QUAERITUR: Are Eastern Catholics also “Roman” Catholics?

From a reader:

Are ALL Catholics, (Eastern Rite Church) considered Roman Catholics? Or do they go by the name of the rite, like Maronite Rite Catholics? Had to answer this question in school, and didn’t know the difference.

I am not an Eastern Church priest and so I am not well-versed in what they say about themselves.   I believe that they go by “Maronite Catholic”, “Ukrainian Catholic” and so forth.

They are all “Roman” in the strict sense that they all are in union with the Roman Pontiff, that is to say, they are not allied with Orthodox Churches.  However, even though they are with the Roman Pontiff, I do not believe they would ever want to be called “Roman” Catholic as if they were subjects of the Latin Church and used the Roman Rite.  They have their own identity in their Churches.

Perhaps some Eastern Catholic readers can jump in with their observations.

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  1. Recte dixistis, Pater, et bene.

  2. discipulus says:

    Those who are of Eastern rites are not called “Roman Catholics”, one would call them “Maronite Catholic” or Ruthenian, or so forth. I frequently attend Divine Liturgy in the latter rite, and it is just simply beautiful. I would warmly recommend one attend a Divine Liturgy of an Eastern Catholic Rite.

  3. ReginaMarie says:

    This post from New Advent in quite long: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05230a.htm
    I believe this excerpt from the above post sums it up well:
    A short enumeration and description of the Catholic Eastern Rites will complete this picture of the Eastern Churches. It is, in the first place, a mistake (encouraged by Eastern schismatics and Anglicans) to look upon these Catholic Eastern Rites as a sort of compromise between Latin and other rites, or between Catholics and schismatics. Nor is it true that they are Catholics to whom grudging leave has been given to keep something of their national customs. Their position is quite simple and quite logical. They represent exactly the state of the Eastern Churches before the schisms. They are entirely and uncompromisingly Catholics in our strictest sense of the word, quite as much as Latins. They accept the whole Catholic Faith and the authority of the pope as visible head of the Catholic Church, as did St. Athanasius, St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom. They do not belong to the pope’s patriarchate, nor do they use his rite, any more than did the great saints of Eastern Christendom. They have their own rites and their own patriarchs, as had their fathers before the schism. Nor is there any idea of compromise or concession about this. The Catholic Church has never been identified with the Western patriarchate. The pope’s position as patriarch of the West is as distinct from his papal rights as is his authority as local Bishop of Rome. It is no more necessary to belong to his patriarchate in order to acknowledge his supreme jurisdiction that it is necessary to have him for diocesan bishop. The Eastern Catholic Churches in union with the West have always been as much the ideal of the Church Universal as the Latin Church. If some of those Eastern Churches fall into schism, that is a misfortune which does not affect the others who remain faithful. If all fall away, the Eastern half of the Church disappears for a time as an actual fact; it remains as a theory and an ideal to be realized again as soon as they, or some of them, come back to union with Rome.

  4. Supertradmum says:

    We were, as a family, allowed to be Byzantine Catholics with permission, as we were living in an area where there was not a valid Latin Rite. The Ukrainian Catholics were adamant about not being “Latin” Rite. Likewise, when we attended the Ruthenian Rite, the Catholics called themselves either Ruthenians or Byzantines. I think the difference is clear, as it is a question of Rite, although Uniate.

  5. lkapell says:

    I cite the Catholic Encyclopedia: “Roman Catholic: A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church. Out of condescension for these dissidents, the members of that Church are wont in official documents to be styled “Roman Catholics” as if the term Catholic represented a genus of which those who owned allegiance to the pope formed a particular species.” In other words it was Protestants who originally called us Roman Catholics and then we began using the term ourselves. Personally I prefer to just say “Catholic” even though I belong to the Roman rite.


  6. Lurker 59 says:

    What discipulus said. Eastern Catholics are not “Roman Catholics” . Eastern Catholics, not having the patriarch of Rome as their patriarch, are not Roman Catholics and the ones that I have known do not like to be called such (nor uniates, which is taken as a pejorative). Eastern Catholic identity is just as important as Western Catholic identity and it serves the Church no good to latinize the Easterns or to easternize the Romans.

  7. Oleksander says:

    as far as UGCC is concerned in ukrainian language at least among my family, friends and church we usually refer to ourselves as “greek catholic” or “ukrainian catholic”

    in english people i know always use “ukrainian catholic” or to a lesser extent “eastern catholic”

    never roman catholic, because we are not roman catholic

    “Church” is used instead of “-Rite” because we are a Church (Church of Kiev, not the Rite of Kiev – we use the rite of Constantinople)

  8. acardnal says:

    There are Eastern Rite Catholics and Latin Rite Catholics all of whom are members of the Roman Catholic Church.

