Religious traditions have been part of human civilization from the very outset. Most ancient peoples for whom we have historical records — the Egyptians and Mesopotamians, along with the great civilizations of the Greeks and Romans — had significant traditions of gods and goddesses, many of whom were immortalized in mythology. Ancient religions in the East, beginning with the Hindus and moving forward chronologically with the Buddhists, Daoists, and Confucianists, sought answers to the basic questions of life: Who am I? Why am I here?
It was the great Western religious traditions, however, that began the concept of monotheism. The Jews, the chosen people of God, were formed when Abram (later Abraham) left his native land of Ur. He journeyed west at the request of God to a land today known as the nation of Israel. This Promised Land would actually become sacred to all three great Western religious traditions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The long history of the Jews, including their sojourn in Egypt and emancipation from slavery at the hands of Moses, their journey in the desert, arrival in the Promised Land, and their eventual development of a monarchy, set the stage for further developments. Later, the prophets proclaimed the message of God to their fellow Jews before, during, and after the infamous Babylonian exile. Eventually the Roman Diaspora in
Christianity, centered on the life and mission of Jesus of Nazareth, was chronologically the second great monotheistic religion to evolve in the Holy Land. Initially the faith grew slowly, primarily through the work of St. Paul, but with the Edict of Milan in 313, Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire. In the seventh century the prophet Mohammed inaugurated a revolution on the Arabian Peninsula. Islam, meaning one who submits, spread rapidly both east and west over the next several centuries, becoming dominant in the Middle East and extending as far north as Spain. Jerusalem is sacred to Muslims as the site of Mohammed's “night journey” in 620.
Roman Catholicism is the contemporary manifestation of those first followers of Jesus Christ. Over the 2,000 years of the Common Era, Catholicism has been responsible for the construction of Western civilization. The church was the institution at the forefront in the areas of education, science, art and architecture, structures of international law, economics, and Western morality. During the past 2,000 years, much of what Catholicism teaches, while always consistent with the tradition, has evolved in its understanding.
Catholicism is a complex faith rooted in sacraments, dogma, doctrine, and a highly organized hierarchical structure. This book seeks to present a systematic approach to the study of Catholicism. To that end, this guide is divided into seven sections: History, Revelation, God, Roman Catholic Theology, Study of the Church (Ecclesiology), Spirituality, and Contemporary Issues. It is hoped that you will not only be engaged but challenged while reading this book. The Everything® Guide to Catholicism not only presents the teachings of Catholicism, but for those who are Catholic, it provides a challenge to abide more fully in church doctrine.
My hope is that this volume will be the catalyst that will increase your desire to learn more about this fascinating religious tradition. Each of the chapters in this book can be studied at greater length and depth. Certainly there will be some topics that will strike you more powerfully than others. I hope that this guide will inspire you to read more detailed studies in Catholicism to satisfy your interests and assist your faith perspective, both academically and spiritually.