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The History of the Catholic Church is traced by the Catholic Church back to apostolic times and thus covers a period of nearly 2,000 years, making it one of the world's oldest institutions. The history of the Catholic Church is an integral part of the History of Christianity and the History of Western civilization. Until the break with the Eastern churches in 1054 and the break with the Protestant churches in the 1500s, it is impossible to separate the history of the Roman Catholic church from the History of Christianity.

Catholics consider the Catholic Church to have been founded by Jesus Christ, its spiritual head. Catholic doctrine asserts that it is the continuation of the Church that was founded at the Confession of Peter. It interprets the Confession of Peter as Christ's designation of Apostle Peter and his successors in Rome to be the temporal head of his Church. Thus, it asserts that the Bishop of Rome has the sole legitimate claim to Petrine authority and the primacy due to the Roman Pontiff. The Catholic Church claims legitimacy of its bishops and priests via the doctrine of apostolic succession and authority of the Pope via the unbroken line of popes, successors to Simon Peter.

The authority of the Apostle Peter and his successors is thus viewed as a continuous history from Jesus Christ. The institution of the papacy as it exists today developed through the centuries. Church tradition records that Peter became the first leader of Christians in the Imperial capital of Rome. The Apostles and many Christians traveled to northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and Rome to found the first Christian communities. Christianity spread quickly through the Roman Empire, and by the second century there were many established bishoprics within the Empire including Northern Africa, Francemarker, Italy, Syriamarker, and Asia Minormarker, and twenty bishoprics outside the empire, mainly in Armenia. Irenaeus (d. 202) defended the apostolic tradition.

In 313, the struggles of the Early Church were lessened by the legalisation of Christianity by the Emperor Constantine I. In 380, Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire by the decree of the Emperor, which would persist until the fall of the Western Empire, and later, with the Eastern Roman Empire, until the Fall of Constantinople. During this time (the period of the Seven Ecumenical Councils) there were considered five primary sees according to Eusebius: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, see also Pentarchy.

After the destruction of the western Roman Empire, the church in the West was a major factor in the preservation of classical civilization, establishing monasteries, and sending missionaries to convert the peoples of northern Europe, as far as Ireland in the north. In the East, the Byzantine Empire preserved Orthodoxy, until the massive invasions of Islam in the mid-seventh century. The invasions of Islam devastated three of the five patriarchal sees, capturing Jerusalem first, then Alexandria, and then finally in the mid-eighth century, Antioch.

The whole period of the next five centuries was dominated by the struggle between Christianity and Islam throughout the Mediterranean Basin. The battles of Poitiers, and Toulouse preserved the Catholic west, even though Rome itself was ravaged in 850, and Constantinople besieged.

In the 11th century, already strained relations between the primarily Greek church in the East, and the Latin church in the West, developed into the East-West Schism, partially due to conflicts over Papal Authority. The fourth crusade, and the sacking of Constantinople by renegade crusaders proved the final breach.

In the 16th century, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Church engaged in a process of substantial reform and renewal, known as the Counter-Reformation. In subsequent centuries, Catholicism spread widely across the world despite experiencing a reduction in its hold on European populations due to the growth of religious scepticism during and after the Enlightenment. The Second Vatican Council in the 1960s introduced the most significant changes to Catholic practices since the Council of Trent three centuries before.

Church beginnings


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The Church believes itself to be the continuation of the Christian community founded by Jesus in his consecration of Simon Peter. The traditional narrative starts with Peter being consecrated by Jesus, followed by Peter traveling to Rome sometime after Pentecost (which some believe occurred in the Cenacle), founding a church there, serving as its first bishop and consecrating Linus as bishop, thus starting the line of Popes of whom Pope Benedict XVI is the current successor. This narrative is often related in histories of the Catholic Church. The only part of this narrative that is supported directly by the Scriptures is the consecration of Peter; however, elements of the rest of the narrative are attested to in the writings of Church Fathers such as Ignatius, Irenaeus and Dionysius of Corinth. Largely as a result of a challenge to this narrative initiated by Alfred Loisy, some theologians have challenged the historicity of the traditional narrative, resulting in a less literal interpretation of the Church's "founding" by Jesus and less specific claims about the historical foundations and transmission of the Petrine Primacy in the Church's early years.

According to the scriptural accounts in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and the Acts of the Apostles, the Christian Church began with the Ascension of Christ, 40 days after Passover. From this point on, Christ's mission was carried out on Earth by his disciples and Apostles.

After his death and resurrection, Christ appeared to his disciples proclaiming that he had conquered death and that none need fear death so long as they believed in him. Later, Christ issued the Great Commission by which the disciples of Christ would spread the word of God to all the nations. He would continue to teach and prepare the disciples for his Ascension and for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, believed to have occured at Pentacost.

In the tradition of the Catholic Church, Christ commanded Peter to lead his Church, giving him the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and promised him that whatever he will bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

A week after Christ's ascension, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples, prompting them to proclaim the Gospels to the people of Jerusalem, who had witnessed the crucifixion of Christ. This beginning of their public ministry is known as Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit not only assisted the disciples in reaching the people, but also enabled them to speak in languages (see also Glossolalia) they did not know.

After the Ascension, the book of Acts records the activities of the Apostles, including Paul of Tarsus who became a disciple of Christ while on the Road to Damascus. Each of the disciples travelled to different parts of the Roman Empire in spreading the gospel to all nations. Apostles but also numerous Christians, soldiers, merchants, preachers traveled to northern Africa, Asia Minor, Arabia, Greece, and other places to found the first Christian communities, and over 40 were established by the year 100. The Catholic Church believes it came fully into being on the day of Pentecost when, according to scriptural accounts, the apostles received the Holy Spirit and emerged from hiding following the death and resurrection of Jesus to preach and spread his message.

