Ask a Catholic: Branches of Catholicism
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By Mitch Finley
It’s called “Ask a Catholic”, but are you a Catholic or a Roman? What do you think of branch theory?
Indeed, I am a Roman Catholic, by far the most common type. However, in addition to the Latin or Roman tradition, there are seven non-Latin, non-Catholic churches: Armenian, Byzantine, Coptic, Ethiopian, East Syriac (Chaldean), West Syriac, and Maronite. Each of these churches is as Catholic as the Roman Catholic Church.
As far as “branch theory” is concerned, the Wikipedia article on this topic is worth reading for anyone who wants to know what this theory is all about. The opening paragraph of the Wikipedia article is a summary as good as any: “The theory of branches is an ecclesiological theory [theology of the church] proposition that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church includes various Christian denominations, whether in formal communion or not. The theory is often incorporated into the Protestant notion of an invisible structure of the Christian Church binding them together. “
I am no expert on branch theory, but I know the official Catholic position rejects it. Like the Wikipedia article States: “The Catholic Church does not accept that [Protestant churches] are fully part of the One Church, holding that “there is one Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church. . . ‘”
At the same time, the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church in the mid-1960s declared that while the fullest expression of Christian faith is to be found in the Catholic Church, goodness, truth and genuine beauty can be found, in various degrees, in protesting [churches] and even in non-Christian traditions.
GK Chesterton (1874-1936), an English convert to Catholicism and one of the most frequently cited English-speaking authors of all time, once said that non-Catholic religious groups, starting with Luther, came into being when ‘they chose various aspects of Catholicism to accept and others to reject. He writes: “I could not cease to be a Catholic, except by becoming something narrower than a Catholic. A man has to shrink his mind to lose the universal philosophy. . . “(ie Catholicism).
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