Thursday, February 3, 2011

Roman Catholic?

I have recently pointed out to someone that, while the use of this designation is widespread even among (albeit, probably well-meaning) Catholics themselves, I actually consider it a mild slur and would discourage people from using it to refer to the Church as a whole.

Now, the truth is, the term doesn't really bug me personally so much because I am a Roman (ie, Latin Rite) Catholic in the more limited technical sense. Still, its origin in the English Reformation is the same as other slurs like "Popish," "Papist," and "Romish"; the emphasis on "Roman" can be taken (and was originally intended, and still is by some Protestants using it) to exoticize us or to emphasize the "foreign-ness" or "ethnic-ness" of the Catholic Church in the Anglophone world.

It is certainly a usage some Western Catholics (even bishops and popes) have adopted upon occasion (as persecuted groups often do with derogatory labels), even one embraced by some hyper-ultramontanists as a way to emphasize being in communion with Rome. Even by some highly Latinized Eastern Catholics as a way to emphasize that aspect (which is somewhat understandable; it is what set them apart from their Orthodox neighbors).

But it's not the preferred term; in internal documents, actually, very often just "the Church" will be used, and when we have to use specific denominational distinctions to differentiate ourselves from other churches or ecclesial communities, then we prefer just "the Catholic Church."

I mainly point it out because I have Eastern Catholic friends and readers who (though in communion with Rome) say things like, "I'm a Byzantine Catholic (or a Coptic Catholic; or a Syro-Malabar Catholic, etc) not a 'Roman' Catholic" and who do find the term to be an offensive Latinization of the whole Church, which it does seem to be (besides being a sort of linguistic contradiction, combining a local with Universal).

Think of it this way: when and if reunion with the Orthodox occurs (a definite possibility for us in the next century) they would never accept the appellation "Roman Catholic" (even if they did come into communion with Rome) and thus I tend to balk even when Catholics use it except in the very specific context of describing Catholics of the western patriarchate. Protestants aren't usually making such a technical distinction, however...

But "RCC" is, at least, better than the bare phrase "Roman Church." That is especially incorrect as, to us, "Roman Church" refers only specifically to the diocese of Rome (albeit it's the diocese that the other local churches are in communion with), and when that phrase is used to describe Catholicism as a whole...it is usually said with a snide attitude, and usually some implicit appeal to negative emotional associations with the decadence of the Roman Empire.

The fact is, if you say "the Catholic Church" in the Anglophone world...everyone knows who you're talking about, even if other churches consider themselves catholic. Just as if you say "the Episcopal Church" everyone will know, even if other churches are episcopal. And the same for numerous denominational titles that "capitalize" an aspect of that denomination which may be shared by many others.

As such, I think an "extra" adjective just to emphasize that other churches also consider themselves catholic is superfluous and a double standard. I don't insist on calling the Episcopal Church the "Anglican Episcopal Church" just because the Catholic Church is also episcopal. I don't insist on calling the Presbyterian Church (USA) the "Protestant Presbyterian Church" just because the Catholic Church also has presbyters.

The superfluous label "Roman" (though of course sometimes used by us, even, to emphasize communion with Rome; something Eastern Catholics may be ambivalent about) thus serves no other purpose than as a barb against our claims of catholicity. Maybe it's just where I was raised, but I've often heard the phrase "Roman Catholic" pronounced with a sneer on the "Roman."

It is unnecessary for clarity. Everyone knows what you mean if you say capital-c "Catholic Church" without qualification. Even other denominations that use "Catholic" have their own chosen modifiers ("Anglo-", "Old", "Independent", "Polish National") because, well, we called dibs on the unmodified title first, basically.

Some people of course just use it out of ignorance, but when it is used deliberately and self-consciously by Protestants as opposed to just "Catholic"...it is often them making a subtle jab of a statement about what they think of the denomination; at worst "Roman" is used by Protestants with connotations of the Whore of Babylon, and even at best usually represents basically a coded way of saying something along the lines of "so-called."

