesus. Like Ignatius, Polycarp also suffered the martyr’s death in a coliseum in a.d. 155. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written at the time of Polycarp’s death, we read, “The Church of God which sojourns in Smyrna, to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and Catholic Church in every place” (Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam, Preface)  

 Later in the same book it says, “When Polycarp had finished his prayer, in which he remembered everyone with whom he had ever been acquainted . . . and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” They then gave him up to wild beasts, fire and finally, the sword. The epistle then concludes, “Now with the Apostles and all the just [Polycarp] is glorifying God and the Father Almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world” (8).

 So we clearly see that early in the second century Christians regularly use the word catholic as an established description of the Church.  From the second century on we see the term catholic being used consistently by the theologians and writers. One can easily conclude that catholic was a very early description of the Church, probably used by the apostles themselves

 St. Augustine in the  fourth century, relaying the tradition of the early Church, minces no words asserting the importance and wide-spread use of the term catholic. He writes, “We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church which is Catholic, and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies” (The True Religion, 7, 12). And again, “[T]he very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani called “The Foundation”, 4, 5).

 The early usage and importance of the word can also be seen by its use in both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds. If you were a Christian in the first mellenia you were a Catholic, and if you were a Catholic you recited the Creeds affirming the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Unhappily, some people today try to make a distinction between Catholic with a capital “C” and catholic with a small “c”, but such a distinction is a recent development and unheard of in the early Church.

 Biblical Understanding of the word “Catholic”
Jesus commissioned his apostles with the words “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19, 20). As Frank Sheed reminds us, “Notice first the threefold ‘all’—all nations, all things, all days. Catholic, we say, means ‘universal.’ Examining the word ‘universal,’ we see that it contains two ideas, the idea of all, the idea of one. But all what? All nations, all teachings, all times. So our Lord says. It is not an exaggerated description of the Catholic Church. Not by the wildest exaggeration could it be advanced as a description of any other” (Theology and Sanity [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993], 284).

 Jesus used the word church twice in the gospels, both in Matthew. He said, “I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). He didn’t say churches as though he were building a subdivision; nor did he imply it would be an invisible church made up of competing groups. He was going to build a visible, recognizable church. And in Matthew 18:17 Jesus said that if one brother offends another they were to take it to “the Church”. Notice the article “the” referring to a specific entity. Not “churches” but one visible, recognizable church that can be expected to have a recognizable leadership with universal authority. 

 One can see the sad state of “Christendom” today by comparing Jesus’ words about “the Church” with the current situation. If a Methodist offends a Baptist, or a Presbyterian offends a Pentecostal, which “church” do they take it to for adjudication? This alone demonstrates the problem when 33,000 plus denominations exist outside the physical bounds of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Jesus expected there to be one universal, authoritative, visible and Catholic Church to represent him on earth until his return.

 Just before he was crucified, Jesus prayed not only for the universality and catholicity of the Church, but for her visible unity:

 “[T]hat they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that  You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me” Jn 17:21?23 NASB).

 The early Church understood Jesus’ words. What good was an invisible, theoretical, impractical unity? For the world to see a catholic unity, the oneness of the Church must be a visible, real, physical, and visible reality. All of this the Catholic Church is. Since the earliest centuries Christians have confessed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” One because there is only one, visible, organic, and unified Church; holy because she is called out of the world to be the Bride of Christ, righteous and sanctified; catholic because she is universal, unified, and covers the whole world; apostolic because Christ founded her (Mt. 16:18) through his apostles, and the apostles’ authority are carried on through the bishops. Through the centuries, this creed has been the statement of the Church. 

