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Popes Influence Throughout the 1500’s-21st Century

History of the Roman Catholic Church

Christianity existed before the 1054 schism with most Christians living within the boundaries of the Roman Empire. Later on, the Roman Empire drifted into two parts: the Eastern and the Western. Expansions took place in the Roman Empire which drifted the western and Eastern Church further apart. This continued over centuries until the early 18th century when disputes started between the two churches.

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The renaissance was born in late 15th century and early 16th century. It was a time of change and unearthing the spiritual, political, and societal aspects. According to Simonis (129), “For over the last 1600 years, the pope has been the head of the Roman Catholic Church”. He is also referred to as the Bishop of Rome. The Eastern churches rejected the pope’s leadership and theology. Abuses began in church and were more prevalent when Pope Alexander VI was elected to reign from the year 1492.

Pope Alexander VI

At the beginning of the 16th century innocent III died and Rodrigo Borja was elected to replace him. Borja adopted the name Pope Alexander VI. He was born in Spain by his father Lanzol. He ushered the church into the 16th century. He was given the post of the vice-chancellor and the cardinal of the church when he was only 24 years old. He was a wealthy man and had bribed in order to win the elections. The splinter groups were not happy with his action. In fact, eleven other cardinals had actually sold their votes to him and the church supported the idea. Having originated from Spain increased his chances of being elected since the cardinals did not want to elect a Frenchman for another term (Anon. 2).

People really wondered if Alexander VI was a Christian or he was just pretending. He has a history of being one of the notorious Popes that has brought embarrassment to the present church. He had many illegitimate children among them his twelve bastard children and several mistresses. “Alexander VI was a sexual pervert, and lurid stories were bandied about him by the intellectual underworld of Rome” (Anon 4). He actually had sex with his daughter Lucrezia and fathered children with her. Pope Alexander VI encouraged other immoralities such as sodomy of children and homosexuality. He even promoted burning of innocent individuals in Europe under false charges.

Cesare was Alexander’s son who was much favored than his other sons. He was taken to cardinal college at the age of seven and was made a bishop. At the age of 18, Cesare was elevated to command the Vatican military (Anon 4). Unlike his father, Cesare grew to be an influential and understanding intellect.

Pope Alexander VI issued a verdict barring the printing of Christian religion books; they could only be printed under his permission or the archbishop’s consent. This marked the beginning of the restraint on the printing of Christian books which was later recognized as a Vatican policy. This was maintained by the church all through to the 20th century. In the midst of all these abuses in the church, there were some active movements. However, the volume of abuse was so high that it led to economic depression. In the period 1510 to 1520 Martin Luther King was not contented with what was happening in the church and began to protest. In 1521, he was excommunicated from church and started the protestant restoration.

After Alexander VI, Julius II was elected as Pope for the period 1503-1513. During his reign, papacy rose into prestige. He was succeeded by Pope Pius who reigned for the period 1775 to 1799. During his reign, some significant changes were experienced in the cardinals’ college. These had been brought about by the famous clerics who were responsible for electing Pope and acting as his advisers or principal administrators. By that time, the cardinals were powerful men who acted as heads of bureaucracies and as defenders of the nations’ interest, religious commands and factions. The number of the cardinals increased which resulted in reduction of their powers although they managed to maintain their wealth and social status. The modern popes tried to claim power over the bishops at the same time giving in to the secular leaders as a way of influencing them to participate in their elections.

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Popes in the 20th century

The 20th century protestant movement’s intention and that of the theologians’ of the Roman Catholic have been taken away by “the problem of transcendence and immanence”. This is the century where new school of thought of the catholic movement emerged. The school is known as modernism. The bible received numerous critics, questions about the church were raised which called for modernization of the Roman Catholic Church. This was not easy since the catholic modernization received opposition from integralism. Integralism upheld moral and cultural values of the traditional church and responded negatively towards modernization. Several popes supported modernization but there were some who were opposed to it. There were a total of nine Popes in the 20th century but I will look at the ones which were most influential.