So, my point: resist the use of "Roman Catholic Church" to describe the Catholic Church. If you use it to describe just the one sui juris church, fine, but even then something like "Latin-Rite Catholic Church" might be better just to avoid confusion in general.

16 comments:

A Sinner said...

Also, interesting precedent for the phrase "Roman Orthodox" among the Eastern Orthodox (who sometimes seem to use the appellation "Greek" in a confusing manner similar to the West's "Roman"):

"In English translations of official documents, the Church of Antioch refers to itself as the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. The literal translation into English of the Arabic name is "Roman" (in Arabic, Rum) Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East. However, the literal name "Rum" does not actually mean Roman but Greek. The Arabs and the Turks refer to the Christians who belong to the Greek Orthodox Church (both Arabs and Greeks) as Rüm because the Byzantine Greek-speaking Orthodox have historically referred to themselves as Romioi. The Arabic word "Rum" derives from the Greek word "Romioi". This is one of the reasons why the Church of Antioch refers to itself as Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East."

A Sinner said...

Also, I've also found the former title of the Orthodox Church in America to be rather hilarious. It was known as:

"The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America"

Now that's a mouthful!!

Who Am I said...

Isn't the use of the term Latin Rite Catholic equally "fuzzy", because it attempts to blur every Western Latin Ritual Church and equate it with The Ritual of Rome ? Wouldn't it just be simpler to say Roman Ritual Catholic or Latin/Western Catholic of The Roman Ritual ? What if you're born within The Diocese of Braga and baptized within that Ritual ? I don't think you'd call yourself Latin in such a general sense of the term.

" "The Russian Orthodox Greek Catholic Church in America" "

Translation: Byzantine Orthodox - Russian of The Catholic (Orthodox see themselves as THE Catholic Church) Church in America

It's really no different than saying:

Latin Catholic of The Roman Ritual of The Catholic Church in America, Diocese of Brooklyn

Here's a clarification on the use of "Roman" outside of The West:

"Our Church’s Many Names

In the Middle East as our Church developed there was a much greater fluidity in the use of names. In addition there is even a difference in the terminology employed in the Middle East today vs. that which we use in this country.

In the Western world today our Church is called Melkite Greek Catholic ( Grec Melchite Catholique), as is explained below. In the Middle East we are generally known as Room Katuleek, literally “Roman Catholic”, just as those whom we call Antiochian or Greek Orthodox here are known as Room Orthodox (“Roman Orthodox”) there. However the Rome they are referring to in these titles is not the Rome in Italy, but Constantinople, which the ancients called New Rome. Those whom we call Roman Catholics here are known as Lateen (Latins) overseas.

This often causes confusion when immigrants arrive from the Middle East and, with a literal translation, speak of themselves as Roman Catholics when they actually mean Room Katuleek. It is also confusing for others who come to our churches and are confronted with the multitude of names our Church uses. It is to help clarify some of this confusion that the following definitions are offered."

Source: http://www.makedonija.tv/ameccusa/TEXT%20FILES%20CHURCHES/melkite_heritage.htm

Mark of the Vineyard said...

I always say that I am Catholic, period. When talking on internet forums and there are other Catholics/Christians, I generally refer to myself as Roman Catholic, i.e., I am a Latin.

sortacatholic said...

Many (most?) Anglo-Catholics consider themselves "Catholic" in ritual but not polity. Many Anglo-Catholics consider the See of Rome, and especially the Latin Rite, as a "sister church" (the Vatican strongly disagrees.) Anglo-Catholics will correct Latin Rite Catholics when they use the generic "Catholic" to refer to all those under the jurisdiction of the Pontiff. This is one reason for the perpetuation of the term "Roman Catholic", especially in Britain.

A Sinner said...

The liturgies of Braga, etc, were all in the Latin Language too, however, and they are not a separate sui juris church, their Patriarchate is still at Rome. The terms refer to jurisdiction rather than rite strictly so called, as I understand it, and other Western rites are not of a different jurisdiction.

