The Roman Catholic Church portrays itself as the one legitimate heir to New Testament Christianity, and the pope as the successor to Peter, the first bishop of Rome. While those details are debatable, there is no question that Roman church history reaches back to ancient times. The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Romans about AD 55 and addressed a church body that existed prior to his first visit there (but he made no mention of Peter, though he greeted others by name). Despite repeated persecutions by the government, a vibrant Christian community existed in Rome after apostolic times. Those early Roman Christians were just like their brethren in other parts of the world—simple followers of Jesus Christ.
Things changed drastically when the Roman Emperor Constantine professed a conversion to Christianity in AD 312. He began to make changes that ultimately led to the formation of the Roman Catholic Church. He issued the Edict of Milan in 313, which granted freedom of worship throughout the empire. When doctrinal disputes arose, Constantine presided over the first ecumenical church council at Nicaea in AD 325, even though he held no official authority in the churches. By the time of Constantine’s death, Christianity was the favored, if not the official, religion of the Roman Empire. The term Roman Catholic was defined by Emperor Theodosius on February 27, 380, in the Theodosian Code. In that document, he refers to those who hold to the “religion which was delivered to the Romans by the divine Apostle Peter” as
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