May You Be Blessed by the God of Your Heart
The Geography of Roman Catholicism
The Essentials of the FaithRoman Catholicism is one of the largest religions in the world, with over a billion adherents distributed all over the world. It is characterized by it's highly developed doctrinal and organizational structure. Catholicism's history began when adherents of Judaism accepted Jesus Christ as not just a prophet, but as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
Founded: Roman Catholicism was reputedly started with the commissioning of the Apostle Peter "as the rock on which the church is to be built" (Matt. 16:18). Catholicism, which means universal, received the adjective "Roman" due to the Church's adoption of the organizational grid of the Roman empire. The adjective was also used because of the tradition that Peter had founded the Church in Rome and that he and Paul were buried there.
Adherents: With few exceptions, Roman Catholics are found throughout the world, out of many nations and peoples. Roman Catholics are found concentrated in several areas of world such as southern Europe, South America and certain areas of Asia such as the Philippines. Please see the distribution chart below.
Distribution: The distribution listed for Roman Catholics is given as follows from Markham, pp. 356-357:
Major Teachings: There are two central ideas to Roman Catholicism: the Church as a teaching authority, and the Church as a sacramental agent. The Church as a teaching authority means that the Church is the interpreting agent of the Bible, like the US Supreme Court is to the US Constitution. To accomplish this, the Church has a Pope (with papal infallibility) who speaks officially on matters of faith and morals (Matthew 16:18,19). The Church as a sacramental agent means that the church institutes sacraments for its adherents so that they can live more spiritually. The seven sacraments are further discussed below.
Scriptures and Significant Writings: Roman Catholics recognize the New Testament and the Old Testament (the Hebrew scriptures of Judaism). In addition to these scriptures, the Church recognizes several other books as canon, not recognized by Protestants. These books are known by Protestants as the Apocrypha, and to the Church as the Deuterocanonicals. Furthermore, tradition, canon law, and the infallible authority of the Pope are regarded as additional sources of divine truth.
Major Divisions: The primary segment of the Roman Catholic Church are the Latin rite Catholics, which liturgy has historically been in Latin. Other Eastern Catholic jurisdictions with differing liturgies, languages, ethnicities, and rules are the Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean, and Armenian dioceses. Links to some of these churches are listed below. Other Eastern Catholic Churches under the authority of Roman Catholic Bishops include the Syrian, Russian, White Russian, and Romanian Churches (Channing L. Bete Co., p. 14). All of these churches are distinguished from native Orthodox churches usually only by the fact that they acknowledge the primacy of the Pope.
Major Holy Days: In addition to the holy days celebrated by most other Christians, Roman Catholics observe a number of other holy days and saints days. These might be observed by special masses, fasts, or feasts. The more significant of these are All Saints Day, Annunciation, Ascension Day, Epiphany, Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Good Friday, Maundy Thursday, Nativity of St. John the Baptist (observed especially in Latino culture), and Palm Sunday.
The Details about Roman Catholicism
During the first five centuries, the Church of Rome gradually assumed preëminence among the churches of the Mediterranean region. It came to be regarded as a kind of final court of appeal as well as a focus of unity for the worldwide communion of churches. After the conversion of the Roman emperor Constantine I, in the year 312, a new era for the Church began.
In 314, the Edict of Milan recognized Roman Catholicism as a legal religion and by the end of the 4th century, Roman Catholicism was made the official religion of the Empire. The clergy was then accorded privileged status in the Empire. Constantine's conversion also provided the Church with extraordinary opportunities for proclaiming the gospel to all nations, usually through missionary work. Some, however, saw this as dangerous because Christian commitment would no longer be tested by persecution, as it was before Constantine's conversion. Following this, a monastic movement developed in which monks became directly involved in the missionary expansion of the Church in Ireland, Scotland, Gaul, and England between the 5th and 7th centuries.
In the 4th and 5th centuries, there was a controversy over the relationship between the one God, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 CE, ended the controversy by stating that "Jesus is at once divine and human. The divine and the human are united in one person, 'without confusion or change, without division or separation'" (Eliade, p. 432).
When the western empire fell in 476 CE, Germanic tribes came into the area and the Pope was the only effective force left for order in the west. In the ensuing centuries, the monks "Christianized the [Germanic] invaders and cemented ties between a distinctly Roman form of Christianity and western European culture" (The New Encyclopædia Britannica, p. 149).
A turning point in the Church's history came in 1054, in an event known as the Great Schism. This schism occurred as the eastern churches separated from the western churches due to unfortunate and complicated political maneuvers. The unity between the East and the West came apart when:
During the 16th century, a general call for reform swept through the Christian West as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli attacked the corruption and lack of spirituality in the Church. After the Reformation which led to the formation of Protestantism, the Church underwent reform with a program of internal renewal during the Counter-Reformation under the Council of Trent from 1545-1563. The Council of Trent did little to heal the rifts between the Church and growing Protestant movement as it condemned most of the Protestant issues of dissent with anathema. The reforms lost momentum when in the aftermath of the wars of religion, Europe went into a religious decline.
In the century following the 1st Vatican Council (1869-70), the papal states were lost. The Church's tardiness in committing itself to the cause of social justice in industrial relations led large segments of the working class in Europe to turn away from the Roman Catholic Church. This led to anticlerical regimes to succeed in reducing the political power and freedom of the Church. From the 2nd Vatican Council (1962-65) onward, the Church has attempted to update it's message and soften it's opposition to the modern world.
The Geography of Roman CatholicismThe Church is divided into the Western, or Roman Church and the Patriarchal Synods of the eastern Church. The Roman Church is divided into archdioceses and then dioceses which are in turn divided into the parishes of the local churches. The state of Louisiana, having been heavily settled Catholics, was divided into parishes (rather than the county units used in other states).
The Church also has a large number of missions scattered throughout the world, which are most often run by one of the holy orders. The location of monasteries and their distribution was important in the pilgrimage routes, land use, and economics of the middle ages. Often becoming central repositories of learning, monasteries were very important in the development of Europe.
ReferencesCMD Apostolate, Basic Catechism of Christian Doctrine. Brooklyn: CMD Apostolate, undated. This is a pocket sized "penny catechism" available free of charge for a self addressed, double stamped 9×4 envelope from CMD Apostolate, P.O. Box 52, Brooklyn, NY 11209. Imprimatur by John Cardinal Heenan, Archbishop of Westminister, 18 July 1971. Very traditional.
German Catechetical Association, Sister Benedict Davies OSU (translator), Credo, A Catholic Catechism. London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1983. Imprimatur by David Norris, VG, Westminster, 18 October 1982. A good systematic study of Catholic doctrine designed for young people.
Schaff, Philip, D.D., LL.D., The Creeds of Christiandom. New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1882. This work has recently been reprinted; very useful in comparative studies!
Our Sunday Visitor's 1997 Catholic Almanac. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor's Publication Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 1996.
The World Almanac and Book of Facts 1997. Mahwah: The K-III Reference Corporation, 1996.
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