Roman Catholic Church


General Information

The Roman Catholic church, the largest of the Christian churches, although present in all parts of the world, is identified as Roman because of its historical roots in Rome and because of the importance it attaches to the worldwide ministry of the bishop of Rome, the pope. Several Eastern Rite Churches, whose roots are in regional churches of the Eastern Mediterranean, are in full communion with the Roman Catholic church.

In 1980 there were some 783 million Roman Catholics, approximately 18% of the world's population. The 51 million Roman Catholics in the United States (1982) constitute 22% of that country's population. These statistics are based on baptisms, usually conferred on infants, and do not necessarily imply active participation in the church's life nor full assent to its beliefs.

A growing estrangement between the Catholic church in the West and the Orthodox church of the East in the first millennium led to a break between them in the 11th century, and the two regions diverged in matters of theology, liturgy, and disciplinary practices. Within Western Christianity beginning with the 16th - century Reformation, the Roman Catholic church came to be identified by its differences with the Protestant churches.

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Roman Catholic Beliefs

The basic religious beliefs of Roman Catholics are those shared by other Christians as derived from the New Testament and formulated in the ancient Creeds of the early ecumenical councils, such as Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381). The central belief is that God entered the world through the Incarnation of his Son, the Christ or Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. The founding of the church is traced to the life and teachings of Jesus, whose death is followed by resurrection from the dead after which he sends the Holy Spirit to assist believers. This triple mission within the Godhead is described doctrinally as the divine Trinity, God one in nature but consisting in three divine persons.

Roman Catholics attach special significance to the rites of Baptism and Eucharist. Baptism is sacramental entry into Christian life, and the Eucharist is a memorial of Christ's death and resurrection in which he is believed to be sacramentally present. The Eucharist is celebrated daily in the Roman Catholic church. Catholics also regard as Sacraments the forgiveness of sins in reconciliation with the church (Confession), ordination to ministry (Holy Orders), marriage of Christians, postbaptismal anointing (Confirmation), and the Anointing of the Sick.

Catholic ethical doctrines are based ultimately on the New Testament teachings but also on the conclusions reached by the church, especially by the popes and other teachers. In recent times the pope and bishops have formulated guidelines regarding social justice, racial equality, disarmament, human rights, contraception, and abortion. The official opposition to artificial contraception is not accepted by a large number of practicing Catholics. The Roman Catholic church's prohibition of remarriage after divorce is the strictest of the Christian churches, although the church does admit the possibility of annulments for marriages judged to be invalid.

The Worship of the Church

The public worship of the Roman Catholic church is its liturgy, principally the Eucharist, which is also called the Mass. After the recitation of prayers and readings from the Bible, the presiding priest invites the faithful to receive communion, understood as sharing in the sacramental presence of Christ. At the Sunday liturgy the priest preaches a sermon or homily, applying the day's biblical texts to the present lives of believers. The church observes a liturgical calendar similar to that of other Christians, following a cycle of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. It also follows a distinctive cycle of commemoration of the saints. The worship of the church is expressed as well in rites of baptism, confirmation, weddings, ordinations, penitential rites, burial rites or funerals, and the singing of the Divine Office. A distinguishing mark of Catholic worship is prayer for the dead.

The Roman Catholic church also fosters devotional practices, both public and private, including Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament (a ceremony of homage to Christ in the Eucharist), the Rosary, novenas (nine days of prayer for some special intention), pilgrimages to shrines, and veneration of saints' relics or statues. The devotional importance attached to the Saints (especially the Virgin Mary) distinguishes Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy from the churches of the Reformation. In the last two centuries the Roman Catholic church has taught as official doctrine that Mary from her conception was kept free of original sin (the Immaculate Conception) and that at the completion of her life was taken up body and soul into heaven (the Assumption). Catholics are also encouraged to practice private prayer through meditation, contemplation, or spiritual reading. Such prayer is sometimes done in a retreat house with the assistance of a director.

The Organization of the Church

The Roman Catholic church is structured locally into neighborhood parishes and regional dioceses administered by bishops. In recent times national episcopal conferences of bishops have assumed some importance. Catholic church policy is characterized, however, by a centralized government under the pope, who is regarded as the successor to the apostle Peter, entrusted with a ministry of unity and encouragement. The First Vatican Council (1869 - 70) further enhanced the role of the papacy by declaring that the church's Infallibility (or inability to err on central issues of the Christian faith) can be exercised personally by the pope in extraordinary circumstances. This teaching of the pope's primacy and infallibility is a major stumbling block to the unification of the Christian churches.

The pope is elected for life by the College of Cardinals (about 130). He is assisted in the governance of the church by the bishops, especially through the World Synod of Bishops that meets every three years. More immediately in the Vatican City, the papal city - state within Rome, the pope is aided by the cardinals and a bureaucracy known as the Roman Curia. The Vatican is represented in many countries by a papal nuncio or apostolic delegate and at the United Nations by a permanent observer.

By tradition the all - male ordained clergy (bishops, priests, and deacons) are distinguished from the laity, who assist in the ministry of the church. In the Western (Latin) rite of the Catholic church, bishops and priests are ordinarily celibate. In many of the Eastern Rite churches, priests are allowed to marry. Some Catholics live together in Religious Orders, serving the church and the world under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Members of these orders of congregations include sisters (or Nuns), brothers, and priests. Priests who belong to religious orders are sometimes called regular clergy, because they live according to a rule (Latin regula). Most priests, however, are ordained for ministry in a diocese under a bishop and are called diocesan or secular priests.

Church discipline is regulated by a code of Canon Law. A revised code for the Latin rite went into effect in 1983. A code for the Eastern Rite churches is in preparation.

