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Catholicism refers to the beliefs and practices of the Christian denominations that refer to themselves as Catholic.

Generally speaking when references are made to Catholicism, the Roman Catholic Church comes to mind, as it is the largest of the Catholic bodies. The term may also apply to the twenty-three Eastern Catholic Churches that are in full communion with the Holy See of Rome. However, there are other denominations that claim to be Catholic, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and a number of independent Catholic bodies.

The Anglican Church might be considered Catholic as well, as they present a middle way between Catholicism and Protestantism but, for the purposes of categorization, we will list the Anglicans under Protestantism.

Catholics comprise the largest single religion in the world. A common belief in Catholicism is institutional continuity with the Early Christian Church through a line of succession from the Apostle Peter, who is viewed as the first Pope. The theory of Pentarchy holds that the early undivided Church was organized under the three patriarchs of Rome, Alexandria, and Antioch, to which Constantinople and Jerusalem were later added. Doctrinal disputes were often referred to Rome, as Rome was considered first.

The Assyrian Church separated at the 431 Council of Ephesus, and the Oriental Orthodox left at the 451 Council of Chalcedon. The next rift was in 1054 when the Church was divided between an East and a West and, although some of these churches reconciled with Rome in 1438, others remained separated.

Of course, large segments of the Church left Catholicism as a result of the Protestant and Radical Reformations. After the Roman Catholic Church's First Vatican Council, clusters of Catholics formed the Old Catholic Church. Although most Catholics are Roman Catholics, Roman Catholicism is not synonymous with Catholicism but with the Roman Diocese.


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