The Christian community in Jerusalem, where Jesus, many of the twelve Apostles and many eye-witnesses originally lived, had a special position among Christian communities. It experienced conflict and persecution especially in the years 32-33 and 62-63 highlighted by the stoning of Saint Stephen and the Apostle James.The destruction of Jerusalem in the year 70 ended the pre-eminence of Jerusalem and with the consequent dispersion of Jews and Christians from this city, Early Christianity gradually (over several centuries) grew apart from Judaism and established itself as a predominantly gentile religion. Antiochmarker became the first Gentile Christian community with stature

In or around the year 50, the apostles convened the first Church council, the Council of Jerusalem, to reconcile doctrinal differences among the competing factions within the Church. At the Council of Jerusalem in 50 it was confirmed that gentiles could be accepted as Christians, possibly paralleling Noahide Law.

The Church of Rome was already flourishing, when, from Corinthmarker the Apostle Paul sent his letter to the Roman Community in the Winter of 57-58 According to the tradition of the Catholic Church, Rome would become the See of Peter, and the center of his ministry.

At first, Christians continued to worship alongside Jewish believers which historians refer to as Jewish Christianity, but within twenty years of Jesus's death, Sunday (see also Sabbath in Christianity) was being regarded as the primary day of worship. Growing tensions soon led to a starker separation that was virtually complete by the time Christians refused to join in the Bar Khokba Jewish revolt of 132, however some groups of Christians retained elements of Jewish practice. Church leadership by bishops priests and deacons originated in the New Testament period. Christianity also differed from other Roman religions in that it set out its beliefs in a clearly defined way. From as early as the first century, the Church of Rome was recognized as a doctrinal authority because it was believed that the Apostles Peter and Paul had led the Church there.

The Christian church was fragmented in its early days. Although competing forms of Christianity emerged early and persisted into the fifth century, there was broad doctrinal unity within the mainstream churches.

From the year 100 onward, proto-orthodox teachers like Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus defined Catholic teaching in stark opposition to heresies such as Gnosticism. The Roman Church retained the practice of meeting in ecumenical councils to ensure that any internal doctrinal differences were quickly resolved. Partially as a response to the Gnostic teaching, in the 2nd century, Irenaeus created the first known document describing apostolic succession.

In the first few centuries of its existence, the Church formed its teachings and traditions into a systematic whole under the influence of theological apologists such as Pope Clement I, Justin Martyr and Augustine of Hippo.


In the first centuries of its existence, the Church defined and formed its teachings and traditions into a systematic whole under the influence of theological apologists such as Pope Clement I, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Augustine of Hippo. Since early Christians refused to offer sacrifices to the Roman gods or to defer to Roman rulers as gods, they were subject to persecution,with varied levels depending upon the policies of the incumbent emperor. The earliest recorded orders of persecution were under Emperor Nero's rule in the first century, and by the mid-third century it had extended throughout the empire, culminating in the great persecution of Diocletian and Galerius in early fourth century. This was considered a final attempt to eliminate Christianity. In spite of these persecutions, evangelization efforts persisted, leading to the Edict of Milan which legalized Christianity in 313. By 380, Christianity had become the state religion of the Roman Empire.

From Constantine to Gregory

Council of Nicaea

In 325, the First Council of Nicaea was convened in response to the Arian challenge concerning the trinitarian nature of God. The council formulated the Nicene Creed as a basic statement of Christian belief and divided the church into geographical and administrative areas called dioceses. Although Rome was one of three dioceses whose primacy was officially sanctioned by this council, it had certain qualities that destined it for particular prominence. It was considered the see of Peter and Paul, it was located in the capital of the empire, church scholars were desirous of obtaining the Roman bishop's support in doctrinal disputes, and it was wealthy and known for supporting other churches around the world. Most of following ecumenical councils sought the approval of the Bishop of Rome, whose delegates usually presided them or were headed by the Pope himself.


During the papacy of Pope Sylvester I, Emperor Constantine I commissioned the first Basilica of St. Peter, as well as the Lateran Palacemarker, a papal residence, and several other sites of lasting importance to Christianity. Many standard Christian practices had been established by the end of Constantine's life including the observation of Sunday as the official day of worship, the use of the altar as the focal point of each church, the sign of the cross, and the liturgical calendar.

Theodosius I

During the following decades a series of ecumenical christological councils codified critical elements of the Church's theology.On 380 Theodosius I, Gratian and Valentinian II published the so called "Edict of Thessalonica" by making the Nicene Christianity the official state religion of the Roman Empire.The Council of Rome in 382 officially recognized the Biblical canon, listing the accepted books of the Old and New Testament, and in 391 the Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible was made. The Council of Ephesus in 431 clarified the nature of Jesus' incarnation, declaring that he was both fully man and fully God. Two decades later, the Council of Chalcedon solidified Roman papal primacy which added to continuing breakdown in relations between Rome and Constantinople, the see of the Eastern Church. Also sparked were the Monophysite disagreements over the precise nature of the incarnation of Jesus which led to the first of the various Oriental Orthodox Churches breaking away from the Catholic Church.

Middle Ages

Catholic monasticism

Early Middle Ages

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Catholic faith competed with Arianism for the conversion of the barbarian tribes. The 496 conversion of Clovis I, pagan king of the Franks, saw the beginning of a steady rise of the faith in the West.

In 530, Saint Benedict wrote his Rule of St Benedict as a practical guide for monastic community life. Its message spread to monasteries throughout Europe. Monasteries became major conduits of civilization, preserving craft and artistic skills while maintaining intellectual culture within their schools, scriptoria and libraries. They functioned as agricultural, economic and production centers as well as a focus for spiritual life. During this period the Visigoths and Lombards moved away from Arianism for Catholicism. Pope Gregory the Great played a notable role in these conversions and dramatically reformed the ecclesiastical structures and administration which then launched renewed missionary efforts. Missionaries such as Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent from Rome to begin the conversion of the Anglo-Saxons, and, coming the other way in the Hiberno-Scottish mission, Saints Colombanus, Boniface, Willibrord, Ansgar and many others took Christianity into northern Europe and spread Catholicism among the Germanic, and Slavic peoples, and reached the Vikings and other Scandinavians in later centuries. The Synod of Whitby of 664, though not as decisive as sometimes claimed, was an important moment in the reintegration of the Celtic Church of the British Islesmarker into the Roman hierarchy, after having been effectively cut off from contact with Rome by the pagan invaders.

