This is really too big a topic to cover in just one small document such as this but it is worthwhile giving an overview of some important events in the hope that you may wish to find out more about the details.
The Early Church after Pentecost
can read about how the Church spread after the death of Christ in the Acts of the Apostles. It gives us a good idea of how the Apostles
travelled out from
Chapter 15 of Acts gives us details of what became known as the Council of Jerusalem (c. AD 50) when some of the Apostles, including Peter and Paul met to discuss whether or not Gentile converts to Christianity should be circumcised. The first Christians were Jews and were seen as a sect within the Jewish faith but when non-Jews were converting, there was conflict as to whether or not they should abide by the Jewish law. The Council decided that Gentiles were not bound by Jewish law and from then on, all Christians were united and were separate from Judaism. This laid the foundations for how the Church would act in the future and since then, Councils have been called, often to settle a point of doctrine because of some heresy being taught.
The Didache (pronounced 'did ah kay') 'The Teaching (Didache) of the Lord, by the Twelve Apostles, to the Gentiles' This is a very ancient document stating early Christian belief and how the Eucharist should be celebrated. It is thought that it may even pre-date the Gospels
Christianity comes to
first Christians to come to
St. Alban (d.209)
was a Roman soldier in
kept the faith in spite of the persecution and at the beginning of the 4th
century, Christianity was the official religion of the
There was as ancient custom of going into the wilderness to meditate and to seek enlightenment. Prophets in the Old Testament such as Moses and Elijah did this and of course, Jesus himself did it before embarking on his ministry. The early Christians who went into the wilderness were known as hermits (from eremus meaning desert). They were considered holy men by the people in the nearby villages who brought them offerings of food and would consult them on religious of philosophical matters.
St Anthony of
He was such a hermit from
St. Patrick (b. 389)
It is not clear exactly where
he was born but it is thought that it was in the region of the
He realised his mission was to go back to
He realised his mission was to go back to
St. Benedict (480-550)
His RULE was written for the benefit of his monks (Benedictines) who lived in a community as opposed to the ancient hermits. This consisted of a framework of prayer, worship and work. Today, monasteries such as Worth Abbey still follow this Rule.
was established in
state of affairs continued until AD597 when St. Augustine of Canterbury, a
Benedictine, (not to be confused with the theologian,
Roman Church and the
During Anglo Saxon, Viking and mediaeval times, the Church managed not only to survive but to grow. Great monasteries were built and became religious centres in their areas. Parish churches were built and religious festivals became part of the life of the people.
The Great Schism
1076, the Muslims captured
Thomas À Becket
was born about 1118, well educated, good diplomat and in 1154, was ordained
Deacon. When Henry II became King, he
chose Thomas as his Chancellor, the two men became great friends and Thomas’s
life style was full of splendour and pomp. In 1161, Archbishop Theobald of
were disputes concerning taxation, appeals to Rome and various court practices
over which Thomas and the King did not see eye to eye. Thomas ended up escaping to
Today, the Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual leader of the Church of England, the Queen being the Head of that Church.
Revival of Learning was a movement which developed throughout
Henry VII’s heir had been his eldest son, Arthur, who
had entered into an arranged marriage with Catherine of Aragon in order to keep
the peace between
Henry was very religious, attending Mass daily, also an accomplished theologian who responded to Martin Luther’s attack on the Catholic Church by writing in 1521 Defence of the Seven Sacraments. Pope Leo X was so impressed that he gave Henry the title Defender of the Faith. The words Fid. Def. found on our coins is the abbreviation for the Latin Fidei Defenso.
Queen Catherine’s only child to survive into adulthood was a daughter, Mary, and Henry who desperately wanted a male heir, appealed to the Pope for an annulment on the grounds that she had been married his deceased brother. He amassed what he thought to be a great deal of evidence to prove that his marriage to Catherine was null and void. He quoted a passage from the Book of Leviticus:
'If a man shall take his brother's wife it is an unclean thing... they shall be childless.' (Leviticus, XX, 21)
This, of course, makes no mention of marriage and in any case, Catherine was no longer Arthur’s wife as Arthur was dead. Also this argument was contradicted by a text from Deuteronomy, which said it was a brother’s duty to marry his dead brother’s widow and raise children. (In those days, children were important for looking after you in your old age!)
Cardinal Wolsey’s effort to persuade Pope Clement VII to declare the marriage
invalid, which he refused to do, thus endorsing the dispensation that his
predecessor had granted. A political point
to consider is that The Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V was Catherine’s nephew
who may have had influence in making sure that his aunt’s marriage was still considered
valid. Another reason that Henry wanted
an annulment was that he had fallen in love with Anne Boleyn who refused to be
his mistress and was determined to marry the king! This caused Henry to cut himself off from
Henry married Anne Boleyn, their only surviving child being Elizabeth Anne had failed to produce the desired son and was beheaded after being found guilty of trumped up charges of adultery and incest with her brother. Henry now saw himself free to marry a third wife, Jane Seymour, who produced a son, Edward, dying soon afterwards.
