A brief history of the Roman Catholic Church (200 AD to 2005 AD).

by James K. Sayre

20 April 2005

From 200 AD to 380 AD, the Christian religion and the Roman Catholic Church formed and grew with the confines of the old Roman Empire.

In 380 AD, Emperor Theodosius proclaimed Christianity to be the state religion of the Roman Empire.

About 400 AD, the newly Christianized Roman Empire was divided into thirteen dioceses: the Diocese of Rome (southern Italy), the Diocese of Italy (northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria and northern Yugoslavia), the Diocese of Gaul (France), the Diocese of Britain, the Diocese of Spain, the Diocese of Africa (northern coastal Africa), the Diocese of Egypt, the Diocese of the East (Palestine, Lebanon and Syria), the Diocese of Asia (southwestern Turkey), the Diocese of Pontus (the rest of Turkey), the Diocese of Thrace (Bulgaria), the Diocese of Macedonia (Greece) and the Diocese of Dacia (Yugoslavia and Hungary) (note: approximate modern countries in brackets).

The Eastern Orthodox Church:

In 1054 AD, the eastern part of the Roman Catholic Church broke away to form the Eastern Orthodox Church. It has branches in what is now Greece, Egypt, Russia, Serbia, Rumania and Bulgaria.

The Inquisition:

From 1231 AD to 1233 AD (exact date depending on source), Roman Catholic Church Pope Gregory IX assigned to the Dominicans the responsibility for fighting heresy. Torture was first used by the Dominicans in fighting heresy in 1252.

In 1478 in Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1492 in Spain, Christians (Catholics) wrested control of Grenada, the last Moslem stronghold and completed their takeover of the Iberian peninsula. In 1492, Tourquemada, the Grand Inquisitor, forced all the Jews in Spain to convert to Catholicism or to leave the country. In 1499, Spanish Moors were forcibly converted to Catholicism. In 1502, the Catholics expelled all remaining Moslems from Spain.

In 1531, the Catholic Inquisition was established in Portugal.

In 1543, unrepentant Protestant Christians were first burned at the stake by the Spanish Inquisition.

In 1600, the Roman Catholic Church condemned Giordano Bruno to be burned at the stake as a heretic.

In 1834, the Spanish Inquisition was abolished.

The Protestant Reformation:

In 1517 AD, the Protestant Reformation began in earnest, with the breakaway of Protestant sects (including Lutherans, Presbyterians and Anglicans) from control by the Catholic Church.

The Papal States:

By 1859, the direct rule of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church had been reduced to the several small Papal States, located in the middle of Italy. These had a total area of between 16,000 and 17,000 square millions and had a population of about three million people. During the turbulent 1860s, the Italian peninsula underwent revolution, reform, modernization and finally unification into the new Italian Kingdom. By 1870, the area controlled by the Pope and his Roman Catholic Church had been reduced 99.999% to 0.17 square miles of the Vatican City.

Vatican City:

The Vatican now only controls Vatican City (Stato della Citta Vaticano), a small enclave with a population of about one thousand and occupying an area of only 108.7 acres (44 hectares) or 0.17 square miles within the city of Rome in Italy. Vatican City is located on the west bank of the Tiber River and is considered by many to be the smallest independent nation in the world. It is an absolute monarchy, run by the Pope. Latin is the official language, although Italian is widely spoken. Security is provided by seventy-five Swiss guards.

Cordial relations between the Pope and three European tyrants: Mussolini, Hitler and Franco.

Cordial relations existed between the Pope, the Roman Catholic Church and three major 20th century tyrannies in Europe: Italy (Mussolini: 1923-1945), Germany (Hitler: 1933-1945) and Spain (Franco: 1939-1975).


Bunner, Borngna, Editor, 1998 Information Please Almanac. (Boston: Information Please, 1997).

Bunner, Borgna, Editor-in-Chief, Time Almanac 2002 with Information Please. (Boston: Information Please, 2001).

Encyclopedia Britannica. (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1964).

Hunter, Brian, Editor, The Statesman's Year Book, 1995-1996, 132nd Edition. (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995).

Palmer, R. R., Rand McNally Atlas of World History. (New York: Rand McNally & Company, 1962).

Reader's Digest 1987 Almanac. (Pleasantville, New York: The Reader's Digest Association, 1986).

The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 1996. (Mahwah, New Jersey: World Almanac Books, 1995).






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Web page last updated on 20 April 2005.