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The influence of the Catholic Church on world culture and society has been vast, first and foremost in the development of European civilization from Greco-Roman times to the modern era.[24] In addition, the church has played a significant role in the Westernization of many other nations through its missionary efforts, often associated with the colonial era. By spreading Christianity it battled, and in certain cases eventually ended, practices such as human sacrifice, slavery, infanticide, and polygamy, within evangelized cultures beginning with the Roman Empire.[199][200][201][202][203] Historians note that Catholic missionaries, popes, and religious, were among the leaders in campaigns against slavery.[204][205][206] Christianity affected the status of women in evangelized cultures such as the Roman Empire by condemning infanticide (female infanticide was more common), divorce, incest, polygamy and counting the marital infidelity of men as equally sinful to that of women.[199][200][207] However, "the critics of Christian tradition" say Church teachings have perpetuated a notion that female inferiority was divinely ordained[208] even though official Church teaching[209] considers women and men to be equal, different, and complementary.

Catholic universities and many priests including Copernicus, Roger Bacon, Albertus Magnus, Robert Grosseteste, Nicholas Steno, Francesco Grimaldi, Giambattista Riccioli, Roger Boscovich, Athanasius Kircher, Gregor Mendel and others, were responsible for many important scientific discoveries. The Jesuits produced the large majority of priest-scientists, who contributed to worldwide cultural exchange by spreading their developments in knowledge to Asia, Africa, and the Americas.[210][211] Most research took place in Catholic universities that were staffed by members of religious orders who had the education and means to conduct scientific investigation.[210] The 1633 Church condemnation of Galileo Galilei restricted scientific development in some European countries and created the perception of antagonism between the Church and science of that era.[210] In part because of lessons learned from the Galilei affair, the Church created the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, a scientific organization that essentially began in 1603 but developed over time to reach its present form by 1936.[212]

The Catholic Church was the dominant influence on the development of Western art, at least up to the Protestant Reformation. Important contributions include its consistent opposition to Byzantine iconoclasm, its cultivation and patronage of individual artists, as well as development of the Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles of art and architecture.[213] Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Leonardo da Vinci, were among a multitude of innovative virtuosos sponsored by the Church.[214] In music, Catholic monks developed the first forms of modern Western musical notation in order to standardize liturgy throughout the worldwide Church,[215] and an enormous body of religious music has been composed for it through the ages. This led directly to the emergence and development of European classical music, and its many derivatives. The Baroque style, which encompassed music, art, and architecture, was particularly encouraged by the post-Reformation Catholic Church as such forms offered a means of religious expression that was stirring and emotional, intended to stimulate religious fervor.[216]

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