The Church in A Time of Change

To initiate renewal in the Roman Catholic church, the late Pope John XXIII convoked a general council, the Second Vatican Council (1962 - 65). This meeting of bishops and their advisors from around the world was also attended by Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant observers. The council initiated changes that are still being carried out in the postconciliar era. The chief reforms in church practices were: changes in liturgical language (from Latin to the vernacular) and reformulation of sacramental rituals; a new ecumenical openness toward other Christian churches; increased stress on the collective responsibility of bishops in the church's mission (collegiality); more acute concern for political and social issues, especially where moral questions are involved; attempts to adapt the Gospel to diverse cultural traditions; reform of priestly education; and partial acceptance of diversity in theology and local practices.

These changes led to uneasiness and concern in some who felt that innovation had gone too far. For others the changes were seen as insufficient and painfully slow. Church leaders now recognize that implementation of the conciliar program will involve a long process of ongoing renewal.

Michael A Fahey

W Buhlmann, The Coming of the Third Church (1977); A Dulles, Models of the Church (1974); G Gallup and J Castelli, The American Catholic People: Their Beliefs, Practices, and Values (1987); E O Hanson, The Catholic Church in World Politics (1987); R Haughton, The Catholic Thing (1979); P Hebblethwaite, The Runaway Church (1978); H Kung, On Being a Christian (1976); R McBrien, Catholicism (1980); G Noel, The Anatomy of the Catholic Church (1980); K Rahner, The Shape of the Church to Come (1974)

Roman Catholicism

Advanced Information

The term has been in general use since the Reformation to identify the faith and practice of Christians in communion with the pope.

Although it has a reputation for conservatism and reaction, Roman Catholicism is a genuinely evolving religious system, valuing the deepening and development of its understanding of the Christian faith. The Ignatian principles of accommodation and J H Newman's theory of development have been two expressions of this process. This development sometimes goes beyond biblical data, but Catholic scholars contend that the church's doctrines, e.g., on the sacraments, the blessed Virgin Mary, and the papacy, are suggested by a "trajectory of images" in the NT; postbiblical developments are said to be consistent with the "thrust" of the NT.

At other times this evolution has involved the rediscovery of truths that the church once possessed but which it subsequently lost in the course of its long history. The church has even at times recognized as error what it had earlier decreed authoritatively. Vatican Council II's Declaration on Religious Freedom is seen by reputable Catholic scholars to be in conflict with the condemnations of religious freedom in Gregory XVI's encyclical Mirari vos of 1832. The conflict was recognized by members of the council, but they supported the declaration on the principle of doctrinal development. Protestants hostile to Catholicism should be wary of attacking allegedly unalterable Catholic positions: the Catholic Church has reversed its position on basic issues.

If, then, Roman Catholicism cannot be fixed within a single monolithic theological system, it is nevertheless helpful to distinguish between two traditions within Catholicism.

The mainstream tradition has stressed the transcendence of God and the church as a divinely commissioned institution (the "vertical church"). This authoritarian, centralizing tradition has been variously labeled, mainly by its critics as "medievalism," "Romanism," "Vaticanism," "papalism," "Ultramontanism," "Jesuitism," "Integralism," and "neoscholasticism."

A minority reformist tradition has stressed the immanence of God and the church as community (the "horizontal church"). Reform Catholicism has nourished such movements as Gallicanism, Jansenism, liberal Catholicism, and modernism.

The two traditions coalesced at Vatican II, facilitated by John XXIII's dictum, "The substance of the ancient doctrine is one thing and the way in which it is presented is another." An understanding, then, of modern - day Roman Catholicism requires a description of the characteristics of conservative Catholicism which dominated the church especially from the Council of Trent (1545 - 63) until Vatican II, plus an outline of the changes in emphasis inaugurated at Vatican II.

The Church

The most distinctive characteristic of Roman Catholicism has always been its theology of the church (its ecclesiology). The church's role in mediating salvation has been emphasized more than in other Christian traditions. Supernatural life is mediated to Christians through the sacraments administered by the hierarchy to whom obedience is due. The church is monarchical as well as hierarchical since Christ conferred the primacy on Peter, whose successors are the popes. Pre - Vatican II theology taught that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church of Christ, since it alone has a permanent hierarchy (which is apostolic) and primacy (which is Petrine) to ensure the permanence of the church as Christ instituted it. All other churches are false churches insofar as they lack one of the four properties possessed by the Roman Catholic Church: unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity.

The most important document of Vatican II, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, transformed rather than revolutionized the church's ecclesiology. The traditional emphasis on the church as means of salvation was supplanted by an understanding of the church as a mystery or sacrament, "a reality imbued with the hidden presence of God" (Paul VI). The conception of the church as a hierarchical institution was replaced by a view of the church as the whole people of God. To the traditional understanding of the church's mission as involving (1) the proclamation of the gospel and (2) the celebration of the sacraments, the council added (3) witnessing to the gospel and (4) service to all in need. The Tridentine emphasis on the church universal was supplemented by an understanding of the fullness of the church in each local congregation.

In the Decree on Ecumenism the council recognized that both sides were at fault in the rupture of the church at the Reformation, and it sought the restoration of Christian unity rather than a return of non - Catholics to "the true Church." For the church is greater than the Roman Catholic Church: other churches are valid Christian communities since they share the same Scriptures, life of grace, faith, hope, charity, gifts of the Spirit, and baptism.

Further, the traditional identification of the kingdom of God with the church, into which everyone must therefore be brought or salvation will elude them, is replaced by an understanding of the church as the sign and instrument by which God calls and moves the world toward his kingdom.

