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In Christian theology, One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is a phrase describing the nature of the Christian community and/or Christian Church, in the various meanings it has. It appears in the Nicene Creed (μίαν, ἁγίαν, καθολικὴν καὶ ἀποστολικὴν Ἐκκλησίαν) and appears partly in the Apostles' Creed ("the holy catholic church", sanctam ecclesiam catholicam). It indicates the Four Marks of the Christian Church — unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity — and is based on the premise that all true Christians (irrespective of race, nationality or sex) form a single united group, the body of Christ (cf. Corinthians 12:27), founded by the apostles and innately holy. While there is general agreement on the meaning of holy, there is less agreement on the definition of the one Church, and the meanings of catholic and apostolic continue to be debated.

Conflicting boundaries and definitions

The Roman Catholic Church, comprising both the Western and the Eastern Rites (understood as a collection of particular churches), claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Eastern Orthodox Church, comprising about 16 mutually recognizing autocephalous hierarchical churches, similarly claims to be the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. This disagreement has persisted since the Great Schism of 1054. Before that schism, the two were visibly united and claimed the title jointly (and were not known as Roman or Eastern).

While the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches believe that the term "one" in the Nicene Creed describes and prescribes an institutional unity (from which each Church at present excludes the other), Protestant and evangelical Christians insist on a less visible unity dependent on inner faith in Christ. Despite these differing opinions and definitions, all Christians seek the unity which the early Christians were exhorted to preserve (cf. "Ephesians 4:3-6"), and for which Christ himself prayed (cf. "John 17:21").

Meaning of the words catholic and apostolic


Etymologically, the word "catholic" comes from the Greek adjective katholikos (καθολικός)– καθολικήν is the accusative feminine singular form — formed on the basis of the adverb "katholou" (καθόλου), which means "in general", "according to the whole". The word "catholic" thus originally meant "general", "universal", and is often still used in that sense. In a religious context, especially if given a lower-case c, it distinguishes the faith or Church of the general body of Christians, as opposed to that of particular Christian groups. It is also used to indicate that a faith is for people of every place, culture and class, excluding none.

Since the Protestant Reformation, the term may designate adherence to the doctrines and essential practices of the historical institutional Churches, including what the Reformers rejected. In this sense Catholic tends to be written with an upper-case C.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches all see themselves as fully, and indeed exclusively, catholic in all these senses. Anglicans of 'high church' or 'Anglo-Catholic' tradition consider themselves part of a "Catholic communion" not subject to the Holy See of Rome, and maintain beliefs and practices akin to those of the Roman Catholic Church, involving the sacraments and use of ritual in liturgy. Most other Protestants interpret "catholic" especially in its credal context, as meaning "universal" i.e. referring to the complete, worldwide Church, as distinct from a particular institutional expression of Church.


(1) The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Churches, and some within the Anglican Communion interpret the adjective "apostolic" as referring not only to the Church's origin from Christ's Apostles and their teaching, but also the Church's structure around bishops who have succeeded to the Apostles by unbroken Apostolic Succession transmitted by episcopal ordination ("laying on of hands"). In their view, Christian communities that lack this mark (i.e. unbroken hierarchical structure) are not Churches in the full sense.

(1.a) A modern variant of this interpretation, held by many in the non-trinitarian "Apostolic church movement", including some Pentecostal groups, is that Apostolic refers to the charismatic gift of apostleship, which they claim continues to be granted by the Spirit to the faithful Church today. Being Apostolic for these people means being lead and taught by modern Apostles. In their view, Christian communities that lack this mark (i.e. charismatic hierarchical structure) are not Churches in the full sense.

(2) On the other hand, Evangelicals (most Protestants and Anglicans) hold that the Apostolic Church of the Creed corresponds to no one Christian denomination, but is instead the aggregate of all "true" Christians, regardless of denominational allegiance, who hold the faith of the Apostles (as preserved in Apostolic Scripture) and who further the mission of the Apostles (making disciples, baptising and teaching (Matthew 28:20)). In their view, Christian communities that lack this mark (i.e. holding to and proclaiming the Apostolic gospel of divine grace) are not Churches in the full sense.

See also

This article was forked from Wikipedia on March 25, 2006.

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.