Catholicism often means the Roman Catholic Church. Sometimes it also refers to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, or other Churches that believe in the great lists of Christian beliefs called "creeds" (from the Latin word "credo", meaning "I believe"), such as the Anglican Church. The word "catholic" means "everywhere or universal" (belief that the Church is one big family).
How it was started.
The Great Church Orthodox and Catholic was started by Jesus of Nazareth, a Jew who descended from the line of King David who was crucified by the Romans, at the Jewish feast of Passover, in accordance with and fulfillment of the hebrew scriptures - especially Isaiah and the Psalms ca. 33 AD. The followers of Jesus reported in the scriptures as they witnessed it - that he was resurrected by God the Father and appeared to over 500 people for forty days before he ascended into heaven. It's believed that he later sent the holy spirit onto his disciples at Pentecost when they spoke in tongues and understood each others different languages.
One of his followers, Saint Peter, was appointed leader by Jesus and later became recognized as the first Pope, or Bishop of Rome, soon after that - he was captured and died in Rome. He was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven and was the first to recognize Jesus as Messiah when questioned by Jesus as to "Who do you say that I am?" Today, the pope is Benedict XVI, who is the leader of the Church (like the male head of a family, or father). This is where the word "pope" comes from. That is why the pope is also called the "Holy Father" - he is our spiritual father here on earth.
In 325, the First Council of Nicaea agreed on how to organize the church. The council agree the Church had five patriarchs (patriarch was the highest type of church leader). They were the archbishops of Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. The Patriarch of Rome, was honored as "first among equals."
Quarrels within the church.
In time, the Church split apart with fights over who is right; these fights caused breaks in the Church called schisms. Most schisms happen because of people have different beliefs about what is true, but politics is often a big reason for these fights too.
In 451, a church division happened when all the church leaders meeting at the Church Council in the city of Chalcedon excommunicated (cut off) three leaders, because they would not accept the view that Jesus had two natures. These three were the bishops of Egypt, Syria, and Armenian. Of course, these three bishops did not accept being excommunicated either, so the churches under them are still known today as Oriental Orthodox Churches.
In 1054, the Great Church Orthodox and Catholic split into the Western (Roman) Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church was divided into national churches, making the Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, Romanian Orthodox, and so on. The Roman Catholic Church developed the idea of one united church leader with the pope. Some Eastern Orthodox Churches believe the emperor or king is the head of the Church as well as the country. In England, the Anglican Church is like this.
The next big schism was the Protestant Reformation, which protested against the central authority of the Church in Rome and against what it thought were wrong ways of doing and believing things about God in the Catholic Church. It started in Germany, where Martin Luther sent his demands for change to the Church. Because of politics in Europe, many nations supported Luther. The Lutheran Church was started. Later the Calvinist or Presbyterian Church started.
One of the most famous people in this period is King Henry VIII of England, who started the Anglican church because he wanted to divorce his first wife and the Pope said he was not allowed to do that. First his Church, the Church of England, was like the Catholic Church, but with the king as leader instead of the pope. Later, under his son, Edward VI, and his daughter, Elizabeth I, the Anglican Church became more reformed or Protestant, but Anglicans still believe they are reformed Catholics, as well as Protestants.
In the Reformation, other Churches also split off from the Catholic Church and became Protestant. Even inside Protestant churches, disagreements over beliefs resulted in more splits. This is why there are so many Protestant churches. Some of these Protestant or Reformed churches are: Lutheran, Anglican, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Methodist, Baptist, to name just a few. Later on, some people split again to make new kinds of churches which most Protestants do not believe are Christian at all, like Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarian Universalist, and many others.
If a child refuses to obey his/her father, the father punishes his child; in church-talk this is called excommunication. In the Roman Catholic Church, if believers disobey the pope, they can also be punished or excommunicated. There is only one way of belief for Catholics who want to be with the pope. This is why Roman Catholics believe there is only one Catholic Church.

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