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Roman or Catholic or neither or both

Page history last edited by Andrew Alder 5 years, 11 months ago

One of the perennial discussions at Wikipedia is whether to call the Church of Rome the Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Church


This comes up in the context particularly of article names, for example Roman_Catholic_Diocese_of_Helsinki.


As a Wikipedian I can argue it both ways. The result doesn't matter a lot to me! Context makes it clear in text what is meant, and whichever article title we use we should have a redirect from the other. 


And similarly, as a logician with a related interest in linguistics, I think I can see an obvious way forward. The term Catholic Church (capitalised) is an unambiguous proper name, and explicitly refers to the (Roman) Catholic Church. It's only when the uncapitalised term catholic church is used as a synonym that there is any problem. Unfortunately in Wikipedia, the article names catholic church and catholic both currently redirect to Catholic Church.  In the case of catholic this is partly owing to Wikipedia's policies and software, but in the case of catholic church it is just plain wrong. 


But as a Christian from a protestant tradition, some of the arguments do offend me. And as a logician, some of them offend me too.


In the discussion to which I linked above, reference is made to http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13121a.htm which is the article on Roman Catholic from the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia. It starts out A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church.(link as in the original)


That may have been true in 1913 (even then I am a bit skeptical), but these days it is quite simply false, even ignoring the claim that those recognised by the Vatican constitute the One True Church. When I applied years ago for an (excellent and free) series of study booklets outlining (Roman) Catholic doctrine, the application form I signed concluded just before the space for my signature I am not a Roman Catholic. The term Roman Catholic is used by many (Roman) Catholics to describe themselves, and at all levels within their church. 


Ideally (and unfortunately, hypothetically), the answer lies in capitalisation. The Church of Rome should be quite free to use the names Catholic Church and One True Church without there being any implied claim that they are the catholic church and the one true church. But in practice, that's not the way English currently works, as the Catholic Encyclopedia article cited above shows rather painfully.


No, these terms are being used by reactionaries (presumably also within the (Roman) Catholic Church) in their continuing efforts to reverse the Reformation. This is not likely to happen, particularly after the efforts of Popes John XXIII and Francis, but it is still capable of doing a great deal of damage while falling short of that. I notice that the website which publishes the 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia online also carries articles highly critical of both of these Popes. And John XXIII wouldn't mind that at all! He once said I'm not infallible. A Pope is only infallible if he speaks ex cathedra. And I never speak ex cathedra.


It's not all bad news by any means! The fate of those who would continue to divide the one true church is far worse than defeat. Increasingly and (God willing) inevitably they are being simply ignored. They cannot be expected to like this at all, and how they prepare for judgement (in which they presumably believe) is an interesting question.  


But Wikipedia rightly tries to follow current English usage, hence the problem with article titles. We don't distinguish between catholic and Catholic as article titles; Our home-grown wiki software doesn't permit us to do so even if we wanted to (and for the very good reason that in flowing text, the word is capitalised at the beginning of a sentence whether a proper name or not, so that ambiguity is inescapable anyway). It's not quite so bad with Catholic Church and catholic church, the software would allow those to be the names of separate articles, but currently they are not.


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