The Pope

The dogmas of papal primacy and infallibility were promulgated as recently as Vatican I (1869 - 70), but they have a long history which Roman Catholics trace ultimately to the will of Christ (Matt. 16:18 - 19; Luke 22:32; John 21:15 - 17) and the roles exercised by the apostle Peter (fisherman, shepherd, elder, rock, etc.) in the NT church. In succeeding centuries the prestige of the church of Rome increased since it was located at the Imperial capital and because of its association with the apostles Peter and Paul. It was increasingly looked to as the arbiter of orthodoxy. Pope Leo I maintained that Peter continues to speak to the whole church through the bishop of Rome, the first known such claim. The rise of the pope's temporal power, which for over a millennium buttressed his claims to supremacy, is commonly traced to the middle of the eighth century, when a vacuum in civil leadership was created by the collapse of the Western Empire.

In 1234 Gregory IX combined and codified all previous papal decisions into the Five Books of Decretals. By now the church was understood primarily as a visible hierarchical organization with supreme power vested in the pope. Bishops were required to take an oath of obedience to the pope similar to the feudal oath binding a vassal to his lord. The supreme pontiff was no longer only consecrated; he was also crowned with the triple tiara used originally by the deified rulers of Persia. The coronation rite was continued until 1978, when John Paul I refused the crown, a symbolic action repeated by his successor, John Paul II. The height of papal pretensions was reached in 1302 with Boniface VIII's bull, Unam Sanctam, which decreed that the temporal power was subject to the spiritual, and that submission to the Roman pontiff "is absolutely necessary to salvation."

These papal claims were resisted not only by national rulers but by some scholars, notably William of Ockham and Marsilius of Padua, and by conciliarism, a movement in the church to subject the pope to the judgment and legislation of general councils. Its greatest triumph was the Council of Constance (1414 - 15) with its law Haec Sancta, decreeing the supremacy of a general council and the collegiality of bishops. Conciliarism was condemned by succeeding popes until Vatican I declared that the pope's authoritative teachings are not subject to the consent of the entire church. The pope was declared to be infallible (immune from error) when he speaks ex cathedra (from the chair) on matters of faith and morals with the intention of binding the whole church.

Vatican II stressed the role of the pope as "perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity of the bishops and of the multitude of the faithful," a role received sympathetically by some Protestant churches since the council (see, e.g., R E Brown et al., Peter in the New Testament, sponsored by the United States Lutheran - Roman Catholic Dialogue). Vatican II also revived the collegiality of bishops, thus modifying the monarchical governance of the church: "Together with its head, the Roman Pontiff, and never without its head, the episcopal order is the subject of supreme and full power over the universal church."

The Sacraments

The sacramental principle is another characteristic tenet of Roman Catholicism. The sacramental system worked out especially in the Middle Ages by the schoolmen and subsequently at the Council of Trent envisaged sacraments primarily as causes of grace that could be received independent of the merit of the recipient. Recent Catholic sacramental theology emphasizes their function as signs of faith. Sacraments are said to cause grace insofar as they are intelligible signs of it, and that the fruitfulness, as distinct from the validity, of the sacrament is dependent on the faith and devotion of the recipient. Sacramental rites are now administered in the vernacular, rather than in Latin, to increase the intelligibility of the signs.

Conservative Catholicism connected sacramental theology to Christology, stressing Christ's institution of the sacraments and the power of the sacraments to infuse the grace of Christ, earned on Calvary, to the recipient. The newer emphasis connects the sacraments to ecclesiology. We do not encounter Christ directly, but in the church, which is his body. The church mediates the presence and action of Christ.

The number of sacraments was finally fixed at seven during the medieval period (at the councils of Lyons 1274, Florence 1439, and Trent 1547). In addition Roman Catholicism has innumerable sacramentals, e.g., baptismal water, holy oil, blessed ashes, candles, palms, crucifixes, and statues. Sacramentals are said to cause grace not ex opere operanto like the sacraments, but ex opere operantis, through the faith and devotion of those using them.

Three of the sacraments,
baptism, confirmation, Eucharist,
are concerned with Christian initiation


The sacrament is understood to remit original sin and all personal sin of which the recipient sincerely repents. All must be baptized or they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. But not all baptism is sacramental baptism by water. There is also "baptism of blood," which is received by dying for Christ (e.g., the "holy innocents," Matt. 2:16 - 18), and "baptism of desire," which is received by those who, implicitly or explicitly, desire baptism but are prevented from receiving it sacramentally. "Even those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and his church may be counted as anonymous Christians if their striving to lead a good life is in fact a response to his grace, which is given in sufficient measure to all."


A theology of confirmation was not developed until the Middle Ages. Confirmation was said to be the gift of the Spirit for strengthening (ad robur) while baptismal grace is for forgiveness (ad remissionem). This distinction has no basis in the Scriptures or the fathers, but has been retained to the present following ratification by the Council of Trent. Today, however, the rite is sometimes administered at the same time as baptism and by the priest, not the bishop, to emphasize that both are really aspects of the one sacrament of initiation.


Distinctively Catholic doctrines on the Eucharist include the sacrificial nature of the Mass and transubstantiation. Both were defined at Trent and neither was modified at Vatican II. The unbloody sacrifice of the Mass is identified with the bloody sacrifice of the cross, in that both are offered for the sins of the living and the dead. Hence Christ is the same victim and priest in the Eucharist as he was on the cross. Transubstantiation, the belief that the substance of bread and wine is changed into the body and blood of Christ, was first spoken of at the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The Eucharist is also known as Holy Communion.

Two sacraments,
penance and anointing the sick,
are concerned with healing


By the Middle Ages the sacrament of penance had four components which were confirmed by the Council of Trent: satisfaction (the doing of an act of penance), confession, contrition, and absolution by a priest. All grave sins had to be confessed to a priest who acted as judge. Since Vatican II the role of the priest in penance is understood as healer, and the purpose of the sacrament is reconciliation with the church rather than the restoration of friendship with God. Through contrition the sinner's union with God is restored, but he is still required to seek forgiveness in the sacrament of penance because his sin compromises the mission of the church to be a holy people.

