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Short History of the Church

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  A SHORT HISTORY OF THE CHURCH by Fr. Robert C. Hogan, S.J.The article that follows briefly outlines the different ages in the history of the Church in achronological order: the Apostolic Age ! C.#. $ %& C.#.', the Age of (artyrs %& C.#. $ !)) C.#.',the Age of Christendo* !)) C.#. $ )+ C.#.', Age of rotestant Refor*ation )+& C.#. $ )+%+C.#.', the Age of the Council of Trent and the Counter Refor*ation )+&+ $ )+%+ C.#.', Age of the(odern -orld ) th $)/ th  centuries', 0e1elop*ent of Sciences 2 th  century' and Age of 3atican 44)/%2$)/%+'.4n the pre1ious *aterial we loo5ed at what could be called, *ore or less, the ideal of what,in the light of Scripture, the Church should be. 6ut seeing that the Church is a (ystery co*posedof two funda*ental realities wed together in a for* of 74ncarnation7 $$the 8ingdo* of 9od and aninstitutionalied co**unity of Christian belie1ers $$the concrete reality of the Church as it appearsa*ongst us is often far fro* the ideal. Hence, we ha1e the often used i*age of the Church as a7ilgri*7. As a radical transcendent reality i**anent in the realities of this world, the Church actsupon the world. And, therefore, we can truly tal5 of the History of the Church. 4n the Church as ahistorical reality, we witness its *o*ents of glory and sha*e as it struggles to be faithful to thethree$fold *ission of riest, rophet and 8ing be;ueathed to it by its Risen <ord and e*poweredby His Spirit to underta5e. 4n the process it is faced with a 1ery difficult challenge of being in theworld and for the world but not of the world $$a 1ery difficult challenge, indeed. I. PRE-VATICAN II PERIODA. APOSTOLIC AGE 6ecause of li*its of ti*e and space, we will here atte*pt to do a little *ore than highlightsuch aspect of the Church=s History as will enable us to understand the why=s and wherefore=s of the Second Vatican Ecumenica Counci  )/%2$)/%+'. -e will therefore call our Fi! t Sta#e  the P!e-Vatican II  stage and Second Sta#e  the Po t-Vatican II  stage. 6ut before going into the *orepre1iously rele1ant historical issues of the re$3atican 44 stage let us first pause a *o*ent to reflecton one significant aspect of the Apostolic church that will ha1e so*e definite rele1ance for theost$3atican 44 period of our study. The particular issue we shall loo5 at briefly is that of Judaierswhich brought into conflict aul, the 9reat Apostle to the 9entiles, and eter, the Roc5, on who*Jesus built his Church.The *atter discussed in Chapter )+ of the Acts of the Apostles is introduced there with theobser1ation that there were so*e Jewish$Christian con1erts who were insisting that the 9entilesshould be circu*cised and accept the <aw of (oses before being accepted into the Christianco**unity. 4n the beginning eter see*ed to ha1e sy*pathied with the* while aul definitelydid not. The issue was finally sol1ed at the First #cu*enical Council at Jerusale* where eter presided o1er the Church. The basis of the final solution, which eter finally accepted, was thee>perience of those who preached the 9ospel to the 9entiles and obser1ed that the Spirit of the<ord was poured out on the* as readily as it was on the Jews in response to their faith$responseto the 9ood ?ews. The Spirit *ade no distinction, so why should the Church@ This e>perience*ade it clear that, henceforth, the only thing re;uired for acceptance into the co**unity wasrepentance, faith and e1entually baptis* by laying on of hands.The i*portance of this e1ent would see* to lie in the following two points: first, the fact thataul freely opposed the position of eter in the *atter of the Judaiers and that eter listened tohi* before *a5ing the decision that would be binding on all. Here we see both aul=s respect for   eter=s authority and eter=s openness to the e>perience of other sectors of the Church beyond hisown. The second i*portant point would see* to be that here we see the foundation being laid for later discussions on the *atter of 7inculturation7 which calls for respect for the local culturaltradition and beliefs of 1arious co**unities when they are brought face$to$face with the *essageof the 9ospel. This issue has had a 1ery stor*y history and, although *uch *ore clearly andauthoritati1ely affir*ed by 3atican 44, its application had pro1en to be e>tre*ely difficult and tric5y.6ut *ore about that later. $. AGE OF %ARTYRS For the first ! years or so after the Ascension of the <ord, the co**unity he left behindenoyed a period of *ore or less peaceful co$e>istence with both its Jewish and Ro*an neighbors.Shortly after the destruction of the te*ple in Jerusale* the di1iding line between Christianity andJudais* beca*e *ore clearly defined and a period of *ore intense conflict de1eloped betweenthe*. 4n %+ C.#., Ro*e also began its open persecution of the Church, beginning with the#*peror ?ero=s false accusation that the Christians had been responsible for the burning of Ro*e.