    Here is a quote from a document of the Second Vatican Council:
    Vatican Council II recognized in its “Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches,” “The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government. They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy, and so form particular churches or rites. Between those churches there is such a wonderful bond of union that this variety in the Universal Church, so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it. For the Catholic Church wishes the traditions of each particular Church or Rite to remain whole and entire, and it likewise wishes to adapt its own way of life to the needs of different times and places” (No. 2). Although these Eastern Rites differ from the Western or Latin Rite in “rite” and liturgy, ecclesiastical discipline and Canon Law and spiritual traditions, they are fully part of the Roman Catholic Church under the leadership and pastoral care of the pope, the successor of St. Peter.

  9. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    No they are not “Roman” Catholics. The Catholic Church is made up of many rites of worship. There are three traditional western rites in the Latin Church: Mozarabic, Ambrosian, Roman, and now the Roman variant Anglican Rite. All of these Rites are a part of the Western Catholic Church. However, only one of them is Roman Catholic.

  10. pfreddys says:

    Whatever you do please do not call them uniates. This was a derogatory term originally used by the eastern orthodox.

  11. Mike says:

    The Eastern priests that I know would not identify as “Roman Catholics.”

  12. Dr. Eric says:

    Please don’t use the “U” word, unless you want to pick a fight with an Eastern Catholic.

  13. Precentrix says:

    I’m a Latin and dislike the term ‘Roman’ nearly as much as my Byzantine/Maronite friends…

  14. everett says:

    This discussions requires that we define/clarify our terminology. It depends on what you mean by Roman Catholic Church. If you’re of a secular mindset, saying Roman Catholic Church generally means the same thing as just saying Catholic Church, in which case an Eastern Catholic could be considered a Roman Catholic (as there’s only one Catholic Church). In the more accurate Catholic worldview, a Roman Catholic is actually a Roman rite (or Latin rite) Catholic, and an Eastern Catholic is actually a Byzantine rite or Ruthenian rite or Maronite rite Catholic, in which case an Eastern Catholic is definitely not a Roman Catholic.

  15. Michael J. says:

    Sorry, but I felt compelled to answer this. Technically, even all of the Latin Rite Catholics are not Roman Rite. While the Roman Rite is the largest Rite in both the Western or Latin Rites and in the entire Catholic Church, there are other Western Rites that are not Roman. Just to name a few. The numerous Religious Order Rites with their own liturgies, like the Dominican and Carmelite Rites. Also, the Ambrosian Rite, the Mozarabic Rite, the Sarum Use, and soon, the Anglican Use Catholics. The difference between these Western or Latin Rites, and the Eastern Rites, is the Eastern Rites are Rites sui iuris, and the Latin Rites are not, they share the same Canon Law as does the Roman Rite.

  16. Michael J. says:

    Sorry, I forgot to add the Rite of Braga. Another Latin Rite yet not a Roman Rite.

  17. acardnal says:

    Changed my mind after reading more Vatican documents. The Eastern Rite Catholics are NOT part of the ROMAN Catholic Church but members of the Catholic (or Universal) Church which is headed by the Roman Pontiff.

  18. jfm says:

    This question and its answers point out a very important truth about the Catholic Church. The Church has never been one rite/one language. There have always been many churches allied with the Bishop of Rome since the great schism. These churches have had their own rites, and sometimes more than one rite per church. Worship among those allied with the Bishop of Rome has been occurring in many languages, Latin being one of them. It’s easy to look at many rites, many languages, many customs, many traditions as chaos. It is not – it is Catholicism; it is glorious; it is beloved by God; and it been so for a millenium. We can say the black and do the red.

  19. jfm says:

    Whoops – hit post instead of preview.

    We can say the black and do the red in many languages, in many rites, in many churches.

  20. Joe in Canada says:

    what everyone has said is right, except that in practice lots of Eastern Catholics will call themselves Roman Catholic casually, especially when talking to Protestants. A lot of kids don’t know any better.

  21. ChrisWhittle says:

    The Eastern Rite Catholics can also be called “Roman Catholics” because they’re in communion with Rome. “Roman Catholic” is the official name of the Catholic Church. They’re headquartered in Rome as Latin Rite Catholics are. But the majority of Catholics are “Latin Rite Roman Catholics,” or simply just Roman Catholics. If the Papacy were to be moved to Boston, the church would be called the “Bostonian Catholic Church.” Or if it was to New York, the “New York Catholic Church,” or if moved to Paris, the “Parisian Catholic Church.”

  22. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    We must always distinguish between “Rite” and “Church.”

    No one belongs to a “rite” per se, rather they belong to a particular sui iuris Church (there are 22, with the Latin Church being the largest in population) which draws its liturgical traditions from one of 6 major rites: Byzantine, Alexandrian, Antiochene, Armenian, Chaldean and Latin which includes the Roman, Mozrarabic, Ambrosian and Gallican rites along with the lesser rites of the various religious congregations identified above.