Pope Leo XIII

Pope Leo XIII reigned for the period 1878 to 1903. He guided the Roman church into the 20th century. By the time he started his tenure, the modern church was in an abused and confused state. He embarked on a mission of reforming the church into a modern world with modern way of life. His first move was to open the Vatican archives to the outside intellectuals (Cline 4). He also worked to support the employees’ right and egalitarian reforms. Leo issued the encyclical letter which was to support the workers rights and people living below the poverty line. The Encyclical letter was known as the Humanum Genus. According to his letter, the human race had departed from God their maker and giver of all things. They had divided themselves into two groups. One supported Christianity and lived according to its doctrines of truth and justice while the other group was in opposition; it followed Satan leadership (Wright 180). Leo saw the first group as being the church which represented the kingdom of God on earth while the second group had rebelled against God and had chosen to serve Satan.

Leo was trying to create harmony between the two groups and to instill good virtues in them. He had recognized that there was a supreme being called God who was the creator and provider of all things. He believed that human beings were supposed to honor and serve God and respect their fellow beings. His mission was to preach to the global catholic churches. What he did had a significant impact to the church since most of the followers shunned from their immoralities and embraced the word of God. They supported Pope Leo in preaching the good gospel. This was a clear illustration of what is happening today. We have two groups which are frequently fighting one another and have refused to change. Leo succeeds in restoring peace among the Christians and instilled modernity in the Roman Catholic Church (Wright 181). He opened the Vatican Secret Archives to be used by the qualified researchers such as Ludwig von Pastor who was a historian of the papacy. He managed to take the church back to the European way of life and improved its relationship with Russia, Germany, England, France, among other countries. In 1896, several agreements were made and better conditions emerged out of them. A construction of a hospice was made inside the Vatican under Leo’s command although it was demolished in 1996 to pave way for the construction of Domus Santae Marthae.

His predecessor Pius IX had already started the fight for independence of the Vatican which was held captive by the kingdom of Italy. Leo continued with these efforts. He was not able to do much because he had lost interest in the political and temporal matters and concentrated on church modernization. Leaders all over the world regarded him as a natural observer. In the church, he was all set in uniting the Christians to the point that he created 248 new Episcopal.

Pope Pius X

Pope Leo XIII was followed by pope Pius X who reigned for eleven years. He was an anti-modern pope who used the power from the church to maintain traditional values which were against modernity and laissez-faire. Unlike Pope Leo, pope Pius was against democratic movements and put spies who could inform him of the priest activities. He did not see any sense in modernity but saw it as a secular movement. All of Leo efforts were in vain because he was not supported by his processor. Pius actually took the Catholics backward from where Leo had worked relentlessly to deliver them. He upheld the tradition teaching and totally disagreed with modernization. This was a negative approach towards the growth of the Roman Catholic Church and it experienced some stagnation in its global growth. After Pius, Pope Benedict XV ruled for only 8 years. His efforts were aimed at reuniting the Catholic families which had gone astray. The major change that was caused by Pius X was the printing of the “Ordinary”. It was a separate section of the Psalter. The “ordinary” was to be recited every day. It was in form hymns, blessings, chapters, the Lord’s Prayer and suffrages. The book of psalms was rearranged and divided into equal number of verses which would be recited in a day. The aim of doing this was to restore the use of the liturgy. The reading of the bible became easier and the followers would recite a whole chapter of psalms.