In the early 700s, Byzantine iconoclasm became a major source of conflict between the Eastern and Western parts of the Church. Byzantine emperors forbade the creation and veneration of religious images, as violations of the Ten Commandments. Other major religions in the East such as Judaism and Islam had similar prohibitions. Pope Gregory III vehemently disagreed A new Empress Irene siding with the pope, called for an Ecumenical Council In 787, the fathers of the Second Council of Nicaea "warmly received the papal delegates and his message" , At the conclusion, 300 bishops, who were led by the representatives of Pope Hadrian I. "adopted the Pope's teaching" , in favor of icons.

With the coronation of Charlemagne by Pope Leo III in 800, his new title as Patricius Romanorum, and the handing over of the keys to the Tomb of Saint Peter, the papacy had acquired a new protector in the West. This freed the pontiffs to some degree from the power of the emperor in Constantinople but also led to a schism, because the emperors and patriarchs of Constantinople interpreted themselves as the true descendants of the Roman Empire dating back to the beginnings of the Church. Pope Nicholas I had refused to recognize Patriarch Photios I of Constantinople ,who in turn had attacked the pope as a heretic, because he kept the filioque in the creed, which referred to the Holy Spirit emanating from God the Father and the Son. The papacy was strengthened through this new alliance, which in the long term created a new problem for the Popes, when in the Investiture Controversy succeeding emperors sought to appoint bishops and even future popes. After the disintegration of the Charlemagne empire and repeated incursions of Islamic forces into Italy, the papacy, without any protection, entered a phase of major weakness.

High Middle Ages

The Cluniac reformmarker of monasteries that began in 910 placed abbots under the direct control of the pope rather than the secular control of feudal lords, thus eliminating a major source of corruption. This sparked a great monastic renewal. Monasteries, convents and cathedrals still operated virtually all schools and libraries, and often functioned as credit establishments promoting economic growth. After 1100, some older cathedral schools split into lower grammar schools and higher schools for advanced learning. First in Bolognamarker, then at Parismarker and Oxfordmarker, many of these higher schools developed into universities and became the direct ancestors of modern Western institutions of learning. It was here where notable theologians worked to explain the connection between human experience and faith. The most notable of these theologians, Thomas Aquinas, produced Summa Theologica, a key intellectual achievement in its synthesis of Aristotelian thought and the Gospel. Monastic contributions to western society included the teaching of metallurgy, the introduction of new crops, the invention of musical notation and the creation and preservation of literature.

During the 11th century, the East–West schism permanently divided Christianity. It arose over a dispute on whether Constantinople or Rome held jurisdiction over the church in Sicily and led to mutual excommunications in 1054. The Western (Latin) branch of Christianity has since become known as the Catholic Church, while the Eastern (Greek) branch became known as the Orthodox Church. The Second Council of Lyon (1274) and the Council of Florence (1439) both failed to heal the schism. Some Eastern churches have since reunited with the Catholic Church, and others claim never to have been out of communion with the pope. Officially, the two churches remain in schism, although excommunications were mutually lifted in 1965.

The 11th century saw the Investiture Controversy between Emperor and Pope over the right to make church appointments, the first major phase of the struggle between Church and state in medieval Europe. The Papacy were the initial victors, but as Italians divided between Guelphs and Ghibellines in factions that were often passed down through families or states until the end of the Middle Ages, the dispute gradually weakened the Papacy, not least by drawing it into politics. The Church also attempted to control, or exact a price for, most marriages among the great by prohibiting, in 1059, marriages involving consanguinity (blood kin) and affinity (kin by marriage) to the seventh degree of relationship. Under these rules, almost all great marriages required a dispensation. The rules were relaxed to the fourth degree in 1215 (now only the first degree is prohibited by the Church - a man cannot marry his stepdaughter, for example).

Pope Urban II launched the First Crusade in 1095 when he received an appeal from Byzantine emperor Alexius I to help ward off a Turkish invasion. Urban further believed that a Crusade might help bring about reconciliation with Eastern Christianity. Fueled by reports of Muslim atrocities against Christians, the series of military campaigns known as the Crusades began in 1096. They were intended to return the Holy Land to Christian control. The goal was not permanently realized, and episodes of brutality committed by the armies of both sides left a legacy of mutual distrust between Muslims and Western and Eastern Christians. The sack of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade left Eastern Christians embittered, despite the fact that Pope Innocent III had expressly forbidden any such attack. In 2001, Pope John Paul II apologized to the Orthodox Christians for the sins of Catholics including the sacking of Constantinople in 1204.

Two new orders of architecture emerged from the Church of this era. The earlier Romanesque style combined massive walls, rounded arches and ceilings of masonry. To compensate for the absence of large windows, interiors were brightly painted with scenes from the Bible and the lives of the saints. Later, the Basilique Saint-Denismarker marked a new trend in cathedral building when it utilized Gothic architecture. This style, with its large windows and high, pointed arches, improved lighting and geometric harmony in a manner that was intended to direct the worshiper's mind to God who "orders all things". In other developments, the 12th century saw the founding of eight new monastic orders, many of them functioning as Military Knights of the Crusades. Cistercian monk Bernard of Clairvaux exerted great influence over the new orders and produced reforms to ensure purity of purpose. His influence led Pope Alexander III to begin reforms that would lead to the establishment of canon law. In the following century, new mendicant orders were founded by Francis of Assisi and Dominic de Guzmán which brought consecrated religious life into urban settings.

