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Christianity: The Vatican

The Vatican is the center of the Roman Catholic Church and as such is considered to be a pillar of faith for Roman Catholics around the world. Encompassing Vatican City, the Holy See, the Roman Curia and the Apostolic Palace, the history of the Vatican is tantamount to that of the Church. While its role has varied over the years, such events as the Vatican Councils have helped to ensure the theological function of the Vatican and in particular that of the Pope.

The Vatican: Etymology
The term “Vatican” predates Christianity and is derived from the Latin term Mons Vaticanus. This latter term refers to the Vatican Hill, one of the seven famed hills of Rome.

The Vatican Hill is believed to be the site of an ancient town founded by the Etruscans, who were the early inhabitants of the Italian peninsula as well as of Corsica.

The Holy See
The Holy See is the Episcopal see of the Vatican City: the Pope. The Holy See also encompasses the Roman Curia, which is both the Vatican’s and the Roman Catholic Church’s central governmental body.

The Holy See is a sovereign body that is distinct from Vatican City and has been recognized as an independent entity since the Middle Ages. It currently holds diplomatic relations with the European Union, the Order of Malta and with 175 sovereign states.

The Roman Curia
One of the two components of the Holy See, the Roman Curia is its administrative body. The term curia is Latin for court and resembles more closely in meaning a royal court as opposed to a legal court.

Also known as the Papal Court, the Roman Curia carries out Papal functions. It was established with the Papal bull declared by Pope Sixtus V in 1588. The authority of the Roman Curia waned during the nineteenth century, when Piedmont (currently one of Italy’s twenty regions) led the unification of Italy, during which the Papal States were seized in 1860 and the city of Rome was captured in 1870. Its main duties are ecclesiastical in nature.

Apostolic Palace
Also known as the Papal Palace and the Palace of the Vatican, the Apostolic Palace is the official residence of the Pope.

The Apostolic Palace comprises the Papal Apartment, the Roman Catholic Church’s governmental offices, the Vatican Museum and the Vatican Library. The Papal Palace also includes historic chapels.

Vatican City
The Vatican City is the smallest independent nation in the world. A sovereign city-state of approximately 44 hectares, it was established with the Lateran Treaty of 1929.

The Pope, who is also the official bishop of Rome, is the head of both the state and government of the Vatican City. The Vatican City is a non-hereditary monarch who is elected by a conclave of cardinals under the age of 80; while an elective monarchy, the Vatican is also an absolute monarchy, as the Pope holds legal, executive and judicial authority.

Currently, the bishop of Rome is Pope Benedict XVI.

The official languages of the Vatican are Latin, Italian, French and German, the latter of which is the official language of the Swiss Guards, the military body of the Vatican City.

Vatican Councils
The Vatican Councils helped to define the theological course of the Vatican.

Held in 1869 to 1870, the First Vatican Council was declared by Pope Pius IX and established the doctrine of Papal infallibility, which outlined the absolute authority of the Pope.

In addition, the Second Vatican Council was held in 1962 to 1965 and served to restore unity among various Christian denominations, as well as to define the Church’s objectives and to reinforce the position of the Pope within the Roman Catholic Church.


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