Hello Rosary Lovers! The question for this post is: when was the Catholic Church founded?
The Catholic Church has been around for a long, long, LONG time. In fact, it is thought to be ‘the world’s oldest and largest continuously functioning international institution’ (Wikipedia).
So when exactly was it founded?
The Catholic Church’s Claim
The Catholic Church claims to have been founded by Jesus himself. Remarkably, this is what Wikipedia says. Under Founder, Wikipedia answers: ‘Jesus, according to sacred tradition.’
So, funnily enough, the Catholic Church and Wikipedia claim that Jesus founded the Catholic Church! Rather amusing.
The Catholic Church claims that Jesus founded the Church with his baptism, ministry and selection of his apostles. He further founded it through his death, resurrection and glorious ascension into heaven.
When he was due to ascend back to heaven, Jesus handed on his authority on earth to physical representatives, called the Apostles. These were the Church’s first Bishops.
The Head Bishop of the Church was chosen by Jesus himself. This is Peter, the first Pope. Peter was the Head of the College of the Apostles.
The Apostles all passed on their authority to Bishops who succeeded them in their posts. Peter passed his authority as Bishop of Rome and Pope on to St Linus, the second Pope.
The Catholic Church has kept a close eye on all the Popes throughout her history. She has a record of every Pope since Peter (see here).
Pope Francis is the 266th Pope of the Catholic Church’s history.
In short, the Catholic Church claims to have been founded by Jesus during his earthly ministry. This was about 30 AD.
Those who Disagree
There are, of course, many who disagree with the Catholic Church’s claim.
Many Protestants claim that the Catholic Church was not founded by Jesus. They think rather that Jesus founded a Church, but that this Church is different to the Catholic Church of today.
This has actually always been a common belief amongst those who are not Catholic.
Gnosticism, for instance, was an extremely large movement in the early centuries. It ran alongside the Catholic Church, claiming to be the true Church.
Gnosticism taught that the Catholic Church was in error and that the true Church Jesus founded was a spiritual Church of those who had been enlightened with secret knowledge passed down by the apostles (Greek: gnosis).
The Gnostic gospels claim to have been written by the apostles and these writings were believed by many to be the true gospels and the true teachings of Jesus.
Still others, like Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons, believe that the Church went into full-blown heresy very early on. A great tidal wave of corruption swept into the Church during the time of the apostles, and very soon the whole Church was ruined.
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons believe that the Church later was restored. For Jehovah’s Witnesses, the restorer was Charles Russell; for Mormons, it’s Joseph Smith.
Muslims believe that the Catholic Church was not founded by Jesus because Jesus was a prophet of Allah and he preached Islam. He wasn’t interested in founding a Church but in spreading Islam. The Gospels became corrupt and so the Quran must be relied on for the true message of Jesus.
Still others doubt that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus. They have doubts that Jesus founded a Church and that tradition and Scripture cannot be trusted. Rather we must trust in historical analysis, etc. Such tends to be the view of atheists, agnostics and many modern scholars.
Refuting These Ideas
The problems with all of these ideas are as follows.
1. They all seem to imply that something else is the true Church or ‘authority to be trusted in’ besides the Catholic Church. The trouble here is that no-one can agree on what that true Church or ‘authority’ is. Is it scholarship? Or the Quran? Or the Gnostic gospels? Or Joseph Smith? Or Martin Luther? It’s anybody’s guess. This seems too subjective.
2. All of these ideas seem to imply that the Church that Jesus founded – if he even founded one – died out or became largely inactive. This is contrary to Christ’s words that the gates of hell will never prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:18). It’s also contrary to the fact that the Catholic Church can trace her existence back to very, very early times and yet she is still here. That surely requires an explanation.
The Teaching of Holy Scripture
The Bible teaches in Matthew 16:18-19 that Jesus Christ gave Peter his authority on earth.
Jesus says: ‘You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against it. I give to you (singular) the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you (singular) bind on earth shall be bound, and whatever you (singular) loose on earth shall be loosed.’