12th century France witnessed the widespread growth of Catharism, a dualistic belief in extreme asceticism which taught that all matter was evil, accepted suicide and denied the value of Church sacraments. After a papal legate was murdered by the Cathars in 1208, Pope Innocent III declared the Albigensian Crusade. Abuses committed during the crusade caused Innocent III to informally institute the first papal inquisition to prevent future aberrational practices and to root out the remaining Cathars. Formalized under Gregory IX, this Medieval inquisition executed an average of three people per year for heresy at its height. Over time, other inquisitions were launched by the Church or secular rulers to prosecute heretics, to respond to the threat of Moorish invasion or for political purposes. The accused were encouraged to recant their heresy and those who did not could be punished by penance, fines, imprisonment, torture or execution by burning. King Philip IV of France created an inquisition for his suppression of the Knights Templar during the 14th century. King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella formed another in 1480, originally to deal with distrusted ex-Jewish and ex-Muslim converts. Over a 350-year period, this Spanish Inquisition executed between 3,000 and 4,000 people, representing around two percent of those accused. The inquisition played a major role in the final expulsion of Islam from the kingdoms of Sicily and Spain. In 1482, Pope Sixtus IV condemned its excesses but Ferdinand ignored his protests. Historians note that for centuries Protestant propaganda and popular literature exaggerated the horrors of these inquisitions. According to Edward Norman, this view "identified the entire Catholic Church ... with [the] occasional excesses" wrought by secular rulers. While one percent of those tried in the inquisitions received death penalties, scholars agree that they were "more enlightened" and considered to be rather lenient when compared to secular courts.

A growing sense of church-state conflicts marked the 14th century. To escape instability in Rome, Clement V in 1309 became the first of seven popes to reside in the fortified city of Avignonmarker in southern France during a period known as the Avignon Papacy. The papacy returned to Rome in 1378 at the urging of Catherine of Siena and others who felt the See of Peter should be in the Roman church. With the death of Pope Gregory XI later that year, the papal election was disputed between supporters of Italian and French-backed candidates leading to the Western schism. For 38 years, separate claimants to the papal throne sat in Rome and Avignon. Efforts at resolution further complicated the issue when a third compromise pope was elected in 1409. The matter was finally resolved in 1417 at the Council of Constancemarker where the cardinals called upon all three claimants to the papal throne to resign, and held a new election naming Martin V pope.

Renaissance and reforms

Discoveries and Missionaries

Through the late 15th and early 16th centuries, European missionaries and explorers spread Catholicism to the Americas, Asia, Africa and Oceania. Pope Alexander VI, in the papal bull Inter caetera, awarded colonial rights over most of the newly discovered lands to Spainmarker and Portugalmarker. Under the patronato system, state authorities controlled clerical appointments and no direct contact was allowed with the Vatican. On December 1511, the Dominican friar Antonio de Montesinos openly rebuked the Spanish authorities governing Hispaniolamarker for their mistreatment of the American natives, telling them "... you are in mortal sin ... for the cruelty and tyranny you use in dealing with these innocent people". King Ferdinand enacted the Laws of Burgos and Valladolid in response. Enforcement was lax, and while some blame the Church for not doing enough to liberate the Indians, others point to the Church as the only voice raised on behalf of indigenous peoples. The issue resulted in a crisis of conscience in 16th-century Spain. An outpouring of self-criticism and philosophical reflection among Catholic theologians, most notably Francisco de Vitoria, led to debate on the nature of human rights and the birth of modern international law.

In 1521, through the leadership and preaching of the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan, the first Catholics were baptized in what became the first Christian nation in Southeast Asia, the Philippinesmarker. The following year, Franciscan missionaries arrived in what is now Mexicomarker, and sought to convert the Indians and to provide for their well-being by establishing schools and hospitals. They taught the Indians better farming methods, and easier ways of weaving and making pottery. Because some people questioned whether the Indians were truly human and deserved baptism, Pope Paul III in the papal bull Veritas Ipsa or Sublimis Deus (1537) confirmed that the Indians were deserving people. Afterward, the conversion effort gained momentum. Over the next 150 years, the missions expanded into southwestern North America. The native people were legally defined as children, and priests took on a paternalistic role, often enforced with corporal punishment. Elsewhere, in India, Portuguese missionaries and the Spanish Jesuit Francis Xavier evangelized among non-Christians and a Christian community which claimed to have been established by Thomas the Apostle.

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Renaissance Church

In Europe, the Renaissance marked a period of renewed interest in ancient and classical learning. It also brought a re-examination of accepted beliefs. Cathedrals and churches had long served as picture books and art galleries for millions of the uneducated. The stained glass windows, frescoes, statues, paintings and panels retold the stories of the saints and of biblical characters. The Church sponsored great Renaissance artists like Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, who created some of the world's most famous artworks. The acceptance of humanism had its effects on the Church, which embraced it as well. In 1509, a well known scholar of the age, Erasmus, wrote The Praise of Folly, a work which captured a widely held unease about corruption in the Church. The Papacy itself was questioned by councilarism expressed in the councils of Constancemarker and the Basel. Real reforms during these ecumenical councils and the Fifth Lateran Council were attempted several times but thwarted. They were seen as necessary but did not succeed in large measure because of internal feuds within the Church, ongoing conflicts with the Ottoman Empire andSaracenes and the simony and nepotism practiced in the Renaissance Church of the 15th and early 16th centuries. As a result, rich, powerful and worldly men like Roderigo Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) were able to win election to the papacy.

Reformation wars

The Fifth Lateran Council issued some but only minor reforms in March of 1517. A few months later, October 17, 1517, Martin Luther issued his Ninety-Five Theses in a letter to several bishops, hoping to spark debate. His theses protested key points of Catholic doctrine as well as the sale of indulgences. Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, and others further criticized Catholic teachings. These challenges, supported by powerful political forces in the region, developed into the Protestant Reformation. In Germany, the reformation led to war between the Protestant Schmalkaldic League and the Catholic Emperor Charles V. The first nine-year war ended in 1555 but continued tensions produced a far graver conflict, the Thirty Years' War, which broke out in 1618. In France, a series of conflicts termed the French Wars of Religion was fought from 1562 to 1598 between the Huguenots and the forces of the French Catholic League. A series of popes sided with and became financial supporters of the Catholic League. This ended under Pope Clement VIII, who hesitantly accepted King Henry IV's 1598 Edict of Nantes, which granted civil and religious toleration to Protestants.


