See also the Roman Catholic Church.
The term "The Catholic Church" refers to any one of a number of different Rites and church organizations, but, in the United States, it is most often used synonymously for the church whose most widespread Rite is the Latin Rite—the Roman Catholic Church. Other Rites include the Byzantine, Alexandrian, Syriac, Armenian, Maronite, Chaldean, Melkite (also known as the Greek Catholic Church), the Malankara Church, the Syro-Malabar Church, and the Syro-Malankara Catholic Church. They are different from the Latin rite in many ways but still recognize the primacy of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope) and are in communion with Rome. These Eastern Rite churches are Catholic and do not belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Roman Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world, with over one billion adherents. It comprises one of the three great divisions of Christianity, together with Protestantism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Despite important differences in doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes the Orthodox Church's Holy Orders (priesthood) as valid; however, the Orthodox generally follow a theory of ordination for place and purpose, so the notion of being ordained outside the Orthodox Church is moot, and no theory of validity is held to.
The Roman Catholic Church has often, especially prior to the rise of Protestantism, been considered the Western Church while the Greek Orthodox Church is considered the Eastern Church. But more eastern than that, there was, from the earliest centuries, the Aramaic Church of the East (see Aramaic Church) which considers itself to be a Catholic church. The full name for this Church is the "Holy Apostolic and Catholic Church of the East." This Church, being cut of for most of the time from the Roman and Byzantine spheres by being in the "enemy" empire - Parthia - developed differently from its sister Catholic Church of the West. The Church of the East also having the threefold ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, and being in Apostolic succession (through the Apostle Thomas rather than Peter), never developed the infallibility of bishops, as the Roman Church would do for the bishop of Rome (the Pope) nor infallibility of the synod of bishops as did the Greek Orthodox church. This elevates the authority of the Bible and brings affinity of this Catholic Church to the Evangelical world.
It is commonly thought that the Catholic church forbids its priests to marry. But this is true only of the Latin Rite. Eastern Rite Catholic Church congregations which are in communion with the Roman Catholic church have a married priesthood and diaconate although bishops may not marry. It is a common sight for non Latin rite Catholic priests to be seen, particularly in the Mid East and India, with wives and children. Priestly celibacy for Latin Rite Roman Catholic, though in force, is considered as canonical ruling having papal force but not an infallible decree or teaching coming "ex cathedra" - and thus priestly celibacy may be changed by the Pope and be in line with the non Latin rites of the Catholic Church. The general rule in the Roman Catholic Church in relation to its eastern rite communions within it is to allow the customs, practices, and even doctrines to remain "eastern". This approach entails not only the allowance of married priests but also mixed vernacular liturgies of natural development (Aramaic with Arabic, Aramaic with Greek), baptism of infants immediately followed by Chrismation (confirmation), rather than the Latin rite 12 year interval between baptism and confirmation, baptism by full immersion even of infants rather than sprinking or pouring as in Latin rite.
The Roman Catholic Church historically regarded Protestant Christianity as heretical, that is, being against Roman doctrine. The tone changed in the 1960s when Pope John XXIII called the Second Vatican Council, at which "the doors of the Church were opened wide" and Protestants were referred to as "our separated brethren".
The Anglican Church (also called "Episcopal" in the United States and Scotland) represents a special situation because it encompasses within it several factions. "Low Church" emphasizes Protestant worship aspects while "High Church" emphasizes Catholic worship aspects. Anglicans who consider themselves to be "Anglo-Catholics" are usually "High Church," i.e. in favor of Roman Catholic-style vestments, ceremonies, and devotionals. Anglicans who consider themselves to be "Evangelicals" are usually marked by worship services in the "Low Church" style that is liturgical but not nearly as ceremonial, and by Protestant views on salvation, the sacraments, and the supremacy of Scripture over Tradition.
Anglo-Catholics sometimes regard the Anglican churches as being part of the Catholic Church. They may also be called "Anglo-Roman" if they further accept the authority of the Pope, even though he exercises no jurisdiction over their churches. Although all Anglicans believe in the unbroken line of the Apostolic Succession, the Roman Catholic Church has ceased to recognize as valid the Anglican claim thereto.
The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern branches take a position that could be described as saying that the Anglican Church is almost Catholic. There have long been unification talks between the churches, and Anglican priests who wish to convert to the Catholic Church and receive Catholic Holy Orders are often provided with an abbreviated path to that goal.
The Nicene Creed, the great historical statement of Christian belief, contains the line "I believe in one holy, catholic and apostolic church". The Apostles' Creed contains a similar affirmation. However, Protestants and Catholics place different interpretations on the term "universal", or "catholic". Protestants believe that it refers to the general, overarching spiritual unity of all Christian believers, Jew or gentile, which transcends individual churches and denominations. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that the Roman Catholic Church, as the single true church founded by Christ, is the universal Catholic Church in itself. Some avoid referring to their own church as the "Roman" Catholic Church, on the grounds that such formulations implicitly deny this point of doctrine.
"Roman Catholic" versus "Catholic"
The term "catholic" (from the Greek katholikos) means "universal", and its roots in ecclesiastical parlance go back to the early years of Christianity. Some Protestants believe that (Roman) Catholics do not have the right to monopolize the term, and so prefix it with the adjective "Roman". Historically speaking, the term "Roman Catholic" was coined in nineteenth-century Britain as a euphemism to replace insulting terms such as "papist" that had previously been in use. However, Cardinal John Henry Newman states, regarding the early period in which Arianism was being fought, that "It is more remarkable that the Catholics during this period were denoted by the additional title of Romans. Of this there are many proofs in the histories of St. Gregory of Tours, Victor of Vite, and the Spanish Councils."
The Roman Catholic Church has seven sacraments:
An important distinctions between the theology of different Christian denominations is the acceptance or rejection of the seven sacraments. The Anglican Church recognizes all seven, although it grants Baptism and the Eucharist higher significance than the other five. Other Protestant churches typically recognize only Baptism and the Eucharist, as did Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism.
- Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1845; rev. ed. 1878), see ch. 6, sec. 3