Christian doctrine professed by the Catholic Church

Catholicism is the traditions and beliefs of Catholic Churches. It refers to their theology, liturgy, morals and spirituality. The term usually refers to churches, both western and eastern, that are in full communion with the Holy See.

Percentages of Catholicism in 2005 nations

In 2012, there were more than 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide. This makes up more than 17% of the world population.[1]

The word "Catholicism" comes from the Greek word caholikismos (καθολικισμός). This means "universal".



The word "Catholicism" refers to many things, including its religious beliefs (called theologies and "doctrines"), and its form of religious worship (called liturgies). The word also refers to Catholic religious beliefs about ethics (things that are right and wrong). It also refers to the ways that members of the Catholic religion live and practice their religion.[2][3]

Many people use the word Catholicism to talk about religious beliefs of the Catholic Church, whose leader is called the "Bishop of Rome" and often called the "Pope". The Catholic Church is based in the Vatican City, a small independent country in the city of Rome, Italy.[4] Sometimes the word also refers to beliefs of other Christian churches, including the Eastern Orthodox Churches, who have many beliefs similar to the Catholic Church, but do not believe the Bishop of Rome is their leader.

The word Catholicism is often used to tell the difference between the beliefs of Catholic Christians and the beliefs of others called Protestant Christians. Catholic and Orthodox churches use church leaders, called bishops, to determine beliefs. Protestants, however, often use each member's own understanding of the Bible to determine beliefs. Protestants use guidelines from the 16th-century Protestant Reformation to understand the Bible.[5] It is the world's second largest religious denomination after Sunnism.[6]

Where the word Catholic came from


The oldest document that uses the name "Catholic Church" is a letter written by a man named Ignatius. Ignatius lived in the ancient city of Antioch. In the year 107, Ignatius wrote a letter addressed to the Christian community in the ancient city of Smyrna. In this letter, Ignatius encouraged the Christian Community to be loyal to their leader, the Bishop. Ignatius wrote:

"Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."[7][8]

Groups who call themselves "Catholic"


Many different denominations (groups) of Christians call themselves "catholic". Often these groups have special beliefs about their leaders, called bishops. They believe Jesus of Nazareth (whom Christians believe is the Son of God) appointed the first bishops, who appointed future bishops, who eventually appointed each community's current bishops. This appointing of leaders is called "Apostolic Succession".

The groups that use the term "Catholic" to talk about themselves are the:

  1. Catholic Church, which is also called the Roman Catholic Church.[9]
  2. Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox[10]
  3. Old Catholic, Anglican, and some Lutheran and other groups
  4. Communities that believe they lost their "Apostolic Succession", but asked a different community to "ordain" new leaders for them. ("Ordain" or consecrate" is a word for the ceremony that makes a bishop or new religious leader.)

Not all communities believe that other communities use the term "catholic" properly. Also, not all communities believe that the other communities have apostolic succession either. For example, the Catholic Church believes that the Eastern Orthodox have apostolic succession. However, the Catholic Church does not believe that the Anglicans or Lutherans have it.

Eastern Orthodox have similar beliefs about Anglicans and Lutherans. Not all Eastern Orthodox believe that the Catholic Church has apostolic succession. Different members of the Eastern Orthodox churches have different opinions.

However, the Anglicans and Lutherans generally believe that all Christians are part of the "catholic" church. These groups have a very different understanding of the term "Catholic".[11][12]



How it was started


Catholicism was started as a result of Jesus of Nazareth, a Jewish man whom Christians believe is the Son of God, a Christian belief known as the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Catholics believe Jesus to be a descendant of David, a Jewish king from a long time ago. Jesus was crucified by the Romans in the year 33 AD. Catholics believe Jesus rose from the dead, and spoke to his followers, called the twelve Apostles. They also believe that Jesus rose into Heaven, and then sent the Holy Spirit to guide his followers at an event known as Pentecost.

One of his followers, the apostle named Saint Peter, was appointed leader by Jesus and later became recognized as the first Pope, or Bishop of Rome, soon after that he was captured and was martyred in Rome. Catholics believe that Saint Peter was given the "keys of the Kingdom of Heaven," meaning that Jesus made him and the apostles in charge of forgiving sins. Catholics believe that Saint Peter passed the Apostolic Power (the ability to ordain priests and consecrate the Eucharist), given to him by Christ, to the Popes, who continue to pass the power through the papacy to this day. At the current time, the pope is Pope Francis, who is the leader of the Catholic Church. The word pope comes from the Latin word for "father."

In 325, the First Council of Nicaea agreed on how to organize the church. The council agreed the Church had five patriarchs (patriarch was the highest type of church leader). The five leaders were the archbishops of Rome (the Pope), Alexandria, Antioch, Constantinople, and Jerusalem. The Patriarch of Rome was honored as "first among equals."

Quarrels within the church


In time, several groups split off from the Catholic Church because of differing opinions of theology. This caused breaks from the Church called schisms. Most schisms happened because people had different beliefs about what is true.

In 451, a church division happened when all the church leaders meeting at the Church Council in the city of Chalcedon excommunicated (cut off) three leaders, because they held to monophysitism and would not accept the view that Jesus had two natures (fully divine and fully human). These three were the bishops of Egypt, Syria, and Armenia. Of course, these three bishops did not accept being excommunicated either, so the churches under them are still known today as Oriental Orthodox Churches.