Anointing the Sick

During the Middle Ages the rite of anointing the sick was reserved increasingly for the dying, hence the description of Peter Lombard: extreme unctio (last anointing). Vatican II relabeled the sacrament "anointing of the sick," stating explicitly that it "is not a sacrament reserved for those who are at the point of death." The last sacrament is now known as viaticum, received during Mass if possible. Earlier, this was called Extreme Unction.

There are two sacraments
of vocation and commitment:
marriage and orders


The sacramentality of marriage was affirmed by the councils of Florence and Trent. Marriage is understood to be indissoluble, although dispensations, chiefly in the form of annulment (a declaration that a valid marriage never existed), are permitted. The grounds of nullity so carefully delimited in the 1918 Code of Canon Law have now been broadened to embrace many deficiencies of character.


Vatican II recognized that all the baptized participate in some way in the priesthood of Christ, but confirmed Catholic tradition on the clerical hierarchy by decreeing that there is a distinction between the priesthood conferred by baptism and that conferred by ordination.

The ordained priesthood has three orders: bishops, priests, and deacons. The first and third are offices of the NT church. The office of priest emerged when it was no longer practical to continue recognizing the Jewish priesthood (owing to the destruction of the temple and the great influx of Gentiles into the church) and with the development of a sacrificial understanding of the Lord's Supper.

Canon Law

In the eleventh and twelfth centuries a new branch of theological studies, canon law, emerged as an adjunct of papal supremacy. Legal decrees rather than the gospel became the basis for moral judgments. The church was understood primarily as an institution in its juridical aspect. The legal aspects of the sacraments and matrimony were paramount. Until the post - Vatican II period a knowledge of canon law was the chief prerequisite for ecclesiastical advancement.

The Cult of the Blessed Virgin Mary

At the Council of Ephesus (431) Mary was declared to be the Mother of God (Theotokos) and not only the mother of Christ (Christotokos). This gave an impetus to Marian devotion and by the seventh century four Marian feasts were being observed in Rome: the annunciation, the purification, the assumption, and the nativity of Mary. To these feasts the Eastern churches added the feast of the conception of Mary at the end of the same century. Bernard of Clairvaux influenced Mariology decisively by arguing that while Christ is our mediator he is also our judge, and that therefore we need a mediator with the mediator, so that in popular devotion the merciful Mary was contrasted with the fierce Christ. Marian devotion blossomed between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. The rosary (three groups of fifty Hail Marys counted on beads) was in popular use by the twelfth century and the angelus also appeared (the recitation of prayers to Mary, morning, noon, and evening, at the sound of a bell).

In 1854, following another revival of Marian spirituality, Pius IX promulgated the dogma of the immaculate conception, that Mary was free from original sin from the moment of her conception. In 1950 Pius XII defined the dogma of bodily assumption of the Virgin Mary, that on her death she was preserved from "the corruption of the tomb" and was "raised body and soul to the glory of heaven, to shine refulgent as Queen at the right hand of her Son."

Since Vatican II Catholic scholars have questioned if denial of these two Marian dogmas means exclusion from the Catholic Church, since that denial must be "culpable, obstinate, and externally manifested." Vatican II also tended to disassociate Mariology from Christology, thus removing an emphasis on her involvement in our redemption and attaching her to ecclesiology, so that Mary is seen rather as the type, model, mother, and preeminent member of the church.


The Council of Trent declared tradition to be equally authoritative with Scripture and the definitive interpretation of both to be the preserve of the church. In its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Vatican II sought to remove the sharp distinction perceived by Protestants between Scripture and tradition by defining tradition as the successive interpretations of the Scriptures given by the church throughout the ages. That the church somehow stood above both sources of revelation was specifically denied: "This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it. It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, sacred Scripture, and the teaching authority of the Church are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others."

The failure of post - Vatican II Catholicism to give a clear preeminence to the Bible leaves some Protestants dissatisfied, but there is no doubt that the scholarly and popular study of the Bible by Roman Catholics has increased markedly since 1965. Roman Catholicism is no longer simply reacting and polemical, devoted to defending truth through the condemnation of error. It is now an innovative and irenical movement, more devoted to illustrating the Christian faith than defining it.

F S Piggin

(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

W M Abbott and J Gallagher, eds., the Documents of Vatican II; L Boettner, Roman Catholicism; A New Catechism: Catholic Faith for Adults; G Daly, Transcendence and Immanence: A Study in Catholic Modernism and Integralism; J Delumeau, Catholicism Between Luther and Voltaire; J P Dolan, Catholicism: An Historical Survey; J D Holmes, The Triumph of the Holy See; P Hughes, A Short History of the Catholic Church; B Kloppenberg, The Eclesiology of Vatican II; R Lawler, D W Wuerl, and T C Lawler, eds., The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults; R P McBrien, Catholicism.

Roman Catholic

Catholic Information

A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church. Out of condescension for these dissidents, the members of that Church are wont in official documents to be styled "Roman Catholics" as if the term Catholic represented a genus of which those who owned allegiance to the pope formed a particular species. It is in fact a prevalent conception among Anglicans to regard the whole Catholic Church as made up of three principal branches, the Roman Catholic, the Anglo-Catholic and the Greek Catholic. As the erroneousness of this point of view has been sufficiently explained in the articles CHURCH and CATHOLIC, it is only needful here to consider the history of the composite term with which we are now concerned.

In the "Oxford English Dictionary", the highest existing authority upon questions of English philology, the following explanation is given under the heading "Roman Catholic".