Under the influence of Thomas Cromwell who had come into office, there were discussions on what doctrine the new Church of England should teach. This included breaking away from the doctrine of transubstantiation although eventually this idea was dropped from what was known as The Ten Articles, which Parliament passed in 1536, which stated among other things, that there were only three Sacraments – Baptism, Penance and Eucharist. Cromwell also advocated married clergy, he himself having secretly married!
The English Bible
The reformed religion put emphasis on Scripture, saying that the Bible was the only authority for Christians (sola scripture.) The Catholic Church teaches that Scripture, Tradition (those things which are not actually recorded in the Bible) and the Magisterium (teaching authority of the Church) are all important. They may be described as the legs of a three-legged stool – take one away, and the stool doesn’t stand up! Because of the emphasis on Scripture alone, Cromwell ordered a Bible, now translated into English, to be placed in each parish church. There was a restriction on who could read it and women could read it only in private!
Dissolution of the Monasteries.
Cromwell suggested to the King that it would crush Roman Catholic influence if he were to close the monasteries. By this time, Henry had used up the vast sums in the treasury which his father, Henry VII had amassed, so he grasped the opportunity to replenish his wealth by seizing the buildings and land owned by the monastic orders. The smaller monasteries were closed first, the monks and nuns being moved to the larger religious houses. Later, the larger ones were closed. By 1540, all of these houses were closed. Some of the religious took up jobs as tutors in the big houses while some returned to their families but many were left homeless and ended up roaming the countryside as vagrants. Henry sold the buildings off cheaply to the nobility who often used the building materials to build grand new houses e.g Beaulieu and Woburn Abbey.
this time, Henry also ordered the destruction of all the shrines in the country including that at Walsingham to the Blessed
Virgin and also St. Thomas À Becket’s shrine at
The Six Articles
A year after the passing of the Ten Articles, Henry’s conscience caused him to retract this as he wished the country to remain true to Catholic doctrine even if he had broken away from the authority of Rome so in 1539, the Act of Six Articles was passed. The following doctrines were to be strictly adhered to:-
Anyone denying Transubstantiation was to be burnt as a heretic!
Before Henry died, he decreed that his three children would reign in turn:
1. Edward 2.
This was a movement in the Catholic Church to try to bring about much needed reform within the Church, mostly associated with the order of priests founded by Ignatius Loyola, called the Society of Jesus or Jesuits.
Edward VI 1547-53
When Henry died, his son Edward came to the throne at the age of nine. During his short reign, the country was ruled by, first the Duke of Somerset and then the Duke of Northumberland. They were responsible for changes in religion in keeping with the Protestant reformers ideas on the continent. The word ‘Protestant’ was used for the first time and Edward was brought up in the reformed ways. The Mass was abolished, the altar being replaced by a simple communion table. The Missal was replaced with Cranmer’s Book of Common Prayer and all decorative vestments and church furnishings were removed and priests were allowed to marry.
Mary Tudor 1553-58
(not to be confuse with Mary Queen of Scots)
had been declared illegitimate by her father when he had divorced her mother,
Catherine of Aragon and lost the title of ‘Princess’. She had been forced to act a maid to her half
sister Elizabeth and had been forcibly separated from her mother whom she never
saw again! She had also seen the
establishment of the Protestant religion during her brother’s reign. Now that she was Queen, she was determined to
bring the country back to the Catholic faith and re-established relations with
Mary’s reign did not do much good for the Catholic Church! She was so extreme that she has gone down in
history as Bloody Mary. She sent 300
Protestants including Cranmer to their death by being burnt at the stake, some
married Philip II of
Elizabeth I 1558-1603
were strict penalties for non attendance at the Protestant services at the
parish church and those found harbouring priests faced the death penalty. Nicholas
Owen was a lay brother in the Society of Jesus (or Jesuits, founded by
Ignatius Loyola as part of the Counter Reformation). He was a skilled carpenter and constructed
hiding holes in the big houses where priests could hide when a raid was taking
place. Not one priest was discovered in
these hiding places. Nicholas Owen was eventually captured
and tortured horribly He died on the rack in the
Cuthbert Mayne, a priest in
St. Edmund Campion, English Jesuit, died in 1581.
St. Richard Gwyn, first of the Welsh martyrs, died 1584.
St. Margaret Clitherow, crushed to death in 1586.
St Philip Howard, eldest son of the fourth Duke of Norfolk (Arundel) died in the Tower in 1588.
The following was inscribed on his cell wall in the Tower:
'The more affliction we endure for Christ in this world, the more glory we shall obtain with Christ in the next'.
This is a
translation of the original Latin cut by St Philip over the fireplace in the
Quanto plus afflictionis pro Christo in hoc saeculo, tanto plus gloriae cum Christo in futuro. Arundell - 22 June 1587.
Under the Stuarts.
