The Catholic Church holds that there is one eternal God, who exists as a mutual indwelling of three persons: the Father; the Son, Jesus; and the Holy Spirit. Catholic beliefs are summarized in the Nicene Creed and detailed in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Nicene Creed also forms the central statement of belief of other Christian denominations. Chief among these are Eastern Orthodox Christians, whose beliefs are similar to those of Catholics, differing mainly with regard to papal infallibility, the filioque clause (Latin meaning: "and from the son") and the immaculate conception of Mary. Protestant churches vary in their beliefs, but generally differ from Catholics regarding the pope, church tradition, the Eucharist and issues pertaining to grace, good works and salvation.
The Council of Jerusalem, convened by the apostles around the year 50 to clarify Church teachings, set the example for later councils of the Church, convened by Church leaders throughout history for similar purposes. The most recent was the Second Vatican Council, which closed in 1965.
Teaching authority, seven sacraments
Based on the promises of Jesus in the Gospels, the Church believes that it is continually guided by the Holy Spirit and so protected infallibly from falling into doctrinal error. The Catholic Church teaches that the Holy Spirit reveals God's truth through Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. Sacred Scripture, or the Catholic Bible, consists of the same books found in the Greek version of the Old Testament—known as the Septuagint—and the 27 New Testament writings first founded in the Codex Vaticanus and listed in Athanasius' Thirty-Ninth Festal Letter. These scriptures make up the 73-book Catholic bible in contrast with the shorter, 66-book bible used by most Protestants. The books and works that are upheld as canonical by the Catholic Church but not by some other groups are known as the Deuterocanonicals. Sacred Tradition consists of those teachings believed by the Church to have been handed down since the time of the Apostles. Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition are collectively known as the "deposit of faith" (depositum fidei). These are in turn interpreted by the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, which derives through apostolic succession from the college of bishops in union with the pope.
According to the Council of Trent, Jesus instituted seven sacraments and entrusted them to the Church. These are Baptism, Confirmation, the Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony. Sacraments are important visible rituals which Catholics see as effective channels of God's grace to all those who receive them with the proper disposition (ex opere operato).
God the Father, original sin and Baptism
God, in the teaching of the Nicene Creed, is the source and creator of nature and all that exists. The Church teaches that God is a loving and caring entity who is directly involved in the world and in people's lives desiring his creatures to love him and to love each other. Catholicism teaches that while human beings live bodily in a visible, material world, their souls simultaneously occupy an invisible, spiritual world, in which spiritual beings called angels exist to "worship and serve God". Some angels, however, chose to rebel against God, becoming demons who now seek to harm mankind. Among other names, the leader of this rebellion has been called "Lucifer", "Satan" and the devil. Satan is believed to have tempted the first humans, whose subsequent act of original sin brought suffering and death into the world.
This event, known as the Fall of Man, separated humanity from its original intimacy with God according to Catholic belief. The Catechism states that the description of the fall, in Genesis 3, uses figurative language, but affirms "... a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man" and resulted in "a deprivation of original holiness and justice" that makes each person "subject to ignorance, suffering, and the dominion of death: and inclined to sin". Catholic doctrine accepts the possibility that God's creation occurred in a way consistent with evolution but rejects as outside the scope of science any efforts to use of the theory to deny supernatural divine creation. The soul did not evolve, according to Catholic doctrine, but was infused into man and woman directly by God. The Church believes that people can be cleansed of original sin and all personal sins through Baptism. This sacramental act of cleansing admits a person as a full member of the natural and supernatural Church and can only be conferred on a person once.
Jesus, sin and Penance
Catholics believe that Jesus is the Messiah of the Old Testament's Messianic prophecies. The Nicene Creed states that he is "... the only begotten son of God, ... one in being with the Father. Through him all things were made ...". In an event known as the Incarnation, the Church teaches that God descended from heaven for the salvation of humanity, became man through the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of a Jewish virgin named Mary. It is believed that Jesus' mission on earth included giving people his word and example to follow, as recorded in the four Gospels. Catholicism teaches that following the example of Jesus helps believers to become closer to him, and therefore to grow in true love, freedom, and the fullness of life.
Falling into sin is considered the opposite to following Jesus, weakening a person's resemblance to God and turning their soul away from his love. Sins range from the less serious venial sins, to more serious mortal sins which end a person's relationship with God. Through the passion of Jesus and his crucifixion, the Church teaches that all people have an opportunity for forgiveness and freedom from sin, and so can be reconciled to God. The Resurrection of Jesus, according to Catholic belief, gained for humans a possible spiritual immortality previously denied to us because of original sin. John the Baptist called Jesus "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world", in reference to the ancient Jewish practice of sacrificing lambs to God. By reconciling with God and following Jesus' words and deeds, the Church believes one can enter the Kingdom of God, which is the "... reign of God over people's hearts and lives."