-ith the beginning of open persecution of Christians for their Christian Faith, the Christianco**unity found the*sel1es face$to$face with the reality of the cross as a radical part of their following Christ. Those who re*ained faithful to the <ord in the *idst of persecution beca*e thefirst 7saints7 or *odel heroes of the church and were 5nown as 7*artyrs7 $$fro* the 9ree5 7bearingwitness7 to their faith in Jesus. Those of their conte*poraries who bro5e under pressure andabandoned their faith were 5nown as 7apostates7. The o1erall effects of this situation on theChurch in general was that it purified and intensified the li1es of those who re*ained faithful to thee>tent that their herois* attracted *any of the Ro*ans and other pagans to share their faith. Sopowerful was their witness that it has fre;uently been clai*ed that 7the blood of *artyrs was aseed of Christians7. This positi1e effect o1ershadowed the fact that the growing hostility to theChurch also ha*pered the Church=s *issionary acti1ity to a large e>tent. -e can call this periodthe 7Church 1s. State7 period of the Church=s history. C. AGE OF CHRISTENDO% The period of open persecution by the Ro*an #*perors, though not e;ually intense ineach one=s reign, lasted *ore or less until the year !2) C.#. when the #*peror Constantine7beca*e a Christian7 and *ade Christianity the 7official religion of the e*pire7. This e1ent *ar5edthe beginning of what has co*e to be 5nown as the period of 7*arriage between Church andState7. This 7Age7, which lasted fro* !)) C.#. to about )! C.#. and the de*ise of the Ro*an#*pire, was a ti*e of peace and prosperity for the Church. This, howe1er, pro1ed to be a *i>edblessing. For while during the period of persecution people freely li1ed a 1ery intense Christian life,once the persecution ended and they were *ore or less 7obliged7 by the State to beco*eChristians, there was gradual adulteration of the faith$as$li1ed by *any Christian belie1ers. For they were no longer really challenged in their beliefs and soon oined by people who beca*eChristian not so *uch of con1iction but because of fear of persecution which soon bro5e out in theopposite direction, i.e., against non$Christians. Thus, while the Church grew nu*erically by leapsand bounds, the ;uality of Christian li1ing deteriorated rapidly. -ith the end of persecution, theChristian ideas of *artyrdo* were replaced by the e>a*ple of those who sought perfection andholiness by withdrawal fro* the world and who thus popularied the *onastic way of life. The7*on5s7 thus beca*e the new *odels of 7saints7 with the Christian co**unity and *onasticspirituality beca*e the ideal path to holiness.  Bne of the *ore radical negati1e effects within the life of the Church during this period of e>cessi1e inti*acy between the Church and State was the gradual blurring of distinction betweenaffairs proper to the Church and those of the State. Then, the #*perors and their go1ern*entofficials began to influence decisions and policies of the Church and 1ice$1ersa. As the *utualinterests of both beca*e *ore inti*ately intertwined, Church offices beca*e the obects of worldlya*bition on the part of *en with little or no interest in genuine Church affairs.The end$product of this state of affairs was that the hierarchical Church too5 on thetrappings and *entality of secular authorities and was soon o1errun by worldly *en who brought*uch scandal and corruption to higher le1els of the Church leadership. Thus, positions of leadership in the Church beca*e the obects of fierce inter$fa*ily conflicts and political intrigues,especially with the brea5down of the e*pire into nation$states. Countries fought and 5illed to getcontrol of the apacy and of 6ishoprics which carried with the* great political and econo*icbenefits. The e1ents little by little set the stage for the ne>t period of the Church history $$theperiod of the Refor*ation. D. AGE OF REFOR%ATIOND.& PROTESTANT REFOR%ATION #arly in the )% th  century, a young Augustinian *on5 by the na*e of (artin <uther found inthe writing of St. aul the personal answer to long years of intense religious struggles with thereality of 9od=s ustice and his own sinfulness which the traditional religious practices of the Churchhad failed to pro1ide hi*. The realiation that sal1ation co*es by 7faith alone and not by goodwor5s7 $$as St. aul so elo;uently insists in his letter to the Ro*ans and 9alatians $$filled his *indand heart with peace and soon led hi* into open conflicts with the hierarchy of the Church. Hee1entually began to openly criticie the abuses that had crept into *any Church teachings andpractices as a result of the corruption that had in1aded the 1ery leadership of the Church in a 1erylarge scale. The hostile reaction of the Church hierarchy, coupled with his own earlier e>perienceof 7sal1ation by faith alone,7 sti*ulated as it was by 7scripture alone7, forced hi* into a corner where he felt he had no other choice but to lea1e the Church. -ith his departure fro* the Church,and the considerable influence his charis*atic personality had on his conte*poraries, he was ableto gi1e so*e focus and direction to se1eral strea*s of re1olt against traditional Church teachingand practice that had already begun to appear in 1arious parts of the post$i*perial -estern#urope. He has thus co*e to be 5nown as the 7Father of rotestant Refor*ation.76y brea5ing with hierarchical Church and e1entually denying its di1ine foundation, (artin<uther