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Christians in different churches profess their faith in "the one, holy, catholic church," from the Apostles' Creed. In that sense, "catholic" refers to the idea of the universality of the church. The Catholic Church is the one that exists around the world and throughout the ages, although different religious institutions may have different understandings of it. The churches that hold most clearly to a view of the church that is universal in time and space are included in this category, or its subcategories.

When most people think of Catholicism, they are thinking of the Roman Catholicism because the Roman Catholic Church is the largest in the world. Catholic churches view themselves as being in unbroken continuity with the expression of Christianity since the days of the apostles. Within Catholicism, the churches in the East and those in the West developed distinctive liturgical and administrative practices. Catholic theologians and bishops in the East tended to define the church in terms of orthodox beliefs and practices, while institutional allegiances were of primary importance in the Western church, particularly during the Middle Ages.

The Western church gained political authority and power when it was able to assert itself as the only body strong enough to provide a stable government in the face of migration and invasion by Germanic tribes. Western Europe found a steady hand in the Church at Rome, and the Roman Church began to apply the word "catholic" to those who were loyal to the bishop of Rome. Until 1054, the bishop of Rome and the bishop of Constantinople served as the heads of the Western and Eastern churches, respectively, without one asserting dominion over the other. But in that year, each bishop excommunicated the other.

In 1870, a group calling themselves the Old Catholics separated from Rome over the issue of papal infallibility. Over the years other separations took place. Church bodies professing to be the one Catholic Church are listed here.


Old Catholic

Roman Catholic



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