After baptism, the sacrament of Penance (Reconciliation or Confession) is the means by which Catholics believe they can obtain forgiveness for subsequent sin and receive God's grace. Catholics believe Jesus gave the apostles authority to forgive sins in God's name. After making an examination of conscience that often involves a review of the ten commandments, the act involves confession by an individual to a priest, who then offers advice and imposes a particular penance to be performed. The penitent then prays an act of contrition and the priest administers absolution, formally forgiving the person of his sins. The priest is forbidden under penalty of excommunication to reveal any sin or disclosure heard under the seal of confession. Penance helps prepare Catholics before they can licitly receive the sacraments of Confirmation and the Eucharist.
Holy Spirit and Confirmation
Jesus told his apostles that after his death and resurrection he would send them the "Advocate", the "Holy Spirit", who "... will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you." Since the Holy Spirit is part of the Trinity, the Church teaches that receiving the Holy Spirit is an act of receiving God.
Through the sacrament of Confirmation, Catholics ask for and believe they receive the Holy Spirit. Confirmation is sometimes called the "sacrament of Christian maturity" and is believed to increase and deepen the grace received at Baptism. Spiritual graces or gifts of the Holy Spirit may include the wisdom to see and follow God's plan, as well as judgment, love, courage, knowledge, reverence and rejoicing in the presence of God. The corresponding fruits of the Holy Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. To be licitly confirmed, Catholics must be in a state of grace, in that they cannot be conscious of having committed a mortal sin. They must also have prepared spiritually for the sacrament, chosen a sponsor or godparent for spiritual support, and selected a saint to be their special patron and intercessor. Baptism in the Eastern rites, including infant baptism, is immediately followed by the reception of Confirmation and the Eucharist.
Final judgment and afterlife
Belief in an afterlife is part of Catholic doctrine. The Church teaches that immediately after death the soul of each person will be judged by Jesus, and will receive a particular judgment based on the deeds of that individual's earthly life. This teaching also attests to another day when Jesus will sit in a universal judgment of all mankind. This final judgment, according to Church teaching, will bring an end to human history and mark the beginning of a new and better heaven and earth ruled by God in righteousness.
There are three states of afterlife in Catholic belief. Heaven is a time of glorious union with God and a life of unspeakable joy that lasts forever. Purgatory is a temporary condition for the purification of souls who, although saved, are not free enough from sin to enter directly into heaven. It is a state requiring penance and purgation of sin through God's mercy aided by the prayers of others. Finally, those who chose to live a sinful and selfish life, did not repent, and fully intended to persist in their ways are sent to hell, an everlasting separation from God. The Church teaches that no one is condemned to hell without having freely decided to reject God and his love. He predestines no one to hell and no one can determine whether anyone else has been condemned. Catholicism teaches that through God's mercy a person can repent at any point before death and be saved "like the good thief who was crucified next to Jesus".
Nature of the Church and social teaching
Catholic belief holds that the Church "... is the continuing presence of Jesus on earth." To Catholics, the term "Church" refers to the people of God, who abide in Jesus and who, "... nourished with the Body of Christ, become the Body of Christ." Catholic teaching maintains that the Church exists simultaneously on earth (Church militant), in purgatory (Church penitent), and in heaven (Church triumphant); thus Mary and all other saints are alive and part of the living Church. This unity of the Church in heaven and on earth is the "Communion of Saints". The Church constitution, Lumen Gentium, affirms that the fullness of "means of salvation" exists only in the Catholic Church but acknowledges that the Holy Spirit can make use of Christian communities separated from itself to bring people to salvation. It teaches that anyone who is saved is saved either directly through the Church or indirectly through the Church. One may be saved indirectly through the Church if the person has invincible ignorance of the Catholic Church and its teachings (as a result of parentage or culture, for example), yet follows the morals God has dictated in his heart and would, therefore, join the Church if he understood its necessity. It teaches that Catholics are called by the Holy Spirit to work for unity among all Christians.
The Church operates numerous social ministries throughout the world, but teaches that individual Catholics are required to practice spiritual and corporal works of mercy as well. Corporal works of mercy include feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, immigrants or refugees, clothing the naked, taking care of the sick and visiting those in prison. Spiritual works require the Catholic to share knowledge, to give advice, comfort those who suffer, have patience, forgive those who hurt them, give correction to those who need it, and pray for the living and the dead. In conjunction with the work of mercy to visit the sick, the Church offers the sacrament of Anointing of the Sick, performed only by a priest. Church teaching on works of mercy and the new social problems of the industrial era led to the development of Catholic social teaching, which emphasizes human dignity and commits Catholics to the welfare of others</div>