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Roman Catholic Church

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The Roman Catholic Church, or Catholic Church, is the largest Christian Church in the world. According to the Statistical Yearbook of the Church, the Church's worldwide recorded membership at the end of 2003 was 1,085,557,000, over half of the estimate at that time of the total number of Christians.[1] It is led by the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, currently His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI.

It has defined itself as "the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter" -- i.e. the Pope -- "and the bishops in communion with him."[2] It teaches that it is the one holy catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ for the salvation of all people.

Origins

The Church traces its origins to Jesus and the Twelve Apostles, in particular Peter, the leader of the Apostles, who is traditionally regarded as the first Pope.[3] It rose to prominence in the fourth-century Roman Empire, when Constantine I issued the Edict of Milan in 313. From 380, Christianity was the Roman state religion.

Terminology

The term Catholic is derived from the Greek meaning universal and all churches that use the title in their name do so with the theological or historical intent that they can claim to be the one universal church founded by the God they worship.

Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. The statue in the foreground is of Saint Peter, whose successor is considered, within the Catholic Church, to be the Pope.The Church considered in this article uses many names to describe itself, none of which it has declared to be the definitive name by which it should be known. However, when drawing up documents jointly with other Churches, it refers to itself either as the Catholic Church or as the Roman Catholic Church.

Divergent usages attach a certain ambiguity to each of these terms. Some apply the term Roman Catholic Church only to the Western or Latin Church, excluding the Eastern-Rite particular Churches that are in full communion with the Pope, and are part of the same Church, under the Pope, taken as a whole. As for the term Catholic Church, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, Old-Catholic, and other Christians claim to be, or to be part of, the Catholic Church. For detailed discussions of various understandings of the term, see Catholicism, Catholic, and One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

For reasons of simplicity and clarity, the term Catholic Church is freely used within this article without suggesting acceptance of any claims thought to be implicit in that term, while Roman Catholic Church is used without endorsing the view that the Church in question is merely part of some larger Catholic Church. Both terms are treated within this article simply as alternative names for the entire Church "which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him."

Beliefs

The Crucifix, bearing the image of Jesus suffering on a cross, often serves as a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church, in contrast with some other Christian denominations, which only use a cross.The Catholic Church is a Christian church, and therefore shares core beliefs with the majority of other trinitarian groups generally considered to be Christian. The Nicene Creed and the Apostles' Creed, which are accepted by most major Christian denominations, can be considered a fundamental core of the Catholic Church's beliefs. However some Christian denominations have developed a different understanding of many central issues concerning Christ's role in the Church and of the salvation of believers that vary greatly from the Church's historic teachings. Roman Catholics believe that Jesus's role in the Church includes an ongoing active role in maintaining the Church free from doctrinal error, and in using the sacraments of the Church as a fount of Grace for humanity. These are issues which are fundamental for Catholicism (and Orthodoxy) but which are denied by many Protestant denominations.

The Catholic Church has published a detailed exposition of its beliefs in the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

The nature of God

Catholicism is monotheistic: it believes that God is one, eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing and omnipresent. God exists as distinct from and prior to his creation, that is, everything which is not God, and which depends directly on him for existence, and yet is still present intimately in his creation. Faith in God's existence is the most fundamental Catholic belief, and in the First Vatican Council the Church has taught that, while by the natural light of human reason God can be known in his works as origin and end of all created things,[4] God has also chosen to reveal himself and his will supernaturally in the ways indicated in the Letter to the Hebrews 1:1-2.

Catholicism is also Trinitarian: it believes that, while God is one in nature, essence, and being, this one God exists in three divine persons, each identical with the one essence, whose only distinctions are in their relations to one another: the Father's relationship to the Son, the Son's relationship to the Father, and the relations of both to the Holy Spirit, constitute the one God as a Trinity.

A Catholic Christian is baptized in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit -- not three gods, but One God subsisting in three Persons. The faith of the Church and of the individual Christian is based on a relationship with these three Persons of the one God.

The Catholic Church believes that God has revealed himself to humanity as Father to his only-begotten Son, who is in an eternal relationship with the Father: "No one knows the Son except the Father, just as no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal Him."[5]

Catholics believe that God the Son, the second of the three Persons of God, became incarnate as Jesus Christ, a human being, born of the Virgin Mary. He remained truly divine and was at the same time truly human. In what he said, and by how he lived, he taught us how to live, and revealed God as Love, the giver of unmerited favours or Graces.

After Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection, his followers, foremost among them the Apostles, spread more and more extensively their faith in Jesus Christ with a vigour that they attributed to the Holy Spirit, the third of the three Persons of God, sent upon them by Jesus Christ.

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