Catholic from the beginning

Catholic From The Beginning

One of the most bizarre positions I have ever heard is that Catholics are not Christians. Fortunately, it is a minority viewpoint but it shows just how extreme some in the Protestant schism have gone.

Our Holy Father would put this much better, but the hard truth is this: the Catholic Church IS the Christian Church and has been since our Lord Jesus Christ instituted it. Protestants are not outside of that Church but part of it, although sadly not in full communion. Yes, Protestants are partially Catholic and upon that rests their salvation.

Christianity = Catholicism. Catholicism = Christianity. This is the Church of the Apostles. The early Church Fathers (after 100) would have identified themselves as Catholic, not followers of various heresies that have long since died out. The beliefs they had in the real presence in the Eucharist, our form of liturgical worship in the Mass, the Communion of Saints, veneration of Mary the Mother of God, Sacred Tradition, apostolic succession, the offices of deacon / priest / bishop, the primacy of Peter, sacraments, opposition to abortion and homosexuality, marriage for life and much, much more all remain in the Catholic Church today. Whereas in the various Protestant communities, supposedly (and ironically) founded to remove corruption, many of these ancient beliefs are gone.

Many Protestants identify with the Church Fathers but have a fuzzy concept of the Church in their time and their beliefs. The early Church Fathers were not Anglicans, Baptists, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. After all, these communities (with different beliefs from each other) did not exist until over a millennia later (after the first 3/4 of Christian history).

Look at the timeline below. It is just the first 400 years in the history of the Catholic Church, a/k/a Christianity.

