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The word Church ( ecclesia ) is used in its first sense to express whole congregation of Catholic Christendom united in one Faith, obeying one hierarchy in communion with itself. This is the sense of Matthew 16:18 ; 18:17 ; Ephesians 5:25-27 , and so on. It is in this sense that we speak of the Church without qualification, say that Christ founded one Church, and so on. But the word is constantly applied to the various individual elements of this union. As the whole is the Church, the universal Church, so are its parts the Churches of Corinth, Asia, France, etc. This second use of the word also occurs in the New Testament ( Acts 15:41 ; 2 Corinthians 11:28 ; Revelation 1:4, 11 , etc). Any portion then that forms a subsidiary unity in itself may be called a local Church. The smallest such portion is a diocese -- thus we speak of the Church of Paris, of Milan, of Seville. Above this again we group metropolitical provinces and national portions together as units, and speak of the Church of Africa, of Gaul, of Spain. The expression "Church of Rome ", it should be noted, though commonly applied by non-Catholics to the whole Catholic body, can only be used correctly in this secondary sense for the local diocese (or possibly the province) of Rome, mother and mistress of all Churches. A German Catholic is not, strictly speaking, a member of the Church of Rome but of the Church of Cologne, or Munich-Freising, or whatever it may be, in union with and under the obedience of the Roman Church (although, no doubt, by a further extension Roman Church may be used as equivalent to Latin Church for the patriarchate ).

The word is also used very commonly for the still greater portions that are united under their patriarchs, that is for the patriarchates. It is in this sense that we speak of the Latin Church. The Latin Church is simply that vast portion of the Catholic body which obeys the Latin patriarch, which submits to the pope, not only in papal, but also in patriarchal matters. It is thus distinguished from the Eastern Churches (whether Catholic or Schismatic ), which represent the other four patriarchates (Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem ), and any fractions broken away from them. The Latin patriarchate has always been considerably the largest. Now, since the great part of Eastern Christendom has fallen into schism, since vast new lands have been colonized, conquered or (partly) converted by Latins (America, Australia, etc.), the Latin part of the Catholic Church looms so enormous as compared with the others that many people think that everyone in communion with the pope is a Latin. This error is fostered by the Anglican branch theory, which supposes the situation to be that the Eastern Church is no longer in communion with Rome. Against this we must always remember, and when necessary point out, that the constitution of the Catholic Church is still essentially what it was at the time of the Second Council of Nicaea (787; see also canon 21 of Constantinople IV in 869 in the "Corp. Jur. can.", dist. xxii, c. vii). Namely, there are still the five patriarchates, of which the Latin Church is only one, although so great a part of the Eastern ones have fallen away. The Eastern Churches, small as they are, still represent the old Catholic Christendom of the East in union with the pope, obeying him as pope, though not as their patriarch. All Latins are Catholics, but not all Catholics are Latins. The old frontier passed just east of Macedonia, Greece (Illyricum was afterwards claimed by Constantinople), and Crete, and cut Africa west of Egypt. All to the west of this was the Latin Church.

We must now add to Western Europe all the new lands occupied by Western Europeans, to make up the present enormous Latin patriarchate. Throughout this vast territory the pope reigns as patriarch, as well as by his supreme position as visible head of the whole Church with the exception of very small remnants of other uses (Milan, Toledo, and the Byzantines of Southern Italy ), his Roman Rite is used throughout according to the general principle that rite follows the patriarchate, that local bishops use the rite of their patriarch. The medieval Western uses (Paris, Sarum and so on), of which people at one time made much for controversial purposes, were in no sense really independent rites, as are the remnants of the Gallican use at Milan and Toledo. These were only the Roman Rite with very slight local modifications. From this conception we see that the practical disappearance of the Gallican Rite , however much the archeologist may regret it, is justified by the general principle that rite should follow patriarchate. Uniformity of rite throughout Christendom has never been an ideal among Catholics ; but uniformity in each patriarchate is. We see also that the suggestion, occasionally made by advanced Anglicans, of a "Uniate" Anglican Church with its own rite and to some extent its own laws (for instance with a married clergy ) is utterly opposed to antiquity and to consistent canon law. England is most certainly part of the Latin patriarchate. When Anglicans return to the old Faith they find themselves subject to the pope, not only as head of the Church but also as patriarch. As part of the Latin Church England must submit to Latin canon law and the Roman Rite just as much as France or Germany. The comparison with Eastern Rite Catholics rests on a misconception of the whole situation. It follows also that the expression Latin (or even Roman ) Catholic is quite justifiable, inasmuch as we express by it that we are not only Catholics but also members of the Latin or Roman patriarchate. A Eastern Rite Catholic on the other hand is a Byzantine, or Armenian, or Maronite Catholic. But a person who is in schism with the Holy See is not, of course, admitted by Catholics to be any kind of Catholic at all.


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Designed to present its readers with the full body of Catholic teaching, the Encyclopedia contains not only precise statements of what the Church has defined, but also an impartial record of different views of acknowledged authority on all disputed questions, national, political or factional. In the determination of the truth the most recent and acknowledged scientific methods are employed, and the results of the latest research in theology, philosophy, history, apologetics, archaeology, and other sciences are given careful consideration.

No one who is interested in human history, past and present, can ignore the Catholic Church, either as an institution which has been the central figure in the civilized world for nearly two thousand years, decisively affecting its destinies, religious, literary, scientific, social and political, or as an existing power whose influence and activity extend to every part of the globe. In the past century the Church has grown both extensively and intensively among English-speaking peoples. Their living interests demand that they should have the means of informing themselves about this vast institution, which, whether they are Catholics or not, affects their fortunes and their destiny.

Copyright © Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company New York, NY. Volume 1: 1907; Volume 2: 1907; Volume 3: 1908; Volume 4: 1908; Volume 5: 1909; Volume 6: 1909; Volume 7: 1910; Volume 8: 1910; Volume 9: 1910; Volume 10: 1911; Volume 11: - 1911; Volume 12: - 1911; Volume 13: - 1912; Volume 14: 1912; Volume 15: 1912

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