The use of this composite term in place of the simple Roman, Romanist, or Romish; which had acquired an invidious sense, appears to have arisen in the early years of the seventeenth century. For conciliatory reasons it was employed in the negotiations connected with the Spanish Match (1618-1624) and appears in formal documents relating to this printed by Rushworth (I, 85-89). After that date it was generally adopted as a non-controversial term and has long been the recognized legal and official designation, though in ordinary use Catholic alone is very frequently employed. (New Oxford Dict., VIII, 766)

Of the illustrative quotations which follow, the earliest in date is one of 1605 from the "Europae Speculum" of Edwin Sandys: "Some Roman Catholiques will not say grace when a Protestant is present"; while a passage from Day's "Festivals" of 1615, contrasts "Roman Catholiques" with "good, true Catholiques indeed". Although the account thus given in the Oxford Dictionary is in substance correct, it cannot be considered satisfactory. To begin with the word is distinctly older than is here suggested. When about the year 1580 certain English Catholics, under stress of grievous persecution, defended the lawfulness of attending Protestant services to escape the fines imposed on recusants, the Jesuit Father Persons published, under the pseudonym of Howlet, a clear exposition of the "Reasons why Catholiques refuse to goe to Church". This was answered in 1801 by a writer of Puritan sympathies, Percival Wiburn, who in his "Checke or Reproofe of M. Howlet" uses the term "Roman Catholic" repeatedly. For example he speaks of "you Romane Catholickes that sue for tolleration" (p. 140) and of the "parlous dilemma or streight which you Romane Catholickes are brought into" (p. 44). Again Robert Crowley, another Anglican controversialist, in his book called "A Deliberat Answere", printed in 1588, though adopting by preference the forms "Romish Catholike" or "Popish Catholike", also writes of those "who wander with the Romane Catholiques in the uncertayne hypathes of Popish devises" (p. 86). A study of these and other early examples in their context shows plainly enough that the qualification "Romish Catholic" or "Roman Catholic" was introduced by Protestant divines who highly resented the Roman claim to any monopoly of the term Catholic. In Germany, Luther had omitted the word Catholic from the Creed, but this was not the case in England. Even men of such Calvinistic leanings as Philpot (he was burned under Mary in 1555), and John Foxe the martyrologist, not to speak of churchmen like Newel and Fulke, insisted on the right of the Reformers to call themselves Catholics and professed to regard their own as the only true Catholic Church. Thus Philpot represents himself as answering his Catholic examiner: "I am, master doctor, of the unfeigned Catholic Church and will live and die therein, and if you can prove your Church to be the True Catholic Church, I will be one of the same" (Philpot, "Works", Parker Soc., p. 132). It would be easy to quote many similar passages. The term "Romish Catholic" or "Roman Catholic" undoubtedly originated with the Protestant divines who shared this feeling and who were unwilling to concede the name Catholic to their opponents without qualification. Indeed the writer Crowley, just mentioned, does not hesitate throughout a long tract to use the term "Protestant Catholics" the name which he applies to his antagonists. Thus he says "We Protestant Catholiques are not departed from the true Catholique religion" (p. 33) and he refers more than once to "Our Protestant Catholique Church," (p. 74)

On the other hand the evidence seems to show that the Catholics of the reign of Elizabeth and James I were by no means willing to admit any other designation for themselves than the unqualified name Catholic. Father Southwell's "Humble Supplication to her Majesty" (1591), though criticized by some as over-adulatory in tone, always uses the simple word. What is more surprising, the same may be said of various addresses to the Crown drafted under the inspiration of the "Appellant" clergy, who were suspected by their opponents of subservience to the government and of minimizing in matters of dogma. This feature is very conspicuous, to take a single example, in "the Protestation of allegiance" drawn up by thirteen missioners, 31 Jan., 1603, in which they renounce all thought of "restoring the Catholic religion by the sword", profess their willingness "to persuade all Catholics to do the same" and conclude by declaring themselves ready on the one hand "to spend their blood in the defence of her Majesty" but on the other "rather to lose their lives than infringe the lawful authority of Christ's Catholic Church" (Tierney-Dodd, III, p. cxc). We find similar language used in Ireland in the negotiations carried on by Tyrone in behalf of his Catholic countrymen. Certain apparent exceptions to this uniformity of practice can be readily explained. To begin with we do find that Catholics not unfrequently use the inverted form of the name "Roman Catholic" and speak of the "Catholic Roman faith" or religion. An early example is to be found in a little controversial tract of 1575 called "a Notable Discourse" where we read for example that the heretics of old "preached that the Pope was Antichriste, shewing themselves verye eloquent in detracting and rayling against the Catholique Romane Church" (p. 64). But this was simply a translation of the phraseology common both in Latin and in the Romance languages "Ecclesia Catholica Romana," or in French "l'Eglise catholique romaine". It was felt that this inverted form contained no hint of the Protestant contention that the old religion was a spurious variety of true Catholicism or at best the Roman species of a wider genus. Again, when we find Father Persons (e.g. in his "Three Conversions," III, 408) using the term "Roman Catholic", the context shows that he is only adopting the name for the moment as conveniently embodying the contention of his adversaries.

