The Kingdom of God means different things to different Christian denominations. For some, it represents a future, literal 1,000-year reign of Christ on earth. For others, the Kingdom of God is personal and represents the reign of God in the heart of the believer. The Catholic view of the Kingdom of God is more complex, representing something both current and future.
The Early Church and the Kingdom
The early Christian church spoke only in vague terms about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a central theme in the preaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels. Jesus spoke of watching for signs that the Kingdom of God was near. Some Catholic scholars believe that those early Christians expected Jesus to set up an earthly kingdom after his resurrection. They suggest that even St. Paul, writing decades after Jesus lived, expected a literal earthly kingdom.
Augustine and the Two Kingdoms
Early church writings talk about the Kingdom of God, yet its meaning wasn't articulated fully until St. Augustine. Augustine was the first Catholic theologian to thoroughly define the Kingdom of God. In his book "City of God," Augustine describes two kingdoms: The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. For Augustine, the Kingdom of God on earth was the Catholic Church. Augustine also described the Kingdom of God as encompassing a heavenly element: those believers who had already passed away. The Kingdom of Man consisted of everyone outside the Church.
The Catholic Church teaches that the Kingdom of God is a visible reality represented by the Church itself. Catholics believe that this kingdom mirrors the heavenly kingdom. Just as God is in heaven with various levels of angels beneath him, so the Pope represents Christ in the earthly institution with cardinals, bishops and priests beneath him. The Catholic Church believes that God ordained and Christ commissioned the institutional hierarchy of the Church.
The Future Kingdom
Catholic belief also holds some hope for a future Kingdom of God. Catholics believe that the Church will continue to grow and expand, redeeming all of creation from sin and suffering. Yet this future kingdom doesn't have a set date or time, but rather it will grow organically through the Church. As the Church grows, the Kingdom of God expands, according to Catholic belief.
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