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Catholicism is used as a broad term for describing specific traditions in the Christian churches in theology, doctrine, liturgy, ethics, and spirituality.

In this sense, it is to be distinguished from the sense in which it denotes Christians and churches, western and eastern, that are in full communion with the Holy See, and that are commonly called the Catholic Church or Roman Catholic Church.

In the sense of indicating historical continuity of faith and practice from the first millennium, the term "Catholicism" is at times employed to mark a contrast to Protestantism, which tends to look solely to the Bible as interpreted on the principles of the 16th-century Protestant Reformation as its ultimate standard. It was thus used by the Oxford Movement.

History of the Term "Catholic" Edit

The earliest evidence of the use of the term Catholic Church is the Letter to the Smyrnaeans that Ignatius of Antioch wrote in about 107 to Christians in Smyrna. Exhorting Christians to remain closely united with their bishop, he wrote: "Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

From the second half of the second century, the word began to be used to mean "orthodox" (non-heretical), "because Catholics claimed to teach the whole truth, and to represent the whole Church, while heresy arose out of the exaggeration of some one truth and was essentially partial and local". In 380, Emperor Theodosius I limited use of the term "Catholic Christian" exclusively to those who followed the same faith as Pope Damasus I of Rome and Pope Peter of Alexandria. Numerous other early writers including Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315–386), Augustine of Hippo (354–430) further developed the use of the term "catholic" in relation to Christianity.

Different Interpretations Edit

Many individual Christians and Christian denominations consider themselves "catholic" on the basis, in particular, of apostolic succession. They fall into five groups:

  1. The Catholic Church, which sees full communion with the Bishop of Rome as an essential element of Catholicism. Its constituent particular Churches (Western and Eastern) have distinct and separate jurisdictions, while still being "in union with Rome".
  2. Those, like the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox, that claim unbroken apostolic succession from the early Church and identify themselves as the Catholic Church.
  3. Those, like the Old Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran and other denominations, that claim unbroken apostolic succession from the early Church, and see themselves as a constituent part of the Church.
  4. Those who claim to be spiritual descendants of the Apostles but have no discernible institutional descent from the historic Church, and normally do not refer to themselves as catholic.
  5. Those who have acknowledged a break in Apostolic Succession, but have restored it in order to be in full communion with bodies that have maintained the practice. Examples in this category include the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada vis-à-vis their Anglican and Old Catholic counterparts.

Latin & Eastern Catholic Church Edit

The Latin and Eastern Catholic Churches together form the "Catholic Church", or "Roman Catholic Church", the world's largest single religious body and the largest Christian church, comprising over half of all Christians (1.1 billion Christians of 2.1 billion) and nearly one-sixth of the world's population. Richard McBrien would put the proportion even higher, extending it to those who are in communion with the Bishop of Rome only in "degrees". It comprises 23 component "particular Churches" (also called "rites" in the Second Vatican Council's Decree on the Eastern Catholic Churches and in the Code of Canon Law), all of which acknowledge a primacy of jurisdiction of the Bishop of Rome and are in full communion with the Holy See and each other.

History of the Catholic Church Edit

According to the theory of Pentarchy, the early Catholic Church came to be organized under the three patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria and Antioch, to which later were added the patriarchs of Constantinople and Jerusalem. The Bishop of Rome was at that time recognized as first among them, as is stated, for instance, in canon 3 of the First Council of Constantinople many interpret "first" as meaning here first among equals—and doctrinal or procedural disputes were often referred to Rome, as when, on appeal by St Athanasius against the decision of the Council of Tyre , Pope Julius I, who spoke of such appeals as customary, annulled the action of that council and restored Athanasius and Marcellus of Ancyra to their sees. The Bishop of Rome was also considered to have the right to convene ecumenical councils. When the Imperial capital moved to Constantinople, Rome's influence was sometimes challenged. Nonetheless, Rome claimed special authority because of its connection to Saint Peter and Saint Paul, who, all agreed, were martyred and buried in Rome, and because the Bishop of Rome saw himself as the successor of Saint Peter.