Once more in a very striking passage in the examination of one James Clayton in 1591 (see Cal. State Papers, Dom. Eliz., add., vol. XXXII, p. 322) we read that the deponent "was persuaded to conforme himself to the Romaine Catholique faith." But there is nothing to show that these were the actual words of the recusant himself, or that, if they were, they were not simply dictated by a desire to conciliate his examiners. The "Oxford Dictionary" is probably right in assigning the recognition of "Roman Catholic" as the official style of the adherents of the Papacy in England to the negotiations for the Spanish Match (1618-24). In the various treaties etc., drafted in connection with this proposal, the religion of the Spanish princess is almost always spoken of as "Roman Catholic". Indeed in some few instances the word Catholic alone is used. This feature does not seem to occur in any of the negotiations of earlier date which touched upon religion, e.g. those connected with the proposed d'Alencon marriage in Elizabeth's reign, while in Acts of Parliament, proclamations, etc., before the Spanish match, Catholics are simply described as Papists or Recusants, and their religion as popish, Romanish, or Romanist. Indeed long after this period, the use of the term Roman Catholic continued to be a mark of condescension, and language of much more uncomplimentary character was usually preferred. It was perhaps to encourage a friendlier attitude in the authorities that Catholics themselves henceforth began to adopt the qualified term in all official relations with the government. Thus the "Humble Remonstrance, Acknowledgment, Protestation and Petition of the Roman Catholic Clergy of Ireland" in 1661, began "We, your Majesty's faithful subjects the Roman Catholick clergy of Ireland". The same Practice seems to have obtained in Maryland; see or example the Consultation entitled "Objections answered touching Maryland", drafted by Father R Blount, S.J., in 1632 (B. Johnston, "Foundation of Maryland, etc., 1883, 29), and wills proved 22 Sep., 1630, and 19 Dec., 1659, etc., (in Baldwin, "Maryland Cat. of Wills", 19 vols., vol. i. Naturally the wish to conciliate hostile opinion only grew greater as Catholic Emancipation became a question of practical politics, and by that time it would appear that many Catholics themselves used the qualified form not only when addressing the outside public but in their domestic discussions. A short-lived association, organized in 1794 with the fullest approval of the vicars Apostolic, to counteract the unorthodox tendencies of the Cisalpine Club, was officially known as the "Roman Catholic Meeting" (Ward, "Dawn of Cath. Revival in England", II, 65). So, too, a meeting of the Irish bishops under the presidency of Dr. Troy at Dublin in 1821 passed resolutions approving of an Emancipation Bill then before a Parliament, in which they uniformly referred to members of their own communion as "Roman Catholics". Further, such a representative Catholic as Charles Butler in his "Historical Memoirs" (see e.g. vol. IV, 1821, pp. 185, 199, 225, etc.,) frequently uses the term "roman-catholic" [sic] and seems to find this expression as natural as the unqualified form.

With the strong Catholic revival in the middle of the nineteenth century and the support derived from the uncompromising zeal of many earnest converts, such for example as Faber and Manning, an inflexible adherence to the name Catholic without qualification once more became the order of the day. The government, however, would not modify the official designation or suffer it to be set aside in addresses presented to the Sovereign on public occasions. In two particular instances during the archiepiscopate of Cardinal Vaughan this point was raised and became the subject of correspondence between the cardinal and the Home Secretary. In 1897 at the Diamond Jubilee of the accession of Queen Victoria, and again in 1901 when Edward VII succeeded to the throne, the Catholic episcopate desired to present addresses, but on each occasion it was intimated to the cardinal that the only permissible style would be "the Roman Catholic Archbishop and Bishops in England". Even the form "the Cardinal Archbishop and Bishops of the Catholic and Roman Church in England" was not approved. On the first occasion no address was presented, but in 1901 the requirements of the Home Secretary as to the use of the name "Roman Catholics" were complied with, though the cardinal reserved to himself the right of explaining subsequently on some public occasion the sense in which he used the words (see Snead-Cox, "Life of Cardinal Vaughan", II, 231-41). Accordingly, at the Newcastle Conference of the Catholic Truth Society (Aug., 1901) the cardinal explained clearly to his audience that "the term Roman Catholic has two meanings; a meaning that we repudiate and a meaning that we accept." The repudiated sense was that dear to many Protestants, according to which the term Catholic was a genus which resolved itself into the species Roman Catholic, Anglo-Catholic, Greek Catholic, etc. But, as the cardinal insisted, "with us the prefix Roman is not restrictive to a species, or a section, but simply declaratory of Catholic." The prefix in this sense draws attention to the unity of the Church, and "insists that the central point of Catholicity is Roman, the Roman See of St. Peter."

It is noteworthy that the representative Anglican divine, Bishop Andrewes, in his "Tortura Torti" (1609) ridicules the phrase Ecclesia Catholica Romana as a contradiction in terms. "What," he asks, "is the object of adding 'Roman'? The only purpose that such an adjunct can serve is to distinguish your Catholic Church from another Catholic Church which is not Roman" (p. 368). It is this very common line of argument which imposes upon Catholics the necessity of making no compromise in the matter of their own name. The loyal adherents of the Holy See did not begin in the sixteenth century to call themselves "Catholics" for controversial purposes. It is the traditional name handed down to us continuously from the time of St. Augustine. We use this name ourselves and ask those outside the Church to use it, without reference to its signification simply because it is our customary name, just as we talk of the Russian Church as "the Orthodox Church", not because we recognize its orthodoxy but because its members so style themselves, or again just as we speak of "the Reformation" because it is the term established by custom, though we are far from owning that it was a reformation in either faith or morals. The dog-in-the manger policy of so many Anglicans who cannot take the name of Catholics for themselves, because popular usage has never sanctioned it as such, but who on the other hand will not concede it to the members of the Church of Rome, was conspicuously brought out in the course of a correspondence on this subject in the London "Saturday Review" (Dec., 1908 to March, 1909) arising out of a review of some of the earlier volumes of THE CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA.

Publication information Written by Herbert Thurston. Transcribed by Nicolette Ormsbee. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


The historical facts summarized in this article are given in an extended form in a paper contributed by the present writer to The Month (Sept. 1911). See also "The Tablet" (14 Sept., 1901), 402, and Snead-Cox, Life of Cardinal Vaughan, cited above.

Roman Catechism

Catholic Information

This catechism differs from other summaries of Christian doctrine for the instruction of the people in two points: it is primarily intended for priests having care of souls (ad parochos), and it enjoys an authority equalled by no other catechism. The need of a popular authoritative manual arose from a lack of systematic knowledge among pre-Reformation clergy and the concomitant neglect of religious instruction among the faithful.