As for the Anglo-Catholics trying to deny us the term "Catholic" because they consider themselves "Catholic" too...that's absurd, and a double-standard, and a sign of a continuing prejudice that is all the more reason to insist on just "Catholic."

I mean, we consider ourselves "orthodox" too, but we don't deny the Orthodox that title. We consider ourselves "The Church of Christ," but we don't deny that title to the specific denomination. We're Jehovah's real witnesses, our Church is Episcopal (and has Presbyters), and is Apostolic. Yet we don't deny those terms or insist on "clarifying" adjectives for those denominations.

That people insist on it for the word "Catholic"...is thus a huge double standard.

Anonymous said...

I strongly agree. I never use RCC. Bravo!

~BR

Who Am I said...

"The liturgies of Braga, etc, were all in the Latin Language too, however, and they are not a separate sui juris church, their Patriarchate is still at Rome. The terms refer to jurisdiction rather than rite strictly so called, as I understand it, and other Western rites are not of a different jurisdiction."

That's not exactly what I was referring to.

I know they're in Latin, however as regards to Ritual practice, whilst similar, the distinction is likewise there. I'm not necessarily speaking of it in terms of canonical jurisdication, but in common usage and speech.

Namely, when someone says they're Latin Rite, everyone assumes Roman. That's fine, BUT it blurs the distinction between the OTHER Rites/Uses of The Latin Rite.

I don't necessarily see much of a problem with a person identifying as a Latin Rite Catholic of The Mozarabic Ritual (I cringe at calling it a mere Use, but alas that is what it is.). Mozarabic Latin/Roman Catholic ? See how queer that sounds, because everyone assumes one thing when they hear Roman Ritual and another when they hear Mozarabic Ritual/Use. For the sake of short-handing it, I'd be okay with the lexical index of Mozarabic Catholic equaling Latin Catholic of The Mozarabic Ritual/Use. It's the same way Roman is utilized by the vast majority of Catholics. Most people don't say, "I'm a Latin Rite Catholic of The Roman Ritual" (It would be somewhat redundant, well nor really, but who is splitting hairs.), everyone uses the short hand Roman Catholic, for better or for worse.

I found this list from EWTN curious ( http://www.ewtn.com/expert/answers/rites.htm )in that it creates for an ILLUSTRIOUS history of The Roman/Latin Church; Ancient, Jewish in origin, etc. (All of which I'm fine with.), but as regards to the other Ritual Churches, it gives them a rather brief history mainly in their relationship to The Holy See. What of their history when we were all ONE Church of various Rituals ? I'm just saying, but that's quite problematic in that it orients anything and everything of Catholicity and equates it with being Latin Rite. Their histories don't begin post Schisms and reunions with The Holy See, that's all I'm saying.

Provaton said...

@Who Am I:

What you bring up about how one should refer to oneself is currently a non-issue. As far as the Bragan Rite goes it is as good as dead in Portugal; there is probably only one or two priests that still celebrate it in the diocese of Braga. The Mozarabic Rite, to my current knowledge, is also only celebrated in the cathedral of Toledo, though it is now allowed in all of Spain. The Ambrosian Rite is limited to Milan.

If there were a great number of faithful that "belonged" to these Rites, then maybe there would be need for for a more specific nomenclature. As things currently stand, I don't see why there is a need. Most Roman Catholics don't even know the Roman Rite has two Forms, much less know the existence of other Latins Rites and/or Usages.

Let's be honest, what's the use of telling someone "Hey, I'm a Roman Catholic of the Ambrosian Rite" if your everyday, run-of-the-mill person has no idea what it means? Remember the K.I.S.S rule ;-)

Who Am I said...