    All of these Churches, while they have their own particular expressions of liturgy, theology, spirituality and law, together make up the communion of the one, holy catholic and apostolic Church, which has the same apostolic faith, apostolic worship and apostolic leadership in visible communion with the Successor and Vicar of Peter, the Pope of Rome.

    Are Eastern Catholics “Roman Catholics”? No we are not and we do not self-identify as such. Are we Catholic Christians in communion with the Apostolic See of Rome? Absolutely. We are believers in the Orthodox Faith of the Catholic Church and we happily commemorate the Pope of Rome as the “first” followed by patriarchs, metropolitan archbishops, and bishops in our diaconal litanies. It is a golden thread of communion from the local Church to the universal Church.

    The Catholic Church is the true embodiment of authentic diversity in unity and not the spiritualized ecclesiology of Protestant denominationalism.

    Hope that helps!


  23. emabroes says:

    Isn’t the whole story about the Anglicans pretending to be “catholic” too, and therefore the Catholic church being differentiated with the adjective “Roman”?

    I think that English speakers are the only ones calling “Roman Catholic” the “Catholic” church. And by the way: I am Ambrosian Catholic, western church, different rite, in union with the Pope, but not at all Milanese and not Roman!

  24. It can go both ways. Like Sacred Scripture, it is a matter of CONTEXT. The word ROMAN can denote a liturgical rite as in Byzantine (or Constantinopolitan), Alexandrian, Antiochene, et al. rites. These came from the major patriarchates of Jerusalem, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch and later Constantinople. When used in that context, Roman Catholic is in distinction from Eastern Catholic or from Ambrosian Catholic.

    ROMAN can also specify center of ecclesiastical authority. While the Ruthenian, Ukrainian, Melkite, Maronite, etc., are all Easter Catholic or Easter (Oriental Rite), each one is its own respective Eastern Catholic Church. They are not separate rites but churches which use an Eastern Catholic rite. As separate churches, however, they are NOT independent nor autonomous from the Successor of Saint Peter. The Bishop of Rome (the Pope) is supreme head of the universal church (both East and West, both Oriental Rite and Latin Rite). Hence, is used as a moniker of jurisdictional and theological authority, Eastern Catholics are as much Roman Catholic as are Western or Latin Rite Catholics.

    So the USE of the word ROMAN depends on the context of how it used and what s meant by it. The word UNIATE is offensive to Easter Catholics as their churches are not inferior to Latin Catholics. Hence, better to never use it again. Rite refers to liturgical traditions and rituals and the word CHURCH is used to designate a complete people, language, heritage as well as ritual.

  25. Tim Ferguson says:

    It’s enheartening to see so many commenters, and not just Eastern Catholics, knowledgeable about some of the subtleties and complexities when we speak about the Churches sui iuris which make up the Catholic Church. I tend to use the term “Latin Catholic Church” for the Roman Church sui iuris, because I have met some Eastern Catholics who insist that, in distinction to our separated Eastern brethren, they are also “Roman” Catholics, as they are in communion with Rome. I have learned, painfully, that a “Latin” should never attempt to correct an Easterner on terminology without getting a stern lecture.

    I am also more than a bit curious about Supertradmum whose family is “allowed to be Byzantine Catholic with permission” – from whom did the permission come? Changing one’s ritual Church is not a simple feat, especially of a whole family. Permission is required both from the bishop of the receiving Church as well as of the Church one is leaving. All Catholics may, of course, freely attend and participate in the liturgical worship of any Church in communion with Rome, even on a stable basis, but changing one’s ritual ascription is a pretty complicated, and fairly uncommon thing (outside of marriage to a person of another Church sui iuris).

  26. AnnAsher says:

    I have visited a Byzantine Catholic Mission Parish in St Louis as well as a ByzCath Parish in Georgia. Finding the Divine Liturgy (liturgy of St John Chrysostom usually) profoundly reverent, Catholic and beautiful I studied up a bit. My friends in St Louis are adamant about being Eastern not Roman; within these Churches there are strong ethnic and cultural ties, traditions, much as Latin’s once has traditions as well. In my studies I’ve found they are correct in their assertion that they are not Roman nor Latin. The Bishop of Rome is our Bishop and he is Pope of the Churches. We forget this delineation in believing we Romans are the only Catholics around; much of that has to do with Rome limiting priests for the America’s to unmarried Latin Rite Priests. The US lost a good many Catholics to Orthodoxy this way. So the other Rites of the Church are in infancy in the great american melting pot today. Just as we are Roman and not Byzantine – so vice versa. The 23 Eastern Catholic Rites share a common Code of Canon Law. We Romans have our own. There is actually quite a bit of diversity in the One Holy Catholic Church and I readily understand why our Eastern Brothers and Sisters sometimes feel almost hostile in response to our (Roman) lack of knowledge and sense of false superiority. Pope John Paul II said all Rites are to be held in equal esteem. The Pope of Christian Unity has as his prayer intention for the Church this month that the Eastern Rites and their treasures would be known. Go visit some today! You fulfill your Sunday obligation, you may communicate, go to Confession… And If you like it a lot you are free to register and attend regularly. It is not necessary to transfer Rites.

