ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH. That church, or community of churches, in communion with and under the direction of the pope of Rome (q.v.), is the descendant of the ancient church of the Western Empire. Until the Second Vatican Council, it followed a trajectory of ever increasing centralization, pursuing the logic of the early papacy (q.v.) and its (implicit) equation of the pope’s ecclesiastical role with that of the emperor in civil matters. This development was particularly intense in three different periods: the Gregorian Reforms (11th c.–3th c.); the Counter Reformation (mid-16th c.–17th c.); and the century between the two Vatican councils (1871–1962). It was the first of these great movements that constituted the schism (q.v.) with the Orthodox Church. The following two periods accentuated the differences, taking the Roman Church still further away from the mind of the East.
Nonetheless, this great church, embracing the majority of the world’s Christians, is still the closest in doctrine and practice to Orthodoxy (q.v.). The issues that divide the two can be reduced to two: the disagreement over the filioque (q.v.) (perhaps less intractable than it has often been presented), and the very deep disagreement over papal primacy and the extent of that primacy (q.v.). Given the crises currently afflicting both communions over the role that the Church plays in government, crises that are virtually mirror opposites of one other, one might hope that some resolution of the schism may prove possible.