faith, this paper offers a brief history of Christianity and summarizes the central Christian beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, forms of missionary activity.
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THE BOISI CENTER PAPERS ON RELIGION IN THE UNITED STATES An Introduction to Christian Theology Thoughtful, constructive interreligious dialogue depends not only upon the openness of the dialogue partners to diverse perspectives, but also upon a reliable foundation of correct information about the various beliefs being discussed. For those who desire a basic understanding of the tenets of Christian faith, this paper offers a brief history of Christianity and summarizes the central Christian beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Bible and authority, sin and reconciliation, sacraments, spiritual practices, and ethical living. INTRODUCTION This paper provides a primer on the basics of Christian theology as it is understood in the American context. It explains the major beliefs or doctrines that are generally accepted by all Christians while also highlighting the theological diversity of the Christian churches. In other words, although all Christians adhere to the doctrines discussed here, various groups of Christians often interpret these doctrines differently. These disagreements usually have historical roots; thus, Christianity’s historical development is inseparable from its doctrinal development. For this reason, the paper gives an overview of Christianity’s historical development before moving into a discussion of the major Christian beliefs. As would be the case with any religious tradition, the complexity of Christian theology and history cannot be explained fully in a brief paper. Many nuances of Christian theology and history tend to remain in the background of how Christianity is perceived and practiced in the United States; frequently, these details may not even be familiar to American Christians themselves. Nevertheless, some knowledge of these particulars is essential to ground an accurate understanding of Christianity. This paper thus provides an important complement to the other papers in the Boisi Center series. In particular, since religious beliefs and religious practices always inform one another, reading this paper together with the paper on Religious Practice in the United States is recommended. The paper begins with a brief historical outline of the beginnings and major divisions of Christianity. It then summarizes the Christian beliefs in God, Jesus Christ, the Trinity, the Bible and authority, sin and reconciliation, sacraments, spiritual practices, and ethical living.
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2 A BRIEF HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY The history of Christianity unfolds organically through time. It is commonly understood to begin with Jesus, who was born two thousand years ago. However, because Jesus was Jewish, some date Christianity’s roots much further back, to the beginnings of Judaism. To illustrate the vast sweep of historical development, this section proceeds in four parts. First, it addresses the roots of Christianity in the first through the third centuries C.E. (“Common Era,” dating from the time of Jesus’ birth); second, it describes Christianity’s development through the Middle Ages; third, it explores the Protestant Reformations in the 1600s and their continuing influence today; fourth, focusing on the United States, it summarizes several aspects of American Protestantism. The Beginnings of Christianity (1-300 C.E.) Christianity began as a movement within Judaism during the first century C.E. At this time, the Jewish rabbi now known as Jesus of Nazareth undertook a public teaching ministry in which he preached about the imminent coming of the Kingdom of God. As reported in the Christian Scriptures (commonly known among Christians as the New Testament), Jesus assembled a core group of twelve Jewish disciples, along with many other followers. Together they ministered to the poor and outcast in present-day Israel and Palestine. Around the year 33 C.E., Jesus was arrested and executed by the Roman governor. However, Jesus’ followers claimed that he rose from the dead; they came to believe that he was the Son of God and that his death and resurrection saved them from their sins. As their conviction grew, they named Jesus the “Christ”— meaning Messiah or Anointed One—according to the prophecies of the Jewish Bible, the Hebrew Scriptures (commonly known among Christians as the Old Testament). This is the origin of the name “Jesus Christ” and led to Jesus’ followers being called “Christians.” After Jesus’ death, “Christians” became identified as a particular sect within Judaism. These Jews believed that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, whose coming they had long anticipated. However, as time went on, the majority of Jews did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and their differences with “Christian” Jews increased. Further, many non-Jewish people did come to believe in Jesus. In this way, “Christianity” gradually became a religious movement distinct from Judaism, as it is practiced today. Over several generations, Christians compiled their collective memories of Jesus’ teachings and sayings in various documents. Best known among these today are the four narratives of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection that now appear in the Christian Scriptures, the “Gospels” of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. During these early years, many letters were also circulated among Christian communities about their belief in Jesus as the Messiah and the way Christians should live and worship. The letters of the apostle Paul and a few other authors were eventually included in the Christian Scriptures along with the four Gospels. Christians debated for centuries over which