The English Reformation was ostensibly based on Henry VIII's desire for annulment of his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and was initially more of a political, and later a theological dispute. The Acts of Supremacy made the English monarch head of the English church thereby establishing the Church of England. Then, beginning in 1536, some 825 monasteries throughout England, Walesmarker and Irelandmarker were dissolved and Catholic churches were confiscated. When he died in 1547 all monasteries, friaries, convents of nuns and shrines were destroyed or desolved. Mary I of England reunited the Church of England with Rome and, against the advice of the Spanish ambassador, persecuted Protestants during the Marian Persecutions. After some provocation, the following monarch, Elizabeth I enforced the Act of Supremacy. This prevented Catholics from becoming members of professions, holding public office, voting or educating their children. Executions of Catholics under Elizabeth I, who reigned much longer, then surpassed the Marian persecutions and persisted under subsequent English monarchs. Penal laws were also enacted in Ireland but were less effective than in England. In part because the Irish people associated Catholicism with nationhood and national identity, they resisted persistent English efforts to eliminate the Catholic Church.

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Council of Trent

Historian Diarmaid MacCulloch, in his book The Reformation, A History noted that through all the slaughter of the Reformation era emerged the valuable concept of religious toleration and an improved Catholic Church which responded to doctrinal challenges and abuses highlighted by the Reformation at the Council of Trent (1545–1563). The council became the driving-force of the Counter-Reformation, and reaffirmed central Catholic doctrines such as transubstantiation, and the requirement for love and hope as well as faith to attain salvation. It also reformed many other areas of importance to the Church, most importantly by improving the education of the clergy and consolidating the central jurisdiction of the Roman Curia. The criticisms of the Reformation were among factors that sparked new religious orders including the Theatines, Barnabites and Jesuits, some of which became the great missionary orders of later years. Spiritual renewal and reform were inspired by many new saints like Teresa of Avila, Francis de Sales and Philip Neri whose writings spawned distinct schools of spirituality within the Church (Oratorians, Carmelites, Salesian), etc. Improvement to the education of the laity was another positive effect of the era, with a proliferation of secondary schools reinvigorating higher studies such as history, philosophy and theology. To popularize Counter-Reformation teachings, the Church encouraged the Baroque style in art, music and architecture. Baroque religious expression was stirring and emotional, created to stimulate religious fervor.

Elsewhere, Jesuit missionary Francis Xavier introduced Christianity to Japanmarker, and by the end of the 16th century tens of thousands of Japanese followed Roman Catholicism. Church growth came to a halt in 1597 under the Shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu who, in an effort to isolate the country from foreign influences, launched a severe persecution of Christians. Japanese were forbidden to leave the country and Europeans were forbidden to enter. Despite this, a minority Christian population survived into the 19th century.

Baroque, Enlightenment and revolutions

The Council of Trent generated a revival of religious life and Marian devotions in the Roman Catholic Church. During the Reformation, the Church had defended its Marian beliefs against Protestant views. At the same time, the Catholic world was engaged in ongoing Ottoman Wars in Europe against Turkeymarker which were fought and won under the auspices of the Virgin Mary. The victory at Battle of Lepanto marker was accredited to her “and signified the beginning of a strong resurgence of Marian devotions, focusing especially on Mary, the Queen of Heaven and Earth and her powerful role as mediatrix of many graces”. The Colloquium Marianum, a elite group, and the Sodality of Our Lady based their activities on a virtuous life, free of cardinal sin.

Pope Paul V and Gregory XV ruled in 1617 and 1622 to be inadmissible to state, that he virgin was conceived non-immaculate. Alexander VII declared in 1661, that the soul of Mary was free from original sin. Pope Clement XI ordered the feast of the Immaculata for the whole Church in 1708. The feast of the Rosary was introduced in 1716, the feast of the Seven Sorrows in 1727. The Angelus prayer was strongly supported by Pope Benedict XIII in 1724 and by Pope Benedict XIV in 1742. Popular Marian piety was even more colourful and varied than ever before: Numerous Marian pilgrimages, Marian Salve devotion, new Marian litanies, Marian theatre plays, Marian hymns, Marian processions. Marian fraternities, today mostly defunct, had millions of members.

The Enlightenment constituted a new challenge of the Church. Unlike the Protestant Reformation, which questioned certain Christian doctrines, the enlightenment questioned Christianity as a whole. Generally, it elevated human reason above divine revelation and down-graded religious authorities such as the papacy based on it. Politically the Ottoman Empire continued as a major threat, advancing all the way to the city of Viennamarker. Parallel the Church attempted to fend of Gallicanism and Councilarism, ideologies which threatened the papacy and structure of the Church.

Toward the latter part of the 17th century, Blessed Pope Innocent XI viewed the increasing Turkish attacks against Europe, which were supported by France, as the major threat for the Church. He built a Polishmarker-Austrianmarker coalition for the Turkish defeat at Vienna in 1683. Scholars have called him a saintly pope because he reformed abuses by the Church, including simony, nepotism and the lavish papal expenditures that had caused him to inherit a papal debt of 50,000,000 scudi. By eliminating certain honorary posts and introducing new fiscal policies, Innocent XI was able to regain control of the church's finances . In France, the Church battled Jansenism and Gallicanism, which supported Councilarism, and rejected papal primacy, demanding special concessions for the Church in France. This weakened the Church's ability to respond to gallicanist thinkers such as Denis Diderot, who challenged fundamental doctrines of the Church.

In 1685 gallicanist King Louis XIV of France issued the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, ending a century of religious toleration.. France forced Catholic theologians to support councilarism and deny Papal infallibility. The king threatened Pope Innocent XI with a general council and a military take-over of the Papal state. The absolute French State used Gallicanism to gain control of virtually all major Church appointments as well as many of the Church's properties. State authority over the Church became popular in other countries as well. In Belgium and Germany, Gallicanism appeared in the form of Febronianism, which rejected papal pregoratives in an equal fashion. Emperor Joseph II of Austria (1780-1790) practiced Josephinism by regulating Church life, appointments and massive confiscation of Church properties.

Church in America

In the Americas, the Church expanded its missions but, until the 19th century, had to work under the Spanishmarker and Portuguesemarker governments and military. Junípero Serra, the Franciscan priest in charge of this effort, founded a series of missions which became important economic, political, and religious institutions. These missions brought grain, cattle and a new way of living to the Indian tribes of California. Overland routes were established from New Mexico that resulted in the colonization of San Franciscomarker in 1776 and Los Angelesmarker in 1781. However, by bringing Western civilization to the area, these missions and the Spanish government have been held responsible for wiping out nearly a third of the native population, primarily through disease. Only in the 19th century, after the breakdown of most Spanish and Portuguese colonies, was the Vatican able to take charge of Catholic missionary activities through its Propaganda Fide organization.

