Question 186:

How many kinds of Catholics are there, Roman Catholics, Greek Catholics etc. Which of these are the true Catholics?


Answer: This is a question of two parts. One the one hand, the question is what does the word Catholic mean, on the other what is the difference between Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic etc. The word is derived from the Greek word katholikos and means general or universal. In Christian literature it first appears in Ignatius of Antioch. In the course of time it acquired several meanings in Christian terminology: (1) Belonging to the universal church as opposed to local Christian communities. It is thus used to describe the faith of the whole church, i.e. the teachings which, according to Vincent of Lerin, has been believed everywhere, always and by all. 2) In the sense of orthodox as opposed to heretic or (later) to schismatic. (3) Historians use it in the sense of belonging to the unified Church prior to the final schism between East and West in 1054. After that time the Western Church generally referred to itself as being Catholic. (4) Since the reformation Roman Catholics have used the term more and more exclusively in reference to themselves. Anglicans and Old Catholics have also used it to describe themselves as well as the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Catholics, in the belief that these communities together represent the undivided Church of the early centuries. (5) It is generally used today to describe Christians who claim to stand in a historic and continuous tradition of faith and practice, as opposed to the Protestants, who locate ultimate authority in the bible and who interpret the bible according to the principles of the reformation in the 16th century.

On the other hand, the word Catholic, if used in conjunction with the terms Greek, Coptic, Syrian etc. refers to the Churches of Eastern Christianity, which are in communion with Rome and which retain their respective languages, rites and their canon law (which has been agreed with Rome). These Churches distribute the Eucharist in both its forms, baptise by full immersion and permit married clergy (with the exception of bishops). The term “Uniates”, which is used for members of these Churches, was first coined by those who opposed the union of Brest-Litovsk in 1985. The main groups described in this way are the Maronites (united in 1182), the Syrians under the Patriarch of Antioch and the Malankaris (1930), all of which belong to the Antioch rite; the Armenians under the Patriarch of Cilicia (united 1198-1291and 1741); the Chaldeans (1551 and 1830) and the Malabaris (before 1599), both of which belong to the Chaldean rite; the Copts (1741) and the Ethiopians (1839), both belonging to the Alexandrian rite. Within the Byzantine rite there are the Polish Ruthenes (1595), the Hungarians (1595), the Slovaks (1611), the Carparthian Romanians (1646), the Romanians (1601), the Melkites (1724), and certain Bulgarians (1860) and Greeks (1860). The largest group of Uniates are the Ukrainians. The term is also used for the Italian-Greek-Albanian community of Southern Italy, which follow a similar practice, although they have never been separated from Rome. In 1946 the Catholic-Ukrainian Church was oppressed, in 1948 the Church in Romania. The faithful of both communities were forced to become part of the Russian Orthodox and the Romanian Orthodox church. The total number of Uniates is approximately 13 million.

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