The Reformers had not been slow in taking advantage of the situation; their popular tracts and catechisms were flooding every country and leading thousands of souls away from the Church. The Fathers of Trent, therefore, "wishing to apply a salutary remedy to this great and pernicious evil, and thinking that the definition of the principal Catholic doctrines was not enough for the purpose, resolved also to publish a formulary and method for teaching the rudiments of the faith, to be used by all legitimate pastors and teachers" (Cat. praef., vii). This resolution was taken in the eighteenth session (26 February, 1562) on the suggestion of St. Charles Borromeo; who was then giving full scope to his zeal for the reformation of the clergy. Pius IV entrusted the composition of the Catechism to four distinguished theologians: Archbishops Leonardo Marino of Lanciano and Muzio Calini of Zara, Egidio Foscarini, Bishop of Modena, and Francisco Fureiro, a Portuguese Dominican. Three cardinals were appointed to supervise the work. St. Charles Borromeo superintended the redaction of the original Italian text, which, thanks to his exertions, was finished in 1564. Cardinal William Sirletus then gave it the final touches, and the famous Humanists, Julius Pogianus and Paulus Manutius, translated it into classical Latin. It was then published in Latin and Italian as "Catechismus ex decreto Concilii Tridentini ad parochos Pii V jussu editus, Romae, 1566" (in-folio). Translations into the vernacular of every nation were ordered by the Council (Sess. XXIV, "De Ref.", c. vii).

The Council intended the projected Catechism to be the Church's official manual of popular instruction. The seventh canon, "De Reformatione", of Sess. XXIV, runs: "That the faithful may approach the Sacraments with greater reverence and devotion, the Holy Synod charges all the bishops about to administer them to explain their operation and use in a way adapted to the understanding of the people; to see, moreover, that their parish priests observe the same rule piously and prudently, making use for their explanations, where necessary and convenient, of the vernacular tongue; and conforming to the form to be prescribed by the Holy Synod in its instructions (catechesis) for the several Sacraments: the bishops shall have these instructions carefully translated into the vulgar tongue and explained by all parish priests to their flocks . . .". In the mind of the Church the Catechism, though primarily written for the parish priests, was also intended to give a fixed and stable scheme of instruction to the faithful, especially with regard to the means of grace, so much neglected at the time. To attain this object the work closely follows the dogmatic definitions of the council. It is divided in four parts:

I. The Apostles' Creed;

II. The Sacraments;

III. The Decalogue;

IV. Prayer, especially The Lord's Prayer.

It deals with the papal primacy and with Limbo, points which were not discussed or defined at Trent; on the other hand, it is silent on the doctrine of Indulgences, which is set forth in the "Decretum de indulgentiis", Sess. XXV. The bishops urged in every way the use of the new Catechism; they enjoined its frequent reading, so that all its contents would be committed to memory; they exhorted the priests to discuss parts of it at their meetings, and insisted upon its being used for instructing the people.

To some editions of the Roman Catechism is prefixed a "Praxis Catechismi", i.e. a division of its contents into sermons for every Sunday of the year adapted to the Gospel of the day. There is no better sermonary. The people like to hear the voice of the Church speaking with no uncertain sound; the many Biblical texts and illustrations go straight to their hearts, and, best of all, they remember these simple sermons better than they do the oratory of famous pulpit orators. The Catechism has not of course the authority of conciliary definitions or other primary symbols of faith; for, although decreed by the Council, it was only published a year after the Fathers had dispersed, and it consequently lacks a formal conciliary approbation. During the heated controversies de auxiliis gratiae between the Thomists and Molinists, the Jesuits refused to accept the authority of the Catechism as decisive. Yet it possesses high authority as an exposition of Catholic doctrine. It was composed by order of a council, issued and approved by the pope; its use has been prescribed by numerous synods throughout the whole Church; Leo XIII, in a letter to the French bishops (8 Sept., 1899), recommended the study of the Roman Catechism to all seminarians, and the reigning pontiff, Pius X, has signified his desire that preachers should expound it to the faithful.

The earliest editions of the Roman Catechism are: "Romae apud Paulum Manutium", 1566; "Venetiis, apud Dominicum de Farrisö, 1567; "Coloniae", 1567 (by Henricus Aquensis); "Parisuis, in aedibus. Jac. Kerver", 1568; "Venetiis, apud Aldum", 1575; Ingolstadt, 1577 (Sartorius). In 1596 appeared at Antwerp "Cat. Romanus . . . quaestionibus distinctus, brevibusque exhortatiunculis studio Andreae Fabricii, Leodiensis". (This editor, A. Le Fevre, died in 1581. He probably made this division of the Roman Catechism into questions and answers in 1570). George Eder, in 1569, arranged the Catechism for the use of schools. He distributed the main doctrines into sections and subsections, and added perspicuous tables of contents. This useful work bears the title: "Methodus Catechismi Catholici". The first known English translation is by Jeremy Donovan, a professor at Maynooth, published by Richard Coyne, Capel Street, Dublin, and by Keating & Brown, London, and printed for the translator by W. Folds & Son, Great Shand Street, 1829. An American edition appeared in the same year. Donovan's translation was reprinted at Rome by the Propaganda Press, in two volumes (1839); it is dedicated to Cardinal Fransoni, and signed: "Jeremias Donovan, sacerdos hibernus, cubicularius Gregorii XVI, P. M." There is another English translation by R.A. Buckley (London, 1852), which is more elegant than Donovan's and claims to be more correct but is spoiled by the doctrinal notes of the Anglican translator. The first German translation, by Paul Hoffaeus, is dated Dillingen, 1568.

Publication information Written by J. Wilhelm. Transcribed by Nicolette Ormsbee. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York

The Roman Rite

Catholic Information

(Ritus romanus).

The Roman Rite is the manner of celebrating the Holy Sacrifice, administering Sacraments, reciting the Divine Office, and performing other ecclesiastical functions (blessings, all kinds of Sacramentals, etc.) as used in the city and Diocese of Rome.

