Edited By: Robert A. Guisepi
A History of the Catholic Church
from Its Beginning to the End of the Sixteenth Century
As both its critics and its champions would probably agree, Roman Catholicism has been the decisive spiritual force in the history of Western civilization. There are more Roman Catholics in the world than there are believers of any other religious tradition--not merely more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined, but more Roman Catholics than all Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. The papacy is the oldest continuing absolute monarchy in the world. To millions the pope is the infallible interpreter of divine revelation and the Vicar of Christ; to others he is the fulfillment of the biblical prophecies about the coming of the Antichrist. These incontestable statistical and historical facts suggest that some understanding of Roman Catholicism--its history, its institutional structures, its beliefs and practices, and its place in the world--is an indispensable component of cultural literacy, regardless of how one may individually answer the ultimate questions of life and death and faith. Without a grasp of what Roman Catholicism stands for, it is difficult to make political sense of the settlement of the Germanic tribes in Europe at the end of the Roman Empire, or intellectual sense of Thomas Aquinas, or literary sense of The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, or artistic sense of the Gothic cathedrals, or musical sense of many of the compositions of Haydn or Mozart. At one level, of course, the interpretation of Roman Catholicism is closely related to the interpretation of Christianity as such. For by its own reading of history, Roman Catholicism began with the very beginnings of the Christian movement. An essential component of the definition of any one of the other branches of Christendom, moreover, is the examination of its relation to Roman Catholicism: How did Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism come...