pro1ided the long$sought$for theological basis for the authorities of the new nation$states tobrea5 the hold of Ro*an authority o1er *any of the econo*ic and political strongholds within their territory which were still under the control of the hierarchical re*nants of the Age of Christendo*.6y *a5ing the Scriptures and personal faith the *ain ele*ents of achie1ing sal1ation the stagewas set for brea5ing with Ro*e and the door was opened for national religions to replace Ro*anCatholicis* in lands that fell under the influence of one or other rotestant Refor*ers. D.' CATHOLIC REFOR%ATION #1en before the Refor*ation proper, howe1er, there had been *any con1erts of refor*within the Church itself, underta5en by indi1iduals and groups who were aware of the great needfor such refor*. A*ongst these indi1iduals was 4nigo de <oyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, who, along with his followers and by *eans of the Spiritual #>ercises, *ade a significantcontribution to the tas5 of the Church refor* fro* within. The fact that he was a lay*an when he  went through the profound religious e>perience docu*ented in the #>ercises has *ade the* a1ery powerful tool for the for*ation of *en and wo*en who *ust 7wor5 out their sal1ation in fear and tre*bling7 $$to use a auline e>pression within the conte>t of life in the world. St. 4gnatius ashe e1entually ca*e to be 5nown, thus ga1e the Church the basis for a new type of ChristianSpirituality to supple*ent the (onastic approach already *entioned earlier. As a result, thededicated apostle, both lay and religious, wor5ing intensely to transfor* the world beca*e a newtype of *odel of Christian discipleship and sanctity, thereby co*ple*enting the ideal pro1ided bythe *artyrs and the *on5s of earlier periods.Bn the part of the institutionalied Church the *ost significant response ca*e in the for* of the Council of Trent which con1ened inter*ittently between )+&+ and )+%! to constitute *uchneeded refor*s in all areas of Catholic life, especially in the training of good leaders. The latter was achie1ed *ainly by the founding of se*inaries, separate fro* the *aor uni1ersities of theti*e and *ore or less withdrawn fro* the secular world. 4n addition to this and other institutionalrefor*s the council also set about clarifying official Church teaching and rectifying *any Churchpractices that had been distorted earlier during the Age of Christendo*. 4n so doing, there was adistinct tendency to de$e*phasie those aspects of Christian life that the refor*ers had stressedand to stress, instead those aspects of Christian life which the refor*ers had reected outright. Asa result, the orientation of Church life that flowed fro* the council tended to be o1erly sacra*entaland de1otional to the detri*ent of the 1ital role of conscience in authentic Christian li1ing' anddoctrinal at the e>pense of the funda*ental role of Scripture in the de1elop*ent of our faith$life'.The institutional aspects of the Church beca*e e1en *ore pro*inent than the co**unity aspect.The confrontational at*osphere of the ti*es led, in *any respects, to an unfortunate 7distortion7, if we *ay call the* such, were e1en *ore deeply reinforced by the First 3atican Council se1eralhundreds of years later. E. AGE OF THE %ODERN (ORLD Bnce again, at the ris5 of o1er$si*plifying, but due to li*its of space and ti*e and to thebasic obecti1e of this 7brief historical study of the Church7 as a bac5grounder to 3atican 44, we shallnow try to gi1e a general o1er1iew of what we ha1e chosen to call the influence of the 7(odern-orld7 on the life of the Church before )/%!. -e will treat of the three basic pheno*ena thatcontributed *ore or less to a further alienation and isolation of the Catholic Church fro* the worldaround it. The Scientific Re1olution )% th  century', the 4ndustrial Re1olution )/ th  century' andFrench Re1olution ) th  century'. E.& SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION The Scientific Re1olution refers to that period in -estern history when the so$calledScientific *ethod of attaining 5nowledge about all aspects of hu*an life. 4n such a culture onlythat which can be obser1ed and pro1en to be true is seen to be of real 1alue. 4t does not ta5e*uch reflection to see how such a *entality would e1entually lead to a wea5ening of respect for religious 5nowledge which depends pri*arily on re1ealed truth to be accepted in faith. #1entually,scientific data actually led to affir*ations about the uni1erse which were in open conflict with beliefsthat had co*e to be accepted as a *atter of faith based on the 6ible. The 7Heliocentris*7 of Copernicus and 9alileo and the 7#1olutionis*7 of 0arwin would be two specific cases in point. Thei**ediate reaction of Church authorities was to conde*n these theories as heretical and todeepen the Church=s feelings of suspicion with regard to Science and its role in hu*an life. Thesefeelings were further antagonied by the gradual deterioration of the legiti*ate 1alue of 7seculariation7 a gradual realiation on the part of *an that he had the resources to sol1e *anyof the proble*s and challenges of life by *eans of his own intelligence without resorting to 9od'
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