  27. LaudemGloriae says:

    We have a Ukranian Church in our area and through mutual friends I’ve become friendly with the pastor and his wife. I’ve always heard him say they are Ukrainian Catholics. However without pause he adds that they are united to Rome, the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. They serve a diverse community that is part eastern European part Hispanic and part Southern Catholic. Somehow it works. Praise God and the Church for it’s diversity. I love visiting there.

  28. Novum Eboracense says:

    All adherents to the Roman Rite are Catholic, but not all Catholics adhere to the Roman Rite.

  29. jfm says:

    Novum Eboracense, Excellent summary statement. It reminds me of math class and set theory. Roman (or Latin) Rite Catholics are a subset of Catholics.

    I do wonder about the following: While having many distinct churches in communion with Rome is a wonderful thing, I cannot imagine that the church fathers would have ever imagined that someone in a big city would have so many different options available to him or her. Are we now cafeteria Catholics in choice of church, rite, language? I live in NYC, and I can easily go a year or two of Sundays without ever repeating a church/rite/ language combo.

    I think having options is wonderful, and I love to go to different liturgies. And while I know they are all appropriate, there’s something that seems vaguely subversive, theatrical, or even protestant about the whole freedom of choice. I’m fine with it — I love the freedom it offers and the lack of uniformity in details (but not in essentials). But is it a tower of Babel? How obligated does one have to be to worship in the church/rite/language of his upbringing or is mobility allowed? Encouraged?

  30. Nan says:

    My Church and Parish don’t match; Canon Law puts me into the Byzantine-Ruthenian Church but my parish is my local Latin Cathedral. You can call me Byzantine, Ruthenian or Greek Catholic, but please don’t call me a Uniate! Someone once told me that it’s the Ruthenian use of the Byzantine Rite, rather than a sui juris church in its own right; please don’t make that mistake, either. Note that Abp. Fulton Sheen was bi-ritual, having faculties in both my churches.

    The original parish in my area that was meant to be Greek-Catholic is now an Orthodox Cathedral that advertises it was “founded by saints” as both the original Greek Catholic Priest, who took his parish Orthodox and converted 300,000 souls to Orthodoxy, and another priest, were canonized in Orthodox tradition.

    Yes, I do pray for the soul of Archbishop Ireland.

    A Catholic Church is a Catholic Church, no matter the rite so there’s no reason that anyone needs permission; Canon Law is silent on parish so each person may choose their parish. Changing rites is more difficult; as mentioned above, the easy one is at time of marriage. I’m told that those with Eastern Catholic maternal ancestors have an easier time changing rites, so long as they can prove that they had family from that rite. Otherwise it is more difficult and both bishops have to agree to the trade. A priest from another rite told me that he was sure that my actual bishop would agree that I could change rites but the policy in my diocese is that Eastern Catholic women may change rites only upon marriage or entry into consecrated life. Because people don’t always know their own rite, I’m told that sometimes men are worse off as they learn only upon applying for seminary that they’re not actually Latin Rite Catholics so are unable to enter the seminary for that rite.

  31. AnnAsher says:

    I also find it discouraging that a Latin Rite gentleman can not easily apply to an Eastern Rite seminary. I think the US is unique in beginning to have so many “Catholic Options”. The Eastern Rites grew organically out of their cultural surroundings. Communication wasn’t always so simple. As time professed these Rites were, rightly, permitted to maintain their cultural identity. I think the idea was for the US to embrace a Latin identity, but that vision seems lacking when you see that we are a mixture of all those other regions of the world from which all the other Rites hail as well — well many of them. I do know that when we are initiated into one Rite, a church in that Rite becomes our jurisdictional Church – usually a geographical situation for Latins by Diocese, except not so with the Eastern Patriarchates in the US. I think there must still be some amount of obligation to attend ones geographically closest Parish … As when our Bishop gave permission for my daughters to be confirmed outside our Diocese (in TLM where we are registered) the Bishop sent carbon copy of his letter to the local Parish Priest where we do not attend but apparently “belong”. Thank God for Canon’s that allow the faithful to worship, communicate and confess elsewhere!

  32. New Sister says:

    Are those in the Anglican ordinariate now Roman Catholic?

  33. Mark F says:

    “Roman” in this context refers to the empire, not to the city, and “Roman” is as much a title of the universal church as “Catholic” is.

    Bear in mind that the Roman empire was in existence until 1453, and the last emperor of Constantinople was still calling himself “Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans”.

    The medieval Muslims distinguished two types of Christians: the Rumi (Romans) who were the Eastern Christians, and the Ferengi (Franks) who were the Western Christians.

