I originally intended to make one long post that covered all 4 of these things but once I got to writing about the Origins of the Catholic Church, I can see this could be quite a lengthy endeavor, so I'll split it up into three or perhaps four parts.
Today is about the Origin of the Catholic Church as I understand it so far.
"To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." - Cardinal John Henry Newman
Growing up a Protestant, I absolutely NEVER heard any sermon that referenced anything written by the early church fathers other than what was written in Paul's Epistles or the Gospels. I had never heard of St. Ignatius, the Bishop of Antioch, or St. Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, nor did anyone ever point out to me that Clement, the 4th Bishop of Rome (Pope), was referenced directly in Paul's writings in Philippians (4:3). As far as I knew, that Clement was just some "rando" and to be honest, I'm not sure I ever heard a sermon in my entire life as a Protestant that actually included Philippians 4:3 or if I did, there was certainly no special acknowledgement of Clement.
When I began investigating Catholicism I learned that two of these early Church leaders, Ignatius and Polycarp, were taught directly by St. John, the Beloved Disciple himself.
These two early Church fathers are claimed to be Bishops of the early Roman Catholic Church and I've never seen that disputed either. But I also recall from history classes that this same Church went forward under the guidance of various Popes, in the same line of succession as claimed by the present day Roman Catholic Church, through to the present day.
Knowing these historical facts, combined with the fact that Paul referenced Clement as one of his "co-workers", I feel it's pretty concrete that the early Church referenced by Paul, in his writings, in particular in 1 Timothy 3:15 where he calls the Church "the pillar and foundation of the truth", is the present day Roman Catholic Church.
So now just one thing remains: How do we know that this Church was established by Jesus himself? Well, that's pretty easy actually.
In Matthew 16:13-19, we read:
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Now, every good Protestant knows the part where Jesus calls Peter the "rock", but what you may have never heard or have thoroughly dissected from a protestant pulpit is what precedes and what follows. In verses 16 and 17 we read:
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven
These verses are incredibly important because in them we see that Simon Peter has been given special insight into the truth of God's Kingdom. It is such a special designation that immediately following it Jesus declares that Peter shall be the foundation upon which His Church is established in verse 18.
Because Jesus declares that Peter has received this gift from God and because Jesus declares that Peter will be the "rock" upon which the Church is built, He is, in a sense, saying that this discernment ability is not just a one time gift, but a gift that will carry-on in perpetuity. Jesus trusts Peter, to use this gift, to properly discern the truth about not only scripture but also about the truth of the Kingdom of God.
Jesus doesn't stop here in verse 19, he goes on further and says:
I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
The first key phrase here is "keys of the kingdom of heaven". This is a direct reference to Isaiah 22:22:
"Then I will set the key of the house of David on his shoulder, When he opens no one will shut, When he shuts no one will open. "
The "house of David". That's interesting. I'm sure I'll get back to that multiple times over the next 394 days.
By giving Peter the "keys to the kingdom of heaven", he is giving Peter the ability to declare Church Dogma. Furthermore, the phrases "bound in heaven" and "loosed in heaven" give Peter the authority to declare Church Law.
This passage is the establishment of Papal Authority, not just over the Church that Christ established and that existed in the first century, but because that Church continues to exist into the present day as the Roman Catholic Church, that Papal Authority extended to it as well.
Peace Be With You!