  • 0 – Christmas. The word is derived from Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse; Cristes is from Greek Christos (“Christ”) and masse from Latin missa (“holy mass”). Christmas literally means “Crist’s Mass.”
  • 33 – The Last Supper (the first Holy Eucharist) followed by the death and resurrection of our Lord.
  • 51 – The Council of Jerusalem.
  • 67 – Martyrdom of St. Peter, the first pope. St. Linus succeeds him as the second pope.
  • 69 – Fall of Jerusalem.
  • 76 – St. Anacletus (Cletus) becomes pope.
  • 88 – St. Clement I becomes pope. During his pontificate, he issues a letter to the Corinthians, urging them to submit themselves to lawful religious authority. He writes “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.”
  • 96 – The Didache is written. It is the first Catholic Catechism. It describes the liturgy of the Mass, the requirement for confession before receiving the Eucharist and even the prohibition against abortion.
  • 97 – St. Evaristus becomes pope.
  • c100 – Death of St. John, the last apostle ending the period of Public Revelation.
  • 100 – Birth of St. Justin Martyr, a Church Father. In his writings, he bears witness to a number of Catholic doctrines. In one famous passage, he describes the Order of the Mass.
  • 105 – St. Alexander I becomes pope.
  • 107-117 – Martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch, apostolic Father and bishop. Theodoret, the Church historian says he was consecrated bishop by St. Peter, who was at first bishop of Antioch before going to Rome. It was during the journey to Rome that he wrote his famous letters about the early Church. His writings are the first known to use the term “Catholic” to differentiate the Christian Church from heresies of that time.
  • 115 – St. Sixtus I becomes pope.
  • 125 – St. Telesphorus becomes pope.
  • 136 – St. Hyginus becomes pope.
  • 140 – St. Pius I becomes pope.
  • 144 – Marcion of Pontus is excommunicated for heresy. He believed the God of the Old Testament was a different God.
  • 155 – St. Anicetus becomes pope.
  • 156 – Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John the apostle.
  • 160 – Birth of Tertullian, a Church Father.
  • 166 – St. Soter becomes pope.
  • 175 – St. Eleutherius becomes pope.
  • 177 – St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writes Against All Heresies, a work of apologetics refuting Gnosticism, which claimed salvation through an esoteric knowledge. Irenaeus argues that this belief counters the universal tradition handed down from the apostles, and that the bishops are the successors of the apostles who have the authority to transmit Revelation. To make his point, he lists the succession of popes beginning with Peter.
  • 189 – St. Victor I becomes pope.
  • 189 – Pope Victor ordered Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus to call a synod for which the bishops of Proconsular Asia refused to attend resulting in their excommunication. St. Irenaues protested this action as too harsh, but did not say the pope had overstepped his authority. This is the first record of an episcopal council in the post-apostolic age.
  • 199 – St. Zephyrinus becomes pope.
  • 200 – Death of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Church Father and bishop.
  • 208 – The first record of prayers for the dead in the writings of the Church Fathers. Tertullian writes that a good widow prays for her dead husband’s soul in On Monogamy.
  • 217 – St. Callistus I becomes pope.
  • 220 – Pope St. Callistus I excommunicates Sabellius, a priest who taught that the Son of God did not exist before the Incarnation, and that God exists in three “modes” but not in three persons, therefore the Son and the Father suffered at the passion.
  • 222 – St. Urban I becomes pope.
  • 230 – St. Pontain becomes pope.
  • 235 – St. Anterus becomes pope (for only 40 days).
  • 236 – St. Fabian becomes pope. When it came time to elect a new pope, the assembly put forward several names of prominent people, but a dove rested on Fabian’s head, whom no one had considered for the office. The assembly took it as a sign of divine favour and selected him as the new pope.
  • 250 – The devotion to martyrs, once a more private practice, becomes widespread after the Decian persection due to the great numbers of martyrs it produced.
  • 251 – Council of Cartage under St. Cyprian allows those who lapsed during the persecution to be readmitted after a period of penance.
  • 251 – St. Cornelius becomes pope.
  • 253 – St. Lucius I becomes pope.
  • 253 – The death of Origen of Alexandria, a Church Father.
  • 254 – St. Stephen I becomes pope. He is the first pope known to have specifically invoked Matt. 16:18 as evidence for the authority of the Chair of Peter.
  • 256 – Pope St. Stephen I upholds the baptisms administered by heretics.
  • 257 – St. Sixtus II becomes pope. He was arrested very shortly after his election and beheaded for his faith.
  • 258 – Martyrdom of St. Cyprian of Carthage. In his writings, he defended the primacy of Peter as the source of unity in the Church. He remained the foremost Latin writer until Jerome.
  • 260 – St. Dionysius becomes pope.
  • 265 – Three councils held at this time in Antioch condemn Paul of Samosata, bishop of Antioch, for his heretical teachings on the relationship of God the Father and God the Son. He maintained that Jesus the man was distinct from the Logos and became the Son of God through adoption because of his merits, and that God is only One Person. His teachings were a pre-cursor to the Arianist heresies of the fourth century and beyond.
  • 269 – St. Felix I becomes pope.
  • 270 – Death of St. Gregory of Neocaesarea, a/k/a the Wonderworker and Thaumaturgus, a Church Father and bishop.
  • 275 – St. Eutychian becomes pope.
  • 283 – St. Caius becomes pope.
  • 296 – St. Marcellinus becomes pope.
  • 297 – Birth of St. Athanasius, Doctor of the Church. Archbishop of Alexandria. He was a staunch defender of the Divinity of Jesus Christ against Arianism, and was exiled sevral times for his orthodoxy.
  • 305 – The Council of Elvira, Spain approves the first canon imposing clerical celibacy.
  • 306 – Birth of St. Ephraem the Syrian, Doctor of the Church. Known as the Harp of the Holy Spirit. Author of the Nisibene Hymns, some of which are Marian.
  • 308 – St. Marcellus I becomes pope.
  • 309 – St. Eusebius becomes pope.
  • 311 – St. Miltiades becomes pope.
  • 312 – Constantine defeats the Emperor Maxentius at the battle of the Milvian Bridge. The night before the battle, Constantine has a vision of a cross in the sky and the words “In this sign you shall conquer.” After the victory, Constantine orders that the cross be put on the soldiers’ shields and standards. Once Constantine enters Rome, he offers the Lateran Palace to the Pope as a residence.
  • 314 – St. Sylvester I becomes pope.
  • 315 – Birth of St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Doctor of the Church. He fought Arianism in the East.
  • 315 – Birth of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church.
  • 318 – Beginnings of the Arianist controversy. Arius taught that the Father and the Son were not of the same substance, and therefore the latter was inferior; and that the Word (Logos) is a creature and that the Holy Spirit is a creature of the Logos.
  • 325 – The Council of Nicea. Presided by Emperor Constantine and Hosius of Cordoba. Pope St. Sylvester I sends papal legates, being too old to make the journery from Rome. Many of the bishops in attendance had been physically injured in the persecutions of previous decades. The Council defines trinitarian belief in God. The Father and God the Son are declared of the same substance against the teachings of Arius.
  • 329 – Birth of St. Basil the Great, Doctor of the Church and father of Eastern monasticism. He was the first to draw up a rule of life and he developed the concept of the novitiate.
  • 330 – Building of first St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome (it was re-built in 1506).
  • 330 – Birth of St. Gregory Nanzianzus, Doctor of the Church. One of the Cappadocian Fathers.
  • 336 – St. Marcus becomes pope.
  • 336 – The earliest record of the celebration of Christmas in Rome.
  • 337 – St. Julius I becomes pope.
  • 340 – Birth of St. Ambrose of Milan, one of the four traditional Latin Doctors of the Church. He baptized St. Augustine. He fought the Arian heresy in the West and promoted consecrated virginity.
  • 343 – Birth of St. Jerome, one of the four traditional Doctors of the Latin Church. He translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek texts into Latin and produced the first authoritative translation, the Vulgate. At that time, Latin was still a vernacular language.
  • 347 – Birth of St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church and Bishop of Constantinople. He is the foremost Greek Doctor of the Church, known especially for his homilies on Scripture.
  • 352 – Liberius becomes pope. He was the first pope not to become a (cannonized) Saint.
  • 354 – Birth of St. Augustine of Hippo, Doctor of the Church.
  • 360 – Scrolls begin to be replaced by books.
  • 366 – St. Damasus I becomes pope. He is most famous for compelling St. Jerome to undertake a faithful translation of the Scriptures, the version known as the Vulgate.
  • 376 – Birth of St. Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), Doctor of the Church. Opposed Nestorianism.
  • 379 – Theodosius, a devout Catholic, becomes the Eastern Roman Emperor. For the first time in half a century, the State would favour Catholicism over Arianism. Theodosius is the first emperor to legislate against heresy. The churches of heretics are to be confiscated and handed over to the Catholic Church.
  • 381 – The First Council of Constantinople. Presided by Pope Damasus and Emperor Theodosius I. It proclaimed the divinity of the Holy Spirit.
  • 382 – Pope St. Damasus I issued the Decree of Damasus officially setting the 46 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books of the Holy Bible. Before this time, various canons of scripture were used by different bishops. Pope St. Damasus I (the 37th Catholic pope) established the Holy Bible.
  • 383 – Roman legions begin to leave Britain. British Christians gradually disconnected from Rome until St. Augustine of Canterbury re-introduces the faith in 590.
  • 384 – St. Siricius becomes pope.
  • 386 – St. Ambrose refuses to hand over a church to the Arian sect when ordered to do so by the Emperor. In a sermon he says a famous phrase ” The emperor is within the Church, and not above the Church.” He says of the Arians: ” it has been the crime of the Arians, the crime which stamps them as the worst of all heretics, that “they were willing to surrender to Caesar the right to rule the Church.” The Emperor backs down.
  • 393 – Birth of Theodoret of Cyrus, Church Father, bishop and historian. He opposed St. Cyril of Alexandria in the Nestorian controversy, but he eventually submitted to the Council of Ephesus on the matter.
  • 397 – The Council of Carthage formally accepts St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible (which remains the unchanged, official Catholic translation to this day).
  • 397 – Death of St. Martin of Tours. He was the first saint honoured for his asceticism, not for martyrdom, and whose prayers were invoked in liturgy. He is considered the founder of monasticism in the West.
  • 399 – St. Anastasius I becomes pope.
  • 401 – St. Innocent I becomes pope.

