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This article refers to the word "Catholicism" in the most commonly used sense. See Catholicism (disambiguation) for alternate meanings, including those particular to the Roman Catholic Church.

Catholicism is the name given the oldest of the three main branches of Christianity, and to the beliefs of the Catholic Church, usually the Roman Catholic Church, and its adherents. An earlier Webster's Dic lists two ecclesiastical meanings: "the whole orthodox Christian church, or adherence thereto;" and "the doctrines or faith of the Roman Catholic chuch, or adherence thereto." 3 The term comes from the Greek katholikos (καθολικος), meaning "general" or "universal".

Table of contents
1 Evolution of the term "Catholicism"
2 "One, holy, catholic, and apostolic"
3 The Papacy
4 Brief history of universal Christian church
5 Distinctive beliefs and practices (i.e., Catholicism)
6 Rites and sui iuris churches
7 The study of Catholicism
8 Footnotes
9 Additional reading
10 See also
11 External links

Evolution of the term "Catholicism"

As evident in the notion of "adherence to" the doctrines of the Christian faith, the Catholic Church, in English more than in Romance languages, is something of a disputed term which has several claimants. The claimants have in common an assertion that they represent the ancient undivided Christian faith, and differ on the practical meaning of "unity" within that faith. Over the centuries, within the Christian faith there arose disputes about the truths of the faith, and vocabulary evolved to reflect divergent viewpoints. "Catholic" and "Orthodox" are examples of such terms, each with a basic meaning, universal and correct respectively, and each with a connotation in speech: hence "Catholic" generally refers to the branch of the Christian faith that accepts the leadership of the Pope, whereas "Orthodox" is used to refer to the several ecclesial communities that gradually split from the Roman Church after the first millennium, in communion with each other, but not accepting the Roman Primacy. After the Protestant Reformation, the newly-formed ecclesial communities in some cases applied the term "Catholic" in an ideal sense, referencing the original Christian faith. 4 For comparisons and contrasts, see Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, Greek Orthodox Church, , and Protestantism.

"One, holy, catholic, and apostolic"

The term "Catholic" has been used since the first Christian centuries to describe the one, original church of Christ founded by Christ and the Apostles, and appears in the main Christian creeds (formal definitions of belief), notably the Apostles' Creed and the Nicene Creed. As such, many Christians claim entitlement to the designation "catholic". These fall into two groups: 1.) those like the Roman Catholic, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and the Ancient, Old, Liberal, and Anglican Catholic churches that claim Apostolic Succession from the early church; and 2.) those who believe that they are spiritual descendants of the Apostles neither retaining nor desiring organisational descent from the historic church.

Christians of most denominations, including most Protestants, affirm their faith in "one holy catholic and apostolic Church." For Protestants, most of whom consider themselves to be spiritual descendents (category 2, above), this affirmation refers to their belief in the ultimate unity of all churches under one God and one Saviour, rather than in one visibly unified church, i.e. the ideal meaning given above. In this usage catholic is usually written with a minuscule "c". The Nicene Creed stating "I believe in...the holy catholic church..." is thus recited in Protestant worship services. 5.

The Papacy

There are 24 sui iuris churches in what is termed full communion with the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, which implies that they accept his authority in matters of faith and morals and his assertion of "full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church" (CCC §882; see also Papal infallibility). Some demographic analyses estimate that there are more than one billion adherents in this category, making them the largest Christian denomination. Of these 24 Churches the Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest.

Roman Catholic Church

In English the "Roman Catholic Church" is frequently referred to, and the Vatican itself uses the term, [1] although in different contexts it may call itself the Holy Roman Church, [1] or the Roman Church. [1] The Roman Church is a particular church of the Catholic Church, which is comprised of a Latin Rite and more diverse Eastern Rites. The use of the word "Roman" is a reference to the centrality of the Bishop of Rome to the faith; its adherents are all in full communion with the Pope, who is the Bishop of Rome, and most parishes follow the Roman or Latin Rite in worship. See below for more about sui iuris Churches and their respective liturgies.