In 1054, an Eastern part of the Catholic Church severed itself, in the East-West Schism. The church in Western Europe which followed the Pope, became known as the Roman Catholic Church. The churches in the rest of the world, which did not think that the Pope should lead all Christians, became known as the Orthodox Church. "Orthodox" means "correct belief;" as they believe that they have kept the teachings of the early church, and the Roman Catholics have not.

The next big secession was the Protestant Reformation. Protestants resisted the valid central authority of the Church in Rome and rejected many practices, beliefs and disciplines. The Reformation started in Germany, where Martin Luther sent his demands for change to the Church. Because of politics in Europe, many nations supported Luther. The Lutheran Church was started. Later the Calvinist or Presbyterian Church started.

In England, King Henry VIII started the Anglican church. He wanted to divorce his first wife; but the Pope wouldn't allow it, as the marriage was valid. At first, the church of King Henry VIII, the Church of England, was very similar to the Catholic Church. The major difference was that the king was head of the church, instead of the Pope. Later, under his son, Edward VI, the Anglican Church became more reformed or Protestant. Anglicans, and several other Protestant denominations, still believe they are reformed Catholics. Puritanism arose among Anglicans who thought the reforms didn't go far enough.

After the Reformation, many other Churches began because of disagreements over beliefs and practices of earlier Protestant doctrine. According to the 2010 U.S. Religious Congregations and Membership Study,[13] this accounts for most of the Protestant denominations in the United States. There are about 314,000 of these. Two examples of these Protestant (or Reformed) churches are Methodist and Baptist.

Religious Beliefs


The same aspects of Catholic and other Christians

  • The Ten Commandments
  • The belief that God knows everything, that God has unlimited power, and that everything God does is good
  • The belief that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the world, rose again, and one day "will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead."
  • The importance of worshipping God.
  • The infallibility of the bible

What is different from Eastern Orthodox Christians


What is different from mainstream Protestants

  • Catholics believe in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist (this is called Transubstantiation).
  • Catholics believe God forgives mortal sins through the sacrament of reconciliation (confession), which is performed through a priest, while most Protestants do not believe in the sacrament.
  • Catholics hold to the authority of Scripture and Tradition, which the teaching authority of the Church Magisterium (the bishops in communion with the Pope) comes from, while most Protestants believe in Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone)
  • Catholics believe that papal authority (in very specific, solemn occasions called "ex Cathedra"), the Bible, and the conclusions of ecumenical councils are infallible, while most Protestants believe in an infallible Bible but not an infallible Pope. Papal infallibility has been declared twice in the history of the Catholic Church. Once to state that Mary was conceived without sin and another to state that Mary was assumed into heaven body and soul.
  • Catholics hold to a larger 73 book bible canon, while Protestants typically hold to 66 books.
  • Catholics venerate saints, especially the Virgin Mary (Mother of God). "Venerating saints" means that Catholics give special honor to saints (people in heaven) because they believe that saints can pray for them directly to God. Many Protestants do not, because they regard "venerating saints" as "worshiping saints". Because they believe that only God should be worshiped, they do not venerate. Many Protestants also simply do not believe that any veneration is necessary.
  • Catholics have an elaborate mariology, while most Protestants do not.


  1. "Breaking News Stories from US and Around the World - MSN News".
  2. McBrien, Richard P. (1994). Catholicism. HarperCollins. pp. 3–19. ISBN 9780060654054.
  3. For McBrien, the "broad term" refers exclusively and specifically to that "Communion of Catholic Churches" in communion with the Bishop of Rome. Richard McBrien, The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism (New York: HarperOne, 2008), 6, 281-82, and 356. In its Letter on Some Aspects of the Church Understood as Communion the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stressed that the idea of the universal church as a communion of churches must not be presented as meaning that "every particular Church is a subject complete in itself, and that the universal church is the result of a reciprocal recognition on the part of the particular Churches". It insisted that "the universal Church cannot be conceived as the sum of the particular Churches, or as a federation of particular Churches".
  4. McBrien, Catholicism, 19-20.
  5. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (Oxford University Press 2005 ISBN 978-0-19-280290-3), article Catholic, p. 308
  6. Religious Diversity and Children's Literature: Strategies and Resources, Sandra Brenneman Oldendorf - 2011, p 156
  7. "Chapter VIII.—Let nothing be done without the bishop". Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  8. Angle, Paul T. (2007). The Mysterious Origins of Christianity. Wheatmark, Inc. ISBN 9781587368219.
  9. Richard McBrien, Catholicism (Minneapolis, MN: Winston Press, 1981), 680.
  10. Milton V. Anastos (2001). Aspects of the Mind of Byzantium (Political Theory, Theology, and Ecclesiastical Relations with the See of Rome). Variorum Collected Studies Series. Ashgate Publications. ISBN 0-86078-840-7. Retrieved 2011-06-30.
  11. "Nicene Creed". Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. Archived from the original on 15 April 2004. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  12. "Texts of the Three Chief Symbols are taken from the Book of Concord, Tappert edition". The International Lutheran Fellowship. Archived from the original on 28 June 2006. Retrieved 21 November 2008.
  13. "Religion in America: Demographic Maps - U.S. Religion Census". Archived from the original on 2019-02-09. Retrieved 2019-02-11.

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