During this period the Church faced colonial abuses from the Portuguese and Spanish governments. In South America, the Jesuits protected native peoples from enslavement by establishing semi-independent settlements called reductions. Pope Gregory XVI, challenging Spanish and Portuguese sovereignty, appointed his own candidates as bishops in the colonies, condemned slavery and the slave trade in 1839 (papal bull In Supremo Apostolatus), and approved the ordination of native clergy in spite of government racism.

India and China

See also Chinese Rites controversy

India has a tradition that St. Thomas sailed there to spread the Christian faith. He is said to have landed at a small village, at that time a port, named Palayoor, near Guruvayoor, which was a priestly community at that time. He left Palayoor in AD 52 for southern Kerala State, where he established the Ezharappallikal, or "Seven and Half Churches". These churches are at Kodungallur, Kollam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kokkamangalam, Kottakkayal (Paravoor), Palayoor (Chattukulangara) and Thiruvithamcode Arappally(Travancore) - the half church.

Francis Xavier (1502-1552) had begun to introduce Christianity to Indiamarker. Roberto de Nobili (1577-1656), a Tuscan Jesuit missionary to Southern Indiamarker followed in his path. He pioneered (inculturation), adopting many Brahmin customs which were not, in his opinion, contrary to Christianity. He lived like a Brahmin, learned Sanskrit, and presented Christianity as a part of Indian beliefs, not identical with the controversial Portuguesemarker culture of the colonialists. He permitted the use of all customs, which in his view did not directly contradict Christian teachings. By 1640 there were 40 000 Christians in Maduramarker alone. In 1632, Pope Gregory XV gave permission for this approach. But strong anti-Jesuit sentiments in Portugal, France even in Rome resulted in a reversal, which signalled the end of the successful Catholic missions in India. On September 12, 1744, Benedict XIV forbade the so called Malabar rites in India, with the result, that leading Indian casts who wanted to adhere to their traditional cultures, turned away from the Catholic Church. . Christianity started in the southern part of India from A.D 52 onwards, when St. Thomas came to India.

The Jesuit Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) Adam Schall von Bell and other Jesuits had successfully introduced Christianity to China via inculturation. Ricci and Schall were appointed by the Chinese Emperor in Peking to be court mathematicians court astronomer and even Mandarin. The first Catholic Church was built in Peking in 1650 The emperor granted freedom of religion to Catholics. Ricci had adopted the Catholic faith to Chinese thinking, permitting among others the veneration of the dead. The Vaticanmarker disagreed and forbade any adaptation in the so-called Chinese Rites controversy in 1692 and 1742. The Bull Ex Quo Singulari of Pope Benedict XIV from July 11, 1742 repeated verbatim the bull of Clement XI and stressed the purity of Christian teachings and traditions, which must be uphold against all heresies. This bull virtually destroyed the Jesuit goal , to Christianize the influential upper classes in China.The Vatican policy was the death of the missions in China. Afterwards The Church experienced missionary setbacks in 1721 when the Chinese Rites controversy led the Kangxi Emperor to outlaw Christian missions. . The Chinese emperor felt duped and refused to permit any alteration of the existing Christian practices. He told the visiting papal delegate:
  • You destroyed your religion. You put in misery all Europeans living here in China. You desecrated the honour of all those, who died long ago.

In 1939 Pope Pius XII, within weeks of his coronation, radically reverted the 250 year old Vatican policy and permitted the veneration of dead family members. The Church began to flourish again with twenty new arch-dioceses, seventy-nine dioceses and thirty-eight apostolic prefects, but only until 1949, when the Communist revolution took over the country.


Throughout the inculturation controversy, the very existence of Jesuits were under attack in Portugalmarker, Spainmarker,Francemarker, and the Kingdom of Sicily. The inculturation controversy and the Jesuit support for the native Indians in Brazilmarker, Paraguaymarker and Argentinamarker added fuel to growing criticism of the order, which seemed to symbolize the strength and independence of the Church. Defending the rights of native peoples in South America, hindered the efforts of European powers, espcecially Spainmarker and Portugalmarker to maintain absolute rule over their domains. Portugal's Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, Marquis of Pombal was the main enemy of the Jesuits. Pope Benedict XIV attempted to keep the Jesuits in existence without any changes: Sint ut sunt aut not sint, They must be the way they are or they will not be,. He went far to mollify Portuguese pride, even allowing the local Cardinal to wear a papal tiara and have his seminarians dressed like cardinals In 1773, European rulers united to force Pope Clement XIV to dissolve the order. Several decades later Pius VII restored the Jesuits in the 1814 papal bull Sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum.

French Revolution

The anti-clericalism of the French Revolution. saw direct attacks on the wealth of the Church and associated grievances led to the wholesale nationalisation of church property and attempts to establish a state-run church. Large numbers of priests refused to take an oath of compliance to the National Assembly, leading to the Church being outlawed and replaced by a new religion of the worship of "Reason". In this period, all monasteries were destroyed, 30,000 priests were exiled and hundreds more were killed.When Pope Pius VI sided against the revolution in the First Coalition, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy. The 82 year old pope was taken as a prisoner to France in February 1799 and died in Valencemarker August 29 1799 after six months of captivity. To win popular support for his rule, Napoleon re-established the Catholic Church in France through the Concordat of 1801. All over Europe, the end of the Napoleonic wars signaled by the Congress of Vienna, brought Catholic revival, renewed enthusiasm, and new respect for the papacy following the depredations of the previous era.

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By the close of the 19th century, new technologies and superior weaponry had allowed European powers to gain control of most of the African interior. The new rulers introduced a cash economy which required African people to become literate, and so created a great demand for schools. At the time, the only possibility open to Africans for a western education was through Christian missionaries. Catholic missionaries followed colonial governments into Africa, and built schools, monasteries and churches.

Industrial age

First Vatican Council

Before the council, in 1854 Pope Pius IX with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic Bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.> Eight years earlier, in 1846, the Pope had granted the unanimous wish of the bishops from the United States, and declared the Immaculata the patron of the USA.