It is very hard to explain this passage any other way than the way the Catholic Church understands it.
A surface meaning of the text seems to mean that Jesus calls Peter a Rock. Peter actually means Stone or Rock. In Aramaic, the word for Peter means Rock. Stone or Rock, it’s all the same – the idea is that Peter is something solid.
Jesus says that it is on this Rock – Peter – that he will build his Church. This implies Peter is the first Pope.
The gates of hell shall not prevail – this implies that the Church which has a Pope is the Church that never falls. Thisis the Church Jesus founded.
When Jesus says ‘I give to you the keys … whatever you bind … whatever you loose,’ he is still talking to Peter. This only makes sense if Peter is indeed the Rock Jesus has just referred to.
Jesus hands Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven. This is the authority to bind and loose on earth. This is tremendous spiritual authority. This is exactly the same as the Catholic Church’s modern-day teachings about the spiritual powers of the Papacy.
There doesn’t seem to be any difference here between what Jesus taught about Peter and what the Catholic Church teaches about the Pope.
There are other texts of Scripture too, though this is the main one. Luke 22:32 teaches that Peter will establish the other apostles. John 21 teaches that Jesus gives Peter the task to feed Christ’s sheep as Pastor of the entire Church.
Moreover, Peter is constantly called ‘Cephas’ all over the New Testament. Cephas means Rock in Aramiac.
Surely none of this is a coincidence?
The Teaching of St Ignatius of Antioch
This also coincides with earliest historical sources. St Ignatius of Antioch knew the Apostle John and was Bishop of Antioch. Antioch had been founded by Peter.
St Ignatius writes in around 107 AD in his 7 letters that scholars know are authentic that all the true Christians are called … Catholics! He says that ‘where the Bishop is … there is the Catholic Church‘.
The Catholic Church. 107 AD. That is very, very early for that statement.
This isn’t a name St Ignatius made up. As third bishop of Antioch, this name – the Catholic Church – would have been passed down to him by the former Bishop. Also, the Apostle John must have owned this name since St Ignatius knew him.
I guess it just seems like common sense that the Catholic Church may well have been founded by Jesus.
1. It’s the largest Church in the world, by a very, very long way. 1.3 billion people in the world are Catholic, about 16% of the world. Around 1 in every 5-6 people you meet all over the world is a Catholic.
2. It’s really, really old and hasn’t really changed that much. The Catholic Church has the same beliefs today as she had in the Middle Ages and in the early Church.
3. The Nicene Creed and the Apostles Creed – both of which all Christians embrace – teach that there is a Catholic Church that Christians are bound to believe in. There is one Church in the world which everyone refers to as ‘the Catholic Church’. Is this a coincidence or is it divine providence?
4. If the Catholic Church is not the work of Jesus, then it is one heck of a fake Church. Out of every religion and form of Christianity on God’s earth, the Catholic Church has all the bells and whistles. You can’t get more full-on religion than the Catholic Church. If it’s a fake, it’s an extremely good one, and one wonders whether mere mortals really are quite so intelligent to have constructed a fake Church like this that has lasted so long.
5. The miracles. The Catholic Church is filled with miracles. Mary has appeared to many. The Eucharist has sometimes become physical blood and DNA. St Padre Pio appeared in two places at once. Many, many claim to have been spectacularly healed by appealing to a saint, and these miracles are supported by rigorous medical analysis. And so on. There have been far too many witnesses to these things and far too much authentic, scientific analysis for all of this to be pie-in-the-sky.
It seems that Jesus Christ did indeed found the Catholic Church and that he did so around 30 AD. The Catholic Church was not founded later in the Middle Ages, and it is not merely a human institution.
I’ll finish with a story. A friend of mine was with a group of people and they were visiting an area where there were lots of Catholic churches. My friend wouldn’t go into these churches, claiming that she didn’t go along with all this Catholic stuff. One of the group was a Catholic and responded, ‘But we were the first Church.’ My friend didn’t know what to say.
Enough said, I suppose!
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments section below and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as I can.