    If you wish to refer to Western Catholics as opposed to Eastern Catholics the correct designation is Latin Catholics . All Catholics are Roman Catholics, and papal documents always use the expression “Roman Catholic Church” to refer all the churches in communion with the Holy See.

  34. Jim says:

    The answer depends on what is intended by “Roman” when one says “Roman Catholic”. If “Roman” is used as a synonym for “Latin Rite” (ie HOW we worship) – then Eastern Catholics are not Roman Catholics. But if “Roman” is used to mean the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, where Christ is Lord and the Roman Pontiff is His vicar (ie WHO we are) – then all Catholics (Eastern included) are Roman Catholics. The Pope is as much the Holy Father of us Eastern Catholics (I belong to the Archeparchy of Kottayam within the Syro Malabar Rite) as he is for Latin Rite Catholics and he is not merely “First Among equals” :-). Peter is Kepha.
    Depending on where (geographically) the question is being asked, “Roman” might mean either.

  35. Oleg-Michael says:

    In English, “Roman Catholic” often means simply “Catholic”, i.e. in union with the See of Rome. In fact, it was at first a derogatory term coined in order to distinguish the “Romish” adherents of “Poppery” from the Anglicans who claimed to be “Catholic” (i.e., members of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ) too. It became a matter of pride to be called Roman Catholic only later, much similar to how the word “Christian” first appeared as a derogatory, in Antioch, I think, and only later was adopted by the adherents of Christ themselves. Officially, though, even in English, the Church is called simply “Catholic”, and only in such cases as the infamous ARCIC (“Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission”) they use “Roman Catholic”, apparently, in order to flatter the heretics.

    On the other hand, in Ukrainian, for example, “Roman Catholic” means “Latin rite” (new or old), while “Greek Catholic” means “Slavo-Byzantine, or Ukrainian, rite”.

    And, lastly, funnily enough, in Turkish “Rum Katoliki” is the original name of the Byzantine-rite Catholics – “Rum” being their word for “Rome”, but meaning the “Second Rome”, or Constantinople.

  36. Tim Ferguson says:

    Mark, I think you’ll be surprised to find that papal documents seldom – if ever – use the expression “Roman Catholic Church.”

  37. Nan says:

    @AnnAsher, no, there isn’t an obligation to attend one’s nearest geographical parish. I asked a canon lawyer specifically whether I was obligated to be a member of my canonical Church as there’s a parish in the city. Canon law determines the Church to which one belongs and is silent on parish so any Catholic can attend any Catholic Parish whether it’s the one closest to which they’re domiciled or a destination parish, such as the Basilica of Frogtown. This is true of both the Eastern and Western Churches.

    One of the early problems was that in the US, priests of other Catholic Churches were to present their credentials to the local ordinary in order to exercise their priestly ministry. Unfortunately, not all local ordinaries were amenable to this, so chose to abrogate the Union of Brest and Uzhorod, which brought Orthodox into Communion with Rome with some changes, although for the most part they were able to follow their Orthodox heritage, including ordaining married men. Only in a few jurisdictions in the US to Eastern Catholics ordain married men. My local Byzantine priest is married but was ordained in London.

  38. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Mark F,

    Great point about the imperial reference in the use of the title “Roman.” I have been told that some Greek Orthodox refer to themselves as “Roman Orthodox,” but have never confirmed that.

    But you wrote: “All Catholics are Roman Catholics.”

    I’m sure that this will come as quite a shock to Chaldean Catholics and those St. Thomas Christians who were never under the imperium of the Romans!

    The use of the nomenclature “Roman Catholic Church” is a late development in the history of the Church which originated among the leaders of the Protestant movement. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states:

    “The term ‘Romish Catholic’ or ‘Roman Catholic’ undoubtedly originated with the Protestant divines who shared this feeling (essentially of anti-papalism) and who were unwilling to concede the name Catholic to their opponents without qualification.”

    In my opinion, it is unfortunate that Latin Catholics have adopted this title and applied it to the universal Church, most especially for Eastern Catholics, as it only serves to spread confusion among those within and outside of the communion of the Catholic Church.

  39. Subdeacon Joseph says:

    I have to second that Mark F does make a sound point. The Oriental Orthodox will often refer to the Greek Orthodox as Melkites/Emperor’s Men. This is in reference to the Roman/Byzantine Empire.

  40. Centristian says:

    ChrisWhittle says:

    “But the majority of Catholics are ‘Latin Rite Roman Catholics,’ or simply just Roman Catholics. If the Papacy were to be moved to Boston, the church would be called the ‘Bostonian Catholic Church.’ Or if it was to New York, the ‘New York Catholic Church,’ or if moved to Paris, the ‘Parisian Catholic Church.'”

    So, during the so-called Babylonian Captivity, was Christ’s church officially the “Avignoninan Catholic Church”?

    No. The term “Roman Catholic Church” is a term of common reference, but it is not “official”, and Rome remains the seat of Peter no matter if Peter moves somewhere else. He will always derive his authority from the fact that he is bishop of Rome. The bishop of Paris can never be Peter, and Peter can never be the bishop of Paris.