 In these last days, Christians need to stand confident and obedient in heart of the Catholic Church. She has been our faithful Mother, steadfastly carrying out the mandate of Jesus Christ for 2,000 years. As an Evangelical Protestant I thought I could ignore the creeds and councils of our Mother, the Church. I was sadly mistaken. I now understand that Jesus requires us to listen to His Church, the Church to which he gave the authority to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19; 18:17)—the Catholic Church, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

 Steve Ray is the author of Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, and St. John’s Gospel. You can contact him at his website at www.CatholicConvert.com

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By Elizabeth Scalia | Sep 25, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-10-26 at 5.38.14 AM“Before 1917 nobody ever proposed that the collapse of a centuries-old Christian empire would happen…”

Participating in a London conference on the topic of “The Christian Future of Europe,” Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, head of the External Relations Departments of the Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow Patriarchate, spoke on September 22 at the Russian Embassy to Great Britain, and his talk was something of a warning to the Churches of the West.

Opening his talk with an acknowledgement of Christian persecution throughout the world, and armed with research figures hewn from recent PEW polls and other studies, Hilarion painted a grim but up-to-date and accurate picture of what Christianity is currently facing due to migration and Western secularization, and also what the future of Christianity will look like without a deep and strenuous effort at evangelization.

The Archbishop presented a sobering look at how migration is impacting Europe:

“According to figures by the European Union agency Frontex, more than 1.8 million migrants entered the EU in 2015 alone … the number of migrants in Europe has increased from 49.3 million people in 2000 to 76.1 million people in 2015.”

“The other reason for the transformation of the religious map of Europe,” said Hilarion, “is the secularization of European society. Figures in a British opinion poll indicate that more than half of the country’s inhabitants – for the first time in history – do not affiliate themselves to any particular religion.”

This trend is not holding true in Russia, where an identification with faith is on the upswing, although “many defined themselves as ‘religious to some degree’ or ‘not too religious’ … However, the number of people who define themselves as being ‘very religious’ is growing steadily.”

That good news must be balanced an understanding of the rapid decline of religious practice in Europe and North America, and here Hilarion suggested that history must be given its due study, as a warning:

I would like to remind you all that in Russia before 1917 nobody ever proposed that the collapse of a centuries-old Christian empire would happen and that it would be replaced by an atheistic totalitarian regime. And even when that did happen, few believed that it was serious and for long.

The modern-day decline of Christianity in the western world may be compared to the situation in the Russian Empire before 1917.

The revolution and the dramatic events which followed it have deep spiritual, as well as social and political, reasons. Over many years the aristocracy and intelligentsia had abandoned the faith, and were then followed by common people.

His Holiness Patriarch Kirill of Moscow and All Russia spoke of this in January 2017:

“The fundamental rupture in the traditional way of life – and I am now speaking … of the spiritual and cultural self-consciousness of the people – was possible only for the reason that something very important had disappeared from peoples’ lives, in the first instance those people who belonged to the elite.

In spite of an outward prosperity and appearance, the scientific and cultural achievements, less and less place was left in peoples’ lives for a living and sincere belief in God, an understanding of the exceptional importance of values belonging to a spiritual and moral tradition.”

Hilarion seemed to reserve a special condemnation of the resistance to religion demonstrated by the European Union:

And when half a century after the creation of the European Union its constitution was being written, it would have been natural for the Christian Churches to expect that the role of Christianity as one of the European values to have been included in this document, without encroaching upon the secular nature of the authorities in a unified Europe.

But, as we know, this did not happen.

The European Union, when writing its constitution, declined to mention its Christian heritage even in the preamble of the document.

I firmly believe that a Europe which has renounced Christ will not be able to preserve its cultural and spiritual identity.

The Archbishop’s full speech may be read here.

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In 1521 “Reformers” Disagreed among themselves – was it really THAT bad?

September 24, 2017

A friend named Philip wrote and asked me this question: Christ is Risen. And we with him. I was talking to Evangelical friends who directed me to some historical websites about the Marburg meeting of the Protestant Reformers. You have just finished your Dr. Luther tour of Germany. It seems that the Protestants did agree […]

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Questions I Answered on Catholic Answers Live: Martin Luther & the “Reformation”

September 20, 2017

Martin Luther and the Protestant “Reformation” – or rather, “the Deformation”  Just back from a trip to Martin Luther sites in Germany, Steve Ray discusses the man, his ideas, and his effect on the Church. (PICTURE: Steve posting “500 Reasons to Be Catholic” on the Wittenberg Door in Wittenberg Germany. To watch the 2-minute video […]

