Did Peter & Paul Start the Catholic Church?

by Brian E. Frydenborg, studioD

In a word, no. The Catholic Church was not founded by any one person or any two people. Instead, its foundation was a process that lasted centuries and does not have any firm single date for its founding. Below, read about the role of Peter, Paul, Constantine and the overall process of the Catholic Church's foundation.


Though Jesus, in the eyes of Catholics, delegates Peter as the leader of his apostles and the future church in Matthew 16:18, a large organization with a clear head in the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, that espoused the theology that is the core of today's Catholic Church was most certainly not founded by him. However, he was one of the main leaders of the Christian movement after Jesus's death and tradition holds that he was the first Bishop of Rome.


Paul may have had even more influence among contemporary Christians than did Peter, and he certainly brought Christianity more converts than Peter. Paul's writings have become a core of the Christian New Testament and as such, they have influenced Christians for close to 2,000 years. Much of what has become Christian theology originated not with Jesus, but with Paul, through his writings. And it was Paul who removed the requirements, against Peter's will, that Christians observe Jewish dietary laws and practice circumcision.


From Peter and Paul's time onwards, those who followed the various teachings of Jesus transmitted from various sources encompassed a wide range of disparate and often incompatible beliefs, structures and leaders. By the time Roman Emperor Constantine brought Christianity under the protection of the Roman state, Christians had been fighting over theology so often and in so destabilizing and violent a manner that Constantine sought to impose a unified theology at the Council of Nicaea by forcing the adoption of the Nicene Creed in 325, nearly 300 years after Jesus's death. Though it was largely ignored initially, in 381 the Roman Emperor Theodosius made the Nicene Creed the official core of Christianity, although disputes would rage on for some time even after this development. The Nicene Creed outlined a core theological set of beliefs, defining God the Father, Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit as a Holy Trinity of God as one being, a creation as stemming from God the Father, that Jesus the Son will return for judgement and that there is one Catholic Church. Essentially, as accepted today, it unites all Catholics in a common faith as a profession of core beliefs.


It took many centuries for Rome to be considered the administrative and spiritual center of what would become the Catholic Church. Eventually, the Bishops of Rome began to assert themselves as the leaders of an emerging institutional organization, but very few other Bishops did anything other than pay them lip service. There were very few Christians in Rome until late in the Western Roman Empire's history, and it was only with collapse of Roman Imperial rule in the West and the capture of the vibrant Christian communities in North Africa, Egypt and the Middle East by barbarian tribes and later Muslims that a Catholic Church with a powerful Pope leading it was seen as the leader of Christianity in the West.

About the Author

Brian E. Frydenborg lives in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. He received his Master of Science in peace operations from George Mason University's School of Public Policy in 2011. Frydenborg also holds a double major Bachelor of Arts in history and politics from Washington and Lee University.

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