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3documents to include in their scriptures; the first known list of the twenty-seven documents now accepted as the Christian Scriptures did not appear until the year 367 CE, and it may have taken even longer before Christians universally accepted this list. Further Development (300-1500 C.E.) Since their religious practices were distinguished from Judaism only gradually, Christians of the first and second centuries worshipped in small pockets throughout the Middle and Near East, and their religious practices differed from town to town. Moreover, Christianity was often outlawed under Roman law; many believers were persecuted and executed for professing their faith. In the year 313 C.E., the Roman emperor Constantine converted to Christianity and legalized it, virtually ending the persecutions. Noticing that Christians disagreed with one another on many important points, such as the relationship of Jesus to God, and that these debates were causing unrest and confusion in his empire, Constantine called Christian leaders (bishops) from across the empire to a council at Nicaea in 325 C.E. This first major council of the Christian churches clarified key points of theology, including the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus (see discussion below). The primary written contribution of this council was the Nicene Creed. More debates followed in the succeeding years, and the second great council, held in Constantinople in 381 C.E., expanded this creed into a longer statement of faith that members of many Christian churches still recite. (For the full text of the creed, see Appendix.) Although lively debates over key theological points continued, Christianity underwent further unification in the fourth century under the reign of Emperor Theodosius and through the theology of Bishop Augustine of Hippo (b. 356-d. 430). Almost seventy years after Constantine legalized Christianity, Theodosius established the Christian faith as the official religion of the Roman Empire. From then on, Christianity spread rapidly. Some converted to Christianity to advance in Roman society or out of fear of Roman authorities, but many converted willingly. These conversions catapulted Christianity forward as a leading religion of the Roman Empire, which then encompassed most of Europe and North Africa. Shortly after Theodosius’ decree, Augustine became bishop of Hippo in North Africa. An adult convert to Christianity, Augustine came to be one of the most influential theologians in the history of the Christian church. At this time, basic Christian beliefs were still contested, so Augustine articulated much of his theology in response to competing interpretations of the faith and to non-Christian faiths of the fourth and fifth centuries. Through these conflicts, Augustine provided significant explorations of the Trinity and human sinfulness, as well as the relationship between church and state. Augustine’s numerous writings greatly influenced Christian thought from the fifth century to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century and beyond. Despite his powerful influence, Augustine did not end the disputes within Christianity. At the church councils, which continued to take place every 50-100 years, questions about Jesus’ humanity and divinity—that is, his identity as the Son of God—proved an ongoing source of controversy. As Christians from different areas of the world drew on the philosophical traditions of
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4 their cultures to reflect upon these questions, the most marked differences arose between Christian leaders of the Latin West and those of the Greek East. In the year 1054 C.E., these disagreements culminated in the “Great Schism” that divided Christianity into two major strands, Western and Eastern. Today, Eastern Christianity includes the Orthodox churches, while Western Christianity includes the Catholic and Protestant churches. Because the Orthodox Church in America accounts for only about one percent of Christians in the United States, this primer considers only Western Christianity from this point on. Western Christianity flourished during the High Middle Ages of eleventh- to thirteenth-century Europe. Christianity inspired exquisite art, music, and architecture. As the first universities were established, Christian theology became highly systematized, most notably in the works of Thomas Aquinas (b. 1225-d. 1274). The leader of the Western Christian church, the pope, was a major figure in European politics. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, however, the papacy lost some of its moral authority due to widespread corruption in the church, and many Christians began to question the power of Rome. The Emergence of Protestant Christianity (1500 C.E.