    The term “Roman Catholic Church” can be official in terms of a local, legal corporation, e.g.: “St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church”, but is there an “official” name, universally speaking, for the true Church of Jesus Christ. No, not really. The closest, perhaps, we can come to any such thing as an “official” name along that order is found in the Nicene Creed: “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church”. But that is meant to describe, not to formally name, Christ’s Church.

    In Louis XVIII’s French charter (constitution) of 1814, the Church is legally described in that document as the “Church that is catholic, apostolic, and Roman.” As an interesting aside, other documents of the French monarchy avoid the term “Protestant” when speaking of Protestantism. Protestantism is called in legal documents the “Religion Pretended Reformed”. Needless to say, it didn’t catch on with Protestants.

    I’m surprised, though, that “Roman Catholic Church” did catch on amongst the members of the Church that knows itself to be the true one. It would seem to me that, knowing what we are, we would stubbornly refer to our Church as, simply, the “Church of Jesus Christ.” That is what our Church is, after all. Or “The Christian Church,” if you will. And we who belong to it are “Christians”. That seems as close to an official name as anything, to me.

    We might more specifically refer to ourselves as “Roman Rite Christians,” “Byzantine Rite Christians,” “Maronite Christians,” &c. I don’t mean to say that the designation “catholic” has no use; the historical reasons for it’s adoption are there, of course, but when we capitalize it, it almost, in a way, cheapens the term. It makes it seem somehow like we are referring to a corporation. When we furthermore add “Roman” to it, it really seems to limit the scope of who we are. I would that we hadn’t embraced, therefore, the term “Roman Catholic Church” as some quasi-official designation.

    We who today call ourselves “Roman Catholics” are Latin Rite Christians within the broader Church of Jesus Christ. Others are, for example, Eastern Rite Christians within the Church of Jesus Christ. I kind of wish we had fallen into the habit of referring to ourselves generally, as Christians, and our Church as the Christian Church, and that we distinguished the many traditions and forms of worships within them as such, rather than labelling those traditions as separate “churches” (“Roman Catholic Church”, “Ukranian Catholic Church,” &c). Instead, we let Evangelicals and Fundamentalist Protestants claim the title “Christian” for their own. Today, when one speaks of a “Christian,” most people imagine a low church Bible Protestant. Lamentable, but understandable: they have positively laid claim to the word. But that is a usurpation, one which we have allowed.

    Personally, I like the old French royal tradition of not formally referring to Protestants as Christians, at all, but as heretics, or more quaintly as members of the “Religion Pretended Reformed”. That is what Protestantism is and that is what its adherents are.

    We, on the other hand, shephered by the Pope, whether we celebrate the Eucharist using the Roman Missal, the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysosotom, the Book of Divine Worship, or what have you, are “Christians” and our Church is “The Christian Church”.

  41. Mark F says:

    @Tim Ferguson
    I would indeed be surprised since there are 346 references to “Roman Catholic” on the Vatican website. Papal encyclicals which refer to the “Roman Catholic Church” include “In Hac Tanta” (Benedict XV), “Divini Illius Magistri” (Pius XI), and “Humani Generis” (Pius XII). In addition Benedict XVI has referred to the Roman Catholic Church several times in correspondence and audiences.

    @Fr Deacon Daniel
    The term “Catholic” was not native to the Chaldeans or St Thomas Christians either. It was a much later import to them as a result of contact with the Holy See. The Chaldeans only came into contact in 1553 and the St Thomas Christians around the same time. So “Catholic” and “Roman” would have naturally gone together.

    The Protestant use of the term is really neither here nor there.

  42. Mark F says:


    ” … the very name of “Catholic”, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house.”

    — St. Augustine (354–430): Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental, chapter 4: Proofs of the Catholic Faith

    Still true 1,600 year later.

  43. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    “The Protestant use of the term is really neither here nor there.”

    I disagree. It was borne out of a polemical spirit, and I think it still carries some of that residue.

    Additionally, it is inaccurate and adds unnecessary complications when explaining the Church’s full ecclesiology, not to mention the place of Rome as it relates to particular sui iuris Churches. The notion of adding to the full title of the Catholic Church the name of the Western Pope’s particular Church, despite his Petrine primacy which I believe in and defend, is an unfortunate appropriation of Protestant nomenclature that has no valid, historical frame of reference for the Eastern Churches in the Catholic communion.

    The name “Catholic” has no such association or origin.

  44. Mark R says:

    Now to make your head spin…Translated from Turkish or from Arabic, Orthodox Christians of the Constantinopolitan rite are sometimes called Roman Orthodox!

  45. Mark F says:

    @Fr Deacon Daniel

    What I meant was that what Protestants call the church is completely irrelevant to what the church calls itself.

