The Roman Catholic Church traces its history to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Over the course of centuries, it developed a highly sophisticated theology and an elaborate organizational structure headed by the Papacy, otherwise known as the Pope, the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world.
Catholics have the most number in the world. They are organized in an intricate system that spans the structure of the church from the local parish to the Papacy. Under the central authority of the Papacy (Pope), the church is divided into Parishes
Its number in the world (nearly 1.1 billion) is greater than that of nearly all other religious traditions. Hence, there are more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined and more Roman Catholics than all Buddhists or Hindus.
Without a grasp of what Roman Catholicism is, it is difficult to make historical sense of the Middle Ages, intellectual, sense of the works of Thomas Aquinas, literary sense of The Divine Comedy of Dante, artistic sense of the Gothic cathedrals, or musical sense of many of the compositions of Haydn and Mozart.
At one level, of course, the interpretation of Roman Catholicism is closely related to the interpretation of Christianity as such. By its own reading of history, Roman Catholicism originated with the very beginnings of Christianity.
The emergence of the Catholic Church
All the elements of catholicity—doctrine, authority, universality—are evident in the New Testament. The Acts of the Apostles begins with a depiction of the demoralized band of the disciples of Jesus in Jerusalem “And thus we came to Rome” (Acts 28:14). The later epistles of the New Testament advice their readers to “guard what has been entrusted to you” (1 Timothy 6:20) and to “contend for the faith that was once for all handed down to the holy ones” (Jude 3), and they speak about the Christian community itself in exalted and even cosmic terms as the church, “which is Christ’s body, the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way” (Ephesians 1:23).
Several historical factors, which vary in importance depending on the time, help to account for the emergence of Roman Catholicism. The two factors that are often regarded as most decisive at any rate by the champions of the primacy of Rome in the church are the primacy of Peter among the Twelve Apostles of Christ and the identification of Peter with the church of Rome. Although there are considerable variations in the enumerations of the Apostles in the New Testament (Matthew 10:2–5; Mark 3:16–19; Luke 6:14–16; Acts 1:13) and further variations in the manuscripts, what they all have in common is that they list (in Matthew’s words) “first, Simon called Peter.” “But I have prayed,” Jesus said to Peter, “that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32) and “Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep.…Feed my sheep” (John 21:15–17). In perhaps the most important passage, at least as it was later understood, Jesus said to Peter,
And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock [Greek petra] I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.
I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
According to Roman Catholic teaching, this is the charter of the church, that is, of the Holy Catholic Church.