-Present) These questions eventually led to another major split within the Christian church in the early sixteenth century. What is now known as Protestant Christianity first began to emerge in present-day Germany, where Christians protested (hence the name “Protestant”) corruption in the Christian church. The key figure of the German protest was a Christian monk, Martin Luther (1483-1543). In 1517 Luther wrote ninety-five theses criticizing various corruptions in the church, most notably its practice of selling “indulgences.” In their original form, indulgences were gifts offered to the church by repentant sinners to show their gratitude to God for the forgiveness of their sins. By the early 1500s, the practice had become corrupted, and it appeared that the Christian church was selling forgiveness rather than merely accepting gifts from the faithful. Luther criticized this practice for de-emphasizing repentance and making Christians think they could buy God’s forgiveness. Instead, Luther preached that salvation is a gift from God that comes through faith alone upon repentance for sin. Luther also objected to the hierarchical structure of the Christian church, arguing that any Christian could interpret the Bible and serve as a minister as well as any other; this idea is now known as the “priesthood of all believers.” His efforts at reform, however, met with resistance, and in 1522 Christian authorities condemned his theological claims. Luther continued his attempts at reform, and his followers eventually formed a new Christian group distinct from the original Western or “Catholic” church. These Christians became known as “Lutherans” and remained most numerous in Germany. Today, in the United States, Lutherans are one of the larger Protestant denominations, numbering about five million. Other reformations closely followed Luther’s. The most successful included the Calvinist, English, and radical reformations; these movements eventually resulted in several new churches. (As a result of these and subsequent divisions, the various Christian churches are distinguished by differences in theology and worship practices and
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5are now known as “denominations.”) The Calvinists took their name from the French lawyer and theologian John Calvin (1509-1564), who fled the Catholic city of Paris to avoid persecution for his religious ideas. He eventually settled in the thoroughly Protestant city of Geneva. While several of Calvin’s ideas paralleled Luther’s, Calvin advocated a closer relationship between church and state than Luther. (For more on the relationship between church and state in the U.S., see the paper on Separation of Church and State.) Calvin’s ideas influenced many Western Europeans, including an English group known as the Puritans. The Puritans immigrated across the Atlantic in the late seventeenth century; as a result, the United States has a strong Reformed- Calvinist tradition. Several present-day American Protestant groups, including Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and the Reformed Church in America, have Calvinist roots. The English Reformation began in 1529 with King Henry VIII’s decision to annul his marriage in defiance of the pope’s orders. To justify his annulment in religious terms, Henry established the English or “Anglican” church, making himself the titular head. This church eventually adopted a blend of Catholic and Protestant ideas; the Thirty-Nine Articles, written in the latter years of the sixteenth century, summarize the principles of Anglican theology. In the United States today, the Episcopalian church has Anglican roots. The Anabaptists, whose movement is called the “Radical Reformation,” separated themselves more definitively from the Roman faith than the Lutherans or Calvinists. Anabaptists rejected some traditional worship practices that Lutherans and Calvinists continued. Most notably, Anabaptists refused to baptize infants, instead deferring baptism until people were old enough to request it. In the United States today, Quakers and Mennonites trace their origins to Anabaptists. Most have adopted a modern lifestyle, but small numbers within these denominations live in isolated communities, witnessing to their faith by dressing simply and preserving traditional ways of living. One well-known example is the Amish community in Pennsylvania. In the United States today, groups who trace their beginnings to the Radical Reformation are much smaller in comparison to other Christian denominations. These four groups—Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Anabaptists—represent the original manifestations of Protestant Christianity as distinct from Catholic Christianity. In response to the Protestant reformations, the Catholic church adopted some minor reforms and reaffirmed certain teachings, most notably at the Council of Trent (1545-1563); this response became known as the “Counter-Reformation.” Structurally, however, the Catholic church has continued until the present time in much the same form as it had in the Middle Ages; Roman Catholic churches in the United States are part of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church. Protestant denominations continued to multiply in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Drawing on and further adapting Reformation ideas, additional groups such as Wesleyans, which includes Methodists and some Pentecostals, Restorationists, namely the Churches of Christ and Disciples of Christ, and Baptists organized in England and the United States. Baptists are now the largest Protestant denominational group in the United States, with about forty-seven million people claiming membership in American,