To be steeped in history is to cease being Protestant.

Cardinal John Henry Newman (convert)


  1. Thanks for this. I reposted the timeline on my blog.

  2. This made me smile. It also made me even more clear as to why I’ve been drawn to the Catholic Church for so long and why I am so glad that I will be a full member very soon!

  3. So what exactly is your point?

    Being born to Catholic parents yet leaving the Catholic church as a young adult for a more Protestant leanings, I am not really getting your purpose here outside of trying to divide Christians, both Catholic and Protestant.

    Quite frankly, I don’t care if you believe that the Catholic church was the first Christian church. So what? Your assertion has an air of, “I’m right and you’re wrong and furthermore, history validates me and it doesn’t validate any other point of view.” Who needs that?

    Attitudes like this remind me why I don’t go back to the Catholic church.

    • Montana Wildflower, thank you for your comment.

      As I noted in the very first sentence, some people (a surprisingly large group) claim that Catholics are not Christian. Historical fact, not me, disputes that and speaks for itself.

      I am a convert, not born into the faith. I was led here by the Holy Spirit, exposed to the truth – including history – and accept it is the one and only Church created by our Lord and Savior. This is the Catholic view because this is what Jesus said and did.

      We don’t believe for a moment that Jesus intended to create a wide variety of Christian communities all with different, and often opposing, beliefs. There are not multiple truths, all equally valid. Jesus founded 1 very visible Church, led by St. Peter and protected against the gates of hell until the end of time and this is it.

      We believe that Christian communities not in full communion remain important members of the body of Christ. They are part of the Catholic Church, if informally. The fullness of the Christian faith – the truth, the Communion of Saints, the sacraments, Sacred Tradition, guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit through the Magisterium – is present in the Catholic Church. We pray often for reunification with our separated brethren.

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