    What I have been endeavouring to show is that from the earliest ages the universal church has identified itself as both “Roman” and “Catholic”. It is not called Roman because its head is the Bishop of Rome. It is the other way round. The Bishop of Rome is its head because the Church is Roman and Rome is the capital of the Roman Empire. Having been appointed the Head of the Church by Christ, St Peter eventually went to Rome and became its bishop precisely because Rome was the centre of the Empire.

    The Church was nurtured in the Roman Empire, spread in the Roman Empire, used the languages and communications systems of the Roman Empire and eventually became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Both Eastern and Western churches are thoroughly Roman.

    You can see this in the fact that the Eastern Orthodox still keep references to Rome in their titles. The Ecumenical Patriarch is “Archbishop of New Rome”, and after the fall of Constantinople the Russian Orthodox started referring to Moscow as the “Third Rome”. This is a claim to pre-eminence.

  46. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    Mark F,

    An interesting discussion! Thank you for the ongoing dialog here.

    You wrote: “What I have been endeavouring to show is that from the earliest ages the universal church has identified itself as both “Roman” and “Catholic”.”

    I find this difficult to reconcile with anything that I have read about in the earliest periods, including the Apostolic and early Ante-Nicene Fathers, most especially during those periods of persecution by the imperium. Can you show me where the Church universal has been referred to explicitly as “Roman” since its earliest days?

    Additionally there is the issue of those Christians from the earliest of periods that I mentioned earlier who never were subject to the imperium of the Roman Empire, and would no more consider themselves to be a Roman than to be a hat box! Your assertion that the Christian East is and was “Roman” assumes that the “Christian East” is and was some hermetically sealed homogeneous reality, when in fact that is not at all the case, either in history or today.

    Clearly the Empire played a providential role in the spread and establishment of the Church in the world. But the role of the Empire was providential, not essential. This is especially true when it comes to the nature of the Church. The Church’s foundation was apostolic and, by extension, Petrine. Even the Patriarchates that made up the Pentarchy of the early Church made some reference to Petrine authority as part of their claim: Peter’s martyrdom in Rome along with Paul, Alexandria as the see of Peter’s disciple, Mark, Antioch as Peter’s first See, the clear role Peter played in Jerusalem and later Constaninople, with the somewhat doubtful claim of having Andrew, Peter’s brother, in reference to its founding. The imperial re-structuring of primacy in the Church based upon the taxis of the Empire was a much later addition and development, and an assertion largely put forward in the effort of Constantinople to lay claim to ecclesiastical authority over Alexandria and Antioch, which was affirmed by the much disputed Canon 28 of Chalcedon. This theory of such a re-ordering originates rather problematically with the semi-Arian historian and ecclesiarch, Eusebius of Caesarea, whose “imperial ecclesiology” seems to want to reestablish the principle of the visible unity of the Church on an imperial – rather than a Petrine and fully apostolic – foundation. (For a good read on this subject, I highly recommend the marvelous Fr. Vincent Twomey’s “Apostolikos Thronos.”)

    Unfortunately, the Eusebian assumption of an imperial – rather than a Petrine and apostolic – foundation of visible ecclesiastical unity is still a wound in Orthodox ecclesiology especially in the way it manifests the Church of Christ at a universal level, all this despite their retention of apostolic succession.

    Two interesting reads on this point:



    Once one sees the problematic nature of the assumption of the imperial taxis being the ordering principle of the ecclesial taxis – aside from the blatantly and painfully obvious fact that the Imperium really no longer exists today – the disputes over a Second and Third Rome and the claims that it is supposed to represent (apart from a primacy of honor) seem quite empty. Short of re-entering communion with the Apostolic Throne of Peter and rediscovering this principle of Petrine unity at the universal level (not to be confused with an exaggerated papo-caesarism), it is difficult if not impossible to see how the Orthodox will ever be able to full reflect the unity of the Church at a universal level, even through the calling of a General Council. Thus we have the tragedy of an Imperial Church without an Emperor and a Conciliar Church that is unable to call Councils.

    So returning to your point, I once again reject the notion that the Church universal need have any explicit reference in its nomenclature to either the Imperium of Rome or the See of the Western Pope. The venerable and ancient name “Catholic Church” is sufficient, and we do not need to include the modifier “Roman,” especially given its inherent confusion vis-a-vis the Eastern Catholic Churches as well as its polemical and problematic origins.

  47. Fr Deacon Daniel says:

    An additional read that is a helpful introduction to some of the issues pertaining to the relationship of the Imperium and Orthodox Churches is this article by Fr. Andrew Louth, of the Moscow Patriarchate.

