The Catholic Church (from the ecclesiastical Latin catholicus, in turn from the ancient Greek καθολικός, katholikòs, that is "universal") is the Christian Church that recognizes the primacy of authority to the bishop of Rome, as successor of the apostle Peter on the chair of Rome . Its faithful are called Catholic Christians.
Formed by 24 Churches sui iuris, the Latin Church in the West and 23 Churches of the Eastern Rite, which are in communion with the Pontiff, the name recalls the universality of the Church founded on the preaching of Jesus Christ and his Apostles, constituted by the "People of God" in turn made up of "all the nations of the earth", which is declared to subsist perfectly in the visibly organized Catholic Church, and in the communion of the baptized (not stained by the sins of heresy or apostasy) without however deny, at least since the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the presence of elements of truth in the other Christian Churches separated from it with which it believes instead that it must pursue an ecumenical action and the recognition of spiritual values present in other religions.
The Latin formula subsistit in, used by Lumen gentium, was the subject of multiple interpretations and subsequently clarified in its authentic meaning by the dialogue between the Spanish Bishops' Conference and the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and in the declaration Dominus Iesus. According to statistics, among the Christian Churches, in 2007 it had the largest number of faithful worldwide, about 1.2 billion, with a high percentage in Europe and the Americas.
If attention is paid above all to the development of civil institutions in Europe, and to the relations of the Church with them, then 4 phases of the history of the Church are conventionally distinguished:
History of Christianity in ancient times: from birth with Jesus Christ to the rise of the Holy Roman Empire with Charlemagne (I-VIII century);
History of Christianity in the Middle Ages (from the eighth to the fifteenth century): from Charlemagne to the birth of national monarchies in the fourteenth-fifteenth century (especially France and Spain);
History of Christianity in the modern age (15th-18th centuries): it is the time of the great councils of the 15th and 16th centuries, of the breakdown of the religious unity of Western Europe, with the birth of the Lutheran movement; the period ends with the French Revolution.
History of Christianity in the contemporary age from the French Revolution to the present day;
The main feature lies in the so-called primacy of St. Peter or Petrine which substantially characterizes it since the origins of the first Christian communities that arose after the death of Jesus Christ. The dogmatic constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council declares that "the one Church of Christ, which in the Apostolic Creed, that is the Creed, we profess one, holy, catholic and apostolic, and that our Savior, after his resurrection , gave Peter to feed (cf. Jn 21:17), entrusting him and the other apostles with the spread and guidance in this world constituted and organized as a society, subsisting in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him "(Lumen gentium, n. 8).
In the Gospel of Matthew there is the so-called "Confession of Peter", that is the formal act with which Christ, according to Catholic doctrine, giving the Apostle Simon the new name of "Cephas" (in Aramaic "rock", whence "Peter "), thereby constituting the Apostle as the foundation on which the structure of the Church would be built, and entrusting him with the" keys of the Kingdom of Heaven "(which, according to rabbinic language, would mean investing him with otherworldly power), would have invested the "Prince of the Apostles" of authentic and full judicial authority over the whole Church, as was stated in a particular way during the Concil