Pope Pius XII

He reigned during the Second World War II in the period 1939-1958. This was the time when there was a Holocaust in Europe where majority of the Jews were killed by the Germans. Nazis came into power in 1933 in the country of Germany (Goldberg 49). They perceived the Germans to be racially superior and the Jews to be inferior. This resulted in threats in the foreign communities, which was known as the German racial community. During this period, other groups which were also perceived to be racially inferior as the Jews were also attacked by the Germans. Germans persecuted the Jews and the other inferior communities on grounds of politics, behaviors, and ideology. After the Holocaust, a large number of the Jewish survivors were provided with shelter in displaced persons (DP) camps which were managed by united powers (Goldberg 19). About seven hundred thousand of the survivors migrated to Israel with others migrating to the United States and other nations. The holocaust saw most of the Jewish communities return to their ancestral land in Israel after being eliminated from Europe. Despite the fact that the surviving Jews managed to return to the land Israel, Pope did not do much to help them. All he did was give a sermon on December 1942. In the sermon, he talked about maintaining peace among the different races that were living together. He emphasized that, there was no need to discriminate people either on race, ethnic or religious grounds. He saw that all beings were equal in the eyes of God and thus people should live in harmony as God’s children. Many critics wondered whether Pius sermon was directed towards protecting the Jews but even if it was, that was not enough to protect the Jews from the Nazi Germans (Roth & Rittner 300). People perceived him as one of the most problematic leaders who did not lay good foundations for Christianity. Many scholars were left wondering what would happen after the Holocaust especially in defining the Jews and Christian religions.

Pope John XXIII

After the reign of pope Pius XII, was John XXIII elected. He is one of the best popes that have had a great impact in the global modern church. He was old and the cardinals did not expect him to do much; he was expected to be a caretaker of the church. Pope John XXIII set on a mission of reforming the church and could stop at nothing else. He organized the Second Vatican council; a new council in the Roman church. This happened during a meeting which brought about many changes in the life of the Roman Church. In the period 1962-1965, the council met in Rome and out of the meeting, considerable changes were produced in church. The windows of the church were opened which let in fresh breezes of world modernity. The second Vatican council opened the gates for the Roman Catholics which we know today. There were two theologians who were really influential in the Vatican council; Karl Rahner and Hans Kung. Kung was familiar with the Catholic theology and was able to produce a modern interpretation of the Catholic faith. On the other hand, Rahner was not as old as Kung in theology. Nevertheless he continued advocating for change in the Catholic Church although he was more conservative than Kung.

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They both had one goal of bringing modernity in church. They worked with other theology leaders and brought changes in American and European Catholic theology. Their efforts were however curtailed when Pope VI was elected. A conservative reaction set in which become intense and powerful under Pope John Paul II rule. It became worse when John Paul II appointed Karl Ratzinger to be head of the church in Rome. Ratzinger was a conservative reformer and through him the Roman church acquired a new inquest (Grenz & Olson. 138)

John XXIII was in the pioneering group that recognized the Catholic Television Network of America (CTNA) intended for use by the bishops in the United States. John XXIII had a heart that was admired by many. He shaped the theology of the Christians and diverted the direction which the church had taken (Grenz & Olson. 141) He had a unique life that is still fresh in the minds of many Catholics. He was one of the Popes that played a significant role in molding the church in the 20th century to what we have today. He was a Pope, a priest and at the same time, a leader. His leadership roles were something to be emulated. After him Pope John Paul II led the Roman Catholic Church at the end of the 20th century.

21st century popes

Pope John II

Pope John Paul II was the last Pope of the 20th century who ushered in the Roman Catholic Church into the 21st century. He reigned for the period 1978-2005. He was one of the Popes who reigned for longest period of time. During his tenure there was much technological advancement. He embraced technology and brought the church to the 21st century successfully. He embraced both the traditional teachings and the modern ones. He used the modern equipments to transmit principles and societal values to the modern generation. In March 30, 1997, Pope John II was considered as among the high technology people since he inaugurated the Vatican web site. He was the first Pope to utilize the use of the high technology communication devices such as radios and television. As a matter of fact, his sermons were broadcasted live through the televisions, radios, satellite and the internet. Unlike his successors, he has traveled for many miles, has gone to many nations, and his sermons have been broadcasted to many nations and to all age groups. It was through the press that he was able to deliver his messages to his universal flocks (The Poynter Institute 92). John Paul II fought to bring unity and support among the many religions we have in the world; he was the first Pope to visit the Jews, the Muslims, and also the first to give a sermon in a Lutheran church (Trigilio, Brighenti & Toborowsky 14). He succeeded in uniting the many religions we have today and his death was a great loss to the Roman Catholic Church all over the world. The web site he introduced is used today to deliver messages to the universal followers of Catholic faith and many have come to accept Christianity as their religion.