Catholic groups that deny the primacy of the Pope

In Western Christianity the principal faiths which regard themselves as "Catholic" without full communion with the Pope are the Ancient Catholic Church, Old Catholic Church, Liberal Catholic Church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association, and some elements of Anglicanism ("High Church Anglicans" or "Anglo-Catholics"). These groups hold spiritual beliefs and practice religious rituals similar to those of the Latin Rite from which they emerged, but reject belief in the Pope's status and authority. The Liberal Catholic Church, which originated as a breakaway group from the Old Catholic Church, additionally incorporated significant elements of theosophy into its doctrinal faith. A recently-created 'Use' of the Roman Rite known as Anglican Use is available to former Anglican or Episcopalian churches that have reunited with the Catholic Church and the Papacy, toward which end a confession of faith is required by both clergy and faithful.

The Anglican Communion, though one church, is in practice divided into two wings, "High Church Anglicans" also called the Anglo-Catholics and "Low Church Anglicans" also known as the Evangelical wing. Though all elements within the Anglican Communion recite the same creeds, Low Church Anglicans regard the word Catholic in the ideal sense given above, while High Church Anglicans treat it as a name of Christ's church which they consider to embrace themselves together with the Roman Catholic and several Orthodox Churches.

Anglo-Catholicism maintains more similarities to the Latin Rite and related spirituality, including a belief in seven sacraments, Transubstantiation as opposed to Consubstantiation, devotion to the Virgin Mary and saints, the description of their ordained clergy as "priests" - addressed as "Father" - the wearing of vestments in church liturgy, sometimes even the description of their Eucharistic celebrations as "Mass". The development of the Anglo-Catholic wing of Anglicanism occurred largely in the nineteenth century and is strongly associated with the Oxford Movement. Two of its leading lights, John Henry Newman and Henry Edward Manning, both ordained Anglican clergymen, ended up joining the Roman Catholic Church, becoming cardinalss.

The several churches of Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy consider themselves to be the "universal" and "true" Catholic Church, and typically regard the Western "Catholics" as heretical and as having left the "true catholic and apostolic church." The Patriarchs of Eastern Orthodoxy are autocephalous hierarchs, which roughly means that each of them is independent of the direct oversight of another bishop (although still subject to their synod of bishops as a whole). They are willing to concede a primacy of honour to the Bishop of Rome, but not obedience to him.

The Eastern Rite Catholics, whose liturgy is similar to that of the Orthodox, allow married men to be ordained as priests, have their own hierarchies with Patriarchs as heads, and recognize the Roman Patriarch as the head of the whole Church. These are among the Churches sui iuris. In 1990 Pope John Paul II promulgated the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches "in order to safeguard and to promote the specific features of the Eastern heritage." [1]

Brief history of universal Christian church

The early Christian church came to be organized under five patriarchs, the bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople and Rome. The Bishop of Rome was recognized by all the Patriarchs as "the first among equals," with doctrinal or procedural disputes often referred to Rome for an opinion. When the Imperial capital moved to Constantinople, papal influence was often challenged. While Rome claimed an authority descending from St. Peter (who died in Rome and was regarded as the first pope 6) and St. Paul, Constantinople had become the residence of the Emperor and the Senate. Doctrinal disputes including those represented in the filioque clause, the fact that the bishop of Rome did not accept the emperor's claim of supremacy in ecclesiastical matters, and perhaps the evolution of separate rites and practices, precipitated a split in 1054 which divided the Catholic Church in the West from the Eastern Orthodox Church in the East. Greece, Russia and much of the Slavic lands, Anatolia, Syria and Egypt fell into the eastern camp. This division is called the Great Schism. The next major split from the Catholic Church occurred in the 16th century with the Protestant Reformation, after which many Protestant denominations emerged. There are now several claimants to the papacy and some Catholics follow Sedevacantism and assert that the apostolic see is vacant through heresy.

