Encyclopedia Article


An individual who is a follower of the Catholic faith, one of the three major branches of Christianity, with the other two being Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. The Greek term “Catholic,” which originated in early Christianity, was first used in the 2nd century A.D. in reference to an orthodox view of the New Testament, one that advocated a literal approach to the scriptures. When the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as it official religion in the 4th century, The Roman Catholic Church developed a strict system of religious and political hierarchy headed by the Pope, who is considered the ultimate authority ruling over all the churches around the globe. Roman Catholicism was the unquestioned, prevailing faith across Europe throughout the middle Ages, and did not become a distinct entity until the rise of Protestantism in the 16th century. The split caused by the Protestant Reformation, which opposed and challenged the dogmatic rule of Catholicism, in effect created what is now perceived as two separate religions. With nearly 1.2 billion followers throughout the world, Catholicism is still the largest Christian denomination.

In general, a Catholic, or practitioner of the Roman Catholic faith, must subscribe to specific beliefs and adhere to the structural operations, rituals, and functions of the Church. Some of the core beliefs include the acceptance of Jesus Christ as a divine savior, the Church’s doctrine as the definitive truth as it was professed by Jesus in the 1st century, and transubstantiation—the belief that during the ritual of the Holy Sacrament the wine and bread consumed by the devotees actually become the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ. A severe observance to moral rules is also a central component of the religion. The confession of sins to an ordained priest is required as a regular practice, along with active worshiping by attending mass, reciting prayers, and promoting missionary initiatives.

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"La Pieta by Michelangelo" by Jean-Pierre Dalbéra is licensed under CC BY.

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