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6 Southern, or independent Baptist churches. (For a discussion of the status in the United States of religions other than Christianity, see the paper on Religious Pluralism in the United States.) Contemporary Protestant Christianity in the United States In the contemporary United States, Christians and their beliefs are often described as “evangelical,” “fundamentalist,” “liberal,” or “conservative,” or some combination of these terms. Each term is controversial and freighted with subtext. This section begins to unpack these descriptions. Evangelical Christianity American Protestantism is often associated with a movement known as evangelicalism . The meaning of the term “evangelical” is commonly used to describe Protestant churches that stress evangelization, or converting non-Christians to faith in Jesus. As a general rule, evangelicals stress three core beliefs: Christianity requires conversion or “rebirth” through a personal spiritual encounter with Jesus Christ; Christians must witness their faith to or “evangelize” Christians and non-Christians alike; the Bible is directly inspired by God. Many other Christians, such as Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Catholics, also share these three beliefs; thus, evangelicals can be members of almost any denomination. However, some denominations, such as Baptists and Wesleyans, are more evangelical than others, such as Catholics and Lutherans. One major distinction is that the less evangelical denominations tend to emphasize formal doctrine as similar in importance to the three core beliefs, while the more evangelical denominations do not. Fundamentalist Christianity Another term sometimes used to describe certain Christians—and people of other faiths, including Muslims—is fundamentalist . This term refers to people who maintain a literalist interpretation of their religious faith. Within American Christianity, fundamentalist Protestants share the evangelical emphasis on Jesus Christ but shun participation in American politics and culture. Also, they often insist upon a literal interpretation of the Bible, whereas other Christians understand some parts of the Bible to be symbolic or metaphorical. Not all Christian evangelicals are fundamentalists, but all Christian fundamentalists are evangelicals insofar as they embrace the three foundational beliefs described above. In the United States today, Christian fundamentalists constitute a small but vocal minority of the Christian population. Liberal and Conservative Christianity Various Christian denominations are also sometimes characterized as liberal or conservative . Some denominations even contain both liberal and conservative groups. Generally speaking, liberal Christians accept historical and scientific information that calls into question the literal truth of some biblical stories, while conservatives are typically less convinced that such knowledge is relevant to faith. For example, liberals typically acknowledge the theory of evolution as a credible explanation of life’s origins, while conservatives adhere to a literal interpretation of the biblical account of creation. In contrast to conservatives, liberals also tend to display more openness toward
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8 Christian perceptions of God come primarily from the scriptures. The Hebrew Scriptures represent God as Lord of all, the one true deity of the cosmos. The Christian Scriptures continue to emphasize the monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures, describing God as underived and unsurpassable. In the Gospels, for example, Jesus teaches only according to God’s authority. Christians emphasize God’s reign over all that is. In doing so, they believe they are faithful to the scriptures (both Hebrew and Christian) and to Jesus’ teachings. Indeed, according to Christian tradition, sin is defined as turning away from God. Alluding to Jesus, however, raises questions about the Christian claim to monotheism. Christians are distinguished from other monotheists by their belief in Jesus as the divine son of God. Non- Christians correctly ask: if Christians believe that Jesus is the son of God and worship him as God, how can they claim to be monotheists? The answer, for Christians, is found in the doctrine of the Trinity. To understand the Trinity, it is best first to consider the Christian belief in Jesus as human and divine, because the earliest Christians’ understanding of Jesus was what prompted the development of the doctrine of the Trinity. Jesus Christ Christians’ beliefs about Jesus are based in scripture and other historical artifacts and documents. Since few of these other documents contain information about Jesus, most knowledge comes from the Christian Scriptures. As noted, the four Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry, while the rest of the Christian Scriptures includes letters written by the