Distinctive beliefs and practices (i.e., Catholicism)


Churches that consider themselves to be truly Catholic share certain essential distinctives:


Traditional Catholic practice consists of seven sacraments (see also Catholic sacraments):

In Catholic teaching, sacraments are gifts of Christ, performed through the office of the Church, that impart sanctifying grace to the receiver. Briefly: Baptism is given to infants and to adult converts who have not previously been validly baptised according to custom; the baptism of most Christian denominations is accepted as valid by the Catholic Church since the effect is believed to come straight from God regardless of the personal faith, but not intention, of the minister. Confession or reconciliation involves admitting sins to a priest and receiving penance (a task to complete in order to show repentance, and so achieve absolution or forgiveness from God). Eucharist (Communion), is considered a partaking in the sacrifice of Christ, marked by sharing the Body and Blood of Christ, which are believed to replace the bread and wine used in the ceremony. The Roman Catholic belief that bread and wine are transformed in all but appearance into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is known as transubstantiation. In the sacrament of Confirmation, the gift of the Holy Spirit conferred in baptism is "strengthened and deepened" (see Catechism of the Catholic Church §1303) by the laying on of hands and anointing with oil. In the majority Roman Catholic church, this sacrament is presided over by a bishop, and takes place in early adulthood. It confirms one into full membership of the Church. In the Eastern Catholic Churches the sacrament is called chrismation, and is ordinarily performed immediately after baptism by a priest. Holy Orders is the entering into the priesthood and involves a vow of chastity; the sacrament of Holy Orders is given in three degrees: that of the deacon (since Vatican II a permanent deacon may be married before becoming a deacon), that of the priest, and that of the bishop. Anointing of the Sick used to be known as "extreme unction" or the "last rites"; it involves the anointing of a sick person with a holy oil blessed specifically for that purpose and is no longer limited to the seriously ill or dying. Extreme Unction in its centuries-old form, matter, and intent, however, is still available through hundreds of Catholic priests all over the world.

Rites and sui iuris churches

The Catholic Church is a federation of 24 self-governing (sui iuris) churches in full communion with one another and in union with the Pope in his capacity as the head of the Universal Church (referred to as the "Roman Pontiff" in canon law); the Pope in his capacity as Patriarch of Rome (or Patriarch of the West) is also head of the largest of the sui iuris Churches, the Latin Church (popularly called the "Roman Catholic Church"). The remaining 23 sui iuris Churches, collectively called the "Eastern Catholic Churches", are governed by a hierarch who is either a Patriarch, a Major Archbishop, or a Metropolitan. The Roman Curia administers the Eastern Churches as well as the Western Church. Because of this system, it is possible for a Catholic to be in full communion with the Roman Pontiff without being a Roman Catholic.

Each of the sui iuris Churches uses one of the six major liturgical traditions (emanating from traditional Sees of historical importance), called a Rite; the major Rites are the Roman, Byzantine, Antiochene, Alexandrian, Chaldean, and Armenian Rites (there are also two minor Western Rites, the Ambrosian and Mozarabic Rites). The Roman Rite, being used by the Latin Church, is dominant throughout most of the world, being used by the vast majority of Catholics (approx. 98 per cent.); there were formerly many lesser Western Rites, but these were replaced by the Roman Rite by the Council of Trent's liturgical reforms.

Liturgical language

Historically, the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Latin Rite (often called the Roman Rite or the "Tridentine Mass") was conducted entirely in ecclesiastical Latin; since the Second Vatican Council ("Vatican II") in the early 1960s, a new version of the Mass has been promulgated (Novus Ordo Missae), which is usually celebrated in the vernacular, or local languages. The corresponding service in the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Divine Liturgy, is conducted in various liturgical languages depending on the Rite and on the Church: the Byzantine Rite Churches use Greek, Slavonic, Arabic, Romanian and Georgian, the Antiochene and Chaldean Rite Churches use Syriac, the Armenian Rite Church uses Armenian, and the Alexandrian Rite Churches use Coptic and Ge'ez.

List of Rites and Churches within the Catholic Church

Latin Rite

Eastern Rite

The study of Catholicism

Catholicism is a religion, and is studied in contexts that include theology and philosophy.


Additional reading

See also

External links