"What you bring up about how one should refer to oneself is currently a non-issue. As far as the Bragan Rite goes it is as good as dead in Portugal; there is probably only one or two priests that still celebrate it in the diocese of Braga. The Mozarabic Rite, to my current knowledge, is also only celebrated in the cathedral of Toledo, though it is now allowed in all of Spain. The Ambrosian Rite is limited to Milan.

If there were a great number of faithful that "belonged" to these Rites, then maybe there would be need for for a more specific nomenclature. As things currently stand, I don't see why there is a need. Most Roman Catholics don't even know the Roman Rite has two Forms, much less know the existence of other Latins Rites and/or Usages.

Let's be honest, what's the use of telling someone "Hey, I'm a Roman Catholic of the Ambrosian Rite" if your everyday, run-of-the-mill person has no idea what it means? Remember the K.I.S.S rule ;-)"

Meh, I'm an idealist and see no problem if a person sought to self identify as such. The Bragan Rite was once The Rite of Brazil as well as that particular diocese in Portugal. If someone decided to self identify via recourse to a lexical index of Bragan Catholic or Latin Rite Catholic of The Bragan Rite/Use, I could care less. Maybe it will get other people interested in that particular Liturgy, who knows. I'm against the moniker of K.I.S.S . Under that model, I would have never known about The non-Roman Ritual Churches (Byzantine and Eastern Rituals) and wouldn't be on the path I am now towards seeking a change in Ritual jurisdiction. I know, I know, it's a REALLY dirty word amongst Tridentine Rite Traditionalists, but hey it happens. Maybe I shouldn't say that out loud, I might "scandalize" someone through my so called "apostasy" (even though I'm still remaining a Catholic...).

True, The Mozarabic and other Latin Uses don't exactly constitute a Rite, BUT if they aid a person in achieving theosis, I'm not against introducing them to it. So if I assisted at Mozarabic Liturgies and sought to self identify as a Latin Rite Catholic of The Mozarabic Use or plainly as a Mozarabic Catholic, whose going to stop me ? I know a Roman Catholic, who identifies as an Armenian Catholic (even though they haven't formerly switched Ritual jurisdictions), because they adhere to the Traditions of that particular Church (They're Traditionalist as well.). That would definitely get a few anal legalist's knickers in a bunch, but there is nothing to prohibit them from self identifying as such. As long as they adhere to the canons required of them by their Ritual, they can live and believe as a Armenian.

cor ad cor loquitur said...

Many Anglicans (in England at least) can be offended if you refer to “the Catholic Church”, or “the Church” because of the implication that the Anglican Church might not be Catholic. In these settings I will refer to myself as RC or Roman Catholic purely as a matter of politeness. Yes, Anglicans have also used RC and Roman as a derogatory term, and some still do, but there is no need for revenge or tu quoque. In this matter, as far as I can see, charity trumps linguistic precision.

A Sinner said...

My point is that when they do that, they're holding a double standard and that to go along with it is not being "polite" but merely enabling their own prejudices.

We don't insist on NOT calling the Orthodox churches "Orthodox" because we fear some "implication" that our Church isn't orthodox. We don't insist on not calling the Episcopal Church "Episcopal" out of some fear this would imply our Church isn't episcopal.

It's a silly double-standard used to excuse what is really just a slur.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention the present name of the Carpatho Rusyn Orthodox in the US

"American Carpatho-Rusyn Orthodox Greek Catholic Church"

cor ad cor loquitur said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
cor ad cor loquitur said...

I suppose by some standards it would be precise and true to refer to the Orthodox as "schismatics" and the Anglicans as "heretics", but we don't do that.

I have Orthodox friends who refer to Catholics as "heterodox" and Anglican friends who call me a Papist -- the latter is said with humour, the Orthodox comment without.

All stupid, in my view; but returning like with like is an example of What I Don't Stand For.

A Sinner said...

"All stupid, in my view; but returning like with like is an example of What I Don't Stand For."

I'd agree with that. At least, outside technical discussions. Certainly I wouldn't include such terms as part of the general practice of referring to those other churches and ecclesial communities.