During First Vatican Council, some 108 council fathers requested to add the words “Immaculate Virgin” to the Hail Mary. Some fathers requested, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception to be included in the Creed of the Church, which was opposed by Pius IXMany Frenchmarker Catholics wished the dogmatization of Papal infallibility and the assumption of Mary by the ecumenical council. During Vatican One, nine mariological petitions favoured a possible assumption dogma, which however was strongly opposed by some council fathers, especially from Germanymarker. In 1870, the First Vatican Council affirmed the doctrine of papal infallibility when exercised in specifically defined pronouncements. Controversy over this and other issues resulted in a very small breakaway movement called the Old Catholic Church.

Social teachings

The Industrial Revolution brought many concerns about the deteriorating working and living conditions of urban workers. Influenced by the German Bishop Wilhelm Emmanuel Freiherr von Ketteler, in 1891 Pope Leo XIII published the encyclical Rerum Novarum, which set in context Catholic social teaching in terms that rejected socialism but advocated the regulation of working conditions. Rerum Novarum argued for the establishment of a living wage and the right of workers to form trade unions.

Quadragesimo Anno was issued by Pope Pius XI, on 15 May 1931, 40 years after Rerum Novarum. Unlike Leo, who addressed the mainly condition of workers, Pius XI concentrated on the ethical implications of the social and economic order. He called for the reconstruction of the social order based on the principle of solidarity and subsidiarity. He noted major dangers for human freedom and dignity, arising from unrestrained capitalism and totalitarian communism.

The social teachings of Pope Pius XII repeat these teachings, and apply them in greater detail not only to workers and owners of capital, but also to other professions such as politicians,educators, house-wives, farmers bookkeepers, international organizations, and all aspects of life including the military. Going beyond Pius XI, he also defined social teachings in the areas of medicine, psychology, sport, TV,science, law and education. There is virtually no social issue, which Pius XII did not address and relate to the Christian faith. He was called "the Pope of Technology, for his willingness and ability to examine the social implications of technological advances. The dominant concern was the continued rights and dignity of the individual. With the beginning of the space age at the end of his pontificate, Pius XII explored the social implications of space exploration and satellites on the social fabric of humanity asking for a new sense of community and solidarity in light of existing papal teachings on subsidiarity.


Popes have always highlighted the inner link between the Virgin Mary as Mother of God and the full acceptance of Jesus Christ as Son of God.Since the 19th century, they were highly important for the development of mariology to explain the veneration of Mary through their decisions not only in the area of Marian beliefs (Mariology) but also Marian practices and devotions. Before the 19th century, Popes promulgated Marian veneration by authorizing new Marian feast days, prayers, initiatives, the acceptance and support of Marian congregations. Since the 19th century, Popes begin to use encyclicals more frequently. Thus Leo XIII, the Rosary Pope issued eleven Marian encyclicals. Recent Popes promulgated the veneration of the Blessed Virgin with two dogmas, Pius IX the Immaculate Conception in 1854 and the Assumption of Mary in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. Pius XII also promulgated the new feast Queenship of Mary celebrating Mary as Queen of Heaven and he introduced the first ever Marian year in 1954, a second one was proclaimed by John Paul II. Pius IX, Pius XI and Pius XII facilitated the veneration of Marian apparitions such as in Lourdesmarker and Fátimamarker. Later Popes such from John XXIII to Benedict XVI promoted the visit to Marian shrines (Benedict XVI in 2007 and 2008). The Second Vatican Council highlighted the importance of Marian veneration in Lumen Gentium. During the Council, Paul VI proclaimed Mary to be the Mother of the Church.

Anti-Clericalism and persecutions

In Latin America, a succession of anti-clerical regimes came to power beginning in the 1830s. The confiscation of Church properties and restrictions on people's religious freedoms generally accompanied secularist, and later, Marxist-leaning, governmental reforms. One such regime emerged in Mexico in 1860. Church properties were confiscated and basic civil and political rights were denied to religious orders and the clergy. More severe laws called Calles Law during the rule of atheist Plutarco Elías Calles eventually led to the "worst guerilla war in Latin American History", the Cristero War. Between 1926 and 1934, over 3,000 priests were exiled or assassinated. In an effort to prove that "God would not defend the Church", Calles ordered "hideous desecration of churches ... there were parodies of (church) services, nuns were raped and any priests captured ... were shot ...". Calles was eventually deposed and despite the persecution, the Church in Mexico continued to grow. A 2000 census reported that 88 percent of Mexicans identify as Catholic.

In 1954, under the regime of General Juan Perón, Argentina saw extensive destruction of churches, denunciations of clergy and confiscation of Catholic schools as Perón attempted to extend state control over national institutions. Cuba, under atheist Fidel Castro, succeeded in reducing the Church's ability to work by deporting the archbishop and 150 Spanish priests, discriminating against Catholics in public life and education and refusing to accept them as members of the Communist Party. The subsequent flight of 300,000 people from the island also helped to diminish the Church there.

Persecution of the Catholic Church took place in the 20th century in Mexicomarker, Spainmarker and the Soviet Unionmarker. Pius XI called this the Terrible Triangle The " harsh persecution short of total annihilation of the clergy, monks, and nuns and other people associated with the Church, , began in 1918 and continued well into the Thirties. The Civil War in Spainmarker started in 1936, during which thousands of churches were destroyed, thirteen bishops and some 6,832 clergy and religious Spaniards were assassinated. .After the massive Church persecutions in Mexicomarker, Spain and the Soviet Unionmarker, Pius XI defined communism as the main adversary of the Catholic Church in his encyclical Divini Redemptoris issued on March 19, 1937. He blamed Western powers and media for a conspiracy of silence on the persecutions carried out by Communist, Socialist and Fascist forces.