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Germany Trip Summary, Comments, Farewells and Departure

September 15, 2017

After eight days of intense touring of Germany and following all the sites of Martin Luther and the “Protestant Devolution” we finally said our goodbyes, shared our comments about the trip and headed home. But the trip was not only about Martin Luther and the Protestant rebellion. We also explored and toured the life of […]

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Luther’s Young Years, Monastery and Birth & Death

September 11, 2017

Eisleben: birth and baptism of Luther. Also where he preach his last sermons and died. This was also the town of St. Gertrude the Great. We has Mass at St. Gertrude’s with another fantastic homily. Mansfeld: Luther’s childhood home and church where he sang in the choir and served as an altar boy. He was […]

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Delivered “500 Reasons to Be Catholic” to Luther at Wittenburg Door

September 9, 2017

Today we went to Castle Church in Wittenberg Germany. I had promised people I would deliver their “95 Reasons for being Catholic.” We ended up with many hundreds of reasons that were sent to me. I kept my promise today and delivered them to Martin Luther in person. I could not mail them to the […]

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Steve’s Interview of Luther & the Reformation with Al Kresta

May 12, 2017

This was a fun and informative interview as an introduction to this 500th Anniversary of the Luther’s actions which started the Protestant Reformation (or Deformation, depending on how you look at it). Click this LINK, then click on the + sign for Hour One and move the slider to 8:20 where the interview begins. It […]

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(Link Fixed) The Other Catholics: A Short Guide to the Eastern Catholic Churches

May 5, 2017

Since we are in Jerusalem, where many of the Eastern Catholic Churches converge, I decided to share this excellent article. I found it very helpful. Many think the name of “our church” is the “Roman Catholic Church” — but that is only the name of the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church. The “Catholic Church” […]

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The Sign of the Cross: It’s History, Meaning and Biblical Basis

May 5, 2017

SIGN OF THE CROSS By Steve Ray The Sign of the Cross is a ritual gesture by which we confess two important mysteries: the Trinity and the centrality of the Cross. It is the most common and visible means by which we confess our faith. The Sign of the Cross is made by touching the […]

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Trail of Blood: Do Baptists Have a Claim to the Original Church?

March 23, 2017

What is the history of Baptists? Can they trace their roots back to the 1st century? Many ”fundamentalist” Baptists believe they can. Are they correct? There is a booklet that is very popular among this fundamentalist crowd. It is entitled “The Trail of Blood”. The booklet claims that Catholics persecuted the true Christians — the Baptists — leaving […]

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Forty Frozen Martyrs – we honor them today March 10

March 9, 2017

In my talk Swimming Upstream I usually tell the story of 40 Roman soldiers who chose to freeze naked on a frozen lake in 320 AD rather than deny Jesus Christ. St. Basil, Doctor of the Church, told of the heroic martyrdom of 40 soldiers in a homily. They had been executed fifty years before […]

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“Council of Jamnia” and Old Testament Book Collection

February 4, 2017

The Old Testament Canon and the “Council of Jamnia” Many popular myths are believed simply because people want to believe them—not because they are true. Wishful thinking is a poor substitute for truth. It is always preferable for one to dig deep and discover the facts and not just believe things because one wants them […]

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Did St. Ignatius of Antioch REALLY Believe in Transubstantiation in the 1st Century?

January 10, 2017

A friend and fellow pilgrim got in a row with a friend on Facebook and asked for my help. You might enjoy the question and the answer. My friend wrote: “I have a quick apologetic question.  A Protestant Facebook page was denying the Eucharist and I pasted St Ignatius’ quote about the Eucharist, “Let us […]

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The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church: Article by Steve Ray

January 2, 2017

The Eucharist and the Fathers of the Church, by Steve Ray The word “Eucharist” was used early in the Church to describe the Body and Blood of Christ under the forms of bread and wine. Eucharist comes from the Greek word for “thanks” (eucharistia), describing Christ’s actions: “And when he had given thanks, he broke […]

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