The Roman Rite is the most wide-spread in Christendom. That it has advantages possessed by no other -- the most archaic antiquity, unequalled dignity, beauty, and the practical convenience of being comparatively short in its services -- will not be denied by any one who knows it and the other ancient liturgies. But it was not the consideration of these advantages that led to its extensive use; it was the exalted position of the see that used it. The Roman Rite was adopted throughout the West because the local bishops, sometimes kings or emperors, felt that they could not do better than use the rite of the chief bishop of all, at Rome. And this imitation of Roman liturgical practice brought about in the West the application of the principle (long admitted in the East) that rite should follow patriarchate.

Apart from his universal primacy, the pope had always been unquestioned Patriarch of the West. It was then the right and normal thing that the West should use his liturgy. The irregular and anomalous incident of liturgical history is not that the Roman Rite has been used, practically exclusively, in the West since about the tenth or eleventh century, but that before that there were other rites in the pope's patriarchate. Not the disappearance but the existence and long toleration of the Gallican and Spanish rites is the difficulty (see RITES).

Like all others, the Roman Rite bears clear marks of its local origin. Wherever it may be used, it is still Roman in the local sense, obviously composed for use in Rome. Our Missal marks the Roman stations, contains the Roman saints in the Canon (See CANON OF THE MASS), honours with special solemnity the Roman martyrs and popes. Our feasts are constantly anniversaries of local Roman events, of the dedication of Roman churches (All Saints, St. Michael, S. Maria ad Nives, etc.). The Collect for Sts. Peter and Paul (29 June) supposes that it is said at Rome (the Church which "received the beginnings of her Faith" from these saints is that of Rome), and so on continually. This is quite right and fitting; it agrees with all liturgical history. No rite has ever been composed consciously for general use. In the East there are still stronger examples of the same thing. The Orthodox all over the world use a rite full of local allusions to the city of Constantinople.

The Roman Rite evolved out of the (presumed) universal, but quite fluid, rite of the first three centuries during the (liturgically) almost unknown time from the fourth to the sixth. In the sixth we have it fully developed in the Leonine, later in the Gelasian, Sacramentaries. How and exactly when the specifically Roman qualities were formed during that time will, no doubt, always be a matter of conjecture (see LITURGY; LITURGY OF THE MASS). At first its use was very restrained. It was followed only in the Roman province. North Italy was Gallican, the South, Byzantine, but Africa was always closely akin to Rome liturgically.

From the eighth century gradually the Roman usage began its career of conquest in the West. By the twelfth century at latest it was used wherever Latin obtained, having displaced all others except at Milan and in retreating parts of Spain. That has been its position ever since. As the rite of the Latin Church it is used exclusively in the Latin Patriarchate, with three small exceptions at Milan, Toledo, and in the still Byzantine churches of Southern Italy, Sicily, and Corsica.

During the Middle Ages it developed into a vast number of derived rites, differing from the pure form only in unimportant details and in exuberant additions. Most of these were abolished by the decree of Pius V in 1570 (see LITURGY OF THE MASS). Meanwhile, the Roman Rite had itself been affected by, and had received additions from, the Gallican and Spanish uses it displaced. The Roman Rite is now used by every one who is subject to the pope's patriarchal jurisdiction (with the three exceptions noted above); that is, it is used in Western Europe, including Poland, in all countries colonized from Western Europe: America, Australia, etc., by Western (Latin) missionaries all over the world, including the Eastern lands where other Catholic rites also obtain. No one may change his rite without a legal authorization, which is not easily obtained. So the Western priest in Syria, Egypt, and so on uses his own Roman Rite, just as at home. On the same principle Catholics of Eastern rites in Western Europe, America, etc., keep their rites; so that rites now cross each other wherever such people live together. The language of the Roman Rite is Latin everywhere except that in some churches along the Western Adriatic coast it is said in Slavonic and on rare occasions in Greek at Rome (see RITES). In derived forms the Roman Rite is used in some few dioceses (Lyons) and by several religious orders (Benedictines, Carthusians, Carmelites, Dominicans). In these their fundamentally Roman character is expressed by a compound name. They are the "Ritus Romano-Lugdunensis", "Romano-monasticus", and so on.

Publication information Written by Adrian Fortescue. Transcribed by Catharine Lamb. Dedicated to the memory of my mother, Ruth F. Hansen The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIII. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, D.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York


For further details and bibliography see BREVIARY; CANON OF THE MASS; LITURGY; MASS, LITURGY OF THE; RITES.

Roman Catholic Church

Orthodox Church Information

The term Catholic Church refers to those Churches (including the Eastern Catholic Churches and other non-Latin rite churches) in communion with the Bishop of Rome, the Pope. It arose in Western Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East (particularly in the area of modern day Lebanon) after the Great Schism in 1054 A.D. In 1054 a schism between Rome and the other patriarchal sees resulted from widening differences between the Eastern and Western Churches. The cause of the schism was initially a dispute over papal authority and the soundness of theology surrounding the term filioque, a word which was interpolated by the Western Church to the Creed for use in its own particular liturgy without the consent of the Eastern bishops. Nevertheless, the effects of the schism were not immediately felt everywhere, and it was only over time that the current complete lack of communion between the Eastern Orthodox Churches and Catholic Church became widespread.

Today, the main differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church continue to be the inclusion of filioque in the Creed and the scope of papal authority. However, most Orthodox also believe that there is a distinct difference in spirit and attitude, which is expressed in the manner of doing theology as well as concrete differences in pastoral care. Additionally, the Catholic Church has made pronouncements of dogma since the Great Schism (such as Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, and papal infallibility), and other matters of doctrine (such as original sin), which are regarded as false by some in the Eastern Orthodox Churches. These pronouncements, and the theological understanding behind them, present another obstacle to the unity of Catholic and Orthodox.

See also


Also, see:
Roman Catholic Popes

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