World War II

On 20 July 1933, the Vatican signed the Reichskonkordat with Nazi Germany, partly in an attempt to protect the Church from persecution which had already begun in Bavaria. When this agreement failed to do so, Pope Pius XI issued the 1937 encyclical Mit brennender Sorge. Drafted by the future Pope Pius XII and read from the pulpits of all German Catholic churches, it condemned Nazi ideology and has been characterized by some scholars as the "first great official public document to dare to confront and criticize Nazism" and "one of the greatest such condemnations ever issued by the Vatican." The "infuriated" Nazis retaliated by initiating a "long series" of persecution of Catholic clergy and other measures. Pius XI later warned a group of pilgrims that antisemitism is incompatible with Christianity. When Dutch bishops protested against the wartime deportation of Jews, the Nazis responded by increasing deportations rounding up 92 converts including Edith Stein who were then deported and murdered. "The brutality of the retaliation made an enormous impression on Pius XII." In Poland, the Nazis murdered over 2,500 monks and priests and even more were imprisoned. In the Soviet Union an even more severe persecution occurred. After the war, historians such as David Kertzer accused the Church of encouraging centuries of antisemitism, and Pope Pius XII of not doing enough to stop Nazi atrocities. Prominent members of the Jewish community contradicted the criticisms of Pius and spoke highly of his efforts to protect Jews; The Israeli historian Pinchas Lapide interviewed war survivors and concluded that Pius XII "was instrumental in saving at least 700,000, but probably as many as 860,000 Jews from certain death at Nazi hands". Some historians dispute this estimate while others consider Pinchas Lapide's work to be "the definitive work by a Jewish scholar" on the holocaust. Even so, in 2000 Pope John Paul II on behalf of all people, apologized to Jews for causing "the children of God to suffer". This papal apology, one of many issued by Pope John Paul II for past human and Church failings throughout history, was especially significant because John Paul II emphasized Church guilt for, and the Second Vatican Council's condemnation of, anti-Semitism. The papal letter We Remember: A Reflection on the Shoah, urged Catholics to repent "of past errors and infidelities" and "renew the awareness of the Hebrew roots of their faith."

Post-Industrial age

Second Vatican Council

The Catholic Church engaged in a comprehensive process of reform following the Second Vatican Council (1962–65). Intended as a continuation of Vatican I, under Pope John XXIII the council developed into an engine of modernisation. It was tasked with making the historical teachings of the Church clear to a modern world, and made pronouncements on topics including the nature of the church, the mission of the laity and religious freedom. The council approved a revision of the liturgy and permitted the Latin liturgical rites to use vernacular languages as well as Latin during mass and other sacraments. Efforts by the Church to improve Christian unity became a priority. In addition to finding common ground on certain issues with Protestant churches, the Catholic Church has discussed the possibility of unity with the Eastern Orthodox Church.


Changes to old rites and ceremonies following Vatican II produced a variety of responses. Some stopped going to church, while others tried to preserve the old liturgy with the help of sympathetic priests. These formed the basis of today's Traditionalist Catholic groups, which believe that the reforms of Vatican II have gone too far. Liberal Catholics form another dissenting group who feel that the Vatican II reforms did not go far enough. The liberal views of theologians such as Hans Küng and Charles Curran, led to Church withdrawal of their authorization to teach as Catholics. According to Professor Thomas Bokenkotter, most Catholics "accepted the changes more or less gracefully." In 2007, Benedict XVI reinstated the old mass as an option, to be celebrated upon request by the faithful.

A new Codex Juris Canonici - Canon Law called for by John XXIII, was promulgated by Pope John Paul II on January 25, 1983. It includes numerous reforms and alterations in Church law and Church discipline for the Latin Church. It replaced the 1917 version issued by Benedict XV.



Liberation theology

In the 1960s, growing social awareness and politicization in the Latin American Church gave birth to liberation theology. The Peruvian priest, Gustavo Gutiérrez, became it primary proponent and, in 1979, the bishops' conference in Mexico officially declared the Latin American Church's "preferential option for the poor". Archbishop Óscar Romero, a supporter of the movement, became the region's most famous contemporary martyr in 1980, when he was murdered while saying mass by forces allied with the government. Both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) denounced the movement. The Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff was twice ordered to cease publishing and teaching. While Pope John Paul II was criticized for his severity in dealing with proponents of the movement, he maintained that the Church, in its efforts to champion the poor, should not do so by resorting to violence or partisan politics. The movement is still alive in Latin America today, though the Church now faces the challenge of Pentecostal revival in much of the region.

Sexuality and gender issues

The sexual revolution of the 1960s brought challenging issues for the Church. Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae reaffirmed the Catholic Church's traditional view of marriage and marital relations and asserted a continued proscription of artificial birth control. In addition, the encyclical reaffirmed the sanctity of life from conception to natural death and asserted a continued condemnation of both abortion and euthanasia as grave sins which were equivalent to murder.

Efforts to lead the Church to consider the ordination of women led Pope John Paul II to issue two documents to explain Church teaching. Mulieris Dignitatem was issued in 1988 to clarify women's equally important and complementary role in the work of the Church. Then in 1994, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis explained that the Church extends ordination only to men in order to follow the example of Jesus, who chose only men for this specific duty.

Catholic Sex Abuse Scandal

Major lawsuits emerged in 2001 claiming that priests had sexually abused minors. Some priests resigned, others were defrocked and jailed, and there were financial settlements with many victims. In the US, where the vast majority of sex abuse cases occurred, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissioned a comprehensive study that found that four percent of all priests who served in the US from 1950 to 2002 had faced some sort of accusation of sexual misconduct.

Catholicism today

Benedict XVI

With the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005, the Church has so far seen largely a continuation of the policies of his predecessor, John Paul II, with some notable exceptions: Benedict decentralized beatifications and reverted the decision of his predecessor regarding papal elections. In 2007, he set a Church record by approving the beatification of 498 Spanish Martyrs. His first encyclical Deus Caritas Est discussed love and sex in continued opposition to several other views on sexuality.

Roman Catholic attempts to improve ecumenical relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches have been complicated by disputes over both doctrine and the recent history of the Orthodox Eastern Catholic Churches, involving the return of expropriatiated properties of the Eastern Catholic Churches, which the Orthodox Church took over after World War II at the request of Josef Stalin.

See also





  • (quoted as Franzen)
  • (quoted as Franzen, Papstgeschichte)

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