When we talk today about “the Catholic Church,” we must acknowledge the historical reality that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ has splintered over time into different churches, ecclesial communities and denominations. The first division come when the Eastern and Western Church split apart in the 11th century; more divisions occurred when the Western Church divided into various Christian denominations in the wake of the Protestant Reformation.
What we mean when we refer to “the Catholic Church” is generally the Roman (Latin, or Western) Catholic Church and 22 Eastern Rites or churches in union with the Bishop of Rome. The (Roman) Catholic Church believes and teaches that the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus subsists in the Roman Catholic Church. The term “subsists” was used by the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), and there are various explanations of what exactly the Council meant by the term. The Council deliberately rejected language equating the Roman Catholic Church with the one church founded by Jesus, and the consensus which has emerged among Catholic theologians is that “subsists in” means that the church founded by Jesus exists most completely or fully in the Roman Catholic Church. Other Christian churches, ecclesial communities and denominations participate in, and manifest to one degree or another, the one, holy, universal and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ.
Other Christian churches, ecclesial communities and denominations may manifest and teach part of the truth, tradition and reality of the church founded by Jesus. As a general rule, each emphasizes some aspects of the tradition more than others. The Roman Catholic Church believes that it has preserved and embodied this Christian tradition more fully than any other, and has preserved a historic line of apostolic succession dating back to the original apostles. Nonetheless, over the centuries in response to changing circumstances and in reaction to the challenges of the Orthodox and Protestant communities, the Roman Catholic Church too has emphasized some aspects of its historic tradition more than others. Part of the vision of the Second Vatican Council was that the Church would recover some aspects that had been under-emphasized in more recent history, both through a process of internal resourcement and through dialogue with other Christian churches. The Roman Catholic Church today shares with many other Christian communities both a desire and a renewed effort to eventually reconcile the differences which divide the Body of Christ on earth.
When an individual is baptized into, or makes a profession of faith in, “the Catholic Church” today, they are usually being baptized into, or professing faith in, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ as it is embodied and manifest in the Roman (or Latin) Catholic Church. When you participate in faith formation, enrichment and initiation programs sponsored by the Catholic Parishes in Waterloo, we will generally use the term “Catholic Church” to refer to the church founded by Jesus, understood, embodied and manifest in the Roman tradition, in dialogue with our brothers and sisters in other Christian churches, ecclesial communities and denominations.
• • •