    Ignatios or Eusebios: Two Models of Patristic Ecclesiology

    Here is the abstract:
    “Historically most Orthodox ecclesiology has been based on the model proposed by Eusebios, and refined by the Emperor Justinian, which sees the Church as existing in symphonia with the State. This model was adopted by the emerging Orthodox nation states in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries; ‘nation’ replaced ‘empire’, with consequent distortions. The twentieth century saw a series of attempts by Orthodox theologians to work out an ecclesiology on the basis of the vision found in the letters of St Ignatios of Antioch. This article looks at the historical context of this development, concentrating on the thought of the émigré Russian theologian, Fr Nikolay Afanasiev, of the Institut St-Serge in Paris. It argues that Afanasiev’s ecclesiology was a response to the intellectual and cultural context of exile, and further argues that this context, because of its close parallels with early Christian experience, has radical and enduring consequences for Christian theology.”

    Of course, no mention in made in his article of Ignatius’ claim that the Church of Rome presides in love (roma in amor), nor of how the Eastern Fathers saw the role of the Apostolic See and the Bishop of Rome functioning in a communion of Churches at the service of ecclesial unity.

    But I found this observation of his quite interesting:

    “This impressive ideal (a Christian Roman Empire) had profound ramifications for the structure of the Christian Church. Even before the peace of the Church, ecclesiastical structures had modelled themselves on the administrative structures of the Roman Empire. A bishop ruled over the Church in a city and his hinterland; the bishop of the metropolis of a province soon assumed authority over the bishops of the province; and canon 6 of Nicaea envisages the beginnings of the system of patriarchates, roughly paralleling the dioceses of the Roman Empire. From the beginning, Rome glossed this arrangement with an understanding of apostolic authority, independent of the imperial structures, and at the beginning of the second millennium began to
    make claims that fundamentally qualified any such endorsement of imperial structures. In the East, however, the model of symphonia was accepted, the only serious check on it being found in the claim by some, at least, of the monastic order to act as safeguards of the canons of the Church. This, however, meant a check on certain acts of the imperial authority, not some continuing constitutional arrangement. The model, then, of the relationship of the Church and the World came to be summed up in the notion of Emperor–Empire–Church…”

    “This pattern – Emperor–Empire–Church – was adopted in the nineteenth century, as the various Orthodox nations – Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania – liberated themselves from the Ottoman Empire, and established themselves as independent, Orthodox nations. In this context, however, the ideal was inevitably modified. Emperor–Empire–Church had been a universal ideal. To be sure, it had never been more than an ideal: the Roman Empire was not the oOEkoumØnh – Persia,
    not to mention China and India, were inhabited and not just barbarian lands – nor was the Emperor the ruler of the whole world, though Byzantine diplomatic conventions carefully promoted this illusion. In fact, this Roman ideal actually hindered the Church in its universal mission, promoting the falsehood that to be Christian meant to be Roman.”

  48. justanothercatholic says:

    The thing is that to be Catholic is to be Roman Catholic. You maybe of the Ukrainian Rite of the One Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church. You maybe of the Chaldean rite, but your heart should be ardent with love Rome and what it represents. O Roma Eterna!
    Your traditions could be different, but your heart should beat at the same rhythm of Rome. Cursed is any attempt make the union with Rome a simple matter of words, for a separation of sentiments is doomed to bring in no fruits. I would proudly say I am Roman Catholic. If you want add Roman Melkite Catholic. But why despise the Roman?

  49. Fr Deacon Daniel says:


    First of all, you and I do not belong to a “Rite” per se, but to a particular Church. And in the Catholic communion of sui iuris Churches, each particular Church is bound together visibly first and foremost by the Holy Eucharist, and secondly by our bishops in apostolic succession who are in communion with the See of Peter in Rome. I love and treasure my communion with Rome, as does my particular, Patriarchal Church, who also happens to be a martyr Church, suffering for our loyalty to Peter for many generations.

    I’m unclear though about exactly what you are referencing here as it relates to “any attempt make the union with Rome a simple matter of words, for a separation of sentiments is doomed to bring in no fruits.” The fact that I will never self-identify as a Roman Catholic or a member of the Roman Catholic Church does not in any way indicate any disloyalty whatsoever to the Pope of Rome or his Petrine ministry. And it is not somehow a marker of either obedience or love fo the Church to name oneself “Roman.” It is perhaps more fitting for you as a Latin Catholic to do so than for me or any of my Eastern Catholic brethren, but to refuse to do so is not to despise anything. It is to respect the nature of our ecclesiology.

    Tell me more about what you mean that my “heart should beat at the same rhythm of Rome?” Rome is simply not the determining factor in my ecclesial life, and I am one who commemorates the Holy Father daily in the Divine Praises and multiple times in the Divine Liturgy. My Patriarch has his Synod and as far as I am concerned, the rhythm of my heart and life is rooted there and in the liturgical life of my particular Church, not in whatever rhythm may exist in Rome. I am a loyal son of the Catholic Church. I deeply treasure Pope Benedict, and will defend our union with him as well as the Orthodox Faith of the Catholic Church, but I will not make the Pope MORE than a Pope or exaggerate the place that Rome should have in our ecclesial life.

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