apostle Paul and others from the first generations of Christianity. These documents describe the early communities’ faith in the message of Jesus’ ministry and how they spread this message. The Christian Scriptures report that there was no consensus about who Jesus was during his human lifetime, even among those who knew him. Although, even during his ministry, his disciples are sometimes portrayed as believing he was the Messiah and the son of God, other people thought he was a prophet or simply a great teacher. In a gradual process that began during Jesus’ ministry and continued for many years after his death and resurrection, his followers came to believe that he was the son of God. The gradual development of this belief is evident in the Christian Scriptures and other historical documents that describe the worship practices of early Christian communities. As noted, the earliest Christians were Jews who continued to believe in their monotheistic God. These Christians remembered and struggled to understand Jesus’ promise, recorded in the Gospels, that he would continue to be with them even when they could no longer see him, and that he would send his spirit to them as well. Gradually, through much prayer, worship, and discussion, Christians came to believe that God was now with them in three distinct ways: the “Father” or God of the Hebrew Scriptures, Jesus the Son, and the Spirit. Centuries passed before Christians officially decided that they could believe that Jesus was divine without sacrificing their belief in one God. How could this be? At the great councils of Nicaea, Chalcedon, and beyond, Christians determined that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine. They argued that only God could save humans, but only a human should pay the debt owed to God for
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9 sin. Thus, they came to believe that Jesus experienced the fullness of human existence— including birth, life, and death—yet was also divine. Christians respect Jesus’ mother Mary as the “Mother of God” because she gave birth to God’s own son. Christians believe that God became human in Jesus to provide access to God’s grace, and Christians view Jesus as the ideal human being, the full revelation of God’s plan for humanity. Because of their faith in Jesus, Christians believe that God is with them, loves them and saves them from sin and death, and will raise them to eternal life. In the end, Jesus’ simultaneous divinity and humanity is a mystery that Christians confess in faith, although they cannot fully explain it. Christians also believe that Jesus brings God’s forgiveness of sin to humanity. Christians call this “salvation” or “atonement.” “Salvation” means that sin is taken away and people are reconciled with God. While all Christians believe that Jesus accomplished this, no consensus has been reached among Christians about how exactly he did so, as the scriptures describe it in various ways. For example, the word “atonement” usually refers specifically to the belief that it was Jesus’ death on the cross that accomplished the taking away of sins; the cross thus symbolizes both human guilt and God’s mercy. However, some Christians object to “atonement theology” on the grounds that it portrays God as a cruel and irresponsible parent, condemning a child to a horrible death. These Christians prefer to emphasize Jesus’ teaching and healing ministry as reconciling people with God and consider Jesus’ death a tragedy perpetrated by sinful people, not intended by God. Despite these differences, all Christians believe that through Jesus, God saves them from sin and promises them eternal life. The Trinity While the above subsection explains how the early Christians’ experience and memories of Jesus led them to believe that God was present with them in three ways, the doctrine of the Trinity remains one of the most difficult points of Christian theology to explain. Again, according to this doctrine, God is one being who is revealed to human beings in three ways: Father, Son (Jesus), and Spirit. In light of this assertion, Christian monotheism is easily challenged. If the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is God, and Jesus is God, and the Spirit is God, how can Christians claim to believe in one God and not three? In light of their encounters with Jesus, the early Christians—who maintained their Jewish monotheistic roots—came to believe that the trinitarian nature of God was compatible with monotheism. They remembered, as recorded in the Christian Scriptures, that Jesus had a unique relationship with God, whom he called his father; that Jesus had promised to be with them even after he was no longer visible to them; and that Jesus had said he would also send his Spirit to them. Christians believed the Spirit did come to them at Pentecost, an event chronicled in the Christian Scriptures. As time went on, Christians also began to notice that several passages in their scriptures could be interpreted as describing distinctions within God. For example, the Gospels instruct Christians to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In this way, over several centuries, the doctrine of the Trinity slowly took shape. As noted above, it was first officially formulated in the creed of the Council of Nicaea in 325 and developed further at Constantinople in 381.
