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Peter as the first pope of the nascent church (Matthew ).

Thus the Roman Catholic Church itself is a complex institution, for which the usual diagram of a pyramid, extending from the pope at the apex to the believers in the pew, is vastly oversimplified.

The number of Roman Catholics in the world (nearly 1.1 billion) is greater than that of nearly all other religious traditions.

There are more Roman Catholics than all other Christians combined and more Roman Catholics than all Buddhists or Hindus.

Christianity is an important world religion that stems from the life, teachings, and death of Jesus.

Roman Catholicism is the largest of the three major branches of Christianity.

Furthermore, because of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on those who developed it, Roman Catholic doctrine must be studied philosophically even to understand its theological vocabulary.

Nevertheless, a historical approach is especially appropriate to this task, not only because two millennia of history are represented in the Roman Catholic Church but also because the hypothesis of its continuity with the past, and the divine truth embodied in that continuity, are central to the church’s understanding of itself and essential to the justification of its authority. The present article concentrates on the historical forces that transformed the primitive Christian movement into a church that was recognizably “catholic”—that is, possessing identifiable norms of doctrine and life, fixed structures of authority, and a universality (the original meaning of the term New Testament.Within that institution, moreover, sacred congregations, archdioceses and dioceses, provinces, religious orders and societies, seminaries and colleges, parishes and confraternities, and countless other organizations all invite the social scientist to the consideration of power relations, leadership roles, social dynamics, and other sociological phenomena that they uniquely represent.As a world religion among world religions, Roman Catholicism encompasses, within the range of its multicoloured life, features of many other world faiths; thus only the methodology of comparative religion can address them all.However, sometimes Roman Catholic mission work stood opposed to the colonizing forces and protected native peoples from enslavement and helped them achieve a certain level of economic autonomy (which was a major factor in the expulsion of the Jesuits from the Americas in 1767).Although the countries of Latin America eventually gained independence from Spain and Portugal, the religious legacy of colonialism has persisted.This can be attributed in large part to the lingering effects of Spanish and Portuguese colonization of the region and the Roman Catholic missions that accompanied those endeavours.