Pope Benedict XVI

After his death, Pope Benedict XVI was elected on April 19, 2005. He entered office at the age of 78 years and was the 265th pope in the history of the Catholic Church. His name is Joseph Ratzinger and comes from German. He is the current Pope in the Catholic Church. In the past centuries most popes originated from Italy, only the Popes of the 21st century are an exemption. Pope John Pope II was a Polish Pope and Benedict XVI is from German.

According to Benedict XVI, the world we are living in today need people who are transparent with pure minds and clear souls (Streissguth 12). He said that Christians are not supposed to think of their lives as being pleasure objects. Much has not been recorded about Pope Benedict XVI but like his successor John Paul II, he is also a high technology Pope. Most of his preaching is through the television, radios and the internet. He has been able to reach thousands of Catholics with his messages and is able to at look after his flock easily. He has served for only five years now and his influence can be felt. He has been able to direct the modern church in the use of high technology communication. He is committed to the Second Vatican Council especially on Ecumenism. He has declared his efforts of ensuring that Ecumenism does not interact with the continuity of the Roman Catholic doctrines. He does not recognize the protestant movements as being churches but believe that the only church in existence is the Roman Catholic Church.

He is carrying out an initiative to ensure that the current abuse in the Catholic Church comes to an end. Most of the cardinals say that he is determined to restore peace and harmony in the church and would stop at nothing else. For a long time the Roman Catholic Church has been associated with many abuses both sexual and physical. Of all the popes in the history of the Catholic Church, Pope Benedict is the only one who has been able to eliminate child abuse from the church. He believes that he has been called to the ministry for such a time as this and he is looking forward for a revolution in the church. He has gone to the extent of asking for forgiveness for the acts that were committed by the clergy. An example of the clergy’s acts was the letter which was issued to the catholic church of Ireland. He expressed sorrow and frustration of what the clergies had done to the Irish church and promised them he will ensure that such acts are not repeated. According to him the church is a holy place and should be respected. He is a modern pope who embraces church modernization.

Of all the Christian churches that embrace the Catholic religion, the Roman Catholic Church is greatest. It’s headed by the pope and a Bishop. The bishops head the different dioceses which are branches of the Roman church. As at 2003, more than one billion people in 22 different churches all over the world were Roman Catholics. The Roman Catholics believe that bishops are descendants of the twelve disciples of Jesus. The church claims that their teachings have been divinely revealed to the ancient writers who were responsible for writing the scriptures. These scriptures were written in the bible and it is in the bible that Christian find spiritual and moral nourishment. There are two schools of thought within the church who hold that; the whole teaching of God and Jesus can be found in the bible and therefore there is no need of tradition teachings and the other school of thought holds that not all teachings are contained in the bible and thus there is need for traditional teachings.

Works Cited

Anon. “25 Most Evil People- 15th Century CE, Pope Alexander VI.” One-Evil.org 2009. Web.

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Cline, Austin. “Popes of the 20th Century: History of the Roman Catholic Papacy and Church.” About.com Guide. 2010. Web.

Goldberg, Michael. Why Should Jews Survive? Looking Past the Holocaust toward a Jewish Future. New York: Oxford University Press US, 1996

Grenz, Stanley, and Olson Roger E. 20th-Century Theology: God and the World in a Transitional Age. New York: Intervarsity Press, 1997

Roth, John, and Rittner Carol. Pope Pius XII and the Holocaust. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, 2004

Simonis, Damien. Country Guides. Rome: Lonely Planet, 2007

Streissguth, Thomas. Pope Benedict XVI Biography (A & E) A&E biography Biography (Lerner Hardcover). London: Twenty-First Century Books, 2006

The Poynter Institute. Pope John Paul II: 1920 – 2005. New York: Andrews McMeel Publishing.

Trigilio, John, Brighenti, Kenneth, and Toborowsky Jonathan. John Paul II For Dummies, New York: Prentice-Hall, 2006.

Wright, Dudley. Roman Catholicism and Freemasonry. London: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.

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