Roman Catholic vs. Catholic: Is there a real difference?

As a theology student, I interacted with people from different denominations, including Catholics. While in Bible school, I discovered that some people use the term Roman Catholic and Catholic interchangeably. Out of curiosity, I did further research on this and learned that they are not the same. I decided to share my insights on Roman Catholic vs. Catholic. So, do they have a tangible difference?

Roman Catholicism is a part of the Catholic Church that comes from Rome and follows the Roman Rite, while Catholic refers to a larger group of Christians, including those not centered in Rome. The two have differing beliefs. For instance, Roman Catholics consider the Pope their spiritual leader, while Catholics do not believe in papal authority. The Roman Catholics have also added some books to their Bible, while Catholics believe in the unchanged Holy Bible.

I invite you to join me in this article as we examine the difference between Roman Catholic and Catholic. Keep reading to discover why they call it Roman Catholic and much more!

Roman Catholic vs. Catholic: Differences in definition

Roman Catholic vs. Catholic. Image source: Pixabay

The Roman Catholic refers to a branch of Catholicism that follows the Roman Rite. This group is centered in Rome, and it acknowledges the Pope as its spiritual leader and hands over the task of applying the Canon laws to him. The Roman Catholics are followers of St Peter, one of Jesus’ apostles (1st Peter 1:1). They believe that the Pope is the successor of St Peter.

On the other hand, the Catholics are also known as the Greek Orthodox and refer to a larger group of Christians not centered in Rome. Catholics do not believe in the papal authority, and they do not consider the canon laws. Catholics do not consider themselves to be followers of St Peter since they directly follow the Messiah and believe that God sent him to the world to save people (Matthew 1:21)

Why do they call it Roman Catholic?

The term Roman Catholic is used to differentiate the Catholic Church members in communion with the Pope in Rome from the rest of the Christians that also identify as Catholics. This term is also used to differentiate those who follow the Roman Rite and adhere to the Latin Church from the rest of the Catholics that attend Eastern Catholic Churches.

Roman Catholic is mostly used when referring to individuals. It is also used in compound forms when referring to festivals, parishes, and worship. Sometimes, Roman Catholic is also referred to as Roman Rite Catholic or Western Catholic.

Is the Catholic Church still called the Roman Catholic Church?

Roman Catholic 
Roman Catholic Church. Image source: Pixabay

Yes. However, those who use the term Roman Catholic Church to refer to the Catholic Church don’t understand their differences. For instance, Protestants, like Anglicans in some English-speaking countries, use the term Roman Catholic Church to refer to the Catholic Church.

On the other hand, the Catholic Church often refers to itself as the Church or simply the Catholic Church in its formal pronouncements and documents. The Holy See officially uses the term the Catholic Church. This term is applied in documents of the First and Second Vatican Council.

Are all Catholic Churches the same?

No. The Catholic Church comprises various churches, including the Ukrainian, Chaldean, and Ruthenian. Each Catholic Church has its only list of readings and expresses its faith differently.

For instance, while some Catholic Churches strictly follow the Bible and believe that it does not change, other Catholic Churches added books to their version of the Bible. Additionally, some catholic churches believe that when one dies, their soul goes to the house of the dead and is then united with the soul of Jesus. Other Catholic Churches believe that when one dies, their soul goes through purification to enter heaven.

Despite the differences in the Catholic Churches, the Bible tells us that the Church is one. According to Ephesians 4:3-5, there is only one body, spirit, Lord, faith, and baptism.

When did Catholics become Roman Catholic?

Roman Catholic vs. Catholic
Roman Catholic. Image source: Pixabay

Saint Ignatius of Antioch first used the term Catholic to describe the Church in the early 2nd century. By the 6th century, the term Roman Catholic Church was used to describe the Pope’s diocese of Rome. However, when the Protestant Reformation occurred in the 16th century, the term Roman Catholic was used to refer to the entire Catholic Church.

The Reformation was a significant movement within Western Christianity that posed a challenge to the Catholic Church. This Reformation led to the split of the Western Church into Protestantism and the Roman Catholic Church. During this split, the Catholics were referred to as Roman Catholics.

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