The 431 Council of Ephesus, the third ecumenical council, was chiefly concerned with Nestorianism, which emphasized the distinction between the humanity and divinity of Jesus and taught that, in giving birth to Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary could not be spoken of as giving birth to God. This Council rejected Nestorianism and affirmed that, as humanity and divinity are inseparable in the one person of Jesus Christ, his mother, the Virgin Mary, is thus Theotokos, God-bearer, Mother of God. The first great rupture in the Church followed this Council. Those who refused to accept the Council's ruling were largely Persian and are represented today by the Assyrian Church of the East and related Churches, which, however, do not now hold a "Nestorian" theology. They are often called Ancient Oriental Churches.

Beliefs & Practices Edit

Due to the divergent interpretations of the word "Catholicism", any listing of beliefs and practices that distinguish Catholicism from other forms of Christianity must be preceded by an indication of the sense employed. If Catholicism is understood as the Roman Catholic Church understands it, identification of beliefs is relatively easy, though preferred expressions of the beliefs vary, especially between the Latin Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches of Greek tradition, and the other Eastern Catholic Churches. Liturgical and canonical practices vary between all these particular Churches constituting the Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches.

In the understanding of another Church that identifies Catholicism with itself, such as the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches, clear identification of certain beliefs may sometimes be more difficult, because of the lack of a central authority like that of the Roman and Eastern Catholic Churches. On the other hand, practices are more uniform, as indicated, for instance, in the single liturgical rite employed, in various languages, within the Eastern Orthodox Church, in contrast to the variety of liturgical rites in the Roman Catholic Church. In all these cases the beliefs and practices of Catholicism would be identical with the beliefs and practices of the Church in question.

If Catholicism is extended to cover all who consider themselves spiritual descendants of the Apostles, a search for beliefs and practices that distinguish it from other forms of Christianity would be meaningless.

If Catholicism is understood in the sense given to the word by those who use it to distinguish their position from a Calvinistic or Puritan form of Protestantism it is then meaningful to attempt to draw up a list of common characteristic beliefs and practices of Catholicism not commonly held by those merely claiming spiritual descent. Catholicism could include the Roman Catholic Church, the various Churches of Eastern Christianity, the Old Catholic Church, Anglicanism, and at least some of the "independent Catholic Churches" and, again in this interpretation, the beliefs and practices of Catholicism include:

  • Direct and continuous organizational descent from the original church founded by Jesus[Matthew 16:18], who, according to tradition, designated the Apostle Peter as its first leader.
  • Belief that Jesus Christ is Divine, a doctrine officially clarified in the First Council of Nicaea and expressed in the Nicene Creed.
  • Transubstantiation, the belief that the elements in the Eucharist become really, truly, the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ at consecration, resulting in the Real Presence of Christ, and that, because Christ himself is present in the sacrament, he is to be honored in it with the worship known as Eucharistic adoration.
  • Possession of the "threefold ordained ministry" of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.
  • All ministers are ordained by, and subject to, Bishops, who pass down sacramental authority by the "laying-on of hands", having themselves been ordained in a direct line of succession from the Apostles (see Apostolic succession).
  • Belief that the Church is the vessel and deposit of the fullness of the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles from which the Scriptures were formed. This teaching is preserved in both written scripture and in unwritten tradition, neither being independent of the other.
  • A belief in the necessity and efficacy of sacraments.
  • The use of sacred images, candles, vestments and music, and often incense and water, in worship.
  • Veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus as the Blessed Virgin Mary or Theotokos (i.e., "God-bearer" or "Mother of God"), and veneration of the saints.
  • A distinction between adoration (latria) for God, and veneration (dulia) for saints. The term hyperdulia is used for a special veneration accorded to the Virgin Mary among the saints.
  • The use of prayer for the dead.
  • The acceptance of canonizations.
  • Requests to the departed saints for intercessory prayers.

Sacraments Edit

Churches in the Catholic tradition administer seven sacraments or "sacred mysteries": Baptism, Confirmation or Chrismation, Eucharist, Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Holy Orders, and Matrimony. In some Catholic churches this number is regarded as a convention only.

In Catholicism, a sacrament is considered to be an efficacious visible sign of God's invisible grace. While the word mystery is used not only of these rites, but also with other meanings with reference to revelations of and about God and to God's mystical interaction with creation, the word sacrament (Latin: a solemn pledge), the usual term in the West, refers specifically to these rites.

Gallery Edit

  • A Rosary one of the symbols of Catholicism

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