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10 Of course, the councils did not end debate over the Trinity. Given that the idea is difficult to comprehend, Christians have explained it with varying degrees of success. At times it has degenerated into a belief in God as three distinct divine beings or as one God revealed in different ways at different times. Such conceptions of the Trinity have given rise to charges of polytheism. In general, Christian theologians have succeeded better at saying what the Trinity is not than at explaining what it is. Briefly, however, the three persons can be described as follows: God the “Father” is the creator of all that is; God the “Son” is Jesus, who became human and came to earth; God the “Spirit” is the wisdom of God whom Jesus sent to be with humans after he left the earth. Theologians and mystics have understood these three persons of the Trinity to have various names. The most commonly used are Father, Son, and Spirit; others include Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier, and Mother, Daughter, and Wisdom. In sum, the Christian view of the Trinity is that the one eternal God is manifest in three ways. Christians believe that God has one nature, and that nature is to be relational; thus, the three divine “persons” are believed not only to exist in Christians’ experiences of God but also to correspond to real distinctions within God. How exactly this works remains a mystery. A common way to understand the Trinity is by analogy. For example, consider the several roles a single woman may occupy. She may be a daughter, a wife, and a mother. In each of these roles, she functions differently in relationship to the people around her. She remains one woman, yet at the same time, real differences in her own personhood correspond to her various roles. Similarly, for Christians, the one eternal God is three persons sharing one divine nature. The Bible and Church Authority Catholics and Protestants alike view the Bible as the revealed word of God and the primary authority for Christian life and worship. All Christians respect the ability of individual persons to read and interpret the Bible for themselves, but they do so in various ways. On the one hand, Protestant churches tend to follow a central principle of the sixteenth-century Reformations in assigning absolute authority to individual Christians to interpret the Bible for themselves. On the other hand, the Catholic church emphasizes that individual Christians who are reading the Bible should also consider the long tradition of church interpretation of scripture. When considering Catholic and Protestant interpretation of the Bible, further exploration of each one’s notion of church is needed. This section gives a general account of the theology behind the different Christian churches. (For a description of the varieties of religious worship and expression among Christians, see the paper on Religious Practice.) Generally speaking, Protestants view church as a group of Christian believers who come together to worship God and support each other in their efforts to live a Christian life. Scripture serves as the final spiritual authority of the church; it is interpreted individually by each member as well as collectively by the group. According to Luther’s principle of the priesthood of all believers, any individual may be called forth by the community to serve as its spiritual leader or pastor. The pastor is not assumed to have a special understanding of the Bible compared to the other church members. Since they understand church as a particular community of believers, Protestants—especially evangelical Protestants—tend to read and
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11 interpret the Bible as relevant to their current situation with less attention to how it has been interpreted in the past. Some Protestant churches, such as Lutherans, Methodists, and especially Episcopalians, proceed formally in training and assigning their leaders. In the Episcopalian church, which as noted is theologically a blend of Catholic and Protestant principles, leaders succeed one another in a formal fashion similar to that of the Catholic church. This “apostolic succession” is connected theologically back to Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers who is now considered the first bishop of Rome (i.e., the pope). In these Protestant churches, as in the more evangelical churches, the emphasis in scriptural interpretation is usually on its present meaning, not on a tradition of past interpretation. However, they do have a long history of scholarly biblical interpretation. A difference is that when major disagreements over scriptural interpretation arise, these denominations will call general meetings to discuss them, whereas less highly organized evangelical churches are more likely simply to split and form new churches along these lines. In contrast to most Protestants, Catholics define church as a much larger community. For Catholics, church includes not only the believers in a particular faith community, but also all Catholics around the world and even all believers who have died and whose souls are believed to be with God. The Catholic church has a very formal training or “ordination” process for its leaders; its leadership consists of a hierarchical structure of priests, who lead individual parishes, and bishops, who lead all the parishes in a given region (for example, all the Catholic parishes in eastern Massachusetts are headed by one bishop). Bishops, not the members of the individual parishes, decide who will serve as priest for each parish. The bishop of Rome is known as the pope, and he serves as the symbolic head of the worldwide Catholic church. As the “first among equals,” the pope is considered to be the successor of Peter. Catholics do not worship the pope—only God is worshiped—but they do hold the office of the papacy in very high esteem because it symbolizes the unity of the worldwide Catholic church. As noted, like Protestants, Catholics believe that any Christian can read and interpret the Bible. However, in accordance with the Catholic understanding of the church as a community that includes all believers, even those who have died, contemporary interpretations of scripture take into account past interpretations. The Catholic tradition of successive church leadership dates back to before most people were literate, when only priests and bishops could actually read and had to interpret the Bible for the people. Often these interpretations were written down and have been preserved as the collective wisdom of the church. Because official church leaders and those trained in church history and theology have a broad knowledge of this historical tradition of scriptural interpretation, their opinions also carry weight with individual Catholics as they read the scriptures. Thus, the Catholic church has a long tradition of scriptural interpretation. In the end, however, the Catholic church emphasizes the final authority of the individual conscience. It teaches that individual Catholics who sincerely pray and study the scriptures should follow their consciences regarding spiritual matters, even if they disagree with church leaders and even if—as sometimes happens in extreme circumstances—this leads to their
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