James I 1603-25 (son of Mary Queen of Scots)
Catholics and Puritans persecuted in this reign. Some extreme Catholic rebels were involved in
the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament when
the King was opening Parliament. Most of
them were related to the Throckmorton family (of
Charles I 1625-49
was a high Anglican married to Catholic French princess, Henrietta Maria. Life still uncomfortable for Catholics and
Puritans many of whom emigrated to
Oliver Cromwell 1649-1658
to power after the Civil War. Staunch
Puritan who abolished the celebration of Christmas.
Charles II 1660-1685 Restoration of the Monarchy
After Cromwell’s death, his son Richard ruled for a short while but unsatisfactorily. Eventually, Parliament invited Charles 1’s son to take the throne. This is known as the Restoration. The King had leanings towards Catholicism and tried to formalise tolerance towards both Catholics and Puritans but since the Civil War, Parliament exercised more power and were very much against any concessions to Catholics.
The Titus Oates Plot. Titus Oates spread rumours that Catholics were planning a massacre of Protestants and were about to assassinate Charles II. This caused many Catholics to be persecuted
Catholics were still under attack form
James II 1685-1689
Although he was a Catholic, he had little power to force the religion on the people. Parliament ensured that Catholics were barred from high office and made sure that the King’s baby son would never succeed him by inviting William of Orange (from Holland) to come to England to be King. He was married to the King’s Protestant daughter, Mary, who was also his first cousin. King eventually deposed and William and Mary took the throne.
William and Mary 1688-1702
The Declaration of Rights was passed in 1689 which included a clause that meant no Catholic could become monarch and nor anyone with a claim to the throne could marry a Catholic.
Throughout the following reigns
· Catholics learnt to cope with loss of privilege and without proper churches. The Jabobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 (Bonnie Prince Charlie) were unsuccessful attempts to restore the Catholic Stuarts to the English throne.
· In 1778 The Catholic Relief Act allowed Catholics to own and inherit property and to join the army without taking the Oath of Allegiance.
The Act of Union of 1801 unified
Emancipation. Some high offices were
open to Catholics including becoming an M.P.
The first English Catholic M.P was a member of the Throckmorton family
· Gradually Catholics began to lead a fuller life in the community and Catholic schools could be built.
· Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy in 1850. This meant that dioceses were formed and the Pope could appoint Bishops.
· Today, according to the Act of Settlement of 1701, monarchs are still prohibited from being Catholic or marrying a Catholic. So too those in line to the throne.
John Henry Newman 1811-1890
He was an Anglican clergyman, a leading light in
the Oxford Movement which brought beliefs closer to those of Catholicism. He became vicar of St. Mary’s
This was called by Pius XI in order to condemn
contemporary error and to define Catholic doctrine concerning the
The Council was interrupted by the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian war. It never resumed and has never officially been closed.
First Apostolic Delegate since the Reformation
William Godfrey was appointed to this post in 1938 which meant
that diplomatic relations were restored between
In 1950s and 60s, there was a surge of building of Catholic churches, especially in the big cities in the north of England where there were many Catholics, some descended from the old recusant families and many descended from Irish immigrants who had come to England at the time of the potato famine (1845-1851) and afterwards.
This Council was called by Pope John XXIII and was closed by Pope Paul VI. In all it produced sixteen documents, each one dealing with a different aspect of church life. See separate article entitled The Second Vatican Council and www.vatican2voice.org
The Ecumenical Movement
In 1948, the World Council of Churches was founded but did not include any representatives from the Catholic Church. It was not until after Vatican II when the Catholic Church issued a document on Christian unity and began to make it a priority, that Catholics became involved in the World Council of Churches.
Similar national groups were formed
in various countries including
Churches Together in
Churches Together in
In 1960, the Archbishop of
In 1962, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsey, exchanges the kiss of peace with the Pope in the Sistine Chapel.
In 1982, Pope John Paul II visits
ARCIC – Anglican-Catholic International Commission
This was set up in 1970 to try to
find some common ground between the Anglican and
Today there is a much improved relationship among the various denominations. We all realise that in order to combat modern day secularism, we must stand up together as followers of Christ. Although the unity among us is imperfect, we recognise Christ as our Lord and Saviour and although we differ on some points of doctrine, we can at least say the Creed together. (The word ‘catholic’ is usually written in this prayer with a small ‘c’ which refers to the universal Christian Church and not just to the Roman Catholic Church). Incidentally, Catholics do not usually use the work ‘Roman’ any more as there are Eastern Catholics who are not Roman Catholics although in communion with Rome, but in ecumenical circles, where some Christians see themselves as catholic (belonging to the universal Christian Church), it is polite to refer to ourselves as Roman!
In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote his encyclical Ut Unum Sint in which he reiterated the strong messages of Vatican II regarding Christian unity. He stressed the importance of every Catholic working towards unity of all Christians, saying that this was not an optional extra.
On 21st May, 2009,
Vincent Nichols was installed as the latest Archbishop of Westminster, replacing
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor.
Although no longer Archbishop of Westminster, he remains a Cardinal for
life. (Before he went to
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